Why erotic carvings in Nepali Hindu temples

In the library in September, I saw a newly arrived book displayed.

Indian Esoteric Buddhism
A Social History of the Tantric Movement
Ronald M. Davidson
ISBN: 81-208-1991-8

The sticker showed: 309.54 // D281i // 2002. “i” indicated that it was for issue.
I had started writing something about traditional architect of Nepali temples and effects of tantra on it. Actually, I thought of writing on the topic when I was in Benares in April this year. I saw local tourist guides dissipating misleading information about the Nepali Temple in the Lalita Ghat to tourists. And the book could be of help to understand something about tantra, I had thought.

I was the first borrower of the book. Since Sep 14, I have been renewing it, but hardly have I have read more than two pages. (Today I renewed it. But I know I don’t read it.)
For those unwitting guides in Varanasi, the love making carvings in the artistically hewn wooden strut (tundaal) are Kaamasutra postures. And believing what they are told, the sightseers enjoy the woodcraft as if it’s a classy piece of erotica. Erroneously the replica temple of the Pashupatinath on the bank of the Ganges has been depicted as “Sex Temple.” And, that’s catastrophe.

I was really upset with the Nepal Government and the Tourism Board for even not trying to rectify the wrong impression of the temple. Every tourist has to pay Rs 10 (Indian currency) as entrance fee to enter the premises. (The money goes to the fund of the temple and the Nepali Dharmashala and Nepali students living in the Dharmashala are taken care of froom the fund, though.)

So far no authority has made an effort to give information as it should be about the temple and its history and the architect used in it etc.
(And, after discussing with Swami Omkaranada, the head of the trust that looks after the temple and the Nepali Dharmashala, I had decided to prepare a booklet for tourists. Also, after returning to Kathmandu, I talked to Gopal Jha of the Department of Archaeology about the need of dissipating information to the visitors.)

I will tell you one incidence that I came across that for sure will make you laugh for a while. You may feel sort of bad after a while.

Pointing towards the carvings on the struts, they say,”Look Shiva Parvati f**k f*u*k, Ganesha born.” (These are the exact words they use to tell westerners.)

Anyways. Do you know what does the erotic carving in the struts in the Pagoda-style Nepali temples indicate? If you don’t know also, don’t assume things. Neither is Ganesha shown during birth nor are figured Shiva and Parvati making love in the wooden cross-pieces.
(I was supposed to handover the write-up to Swami when he was here in Kathmandu before Dashain. I could not end up with a final version actually because of my being lazybones in one hand and some unknown fear within me in the other. I could finish it had I given a couple of more hours. I could not garner courage. Fear was: Authorities may later label what I write as unauthentic. (It’s easier to criticize others.) Though I would not take a penny from Swami, if censured, my research and labour would go in vain. So, without getting permission from the authorities concerned why to write? Why to publish (it)? Also, they can happily ask an expert on Nepali culture to do that, I felt.

Nonetheless, I may write for Swami again. We may publish it very soon. (I will be happy if the NTB pays me for it! hehe)

Well, there are some mythologies regarding the erotic carvings in (Nepali) Hindu Temples. I will be giving a brief account on some of them.

MYTHOLOGY NO. 1
This story relates to the Mahabharata period. In the great war of Mahabharata, a female ruler of a country (I could not remember her name and of the country now) that happens to be some where in present Nepal was invited to fight from the Kaurava’s side. She was celibate. She had very strong army and was invincible. As long as she was in favour of the Kaurava, the Pandava would not win the war, Lord Krishna realised it.

He asked Bhimsen to pray Lord Hanuman for the help. Bhimsen and Hanuman both are brothers! Hanuman materialized from the imprint in the flag on his brother’s chariot and the virgin queen saw an au naturel manly figure. Being a puritan, she retaliated from the battleground.

Even deities are not fair. To win, they too resort to deception! She developed a feeling of hatred for gods and demigods. She started destroying temples.

To prevent holy places from her fury, people started keeping something erotic in or near them. Thenceforth began the tradition of erotic carving in temples!

MYTHOLOGY NO. 2

Lord Indra, the most lustful god according to the Hindu myth, will not let the bolt (Bajra)—his weapon—to fall in the places where there is something erotic!
Lovemaking carvings to prevent temples from bolt of lightning then!

MYTHOLOGY NO. 3— (Of no significance)
MYTHOLOGY NO. 4—.(Of no significance)

Moreover, whatever be the story behind the start of that art, there should be and are some reasons for the wide-spread use of such carvings in holy places where people go to be pure! And, tantra is the main thing to take into account!

