The Khajuraho sculptures and friezes afford a peep into the
prevailing social conditions and throw interesting sidelight on some
aspects of contemporary social life.
Soldiers are frequently represented together with 'mahauts' (aroha or adhorana), horse-riders, attendants of horses and elephants such as 'lesikas' (grass-cutters), standard-bearers, umbrella-bearers, and royal servants and attendants. The 'mahauts' include the tamers and trainers of elephants.
Traders, Callings And Vocations
The 'sutradharas' (architects) and 'silpins' (sculptors) are frequently depicted at Khajuraho. Some of the senior architects (vijnanins) are represented wearing beards and are shown standing or seated, surrounded by an admiring crowd of disciples. In one case the master architect is depicted drawing a design on a board with a group of disciples carrying hammer and chisels standing around.
An allied vocation is that of stonecutters or stonemasons. There is a graphic scene of an architectural piece being carved with hammer and chisels and, on completion, being transported on a sturdy pole by six carriers, three on either side. The stonecutters use the same type of hammer and chisels as the 'silpins' (sculptors).
Hunters are frequently represented together with men carrying on poles hunted animals like boar and deer and sometimes large birds. The professional hunters (lubdhaka or sakunika) probably belonged to the aboriginal class of 'Sabaras' or lower castes such as the 'Meda', 'Mahara' or 'Chandala' mentioned in the contemporary Chandela inscriptions.
Wrestlers, acrobats and gladiators (manthas) fighting elephants and lions are also depicted at Khajuraho. There is no doubt that the acrobats belonged to the professional class known as 'natas' in contemporary literature.
Musicians And Dancers
Scenes of music and dance are among the commonest representations. With a few exceptions, the drummers and musicians are males, while the singers and dancers are females. While some of the dancers and musicians were possibly amateurs, most of those depicted on the friezes at Khajuraho were professionals, pertaining to the class of courtesans.
Some also belonged to the aboriginal tribes, as is indicated by the features of two devotees or street-singers playing on a pair of castanets and a tambourine depicted on the south-east façade of the Lakshmana Temple.
Courtesans And Prostitutes
The dancing girls largely came from the professional class of courtesans (ganikas) who formed an important element of the contemporary society. They are depicted vaunting their charms and offering wine to their dupes. Prostitutes formed an allied class and it is largely they who are so often represented in erotic panels on the exterior and interior walls of the temples.
Barbers, as attendants of female figures, are often found carrying a bag slung from their shoulder. Sometimes, they are shown holding a mirror or some handy surgical or toilet equipment. Mentioned in the contemporary Chandela records as 'napita', they were frequently employed to extract thorns, cut the nails, paint the feet or do minor surgical operations. It is interesting to note that they continue to play similar roles in rural India even now.
The army consisted of three principal arms, viz. Infantry, cavalry and elephants. The camels, though seen together with elephants, horses and footmen, on the Visvanatha Temple, are of rare occurrence and do not seem to constitute a regular arm. Chariots are conspicuous by absence. The main weapons wielded are sword and shield, dagger and lances. Sword and shield, being very popular, exhibit many varieties. Bows and arrows appear to have been used mainly for hunting.
There are numerous scenes of army on the march. Scenes of actual combat are, however, comparatively rare. The horses and elephants are represented with or without riders and preceded or followed by footmen carrying arms or haversacks containing provisions. The horsemen carry swords and occasionally lances; the mahauts carry goads and the attendants of elephants' lances.
Pageantry And Processions
More frequent than combats or army on the march are the scenes of court-pageantry, ceremonial gaiety and processions of sorts. In most cases, the representations of military parades and rallies are of a ceremonial nature. The secular processions are marked by gaiety and revelry, and dance and music. The religious processions represent devotees going out on a pilgrimage or to pay homage to a religious teacher or a deity to the accompaniment of dance and music and gaily-accoutred horses and elephants and footmen carrying weapons, standards, flags and banners.
Dance, music, drinking, gambling, hunting, wrestling, acrobatics and animal combats are among popular pastimes and amusements.
Musical and dance performances were common recreations followed by parties (pana-goshthis). Knowledge of and interest in dance and music were considered personal accomplishments for princes and princesses and young men (nagarakas) of aristocratic families. Playing with ball (kanduka-krida) was a favourite sport with the fair sex. Indoor games also included gambling and playing dice.
Fight between elephants (gaja-vahyali-vinoda) appears to be a popular sport and frequently figures at Khajuraho. This is illustrated at the entrance of the Lakshmana Temple where two elephants are being goaded to fight with a long pole held by one of the attendants.
'Mithuna' and 'Maithuna'
It has been found that the depiction of the 'mithuna' (loving couple) and the 'maithuna' (coitus) was originally inspired by the primitive fertility cult and were largely magico-propitiatory or magico-defensive in nature. We have also seen that the erotic depictions have evolved historically from the charming 'mithunas', which are ubiquitous in early Indian art and tradition.