To Quill the Mocking World
By Ratika Sablania
I flew out of Calcutta, zigzagged in Air India to Delhi then Varanasi then Agra and after 6 hours of air travel dropped myself at this place I had read about long back in school and been enchanted ever since, the temples of Khajuraho. Plan ahead, for this place is excruciatingly painful to reach, the overnight Delhi-HJR train may come to your rescue though.
Once you reach, delve in the peace and beauty of this small, neat village with broad even roads. I went in spring, during the annual dance festival and have come back with the memories of perfect sunny afternoons, the ability to differentiate between the sensous Orissi, the dramatic Bharatnatyam and the graceful Kathak dance as I saw the performances against the backdrop of the temples dating back to 9th century. The place is open from sunrise to sunset.
The 85 temples were build by the Chandela king born out of the embrace between the 16 year old widow Hemavati bathing in moonlight and the moon god himself.
The temples glorifying the age of Chandela dynasty are dedicated to the god of creation, Vishnu and the god of destruction, Shiva, by a powerful king who just wanted to wipe the stigma off his mother for embracing the Moon.
Because sex sells, the only thing these temples are renowned for are the explicit erotic sculptures. Obviously there is more.
Dharm, Arth, Kaam, Moksha
The temples were built at a time where architecture and sculpture were considered as one art. They highlight Chandela’s philosophy of life based on the 4 pillars: Dharm, Arth, Kaam and Moksha. Religion or Belief, Money or Work, Union and Salvation. It talks of creating balance in life. The sculpture of man fighting the mythical beast depicts how humans should fight desire, the woman holding ripe mango represents sweet wisdom. Another sculpture of elephant is laughing. The elephant is laughing at a man, who is busy locating the point of sexual energy on the woman’s body. You see the point moves with the waxing and waning of the moon, they say.
Here you see can the apsara yawning, the other apsara is plucking the thorn out of her feet, she is writing a love letter and smiling, she is playing with a ball, she is playing a flute, she is looking in a mirror…
The whole place celebrates female beauty and human anatomy. Tribhanga and Sambhanga, the division of human body in 3 parts or as a whole, and then using these isolations in dance forms and the sculptures. The sculptures here mostly are tribhanga, head – chest – torso all isolated, the movements highlighted in the postures. There are sculptures of women here being responsible for their own pleasure. Not a single one for men though. Obviously, all the sculptors were men!
People preferred wearing jewelry instead of clothes. There were 54 hairstyles one could choose from, and the only way to identify a man from a woman was the presence or absence of the bust.
Obviously culture per se, these people were class apart. Today national leaders, security forces, humanitarians, parents and organizations around the world are struggling to understand what has happened to people these days and their thought process. It is simple. The answer lies in the Maslow’s pyramid. These temples date back to an age where India was a rich nation. Once you have the primitive needs fulfilled and the peace and the security the mind is open to think free and explore art. I saw a strong contrast in what the temples stood for, and the people visiting them today. In todays India people are still struggling, even the salaried class earning in 6 digits is striving hard to maintain a basic aspirational lifestyle. Reason is simple, we are still a developing nation. If you are cribbing about how you were made to slog throughout your education stint, pause and think about the country and the age you were born in. Understanding shall alleviate your pain better. If we say today Europe is the place for art, similar is the reason for it. They have the permit to move up to the Maslow’s hierarchy, we in India, still don’t have that luxury.
Here is a student learning Tantra, by consuming the cosmic energy released during the union.
The last I noticed books on Tantra displayed amply in market, was in the junky market of Arambol beach. Today this subject finds mention only in the world of hippies and some rare Discovery documentaries.
May be the only other way to indulge is to bypass Mr. Maslow & become a hippy.
Tantra has received similar fate to what has happened to Devdaasis or nagarvadhus. The exceptionally trained Devdaasi, who helped men and women reach salvation by helping them activate the 7 chakras by moving the sexual energy up, has gained a completely different meaning with time.
Spirituality doesn’t ask you to become a hippy and run away. Enlightenment doesn’t not necessitate giving up of all social responsibilities and living a lifestyle to the extremities of hedonism or self-negligence. It’s quite the opposite. It just means to be closer to yourself, to have a healthy mind and healthy body at a priority. In short, it means applying common sense to your everyday life.
Water is dripping from the hair of the apsara and the ‘Hans’ is confused if it is a drop of water or a pearl!
This sculpture signifies that beauty can trump even intelligent Hans sometimes. Such were the hopeless Chandravanshis! The masculinity as we know today doesn’t seem to be in fashion back then. The sculptures depict stories, wisdom abound. Here is a couple embracing, the girl is scared by a monkey, the man is pushing the monkey away with a stick. They say the monkey represents “chanchal man” which the guy needs to fight. Open to interpretation obviously.
Wandering and immersing in such places lets you enjoy the simple things about a day, the morning, the noon, the afternoon, the evening, the night, the stars.
The café on the tree. Sit here not for the food but for the view of the temples as you sit atop the tree top café. Sitting charges, Rs 50 per person.Cycling tour of the city: Got to know about this a little late so could not give it a try. Looks okay no!The light and dance show: this happens daily, except during dance festival. So missed this one.
The annual Dance festival: Scheduled in the perfect spring time of the year. It takes you back to the time when elaborate Orissi had to be performed to please the gods.
And that’s about it. May we find the balance in our lives and gain pleasure and wisdom from the extremities that one should expose himself to once in a while.
(Photo Credits: Ratika Sablania)