Posted: 06 Dec 2016 10:46 PM PST
What fascinates me about history are the not the facts and figures that are thrust on us, but the stories – especially the ones that are untold. Staring at the crumbled bricks of an old building, the faded walls, the dilapitated pillars, the rusty doors, my imagination takes me into a different era. Who would have lived here and what were their stories ? Is there an unseen ghost roaming around ? Are there haunting memories that just vanished into thin air ?
Every dusty town and village in India has these stories to tell, if only someone had documented them. I found myself in one of them a few days ago – a town called Rewa in Madhya Pradesh which lived under the garb of yet another unassuming city that went about its business as usual.And yet, there were stories that were waiting to be heard. I stopped at a little lake called Rani Ka Talao. An old temple emerged from the waters while there were several shrines around the lake. Families were walking, couples were on a boat ride, kids were playing while the devout were praying. I was however lost. The child in me came alive.
Stories usually start with ” Once upon a time there was a king..” perhaps, here you would say, there was a queen. After all the lake is named after her. An incoherent watchman muttered reluctantly something about a queen who had a dream and who built a temple here based on a deity’s wish. I wondered if he was making it all up. But ruins of old monuments stood out from behind trees like shadows from the past. Perhaps there was a story here .
I walked around and another crumbling remains of a temple stood in a corner while a few boys were playing cricket. They wanted me to take their photographs. In return they told me that the old dilapitated monument in front of me was a Kali temple that was built here by one of the queens.
Rewa I later learnt is one of the princely states of India and was part of the Bagelkhand Agency created by the British. Standing in a dusty, dingy Baghel museum under the eyes of a paranoid caretaker who refused to even let us take our mobile phones out, I saw some of the priceless treasures of the Baghela Dynasty. There were stories of friendship between Mughal Emperor Akbar and the Bagela king, Rewa Ram Singh. Birbal and Tansen came from their courts.
The entire museum was a treasure trove with old clocks and curios, porcelain from China, priceless colonial gifts from the Queen, guns that put James Bond to shame and several daggers. And I saw photographs of Shah Rukh Khan on the sets of Ashoka with some of the weapons used by the rulers. A story goes that a daring robbery in the museum which resulted in countless loss of treasures had made the caretakers more vigilant that they do not allow you to even take notes on your mobile phone or write notes in a book.
Walking around, I saw an entire lineage of the kings of Baghelkhand that was charted out in front of us. But the story of Rewa lies in a different lineage – of white tigers. And standing in front of me is Mohan, the stuffed White Tiger with its sad blue eyes gazing into oblivion.
When I entered the portals of the ruins of Govindgarh, one of the palaces of the Baghelas, I saw a tacky cardboard cut out of a tiger with white stripes and a board that said – ” This was where Mohan was first captured. ”
Hunting was a passion among the kings of yore and while they loved to show their trophies, capturing a live, unusual animal probably was one of their fantasies. And so, Mohan the white tiger cub was found and captured by the Baghela Maharaja Martend Singh in the forests around Govindgarh. He decided to create an entire lineage of white tigers and brought a tigress, aptly titled Begum to mate with Mohan. Begum was not white and apparently she gave birth to three cubs, all of them were normal Bengal Tigers. In order to keep the experiment going, Mohan had to mate again, this time with one of the tigresses he had fathered. And there in lies another tale.
Tragically, Rewa’s history has got somewhere mixed up with the story of the white tiger, at least for me. Walking around the beautiful ruins of Govindgarh, where time stood still, I wondered if the lineage of the Baghelas had more interesting tales tucked away amidst these pillars and columns which were far more exciting than stories of forcing tigers to mate and create hybrids. Perhaps I need to make another trip again.
Posted: 06 Dec 2016 11:15 AM PST
Perhaps no other destination evokes so many different responses like Khajuraho does. The erotic sculptures of Khajuraho are the cynosure of all eyes and yet, you get varied reactions from people who visit the town. While some are cynical, others cringe. A few are embarrased, others are disappointed. The guides with poker faces point to ” an oral activity” or a ” group activity”, while most tourists giggle or look away. The vendors on the street sell kamasutra packaged as paintings or books or crude carvings depicting various forms of lovemaking.
And yet, there is an intrigue around the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho that adorn the walls of these temples. We wonder why the Chandelas, who ruled over 1000 years ago built these monuments which represent love and lust in various forms. And it is not just the Chandelas. Lets revisit India during the 9th- 12th centuries – from North to South, there are many temples with erotic sculptures. The Chalukyas and the Hoysala temples have carved them on their walls, even if they are not as explicit as those in Khajuraho or Konark. Was it some kind of a manual that these sculptors had or was it a belief that led them to the carving these erotic sculptures of Khajuraho?
