Are We Indians Hypocrites? – Part II
During the ancient days, temples were not just seen as the places of worship but also a place for social gathering. The lifestyle followed in India from yore, even today, is the community living where the existence of ‘community’ on the whole has more priority than the life of any individual. In such a society temples played an integral part of social union. On the economic and sociological point of view religious festivals, regardless of one’s affiliation, are celebrated serve two phenomenal purposes, apart from the spiritual experience.
First, the celebrations become a reason for reunion of family relationships. Community living can be strengthened and nourished only by reassurance of the social and personal bonds. Family as an entity gets a chance to meet all the relations, who are otherwise far apart throughout the year compelled by professional necessities. Also festivals create a milieu for each family in a locality to ensure and share the love and show their integration. Second, every celebration is a golden opportunity for business. Local business in a festive town is revived due to festivals. This though centers around materialistic enjoyment, is essential for wealth redistribution via money transactions.
India over the medieval period developed many taboos and lot of misconceptions and misunderstanding of the symbolisms in the lifestyles, then. The Mogul Empire (that set foot in India around 14th century AD) which brought the Islamic faith and culture along would have collided head on with the existing native culture of Medieval India. (Nonetheless the Arab invasion attempts took place as early as 711 AD, but failed.) This would’ve resulted in the mutations in religious and moral perceptions. Thus a necessity to back respective faiths became unavoidable. Art and architecture were chosen as vehicles of eternalizing the faiths on both sides.
In contemporary understanding Khajuraho Group of Monuments, (in Madhya Pradesh, India) is a classical example to consider. This world heritage site contains the largest group of medieval Indian Hindu and Jain temples. They gathered world wide popularity and attention, due to the sculptures portraying sexuality. What is decoded as the sexual depiction actually symbolizes nature worship. These temples were all build between 9-10th centuries during the reign of Chandela Dynasty, who seem to have approved the Tantric tradition.
From the dawn of mankind there has been constant urge in humans to record their act of sex and sexual knowledge, in all forms known to them. Art became the handy tool of expression to everyone. This act couldn’t just be ignored as an erotic fantasy of recording their sexual acts. Instead this sexual knowledge had to be passed on to the next generation of every ethnic group to ensure their endurance. This is one of the main reasons behind the portrayal of sexual acts in sculptures and paintings. These sculptures showcase the worldly pleasures besides insisting on reproduction.
During the medieval period, the era where ‘Brahmacharya‘ was strictly in practice for adolescents until they grew up, these sculptures served as best tutors of sex, to prepare them for family lives. The depiction of erotic art on the walls of such temple walls can only be properly deciphered on this context. Noted Indologyst Udayan Indurkar explains that only a fraction (about 20%) of sculptures display sex contradictory to popular western opinion notion of Kahjuraho sites as ‘sex temples’.
Another valid question that your thinking mind would normally raise might be this. ‘What purpose does it serve now in this contemporary modern world?’ Well, your question is right. Unlike West Indian tradition doesn’t highlight personal freedom. It is a land where family tradition and community living take the front seat. Hence in Indian families where generation gaps are wider than the western counterparts, discussing about sex with budding generation is often felt embarrassing by the elders. Since family visits to temples are customary, especially on festive occasions, it could be used as an opportunity to offer a chance for the youngsters to have sex education through self-learning.
Though the architectural design of every Hindu temple is unique, they do share some common pattern. The main alter (Karbakraham) is the place where the God resides. The entire structure of the shrine is build with the main alter at its center. In the outer ring we have the galleries and corridors. Most of the bigger temples have space between the main building and other buildings within the campus. Families after their prayers sit here and relax. Mostly the elders retire while the young ones roam around. Hope you get the point. I guess.