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Published: January 4th 2010
Khajuraho - western temples
Varaha, an avatar of Vishnu, who defeated a demon to carry the earth to the bottom of the ocean.
This blog contains adult themes. If you’re under 18, well ... you know ... this’ll probably be too tame for you anyway so get back to sexting or whatever. There are photos of rock carvings of sexual activities, so if two levels of abstraction aren’t enough to keep you from being offended, skip to the next blog which should be ready in a day or two and is better than this one anyway (albeit longer).
(Also note that I've "published" two blogs today, the last one was about four hours ago)
It was Christmas morning, I got up early and headed down for the 05:30 a.m. boat trip down the Ganges. It was much similar to the one I’d done in the last blog, in the evening, but there wasn’t much happening. Still, it seemed as good a way as any to greet another Christmas day. Later that day I left for Khajuraho. As I took the auto
out of the city centre in Varanasi, the Catholic church was full. Indian God 30002, his followers with their heads bowed like scolded children, facing away from their God unlike most other Indians. It struck me as incongruous.
I arrived in Khajuraho. This is a small town known for its temples with naughty rock carvings all over them. It’s a small town, catering almost entirely for tourists. I was hoping to use it as a base to explore the nearby national park where there are still a few tigers, but the town annoyed the hell out of me and so I saw the temples and them came back to Varanasi a few days later.
From everything you’d read about Khajuraho you’d think it was some kind of 1000-year-old porn theatre, but in reality the temples are impressive in their own right and the naughty images make up a small percentage of the images (10% according to Wikipedia). There are quite a few images of women, broad-hipped and with large perfect breasts, but these aren’t necessarily sexual, and the audio guide for the temples suggests that everyone walked around topless in those days (presumably not in winter!). There’s at least as many images of the various gods, and the vast majority of the images are of normal things such as elephant processions, battles, etc.
Entry to the Western set of temples costs 25 times as much for
rubbish dump in the residential part of town
foreigners as for Indians (I think it was Rs 250 - about $AUS 6 - for foreigners). I paid an extra dollar or so for the audio guide. This was OK, but it turned out to be on cassette! It was an old-fashioned walkman-style cassette player with the signature of Ricky Ponting embossed on the front. With no rewind button, and difficulty in following which real-life points the audio guide was referring to, I had to make use of long-forgotten skills that the youth of today have no idea about, such as taking the cassette out, turning it over, and fast forwarding it, to rewind. (Even as a child, it never made sense to me how so many cassette players had a FF option but not a rewind option. “Rewind” seems much more important than “Fast Forward”. I guess it was easier to manufacture.)
The take of the narrator was that the temples were all about celebrating women, “woman as mother, woman seductive, alluring, eternally beautiful”, the narator said, or something equally politically incorrect and over the top. The temple architecture was also fairly impressive, although in some areas the restoration work had been terrible. The grounds were well-kept
pigs in the same rubbish dump
and it had a very peaceful air. Occasionally this would be interrupted if you go in closer to look at the carvings and, wham, there’s a carving of an orgy, or of a lady half covering her eyes while two gentlemen display a total misunderstanding the phrase “riding a horse”. Strangely enough, there’s no gay scenes.
There’s various ideas about why these carvings contain erotic images. Obviously most Hindu religions (Hinduism is of course not a religion but a broad family of religions) celebrate all aspects of life. Also, I don’t know many of their myths, but my understanding is that their gods did as much begetting as some of those Old Testament patriarchs. Lonely Planet suggests that it may have been used as sex education for young men in male-only schools but that seems strange to me. The audio tapes had suggested that sculptures would have been men who were apprenticed by their fathers from the age of about 12 and who every morning before carving would meditate and pray, to clear their minds; if this is true there’s probably a Freudian explanation too. I’d have to know more about Shiva worship but I think there’s also theological
Khajuraho - western temples
a lady complains about a thorn in her foot
reasons, where, as in Christianity, they see sex as tied in with cosmic ideas of unity between the divine and the human, and creation.
Various tour groups tour the temples with guides explaining in English to middle-class Indians things like “and there you can see Karma Sutra number 11 - double one”, pointing with reflected light from a small mirror to some half-hidden carving. Outside the peaceful temple area, in the new, touristy, city, book shops sell books about tantric sex, and various versions of the karma sutra, as well as the more common books found everywhere in India (“Jesus Lived in India”, “The White Tiger”, or anything by Deepak Chopra). At the Jain temple, earnest-looking touts sell keyrings with spring-loaded naughty action figures made of wire, the only amusing thing about them is that the touts expect anyone to buy them.
In the city there’s an abundance of hotels, most of them full and most of them overpriced and poor quality. The restaurants here have got the hang of making themselves look fancy and advertising all manner of western food, but most of them still haven’t got the hang of cooking yet. Some advertise all types of
Khajuraho - western temples
a lady is scared of the monkey
western meat dishes, whereas others are honest and only offer chicken. I found one place that actually had western-quality food and got a capricciosa pizza with real ham. Actually it was pretty nasty ham that was half-way between ham and bacon and shattered when you stuck a knife into it, but it was definitely slices of pig meat on the pizza, so that was nice. It ended up costing almost as much as a meal back home though.
