Theories on the Survival of Erotic Sculptures on Brahmanic Temples

by Mani Velgodu

Throughout history all visitors to the Brahmanic temples of India, more especially to those of the south, has been astounded by the presence of erotic sculptures on the walls. `Why are they there ?' is the most common question. Unfortunately, there is considerable negationism in the proposals set forth, many refusing to admit that they are survivals of the pre-Aryan religions such as Shaivism and Tantrism. Indeed, this article shall uncontestably prove that the famous erotic sculptures on Vaishnava and Vaidik temples are the survivals of demolished Shaiva temples.

Survival of Shaivite Religion

There is overwhelming evidence that these sculptures are the survivals of the pre-Aryan religions, and that Shaivism, the Sudra religion, was the main contributor to this effect. Not only is Shaivism still the predominant religion of the Sudras, but several other elements of Shaiva religion found their way into the succeeding Aryan Vaishnava cults. One example is the mahavrata festival :
" Mahavrata - An ancient popular vilage fertility festival, held at the winter solstice to drive away demonic influences ... The Brahmans took advantage of the popularity of the ocasion and turned it into a religious festival, but a number of folk elemnts survived, such as .. sacred coition [ carried out ] under a covering".
-- [ Harper ]
Thus, Shaiva shrines, as well as Shakta ones, still display such sculptures, while Vaishnava shrines have a tendency not to. While Ram temples of the Aryan Vaishnava religion do not display such scenes, compare the Shaiva shrines :
" The Vaital temple. a sakta shrine with Chamunda/ Kapilini as the presiding deity exhibits several erotic scenes of linga puja and figures of Kapalikas in the company of females derinking from a skull cup. The Srhine was used by the followers of Pasupata or Kapalika sect who practiced sexual exhibitionism and ritual sex."
-- [ pkm.690 ]
The motives in fact depict direct Shaiva rituals of the Kapalika sect :
" The scenes depicting beastiality needs an explanation. In order to earn disfavour and ridicule like Siva by flouting the conventaional norms of society, sexual congress with cow or horse was allowed to Tantric ritualists. The Kapalikas deliberately committed such unorthodox acts deliberately without any moral compunction. In case of females sexaul congress with monkey, dog or deer was admisible."
-- [ pkm.691 ]

Many hold that the Konarak sculptures are the work of the Bama Margi Tantrics & Shaktas, since these cults flourished in the 5th century AD in Orissa, Bengal Assam [ myst.108 ].

Ancient Nature of the Sculptures

It was once objected that the sculptures are not ancient, and depict subsequent `corruption' rather than survivals of a primeval cult. The Satrughnesvara group of temples at Bhubaneswar dated to late 6th or early 7th century AD [ pkm.575 - 625 ]. Prof P.K.Mishra has refuted the suggestions that they arose due to later philosophical reasonings : "Contrary to popular belief that erotic scenes appearres on Orissan temples from the Bhauma period onwards, one finds loving and love-making couple even on the walls of the Saturghnesvara group of temples ... very probably the rituals associated with the ancient fertility cults served as the genesis of erotic sculptures " [ pkm.676 ]

Orissan temples also show the influence of Assam : " Some have even traced the influence of Assam on the Ganga-Yamuna panels on the west end of the Jagammohana and the bhiksatana motif of Parasuramesvara temple" [ Sailodbhava, 7 century AD ] [ pkm.677 ].

" There are motifs which depict mendicants engaged in love-making, oral congress of genitals of male and female, female straddling a lingam, male measuring his phallus in scale ... man offering his semen in a fire altar [ and others ]... In Orissa, carving of erotic scenes was accepted as a normal feature of temple art, though no canonical text prescribed their representation." [ pkm.689 ]
Moreover, women of the exterior castes, or pre-Aryan population, were preferred for these Shakta and Shaiva rituals, indicating the origin of the cult: " For Kaula ritual, women of low caste having no inhibitions were preferred." [ pkm.690 ]

Brahman Hypotheses Exposed

In order to cover up the historical destruction of Shaivite shrines and the obliteration of Shaivite religion by the fanatic Aryan Vaishnavas, the Brahmans have invented several wild hypotheses on the existence of the sculptures.

The "To Increase the Population" Theory

As per this theory, India and the regional nations were divided into many mutually warring states. The continuous conflicts led to a drastic decrease in the population. Hence, in order to increase their manpoewer resources, the kings increased reproduction by means of encouraging eroticism.