A movement cult in Hinduism as well as Buddhism developed circa Seventh Century AD. It turned into a cult. In tantra, five “M”s viz. Matsya (fish), Maamsa (meat), Mudraa (posture), Madiraa (wine) and Maithuna (sex) are of great importance.

Since most of the Nepali Hindu shrines were (and are) based on tantra, the use of lovemaking postures can be explained.

You may again ask why arousing art in temples! Well, it’s symbolic. Base of creation is sex but it’s not everything. (My interpretation is outside is sex and inside is the god. Lo! It sounds great.) Have you ever noticed the struts? Levels in it I mean?

Generally there are three or four levels. You need to know. I am giving a brief account again about all levels.

FIRST STEP: The level of lust (== Mahakaali-level)

Reproduction is the beginning of the living world. Sex is its base.
Only the base has carving of a couple making love or in playing posture. (There is a helper also in some carvings. I really don’t know why!)

SECOND STEP: The level of prosperity (== Mahalakshmi level)
Even beasts do sex. If now sex all time, things can be accumulated for future. Humans work for prosperity.
There are some vessels representing the wealth in the step just above the base of the strut.

THIRD STEP: The level of wisdom (==Mahasaraswoti level)
If knowledge is there, you can excel in your life. Humans are different from other animals because they have knowledge and proper insight.
A tall figure carrying either book or musical instrument or flower or bead or some other things is in the third step, portraying the essence of wisdom.
This step is transitional. If you do not give up arrogance though you are wise, you will fall down. (You will nothing different from a beast fighting for food and living for sex!). Else, you will advance to the upper level.

FOURTH STEP: The level of Enlightenment
Above all is the level of illumination. Enlightenment, I prefer to say. There are three or four lotus like halos. All representing the step above wisdom.
Conscious void, shapeless void, “something void” (if there are three halos! I forgot the name by the way) and zero void. (My punditry!)

All these steps and carvings portray the steps and things in human life. All symbolic. You convinced?

Though not a pundit on (or is it of or in?) tantra, I wrote what I believe and how I interpreted things. If any mistakes anywhere, feel free to comment.

[By the way, if you happen upon this entry via any search engine while trying to find something about “Nepali temple” in Varanasi or erotic carvings in Nepali Hindu temples, hopefully you got manna from heaven. You need to be obliged towards me for getting precious information for free. But you have to post a comment here. (Nominal fee for the writer!) If you want, with my permission you may recite these things along with the original link and mentioning my name.]

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10 comments on “Why erotic carvings in Nepali Hindu temples

  1. I was quite wondering about it for a long time. I do have a keen interest on spiritualism. In fact, aspiring to do a comparative study of the east and western philosophy. I liked your writing. Think somehow our interests meet. Often wonder if this world could ever be turned into a peaceful place. But then, there had been things like wars and destruction even in the Sathya, Dwapar and Treta Yugas and things have continued. Even Greeks have their tales of war in their history of myths. Wonder why God if almighty cannot destroy all the evil and only let good prevail. Then, the answer is that the world is a stage and life but a game. In the vast cosmos of spirit time and incidents are but fractions. We are all learning perfection, seeking perfection and that will be at the end when the game is over. When the soul finally realizes its true nature to be merged with the supreme entity of peace and bliss. But at the same time I doubt this theory. Coz some specices have gone extinct in terms of evolution. Why the jump? Got quite dizzy to think where things start and end.

    Especially liked ur idea of tantricism and a Nepali virgin female ruler. Of tantricism I had read a similar sort, a Lama tantric practicing among women eating raw meat in the book “Living with Himalayan Saints (on the life of Swami Rama)”. Again wonder about the Maharabhata tale, why even the lord should be cunning? Remember another incident of Jalandhar`s wife. And we define the God as pure, full of truth and the Lords indulge in such acts of cheats. Why? Even avatars did not teach us the right way to defeat injustice rather than to resorting to violence and frauds.

    If you can solve my these troubling thoughts, hope to see your ideas in an article in ur blog.

    Thank you.

    • @Lostman, Gunesh,
      Wat u r puzzling abt God’s use of deception is not true interpretation. In Hindu shastras there is a strong philosophy of Shatam Shatyam Shatacharey which refers to deal with cheats in their own tongue. And this is the law of the nature, when Indians forgot it they were ruled by foreigners, barbarians… to prevent righteousness and civilised society from evil and destroyers the important thing is DEFENCE… even law allows killing in self-defence when it become necessary.

      This was the very critical teaching ignoring it in the name of morality caused great suffering to the innocent civilian population of India for last 1500 years.

