Monday, July 12, 2010

Hinduism. Rated NC 17.

Scene: Inappropriate?

I can’t claim to be a student of religion, but I have been trying to brush up on my Hinduism. India is home to about one billion Hindus, over 80% of the country’s population. There are temples just about everywhere – straddling highway dividers, sandwiched in between tea stalls, popping out of endless fields of rice paddy. Some new, others older than a millennium. Many people keep shrines in their homes and on the dashboards of whatever mode of transportation they access from public bus to auto rickshaw. During my trip out east for work, I nearly panicked when my taxi driver jumped out of the car in the middle of a congested intersection without saying a word… to realize a minute later that he was paying a quick visit to a roadside temple to pray for a safe journey. (This happened in Delhi once too with an auto driver, but he was just buying gutka, the local equivalent of chewing tobacco.)

When an HKS classmate proposed a weekend trip to Khajuraho to visit its famed temples, I jumped on the opportunity. What’s all the fuss? A World Heritage Site - 25 sandstone Hindu (and some Jain) temples, about a thousand years old, dotted with…erotic sculptures. Really? Here? Where I haven’t seen one public display of romantic affection. Where TV stations cut to commercial pre-kissing scenes in American movies. Where women riding on motorbikes drape their legs to one side rather than straddle the seat and the backs of their male drivers.

Yep. Surrounding these temples, among intricate carvings of Hindu mythology and everyday life circa the year 900 CE, there’s… ummm...this...

Pretty graphic, even for my American eyes. But look at those facial expressions! According to the audio tour, via a walkman without a rewind button, these sculptures trace back to tantric traditions. (BLOG COMMENT CONTEST: Post a line from the audio tour?) These images are but a tiny fraction, though, of the Badgujar tribe’s religious and architectural legacy.

Coming soon: bats and baboons in Orcha