About the Book
There is no gainsaying that vulgar scenes of sexuality had been on temples created all over India between 5th century A.D and 14th century A.D Many people looked upon them as a sullying mark of Indian culture. Some scholars with chauvinistic ardour tried to find out a good reason for appearance of those erotic scenes on temple walls, and, over the last two hundred years, more than a dozen explanations have been put forward but none proved to be tenable. A temple was constructed under the strict supervision of a Braman priest, known as Sthapaka, who had knowledge about the canons of temple building. It is surprising how in such a conservative ambience the vulgar erotic figures could precipitate on temple walls. It is only possible if those figures have an ugly-ducking meaning. Unfortunately that meaning remained unveiled so long. This, according to the present scholar, is due to two reasons. First, all scholars tried to approach the problem connecting the erotic figures with the socio-cultural developments of different times in different places, and not caring for the metaphysical meaning of a temple. The figures are not discrete units. To decipher those it was necessary to know the esoteric meaning of the temple as a whole. Secondly, scholars made a confusion between vulgar erotic figures and the traditional amorous art motifs and wrongly noticed the former in the edifices of all religions such as Buddhist Stupa, Jain temple, Hindu cave temples etc. By a critical assessment it has been established that the vulgar erotic figures exist only on free-standing Hindu temples. In this work probing deep into Vedic scriptures the metaphysical meaning of a Hindu temple has been re-discovered and with that knowledge the mystery of the erotic content of those has been brought to light.
Born in 1940 Sri Kalyanbrata Chakraborty, an M.A. in Ancient Indian History and Culture from Calcutta University, started his career in the service of the Tourism Department of Government of West Bengal. Subsequently while teaching Tourism and Travel Management in Colleges he developed a remarkable interest in Indological studies. With rare originality he penetrated into perplexing problems of Indian culture such as finding out the unexplored ontology of Salagrama as an image of Visnu or the mystery of transformation of Srikrishna, a human hero, to the position of the Supreme God being identified with Visnu. But the most striking achievement of Sri Chakraborty lies in his endeavour to trace the obscure origin of Hinduism as distinct from Brahmanism. How in course of time Vedic Yajna gave way to non-Vedic Puja, who were the people who took the initiative of it and under what inspiration or compulsion, remained unknown so long creating a void in Indian religious history. In a book titled Emergence of Hinduism and Human Face of God the sober history of growth and development of Hinduism has been written and the truth t the core of this religions has been explored. In recognition of the contributions made by Sri Chakraborty in the field of Indology Rastriya Sanskrit University, Tirupati, has conferred on him D. lit. (Honoris Causa) degree with the title Vachaspati. The present work is a force to find a rational sculptures of temples.
There are some mysterious issues in Indian cultural system which pose problem in understanding. One such issue is the vulgar erotic figures carved on the temple walls. During the last two hundred years more than a dozen of explanations have been offered by different scholars to solve the riddle of erotic sculptures. People in general have been adapted to remain satisfied by accepting one explanation or the other. In the scholarly world the general agreement is that the problem of the erotic sculptures still remains because none of the solutions offered could spell the raison’ deter for their appearance on temple walls.
Sri Kalyanbrata Chakraborty, a profound scholar on Indology, took interest in the and came o the opinion that scholars failed so long to reveal the significance of the erotic sculptures owing to two reasons. First, they made erroneous study of erotic sculptures and noticed objectionable eroticism on all religious edifices irrespective of Buddhist Stupa, Jaina temple or Cave temples of any religion. This, according to Sri Chakraborty is not correct. By a meticulous study of sculptures, alleged to be erotic on place other than Hindu temples, he pointed out that those are not erotic in proper sense of the term. Those are continuation of the traditional art of India. His observations have been corroborated by competent art critics. The problem of erotic sculptures attracts only free-standing Hindu temples and no other religious and non-religious buildings. The second that obsessed proper understanding of the erotic sculptures is that all the scolars tried to discover their justification by looking at those sculptures without any regard to the metaphysical meaning of the temple which unknown so. In a country like India where everything is conceived of in a mystic way, a temple has to have a metaphysical. If the meaning of the temple as a whole could be redintegrated the erotic sculptures would have begotten their meaning automatically.
With the above convictions Sri Chakrabory devoted his effort to unveil the esoteric meaning of a Hindu temple. Hinduism, though different from Brahminism, is to a great extent imbibed with Brahmanic philosophy. Hence by an indepth study of Brahanic religion, especially its ritual Yajna and the fire-altar connected with it, the secret identity of the fire-altar with the sacrifice could be Known. The fire-altar has been called the eternal body of the sacrifice. It has also been found that unity between the temple and the fire-alter. The centre of unity is the Vastu-Purusa-Mandala, the same magic diagram on which both the fire-altar and the temple stand. A temple has been called fire-altar has been transferred to the temple also, A temple represents a man. That the temple represents Purusa, the Cosmi Man, as also the terrestrial man because both are constituted by the same elements, have been confirmed by Agni Purana, Silpa Ratna, Hayasirsa Pancharatra and Shilparatnakosha. Discovery of the metaphysical eaning of the Hindu temple, that it represents a man both in essence and form, provided a definite clue to decipher the erotic sculptures. The resemblance of the limbs of a man with the different parts of the temple is not enough, identity of the temple with the man may be complete only by finging out symptoms of his essential nature, i.e. the three gunas, sattva, raja and tama, in the scheme of the temple. Sri Chakraborty could immaculately point out existence of marks of these gunas on the appropriate parts of the temple. The erotic sculptures had to be depicted to represent the base tama guna of human nature. It has been revealed that a temple has a didactic meaning. It has been revealed that a temple has a didactic meaning. It is an image of individual self. By seeing his own image a man should be aware of his inner reality and take necessary precaution to determine the course of his life. It conforms with the great dictum of Hinduism Atmanam Viddhi, know thyself. Manu has said – only by self-knowledge one can attain immortality.