In the western temples, at one point the wall gets very close to a modern temple to Ginesha. A wizened old lady stuck her hand through the fence and offered me a garland of flowers. I told her I didn’t want it. She insisted. I said no.
“Take it,” she said, and threw it at me. “No problem.”
“No problem?” I said. Knowing what would happen, but fed up with attempts to extort money, I put it on and walked away. She followed along behind me calling for money. Four months ago I might have felt guilty, but now I didn’t. I’d told her I didn’t want it, I hadn’t taken it from her, and she’d forced it on
Khajuraho - western temples
seems to be a hunting scene
me. I’m sick of people trying to extort money from “tourists”, particularly because it’s bad for India itself.
I continued looking at the intricate art-work on the temple wall, ignoring her. This took some time. A middle-class Indian lady on a tour spoke to me.
“Excuse me,” she said, pointing to the beggar, “she wants money for the flowers.”
“No,” I said, “she forced it on me, I didn’t take them or offer to pay for them.”
The tour guide overheard and stepped in. “No problem” he said, and spoke in Hindi to the beggar who disappeared as if by magic. The middle-class Indian lady gave me a slightly dirty look and they moved on. It’s good to see that the guides are taking a stand against this sort of thing.
I’d hired a bicycle, for Rs/ 40 (less than $AUS 1) for a day, no deposit. It was a one-speed, sturdy, black, Hero bicycle more ubiquitous in India than cows, gods or guys peeing against walls, put together. After visiting the main set of Western Temples I went off in search of the others. I wasn’t quite sure where to go, although it’s a small town
i didn’t have a map with me. A couple of teenage boys on bicycles saw me and shouted out “Western temples that way”.
I thanked them and turned down the road they pointed. They followed me. I told them that I didn’t need a guide.
“No, they said, we’re just wanting to practise our English.”
“Everyone says that,” I said. “You can follow me if you want but I don’t need you and I’m not going to give you any money.”
“Oh we’re not after money,” they said.
They took me to several temples, showing exaggerated concern for me, racing to lock my bicycle as I struggled with the strange lock, warning me about potholes while we were cycling, etc. They spent an hour or two with me as I cycled around the Eastern and Southern sets of temples, waiting outside as I went into each temple (these are all free) and fiddled about taking photos and suchlike.
I told them how nice it was to meet people who weren’t trying to trick people into making money.
Finally I’d seen them all except the group of Jain temples. To get here they took me through the old
city. We seemed to be going round in circles. We went past “their” school, they invited me in, “to meet the teacher”. This sounds nice but I’d read that it’s a common scam and kids are forever inviting foreigners into the schools and then the kids and the teacher demand money and split it between them. I refused - it was, anyway, getting late - and they seemed disappointed but not too disappointed. I assumed it was an opportunistic thing on their part, and they did after all continue taking me to the Jain temple.
They suggested I park the bike in the old city and walk the rest of the way as the road wasn’t good. I refused, as I didn’t imagine the bike would be there when I got back. It turned out to be a long way from the Jain temple, so I think I guessed correctly.
Shortly before we got there they did indeed ask me for money. They were poor, from poor villages and didn’t have any money for their education. Their fathers didn’t support their education. It was a sad story but the sense of entitlement with which they told it and
the fact that they’d never mentioned it at the beginning kind of contradicted it. I told them off and ignored them. They tried to get me to park the bike some way away from the temple. I continued on and parked where the other bikes were. They told me it cost 20 rupees to park there. It didn’t. I walked into the temple and one of them followed me in still demanding I support his education.
Eventually they left. The Jain temple turned out to be a working temple, complete with life-size drawings of a naked man (I’ve heard that some sects of Jainism traditionally eschew clothing because of the bugs that are killed in the manufacturing process), and naked jade idols. A few middle-class Indians came through, I imagined it was a brother and two sisters, bowed towards some of the idols and began chanting. The teachings of some guru, written in Hindi and English, hung in a sign in the front. Unfortunately my camera battery went flat.
There were old temples around it. Guides were explaining to their various tours that these temples had been in ruins for a long time, when people were more concerned
about eating than about building temples, but as Jains, who are generally good traders, began to amass more money and travel to this area they began to realise what cultural heritage was being neglected and slowly provided money to restore them. It was getting dark and the area was about to close, so I didn’t get a good look at all these temples and can’t really say what sort of artwork covered them.
The most annoying thing about Khajuraho is the constant touts. You can’t walk anywhere without people trying to “just talk” or sell you cigarettes, books, jewellery, pashmina, or clothes, or take you to their restaurant. I was glad to get out of there and wished I’d given myself less time there.
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