There seems to be different interpretations regarding the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho- from stories to spiritual beliefs and I thought I would share them with you and get your perspectives
I will start with stories and my favourite is this. The moon always evokes romance and it is little wonder then that the descendants of the celestial moon god would build monuments that stand for love. The story goes that a beautiful woman called Hemavathy was bathing in the dark under moonlight, when she was seduced by the moon himself . She ran into the forests for refuge and raised her son, Chandravarman alone .The moon however promised her that their son would one day rule over a kingdom. True to his word, Chandravarman grew up to establish the Chandela dynasty . It is believed that he was influenced by his mother's story and so he built temples with sculptures depicting human passions and probably, the futility of the same.
In case you are not fascinated with the story behind the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho, here is another belief that says the carvings of mithunas are symbols of “good luck” along with several sculptures that showcase mythical creatures. Another interpretation says they served as a form of sex education, by rekindling passions in the ascetic minds of people, who were probably influenced by Buddhism.
And there are several intepretations that speak of varying beliefs in Hinduism that seem to be in the fore. One of them speaks about leaving your lust and desires behind before entering the temple – which is probably why there are no carvings of sex inside the temples . The Mithunas or the couples in love are only portrayed on the outside walls of the shrines. My guide, Gopalji tells me that it is a depiction of the Hindu philosophy of Dharma, Artha, Kama , Moksha . Perhaps you can attain nirvana, once you are done with all your wordly pleasures.
However , another guide, Mamaji who I had met earlier mentioned that it is more of a depiction of Tantric cult and beliefs. The Chausath Yogini temple, a Tantric temple dedicated to 64 goddesses is the oldest temple in Khajuraho. A mystical air hangs around it, although all the shrines are empty. It is believed that Khajuraho is charged with energy and the 64 yoginis control the very essence of life, balancing both body and mind together. While reading upon various tantric beliefs, one of them even compared the Mithunas making love as a metaphor , representing the sexual imagery of the life force – an union of Shiva and Shakthi.The philosophy even extends to the architecture. Some see even the design as a symbol of the union of Shiva and Savitri.
Another interpretation even goes to say that the temples themselves are designed as a form of the “seductress” .And there is this belief centred around the tantric cult that explains that the sculptures are metaphors and are actually a form of language, a form of educating the various doctrines of the cult through symbols and imagery.
Reams of paper and documentation are given to interpret the 10 % of erotic imagery that adorns the walls of the remaining 22 temples. There were at least 85 temples apparently built by the Chandelas, who would have been forgotten from the history texts if it had not been ironically for these carvings that show passions running high. While we have studied about the Mauryas and the Guptas, the Chalukyas and the Cholas, we have forgotten to read about the valour of the Chandelas who had even kept Mohammad Ghur at bay and regained their lost fort of Kalinjar from Mahmud Ghazni, invaders whose exploits fill our history texts.
And coming back to the 22 remaining temples, dedicated to Jainism and Hinduism, there is more to them than just the sexual imagery. They are divided in three main groups – Western , Eastern and Southern. Most of the erotic sculptures are seen in the Western Group of temples. A few temples in the Eastern Group are dedicated to Jain teerthankaras.
Reading through the ASI book on Khajuraho, I learn that the sculptures are grouped into five broad categories. The first category are the cult images and they are built exactly as prescribed in the manual – the Shilpashastra. You can see some of them carved as the teerthankaras in the Jain museum.
The second category are the ones you see in the reliefs and niches and they usually represent attendants, the guardian deities, the gandharvas, the shiva ganas, the ashta dikpalas among others.
The third is my favourites – the apsaras, also referred to as sapna sundaris. The sculptors seemed to have run riot carving these beautiful women in various activities. They seem so life like and beautiful and every minute detail has been given importance to.
These graceful nymphs portray human emotions. You seem them dancing, painting, holding a parrot, caressing a baby or scratching their backs or just undressing. These are not exclusive to Khajuraho as well as you can see them in several Hoysala temples as well besides others.
And then you have scenes from day to day life. The book refers to them as ” secular sculptures.” Warriors, dancers, musicians are coupled with scenes of a royal court, a teacher and a pupil, a sculptor with his students and even funeral scenes .In addition to all of these, you also see mythical animals and even floral prints.
Finally you see the famous erotic sculptures of Khajuraho. Mithunas mating to group sex to even scenes of unnatural sex. And while they do remain in your face, it is such a pity that we miss out the rest of art carved on these temples.
The post Stories and myths around the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho appeared first on Lakshmi Sharath.
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