Day Twenty-Two: The Town of Kama Sutra Temples
The story of Khajuraho is a sensual one, an unexpected and fun respite from the more traditional and conservative ways of Indian culture.
Legend has it that eleven hundred years ago in the jungle, there lived a Brahmin priest who had a daughter, named Hemvati. One night, she went down to the village lake to fetch water and decided she could safely strip down naked for a swim. Little did she know that Chandra (the Moon God) was watching her from the heavens and inspired by her beauty, descended down in the guise of a prince. They made love all night and the next day, he had to return back up to the sky. He told her their son would be the greatest warrior of all time and rule a dynasty. Soon, the prophecy came true and King Chandela was born. The dynasty to follow would build 85 temples, and today about 20 or so are still standing in the small sleepy town of 5000 villagers as one of India’s World Heritage sites (also, this is the only village in India that has an airport).
Mystically, at the early start of this trip, I’ve been inspired to pick up and re-read the book “Aphrodite’s Daughters,” whose genesis came from the tales of the ancient Indian temple priestess. The author was an academic before awakening to her calling – to take trips to India and learn about temple dance, which has become a long lost art in a society that today condemns such overt expressions of sexuality and womanhood. The paradox of past and present inspired her to interview women across class, ethnicity and experience and dig into the complexities of their sexuality as related to their spiritual journeys. It’s a book with incredible depth and if you’re at all interested in bonding with the female experience in all its beauty and darkness, I highly recommend this book (Artist Way ladies, if you’re reading, I highly recommend going back to this!).
This paradox has been on my mind on the regular, as women take much less of a visible, active role in society. Also, in almost every part of the culture, women are constantly shielded away from the male gaze, and it’s been something I’ve had to adjust to both in observation and practice.
The temples were really beautiful and impressively symmetrical. Both the exteriors and interiors were embellished with sculptures of goddesses with the perkiest breasts standing in sexually overt poses. The sandstone carvings reminded me of the henna designs and block printing patterns of Jaipur.
Later on during sunset, we rented bikes and explored the villages of Khajuraho, finding ourselves weaving through colorfully painted homes on the most narrow bumpiest roads. Little children came running behind us in total amazement. It was impossible to escape the smoky air and violent mosquito bites that followed us around, but it beat riding around in a rickshaw any day. Also, while the streets in India are far from safe, there’s something empowering and invigorating about riding a bike – must be movement with minimal haggling, self-made adventure without the constant harassment (remember, pedestrians don’t really have the right of way here…though cows do:).
Also, worth mentioning that Wylie’s long hair and beard has made him such a celebrity in India, so much so that he’s been offered marijuana more times than I can remember.