Many explanations have been given for such figures. One book
coyly suggests that the 'goddess of lightening' was an innocent virgin and
the carvings acted as a sort of lightening repellent that worked by
scaring her away with their explicitness.
Another authority states that the languid ladies and copulating couples were a test of the monks' celibacy. Some say that the figures were a graphic reminder to the worshipper that he must leave all such earthly thoughts behind before he entered the temple's hallowed precincts.
Yet another theory is that the erotica of Khajuraho had a specific purpose. In those days when the boys lived in hermitages, according the Hindu law, they were required to observe celibacy or lead a life of 'Brahmacharya', until they attained manhood. The only way they could prepare themselves for the worldly role of householders was through the study of these sculptures and the earthly passions they depicted.
Erotica As Expressed In Indian Architecture
The universal acceptance of the erotic motif in the religious art of India has, however, a deeper significance touching the roots of the Indian culture. It is important to recall that the creation of myths from the Vedic age onwards have stressed on the polarity between the sexes as the source of creation.
The physical union between man and woman is indeed a human counterpart of the cosmic function of creation. The Supreme Being impregnates nature through his longing for the opposite, symbolizing the union of Shiva and 'Shakti' or 'Purusha' and 'Prakriti', and the pull between the two principles becomes the source of all life and creation. The joy of physical union, thus, symbolically reflects the infinite joy of Divinity in creation.
According to the Hindu view, the final aim of life is salvation, which lies in the merging of the 'Atman' with 'Parmatman' or the individual soul with the universal. The union of man and woman, wherein all sense of duality is lost, thus came to constitute a symbol of liberation. As a man in the embrace of his beloved wife knows naught, either without or within, a man lost in the infinite being is absolutely oblivious of his material surroundings. A temple, which is a monument of manifestation, reflects in its structural symbolism a broad base to a point. Sex forming an important element of the broad base of life is, therefore, aptly depicted in the temple and such depiction is not at all in conflict with the supreme objective or the final aim of life.
Indian erotic art is dedicated to the senses, not the mind. It utilizes sensation as a way of teasing the mind out of thought and taking it to the bliss that lies beyond. This inner bliss is called 'rasa', which means "Sap" or "essence," and is the legitimate goal of all artistic or spiritual endeavours according to the ancient treatises on esthetics. The senses must be so refined as to lead the mind to a state of pure feeling, which is beyond the individual ego and the constructions of time. Erotic art uses the sensual as a path to the spiritual.
Sex is a divine ritual to this end. As the expression of some of our most intense physical and emotional feelings, sexual love is an obvious path to divine awareness. Such an attitude is not exclusively Indian, of course. The Christian marriage service is talking about the same thing when the groom says to the bride. "With my body I thee worship."
But organized religion has a habit of stifling the joy it originally promoted. Khajuraho is the litany of an ancient faith that existed before the days of priests and prohibition. It is a hymn to those capricious gods that preside over beauty and pleasure, a celebration of the mysterious power the Indians call 'shakti'.