  2. I was quite wondering about it for a long time. I do have a keen interest on spiritualism. In fact, aspiring to do a comparative study of the east and western philosophy. I liked your writing. Think somehow our interests meet. Often wonder if this world could ever be turned into a peaceful place. But then, there had been things like wars and destruction even in the Sathya, Dwapar and Treta Yugas and things have continued. Even Greeks have their tales of war in their history of myths. Wonder why God if almighty cannot destroy all the evil and only let good prevail. Then, the answer is that the world is a stage and life but a game. In the vast cosmos of spirit time and incidents are but fractions. We are all learning perfection, seeking perfection and that will be at the end when the game is over. When the soul finally realizes its true nature to be merged with the supreme entity of peace and bliss. But at the same time I doubt this theory. Coz some specices have gone extinct in terms of evolution. Why the jump? Got quite dizzy to think where things start and end.

    Especially liked ur idea of tantricism and a Nepali virgin female ruler. Of tantricism I had read a similar sort, a Lama tantric practicing among women eating raw meat in the book “Living with Himalayan Saints (on the life of Swami Rama)”. Again wonder about the Maharabhata tale, why even the lord should be cunning? Remember another incident of Jalandhar`s wife. And we define the God as pure, full of truth and the Lords indulge in such acts of cheats. Why? Even avatars did not teach us the right way to defeat injustice rather than to resorting to violence and frauds.

    If you can solve my these troubling thoughts, hope to see your ideas in an article in ur blog.

    Thank you.

  3. I visited this temple in 1971-2 when I was living in Varanasi. I found the carvings crude by comparison to the exquisite reliefs visible on the Surya Mandir in Orissa, for example. Also the attitude of the sadhu-tour-guide was salacious, I agree. My view about the conflcit between erotism and ‘spirituality’ is that this is not characteristic of ancient Aryan culture – nor is it characteristic of the culture of, for example, ancient Greece in which similar references to sex are numerous. This idea comes from Semitic culture with its love of all things repressive. The introduction of the idea of sexual repression into Indian culture dates from the Mughal period, I believe. In my view, it cannot be that such beautiful representations of sexual love as are evident on the Surya Mandir stem from a sexually repressed or repressive society. Nor do I think it is worthwhile trying to justify these representations in terms of a contemporary view of ‘spirituality’. Best wishes and thanks for this blog!

  4. Dear sir,
    I am a tourist guide of Nepal and I was doung research for my M.Phil Presentation when I happened to come by your article.After I read your article, I felt that Your writing has somehow criticized Nepalese Tourist Guides.The important thing to be noted is that to hold a license of tourist guide one has to be at least a Bachelor’s Degree holder and take trainings of all subjets ranging from First aid ,Geography,History,Architechture,Forestry, Religion and other miscellaneous subjects because a tourist guide has to make himself a “walking encyclopedia”. I have a deep concern for your sentence which I have quoted from your article : It says-“Pointing towards the carvings on the struts, they( You mean -Nepalese Tourist Guides) say,”Look Shiva Parvati f**k f*u*k, Ganesha born.” (These are the exact words they use to tell westerners.) I dont know whether these words are exaggerated just to make the article plumpy but anybody who says or have said this is not a tourist guide or local guide.He/she was a fake guide concerned to cheat the tourists or I should say strangers.It is true that all guides involved in tourism arena are not dedicated and do not pass on true information therefore making it a disrespected job .Now TURGAN (Tourist Guides’ Asssiciation of Nepal) is implementing strict checking of Guide’s License and most probably the hard working Tourist Guides will not be commented or misundeerstood this way. Thank You.

    Thapa Abhijeet

  5. When I read it for the first time,It was not for so clear whether you were talking about Beneras. ,anyway your writing suggests that link in Kathmandu. Later when i went through your article for the second time It seemed that YOU were talking about guides (local ) of Beneras but it was trying to awake Nepalese Government and tourism Board. Thank You for this.Its true that people in the name of guides make living through cheating. thank you very much.

  6. keshav: good job, lots of new info, i will find out and confirm the mahabharat episode for u. your explanation of tantra is quite convincing as well.
    duncan, a word to the wise: sexual repression had been found in literature and art that predates the mughal era, so it wouldn’t be correct to say that that is when repression began in south asia. In fact, erotic carvings in temples persisted even while the culture of normal people was repressive. But I had come across a far flung theory which said that semites and aryans used to be one and the same before they split in two parts and headed in two different directions long ago. So the erotic carvings are the remnants of indigenous cultures of south asia, which came to be slowly repressed with time. in modern temples that are built today, im sure there will be no such carvings.

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  8. i believe your research is to a great extent precise . Human evolution is from sex,
    you have briefly explained the steps
    of a human needs at different times.
    life is not all about being materialistic
    and full of erotic senses we must rise from
    all this to have a blissfull and spiritual life.

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