"Lascivious" Iconography

Yvette C. Rosser y.r.rani at mail.utexas.edu
Mon Feb 12 04:32:06 EST 1996

AmitaSarin at aol.com wrote:
(. . . ) >I have also wondered about the meaning of the
>sexually explicit carvings on the walls and have not totally bought
>the traditional explanations.  (. . .) Could these scenes of group sex and
>bestiality be the iconographic representation of "chaos" as a
>precursor to order or the rightness of things. (. . .) Are the scenes
>on the outside of temples a representation
>of the state of the world before the gods restore order?

Michael Rabe <mrabe at artic.edu> wrote:
>"I'm convinced by Herman Goetz* that the most blatantly
erotic imagery of Khajuraho, is an ANOMALY:  'the most splendid shrines of
India erected by the then most powerful rulers of the North for a depraved
sect held in contempt by the most cultured people of that time.'
>[This is] the official (& an orthodox Vaishnava) line. . . "
(. . .)
>Perhaps to say more, an illustrated article for IJTS is called for, huh,

Indeed, the images of group sex and bestiality at Khajuraho are among the
most unusually erotic images to be found in India.  They do seem to be far
more explicit and "deviant" than other erotic imagery, and therefore should
be analyzed from within the particular historical conditions that created
the statuary at Khajuraho.  It doesn't, however explain the ubiquitousness
of erotic imagery (of a less "deviant" expression) found in statuary and
art throughout much of Hinduism and Buddhism.

An interesting aside:  A few weeks ago there was a program on The Learning
Channel (I think, or perhaps Discovery Channel) devoted to erotic art in
India.  It showed examples of statuary from Khajuraho (though explicit, not
the more "deviant" ones), and other examples of tantic or erotic art.  Of
course, this program, meant as an introduction to this type of symbolic
religious artistic expression, was intended for the younger crowd towards
whom the Learning Channel directs much of their programming.  It is quite
ironic, that this educational TV program of a few weeks ago, is NOW, under
the vague definition of "lascivious, filthy and indecent" found in the
Telcom Bill, perhaps illegal to critique or discuss in descriptive detail
(on the Internet).  There is no grandfather clause written into the Telcom
Bill allowing the discussion and intellectual debate about topics and
images that were previously considered legal and educational, but now have
possibly been rendered illegal.

Pahari miniatures of an erotic nature are also quite explicit and show very
close up details of male and female genitalia and many unusual and quite
athletic sexual positions, and though depicting heterosexuality between
humans, are unabashedly and explicitly, erotic representations.  Tantric
symbolism aside, what were the historical conditions that gave rise to
these beautifully erotic and very explicit sexual representations?

I think, under the mandate of the new Telcom Bill, that IJTS should
exercise caution, and may indeed be forced to limit their illustrations to
Shiva lingams, Shri Yantras, and other symbolic diagrams, eschewing the
reproduction of the more graphic or realistic expressions of erotic/tantric
art.  We would hate to see Enrica imprisoned and/or fined.  Perhaps future
reproductions of Khajuraho statuary could be printed with black rectangles
strategically placed to censure the "lascivious" images and protect the
IJTS from legal entanglements that might arise from the publication of
previously discussible images of this now taboo and proscribed topic.

Obviously, the motivation for this current inquiry into the prevalence and
meaning of erotic imagery in Indian art, is partially meant as a protest
against stupid laws that restrict freedom of expression and intellectual
discourse, but the topic is, though now somehow illegal, very interesting,
and as Amita Sarin suggested not adequately explained.

Certainly paintings from Kangra and Jaipur and other places, and some of
the more erotic depictions of the Gita Govinda, are not appropriate
illustrations for an elementary school textbook.  The subject is however,
intriguing and of great interest to many of us adults on this list.  Who
commissioned those paintings?  Why so explicit?  Where were the portfolios
of these paintings viewed?  In the King's chambers?  In the women's
chambers?  Where they used as visual aides during intercourse?  Or were
they commissioned as purely religious symbolism?  Were women allowed to see
these paintings?  Did couples aspire to copulate in the rigorous manner
shown in such detail?  Was this idealized art based on a literary tradition
or was it modeled on contemporary sexual practices?  Did the Kings,
patrons, artists, and/or people of the era actually practice such
gymnastically challenging sexual positions or are they idealized,
ritualized depictions?  Did the viewer use these images to bring him or
herself closer to God via tantric practices and the transcendence of lust
and desire, or were they meant to be sexually stimulating?

As Girish Beeharry <gkb at ast.cam.ac.uk> requested:
">Would the tantra specialists care to comment please?"

Yvette C. Rosser
UT Austin
"One has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws"
		--Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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