As part of the Museum of Art & Photography’s virtual MAP Talks series, a panel of experts debunked many myths surrounding the Khajuraho temples.
The ancient temples of Khajuraho in Madhya Pradesh have long been associated with erotic imagery. Although only five percent of the sculptures in Khaujraho are erotic in nature, their overwhelming presence engulfs the rest of the prominent structures in plebeian discourse. In scholarly debate over the years, these temples have been referred to equally as religious, stately, and representative of daily life, but these alternative interpretations are often overlooked. MAP (Museum of Art & Photography) Bengaluru has chosen to shed some light on these lesser known theories about the Khajuraho Temples through an interesting virtual talk organized as part of its MAP Talks series. Justified ‘sex in stone‘, the event was held in collaboration with Ashoka University’s Center for Studies in Gender and Sexuality (CSGS).
The Khajuraho Temples are a group of monuments built by the Chandela dynasty between 885 AD and 1050 AD. They were discovered in the 1830s by Capt. TS Burt brought to world public attention. Her highly detailed structures, many of which are designed in erotic poses, became a sensation and sent shockwaves through Western (and Western-influenced) Indian society.
Of the 85 temples reportedly built by Janth century, only 25 survive to this day. Most of the erotic sculptures line the outer wall of the Lakshman Temple, and these have captured the fascination of historians and social commentators alike. A number of texts have been written on this subject, questioning the reason for the display of these sensual statues. The remaining temples and sculptures are mostly religious in nature and represent both the Hindu and Jain faiths.
“Do the sculptures represent progressive practices or was the display of desire just symbolic? How does the art and architecture of these monuments repeat or subvert definitions of the sacred and sensual?” were the questions this panel discussion sought to answer. The speakers were chosen accordingly.
These included educator Seema Anand, a mythologist specializing in women’s narratives. Combining her academic expertise with her cultural knowledge, she is considered an authority on several ancient Indian texts, including the Mahabharata and the Puranas. There was the art historian Dr. Alka Pande, who taught Indian art and aesthetics at Panjab University for over ten years and wrote and edited extensively books on Indian aesthetics, culture and photography; and art historian Shivaji K Panikkar, a gay-identified art historian who specializes in Indian art and has taught for over 35 years. These esteemed guests chatted with the event’s host – author Anirudh Kanisetti, who is currently an editor at MAP Academy and focuses on pre-modern South Indian arts, in addition to directing numerous other creative endeavors.
All panelists agreed that more than ‘Temple of Sex“, these stone figures were a sign of the times. Panikkar pointed out that since these are state-commissioned works of art, they represent an official view. It is not known whether this view was an allusion to prevailing social mores or an attempt to appease the gods. For Anand, the greatest charms lay in the statues of women, shown in various positions, such as playing with a ballth At the beginning of the 20th century, people believed that Mother Earth had forgotten how to enjoy pleasure – so these temples were built to bring back her kind of happiness so she could stay productive and happy,” she explains. Pande refers to Khajuraho as promoting the holistic way in which ancient texts guided the Native Americans to live. This was based on the four Purusharthas – Dharma, Artha, Kama and Moksha. She also points to one of the Chandela kings, known as the patron of the tantric cult, who may have commissioned the sculptures to describe the transcendence of karma to moksha.
The open nature of the discussion provided interesting food for thought and thus corresponded to the aim of this virtual talk series, which is hosted several times a month by MAP, Bengaluru. Kamini Sawhney, Director of MAP, shares the model and the intent behind it: “MAP regularly organizes 5-7 events, virtual and physical, each month, however the themes of the monthly events differ. We often organize events related to parallel programming at MAP such as: B. newly started exhibitions. The events take place live on Zoom and Youtube.”
She goes on to say that her online events range from workshops to master classes, artist talks and panel discussions. Each is curated to appeal to audiences of different ages, from children to adults, from laypeople to museum professionals. Her intention behind this talk was to attract an older audience who are knowledgeable about the history of Khajuraho, those curious about these temples, and students just beginning their art history journey.
When asked why they are continuing to work virtually while the rest of the world opens their doors, Sawhney says, “MAP’s virtual conversations will continue even as the museum space opens physically this December. Our digital programming and reach has allowed us to connect with audiences around the world, which has helped us fulfill our mission of bringing art to the people and making art accessible to diverse audiences. The advantage of virtual conversations lies in the fact that we don’t have to limit our audience to those who are only located in Bengaluru.”
In August, MAP curated a series celebrating the 75th anniversary of the partition, among other interesting events. For World Photography Day, they opened up their extensive photo archive to the world for a rare digital treat. It seems there is always something brewing at MAP Bengaluru, leaving arts and culture lovers spoiled for choice.
Noor Anand Chawla writes lifestyle articles for various publications and her blog www.nooranandchawla.com.
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