This theory fails due to the following reasons :

The "Depiction of Royal Harem" Theory

As per this theory, the sculptures represent the harem life of the kings. They are supposedly due to the "gross eroticism prevailing in the harem sphere of the king". This theory fails on the following accounts :

The "Depiction of Royal Courts" Theory

In this view, the sculptures are due to the prevailing gross eroticism prevailing in the palace and court of the king [ ks.rb ], and "to reproduce the social conditions of degeneracy then obtaining" [ myst.105 ]. This theory once again fails as

The "Protection Against Evil Eye" Theory

In this theory, the sculptures are emplaced in order to to protect against the evil eye, and as a "protecton againt natural calamities" like lightning [ myst.105 ]. In support of this theory it is cited that even now "queer and ugly" figures are placedd at the entrance to consturcion sites and gardens [ myst.105 ] to ward off evil. This theory has the following problems :

The "To Impart Sexual Education At Least Cost" Theory

Here the art is required to " impart sexual education at least cost" [ myst.106 ]. This fallacious model is refuted :

The "Reflection of a Degenerate Age" Theory

In this hypothesis, the sculptures are a reflection of the general social conditions characteristic of a degenerate age and truthfully depicted the morals of the age [ myst.106-107 ]. There are the following problems with this theory :

The "Symbolic Power of the Sun" Theory

As per this theory, these sculptures represent the symbolic power of the sun. This hypothesis is solely designed for Konarak, and does not explain why they are so abundant in Shaiva temples.

The abundance of such sculptures on the Konarak temple, a Sun temple, can be explained in the Shaiva origin theory. There are sculptures on the Sun temple showing linga puja, various forms of Shiva etc. which are survivals of the ancient Shiva cult. Archaeology has also shown that there was a Shaiva temple on the site prior to the construction of the Sun temple. In addition, scuh sculptures are more abundant on the temples in the interior of Orissa, in Khondistan, where the fraction of the aboriginal population is higher. " The phenomenon [ of erotic sculptures ] was most prevalent in Central India and Orissa " [ pkm.689 ]

Also, the Sailodbhava dynasty, as well as the other Shaiva dynasties, came to the Orissa coast from the interior regions of Khondistan and Gondwana in central India, which are the homes of Sudroid Negroes. It is only natural to expect them to have brought their religion with them to the Jain and Buddhist coastal areas (where a Shaiva substratum itself may have survived from the pre-Buddhist era).

The "Kamasutric Origin" Theory

In this view, the sculptures are due to the impact of the Kamasutra on society all across India. This theory has gained widespread support : " He [ the Indian ] was encouraged to hope for all the subtle refinements described in the Kamasutra, which, in our view, is far more relevant to the sculpture of Khajuraho and Konarka than is the literature of the tantrism." [ ks.sp.p.39 ] [ citing J. Royal As. Soc. Pts 1 & 2 (1960) p.99 ] In favour of this theory it is stated that many of the poses in that work are depicted on the walls of the temple. In fact, so widespread has acceptance of this fallacious theory become that most Westerners, and many Indians, refer to them as `Kamasutra sculptures'. This theory has several contradictions :

In view of the above, it must be mentioned that the Kamaustra is itself said to be based on original Shaiva works which are the product of Shiva's bull's notes produced when he saw Shiva and Parvati copulate.

The "Increase of Revenue and Advertisment of Devadasis" Theory

As per this theory, the art is meant to advertise the charms of the temple devadasis and thereby increase the number of pilgtims and hence increase the revenue of the king [ yst.107 ]. There are several problems with this theory :

The "Test of a Pilgrims' Virtue" Theory

As per these ideas, the sculptures are meant to test a pilgrim's virtue [ myst.109 ]. This theory does not explain why some images are in secluded places. Moreover, why are aristocrats shown ? " One of the erotic sculptures of Yamesvara temple (lower janga) shows an aristocrat masturbating into a bowl." [ pkm.696.n82(a) ]

The "Depiction of Heaven" Theory

In this view the sculptures are the representation of the equivalent to a lower stage of heaven and meant for a reward in paradise. The subject supposedly displays the lower stage of heaven where all men could enjoy the delights preserved for the higher classes. In favour of this theory it is stated that there are Kamasutra poses on the temple, and that fallen Kshatriyas were promised with such rewards in Sanskrit texts. However, as per the theory of reincarnation, there is essentially no permanent heaven.

Given that all other rival conjectures and hypotheses have been logically disproven, it is evident that the erotic sculptures on Vaidik and Vaishnava temples are the remnants of Shaiva temples smashed by fanatic Aryan invaders.


[ myst ] = `Mysterious Konark', Sri Rabindra Kumar Das, 1st ed.1984, Kitab Mahal, College Square Cuttack.

[ pkm ] = `Arts and Sculpture' , by P.K.Mishra, in ` Comprehensive History and Culture of Orissa' , ed. P.K.Mishra, Kaveri Press, New Delhi.

[ ks.rb ] = `The Kama Sutra of Vatsyayana' -tr. Sir Richard F. Burton Penguin India, N. Delhi 1993, Foreword by J.W.Spellman

[ ks.rb.sp ] = `Foreword' by J.W.Spellman 1962 theories of erotic scupture [ ks.rb.38-39 ]

by Mani Velgodu
Dalitstan Journal,
Volume 2, Issue 6 (Dec. 2000)

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