An analysis of the significance of the erotic sculptures of Hindu temples was desideratum, because these sculptures had created great controversy in regard to Indian sculptures itself. Western historians have indicated that all these have demonstrated the base propensities of Indian mind, that had great fondness for ugly scenes and pictures. This is the first time that Sri Kalaynbrta Chakrabory has come forward to solve the riddle of the erotic sculptures in a cogent manner, furnishing arguments that are acceptable to the modern mind. In a sense, therefore, this work is a tour de force. It has deviated from the original path and has presented certain truths which were not known or presented before. The raison ‘deter of appearnece of erotic sculptures on temple wall has ultimately been discovered. I am sure, the work will prove itself a source book to all future researching students and inquisitive common readers, wanting to dive deep into the niceties of Indian culture.
I congratulate Dr. Kalyanbrata Chakrabory and welcome his work entitled “Erotic Scluptures of Hindu Temples; A Fresh appraisal” to the arena of works on Indian culture, particularly to the arena of Temple Architecture.
The most controversial matter in Indian fine art is the erotic sculptures adoring Hindu temples. In temples build all over India, the extant ones dating from the 5th century A.D. down to the 14th century A.D, sculptures displaying eroticism in different degrees is often noticed. These sculptures are of different sizes and carved in different styles such as bass relief, altorelievo etc. Those are displayed either on the front walls or in recessed corners and in some temples, especially, those of Khajuraho, Konarak etc. there are carvings which may blatantly be called obscene in that they exhibit sexual union between man and woman publicly Civilised decorum, one expects, is that one should draw the curtain before man and woman undress themselves. What then impelled the priests, artists and artisans, to make an exception and set the exciting scenes of depravity and lasciviousness before the eyes of the pilgrims. This remained a mystery till today.
To eyes of most of the art critics, both Indian and foreign, and also to the unbiased observers, the erotic scenes appear to be abusive. But some connoisseurs are there who would justify the creative aspect of the sculptures. However, a rational mind cannot rest until it finds a reason behind creation of these sculptures on the temple walls. Discovery of such a reason may portray some esoteric meaning of sculptures and perhaps of the temples as a whole. What appears to be a sullifying mark may prove to be an ugly-duckling feature having a great significance. But in the explanations put forward by scholars so far the mystery has not been revealed.
Being perplexed by the problem the eminent scholar K.M. Munshi commented “Is it not possible that these sculptures possess some significance which has been lost to us?” It seems to be a correct presumption. Unfortunately all efforts made for the last two hundred years to rescue that meaning have failed. Devangana Desai in her book Erotic Sculptures of India – a Socio Cultural Study made an important study of the subject. Over a long time she travelled far and wide for gazing the erotic sculptures, collecting information and making photographic documentation. She also made comprehensive study on different aspects of the problem as deemed relevant to her. Her finding of course, has a lot of historical value but she failed to strike the bull’s eye. She could not find the raison d’etre for appearance of the erotic sculptures on Temple walls.
While writing the foreword of Desai’s book Prof. Nihar Ranjan Roy said- all her hard work “has given the author good dividend. She has been able to formulate set of interesting hypotheses which should provide, for the first time, a clear and comprehensive guideline for any serious study of this fascinating and intriguing aspect of Indian art, life in general and culture. It should be to my mind the best reference book on the subject for years to come. This certainly does not mean that the treatise has answered all the questions, which may yet disturb a serious student of the subject. For questions further analytical study and investigation would, of course, be called for.”
Notwithstanding the utility of Desai’s work to get factual information on the subject, I am beset with the dilemma if the visual and socio-cultural line of investigation followed by her will ever meet with success. In my opinion the basic defect in her approach, as also in the approaches of other scholars who wanted to penetrate into the problem, is that solution was sought to be found out looking at those sculptures only and finding out the nature of their variation through time and space, and not caring at all to understand the meaning of the temple. These sculptures are not discrete units. These are part of the whole. Their meaning will be unraveled if the metaphysical meaning of a Hindu temple can be known.
I go interested in the problem when I had undertaken assignment of teaching Tourism Management as a vocational course in the undergraduate level. In the tour itinerary of the tourist visiting any important town in India a Hindu temple is sure to thrust a place for its architectural and sculptural grandeur. Erotic figures can b seen on temple walls almost everywhere, the temples of Orissa and Khajuraho being specially noted for that. This apparently invites a charge of voluptuousness against the whole nation. As a teacher of Tourism Management I felt obliged to take a defensive stand against that. Consulting views of the scholars I could feel that the problem persists. I started thinking deply into the matter and I could realized that the problem can never be solved looking at the erotic figures in isolation. These are to be seen as an integral part whole temple. The temple is to be understood first. In the Indian religious ambience nothing has been conceived without its appropriate spiritual significance. A temple must has a metaphysical meaning has been suggested faintly in some scriptures but not exposed clearly anywhere. So far no serious work has been done to reveal this meaning. Probing into the matter I perceived that to sense the metaphysical meaning it is necessary first to understand the meaning of the religion that ordained construction of temples. A temple is not a place of mass worship like religious structures. Hindu religion enjoins personal worship of individual deity. There is no place for mass worship. Then for a temple was built? It must have some purpose. It probably conveys some message. That is why seeing a temple has been advised. What can be that message? Came to my realization that to comprehend that message it is absolutely necessary to know the religio-philosophic innovations of the time when temple construction was first started.
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