Erotic Art & Iconography in Religious Shrines

In many Hindu temples erotic icons in every conceivable posture of copulation are found in abundance. They are admired, criticized and looked upon bewilderment by many people around the world. Their description and interpretation from the point view of socio-religious heritage of the country is felt to be a welcome step on the way to the proper understanding and appreciation of the art and the religious note behind it.

While tracking down the historical development of the erotic art icons and the cults involved in it, it is illuminating to look for the traces in the history of Greece, Rome, Egypt, China and Indian Sub-Continental.

Historical Studies

Many historical have reached to the conclusion that the cult of worshipping phallus took root in Greece and Rome with the development of Greek and Roman civilization. The similar cult-the cult of worshipping phallus and the deities in the form of ‘Father’ and ‘Mother’- is recorded to have existed in China and Egypt some three thousand and five hundred years ago. The cult of worshipping ‘Shiva (the supreme creator of this world in Hindu myth), hermaphrodite deity (Gauri/Shankar) and ‘Linga Puja’ (the worship of phallus) is considered to have begun in the same period.

The pages of history show that the cult of worshipping phallus emerged in Rome where a huge wooden phallus, which could be carried by six persons, was worshipped in a ceremonial procession. The Roman name for the phallus was ‘Liber’. Similarly, the deity symbolic of phallus, ‘priapus’ was worshiped in the ancient Greece five hundred years before the Roman cult described above. However, historical records have shown that the history of those cults doesn’t date back beyond 150 or 200 BC.

After the emergence of Aryan civilization, ‘Shiva Linga’, the phallus of the great God Shiva, was established in India. It was similar to black store phallus, ‘Bal’ found in Syria. Such icons were modeled and developed in the figures of Kamadeva and Rati (the god and goddess of coition are Adonis and Venus or cupid couple) after the down of the age of mythology, legends and religious scripture in Indian Sub-Continent.

Moreover, the age of the occult, mystical and the cult of ‘power’ that was observed from the Bay of Bengal to Gujrat one thousand years ago kept up the tradition and added dimensions to the erotic icons by depicting Shiva/Parvati (the supreme creator of this world-according to Hindu Myth- and they have their duty to create the human- world- establish systematically and as well as precluding. (Hinduism) and their assistants are Brahma and Vishnu respectively.

Radha/Krishna (the incarnation of Laxmi and Vishnu) and Vishnu Laxmi (the couple of the second rank of Hindu cult in the acts related with coition). The followers of the ‘cult of power’ (Shakta Mat) introduced particularly the erotic icons of Bhairav/Bhairavi (the mighty adamant face of a protector god and his consort in Bhairavi. This is cult of Mighty-couple for the Tantra- Mantra sects of Hinduism) symbol of ‘power’.

The naked icons of Maha-kali is the mightily form of Parvati Kali has her eight form and other similar icons seem to have followed them. The trend of those icons was spread throughout Indo-China, Vietnam, Laos and Combodia.

The same cult of ‘power’ entered Nepal, and with the spread of ‘Bhairab Chakra Tantra’ (sexual practice among the particular disciples with Tantra believe in their secret functions) seven hundred years ago erotic icons were kept in many temples in the temples. The followers of ‘Bhairaba Chakra’ (Insert among their private functions i.e. rites and rituals) were also called ‘Bama Margi (the believers of Tantra Mantra secret arts- of rituals) sect.

They used to worship naked icons of Bhairaba/Bhairabi in erotic pastures which were similar to the naked erotic icons of multiple deities established bu the Egyptians. Influenced by those cults the followers of ‘Vajrayana’ (the sect of Buddhism in which people have their principle of sex for Salvation) of Buddhism established the icons of Vajra/Vajranga symbol of phallus or the male genital-organ or the symbol of copied and Heruk Sumber (copulation cult).

They observed the cult of ‘Panchamakar’. Pncha- 5, Makar- 5M, Fish- Matsya, Flesh- Mamsa, Wine-Madira, (copulation) sex- maithuna, Erotic dance- Mudra.

Vajranga, projected by then, was modeled on the god of coition and sexual potency, Kamadeva (Kamdev and Rati are Adonis and Venus or the cupid couple) of Hindu amythology. Similarly, the worship of female genitals, Guhya-Puja (The secrete rites and rituals of Vajrayanis) also was a part of the Buddhist convocation. The symbolic influence of the “Erotic wave” described above is discernible in “Markandeya Purana”. (one of the Hindu myth) and Linga Purana’ (one of the Hindu myth).

The deities shown to be involved were Shiva(creator) and Parvathi (consort) so Kali (adamant Parvati) is also considered to be the eight incarnation of Gauri (Shiva’s consort).

In addition, sexual potent also is taken account of in ‘Shiva Tandava’ (Shiva’s dance) near about 50 years earlier, five, four thousand old idols of Apollo in Unan, Yamal of the Hittes, Yafrodite in Greece and Venus in Rome were established, their establishment embodied the belief in multiple deities tradition was followed by the tradition of offering gods virgins who could be involved in coition with anyone without getting tied in nuptial tie. Such trends might be considered to have had a kind of affinity with legalized prostitution than existent in religious places.

One may rightly conjecture that the trends of designing erotic icons in temples entered into Nepal manifesting themselves in ‘meditation through coition’ found in vogue in the ‘kaula’ sect. The traditions, however, were well established by the time ‘Malla Dynasty’ (former ruling dynasty before Shah dynasty), flourished in the valley of Kathmandu.

The most ancient forms of such icons can still be found in the Laikus (temples and palace squares) or Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur. Sculptors, painters and idol makers of the period engaged themselves in making innumerable images, idols and icons bringing into focus the coition. As a result, some three hundred years ago Kathmandu turned into a large store house of erotic symbols and icons made of wood metal and stone fixed on the support beams of temples.

Nowadays, people look at them in bewilderment trying to find out the reason behind the making of such things. Unfortunately, most of the people, except a few historians have misinterpreted them as significantly distorted the symbolic meaning of the erotic icons. In addition, even researchers are confused because of some wrong notions existing in the contemporary society.

After the study of the historical facts concerning the subject, the writer of this article has made the following conclusions.

Erotic icons in the temples were brought to the prominence when the ‘Kaula’ (Kaul mat- is the theory of the tantric people, who practice their rites in the burning ghats (funeral pyres) in river-side) sect was in its prime in Nepal. The philosophy that engendered the emergence of such icons held that the creation of the world and all the things in it is the outcome of ‘the Maharati’ (Universal copulation).

‘Purush’ and ‘Prakriti’ (the male and the Nature) proceed the creation through ‘universal copulation’. They co-existed and interact in harmony as neutron and electron in an atom do. The erotic are, therefore, established to draw attention of men to the ultimate reality of the intercourse of ‘power’ (Shakti) through ‘universal copulation’. Coition, highlighted in the icons of the Hindu temples is to be understood in this light. It is far from vulgarity and it is better to compare the art with pornography. The art and its heritage has profound meaning. The icons in their various forms point to the ultimate reality of the ‘creation’ (Shristhi), ‘Nourishment’ (Sthiti) and the doomsday (Vinash).

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This Article and upcoming posts are extracted from the book, TOURIST INFORMATION DIRECTORY, 1997. by my Late Father Journalist, Sociologist & Anthropologists, Er. Ramesh Chandra Bandhu Bhattarai.


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