Rabindranath Tagore had once remarked about the Sun Temple of Konark, “Language of man here is defeated by the language of stone.”
Much has been written and talked about on the Sun Temple at Konark in Odisha. The architecture, the pivotal location by the sea, the magnetic property of the lodestone and the scenic-serene-sublime aura, quintessential of Odisha tourism, surrounding the Black Pagoda, has been extensively researched.
However, the dominance of eroticism as a theme over the rest of the style of the temple is unarguably evident. Pictures have been clicked and the tag of ‘sex symbol’ has also surfaced. It has also had its share of criticism. Countless theories have been discussed back and forth as to why Konark has such a brazen display of amorous design on its walls.
We made a trip on a sunny afternoon on the newly-constructed road stretch post-Nabakalebara to Konark to find out the rationale behind this showcase of eroticism on a temple which was constructed for the worship of the sun.
We sought an elderly guide for his experience and the sheer modesty resulted by our own inhibitions. He patiently guided us around the entire perimeter of the chariot-shaped temple, pointed out the minutely carved figures on the walls and encouraged us to click multiple pictures from close quarters, even at the risk of being whistled at by security guards!
At the entrance, the majestic Nata Mandira stands with aplomb to welcome the tourists. As we walked to the right side of this structure, the guide pointed out two figures and explained that they have been made to channelize the rain water from the Nata Mandira, as a part of its drainage.
At first, it looked like a man and woman at a gap of 6 feet. As we zoomed our camera lens in, we could clearly make out that the drainage openings are none other than the genitalia of both the figures. How ingeniously have the architects designed drainage with the literal meaning, using human anatomy!
The temple is replete with couples engaged in coitus in varying positions. The flexibility of the muscles of the body of both the man and wife engaged in coitus is proof of the fact that the knowledge of human anatomy and its prospects were not an unexplored subject in 13th century AD.
Of the 24 wheels, there are eight night wheels that depict eight sexual postures, each different from the other.
In all, there are 84 sexual stances in varying permutations and combinations. An obvious assumption by historians is the 12,000 artisans were engaged in building the Black Pagoda for 12 long years, away from their homes and families, the portrayal of such structural design was a method of satisfying their carnal desire.
However, not all carvings are erotic, in nature. For example, the annilingus performed by a dog on a woman’s vaginal and anal area is not for her pleasure. A dog’s saliva has anti-bacterial properties and the cunnilingus performed by it is to cure diseases such as gonorrhoea.
Similarly, a woman is seen treating her genitals to the fumes ensued by burning mango or neem wood as an antiseptic, after childbirth.
With the reticence of the society today to accept lesbians, gays, bi-sexuals and transgenders, polyandry and polygamy in that era were nothing to be ashamed of. An implied conjecture is society at that time, encouraged polygamy and widow remarriage.
There are some carvings of infidelity that would make the puritans raise their eyebrows high into their hairlines. In fact, there is a blurring and eroding depiction of two mice engaged in intercourse, which ignited an intense flame of passion in two women watching them.
According to one of the most predominant hypothesis, the spread of Buddhism had preached abstinence that had a deteriorating impact on population. The King had ordered the seductive carvings to simulate carnal desires in the subjects of his kingdom and thus help in expansion of lineages.
Many of the positions have not even been mentioned in Vatsayana’s Kamasutra, for the fear of excessive obscenity. Fellatio, cunnilingus, copulation with multiple partners and sexual stimulation of one’s own and each other’s genitals are explicitly illustrated on the stones.
Many researchers are of the opinion that the ‘obscenity’ on the walls is actually a test of the devotees’ intent. They had to contemplate and choose between what is sensual and hence avoidable and what is spiritual and divine and therefore, desirable. Another angle of this hypothesis is that, the attainment of Moksha is possible when an individual has fulfilled and enjoyed all the earthly desires of Dharma (religion), Artha (wealth) and Kama.
Our guide explained that it is not just Konark that has erotica on its walls; the Jagannath Temple of Puri also has such design, carved on very few corners that are not easily visible to the naked eye. Legend has it, that Indra, the God of thunder was an admirer of sensuality and passionate intimacy. The craftsmen of Konark adorned the temple so that such figurines would help in pleasing Indra and thus, protect the Sun Temple from the impact of thunderstorms.
Most of the carvings are eroded or destroyed to such an extent that it was impossible to make out the figures or click pictures for that matter.
The unambiguous showcase of polygamy and lesbianism has been widely shown on various façades and corners of the temple. This succeeds in posing a vital question: If society was so open-minded and people so uninhabited in 13th century A.D., what makes sex a taboo in the 21st century today that we feel the need to talk about it in undertones or keep mum altogether? Have our morals evolved or devolved?
The Black Pagoda is in ruins today, destroyed by foreign invasions and atrocities of nature and time. But one cannot stop to be in awe of the remains of the imposing structure that once stood there in all its glory. Just like the famed Lowell Thomas, the American writer and broadcaster was astounded by the manifestation of this ‘extraordinary wealth of sculptured decoration’ and could not help but state, “Hindus build like Titans and finish like jewellers.”