Written by: Kirti Tarang
“Love writes a transparent
calligraphy, so on
the empty page my soul
can read & recollect.”
I have reached that place of my life where love resonates more with Rumi than with Rum or Hallmark for that matter. Therefore, going to Khajuraho for bringing in V-Day made sense to me.
Khajuraho’s temples follow the Shaivik cult. Shaivism deems sexual union to be a tool of inner perfection, a means of self-realization & of contact with the supernatural – In each human being there’s a meeting point with the divine. That intersection is the union with beloved. Similarly, Rumi believes that surrendering in love is the passage to divinity. And I, I think Valentine’s Day is a beautiful prostration to that grandeur of love. Now tell me, is there a better way to bow to it?
Hence, embracing a collection of Rumi’s poems I reached Khajuraho on February 14. It’s only fair, that I share the revision of my vision here. After all that’s what Rumi encourages us to do:
“Why would you refuse to give
this love to anyone?
Fish don’t hold the sacred liquid in cups!
They swim the huge fluid freedom.”
Here’s my list of how to swim in the transcendence of that village:
1. Greet the first ray in the Sun Temple
“Spiritual experience is a modest woman
who looks lovingly at one man.”
I don’t think there’s a better metaphor to describe the moment when the morning rays fall on the Sun Temple. However, there’s no analogy to point out the beauty of basking, with the one you love, in the unseen presence that comes with the first light.
So, set a 6 am alarm when you retire on the night before, because, the gates of the temple open at the sunrise.
2. Meditate under the Yantra, experience the vibrations of Tantra
“Isn’t it the secret intent
of this taciturn earth, when it forces lovers together,
that inside their boundless emotion all things may
shudder with joy?”
When we meditate alone, it’s an inner work, but when are with the one we love, it makes us ‘shudder with joy’.
Shaivik cult believes that there exist privileged regions where energy (terrestrial magnetism) rises heavenward & where subtle, extraterrestrial powers find a sort of chimney that allows them to descend to the world of human beings. According to texts of Aitareya Brahmana, using mathematical formulas to express the ratios between energy elements, Yantras are symbolic geometric figures to used to create a prodigious center of energy. The region under these Yantra, the Mandap, marked by four pillars (vault of heaven is considered to be resting on four cardinal) becomes a receptive place for the cosmic energy. Try a short meditation here.
I did. I sat with the intent of just resting in silence. So I didn’t even bother with the lotus position. I was simply sitting with my legs stretched, back reclined to the pillar & palms touching the ground- just admiring the sculptures of the wall in front of me, when it happened. I felt trippy. Like am high on weed, only better- in heightened sobriety, I enjoyed the trance of drunkenness. That’s when I got into Gyaan Mudra. I could feel the vibrations- starting from the tips of my thumbs & index fingers, sliding till my wrists.
“How amazing it would be, if I could experience it in my entire body?!” I thought & with this thought came greed. That’s what brought me back to the material plane.
Therefore, I suggest when you step in the temple, leave the greed outside. Enter meditation with no expectation. Also, it’s a good idea to visit early in the morning, when there’s no crowd.
3. Get striptease-d with the ‘Light & Sound’ show
Full disclosure: The script of the Light & Sound show is research-less, insight-less, soul-less & yawn inducing. The creators of the show have put it together with the enthusiasm of a child eating green veggies because his mother won’t let him touch the dessert otherwise. And yet, here I am recommending it to you; because, the present day Indians might be lackadaisical, but our ancestors from 10th century did a magical job with these majestic mystics.
The fashion with which the light flirted with them as I sat under blanket of stars, on a carpet of grass, it was like watching a sensuous burlesque show. It was such a tease, like listening to someone playing rough notations of the music these temples are. It kindled with melody. Provided for imagination. Breathed a fire by making me keener to see the temples in the full glory.
Thus, I suggest before you visit western temples in the morning, attend the ‘Light & Sound’ show in the evening.
4. Play Sherlock with your partner in Da Vinci Code settings
These temples raise interesting questions on the unknown History. The answers are undiscovered. It’s a gold mine for science of deduction. We spent hours interpreting, discussing the possible answers, agreeing & disagreeing. I won’t share our deductions here. They are ours. Moreover, they are simply unverified theories. I will share our wondering though, it will be interesting to know what your interpretations are, about:
a. The Persian/Assyrian Tigers.
If you look carefully at the tiger statues, it’s difficult to miss the curly locks on their head. That is a very typical Persian/Assyrian style, you can still observe in Parsi statues with curly locks on beards of Gods or animals. As has been told that the Chandela dynasty brought sculpture-rs from various areas in and around India, its interesting to note their personal style reflecting on the statues. Something like a Disney animator leaving hidden messages in the movies.
b. Mongolian Brahma & warriors
Artists represent their surroundings in the statues and painting they create. Case in point, the looks of Lord Vishnu as you travel from North to South India. Back to Khujraho, there are statues of Lord Brahma and a number of warriors with very distinct Mongol features. Even the horses that the warriors are riding have mongol eyes. I am yet to encounter such statues in mainland India. Again, is this the work of artists from China/Tibet/Mongol? The point to ponder is – were the Chandela rulers that liberal to allow the artist to give their own personal regional touch in their most prestigious possession?
c. Burmese Tiger
Around the temple, faces of tigers are carved, no big deal you say? Well the interesting part is that they bear striking resembling ‘Chinthe’ legendary flying tigers that protect Burmese temples. The tigers that I have come across in Indian architecture are quite different. Again an example of South East Asian influence?
Interestingly, these faces are called ‘Kirtimukh’- the renowned face. What it represents? I am yet to figure out.
d. Story of the Love-Child
Okay, here is the real mysterious structure that no one seems to talk about. There are no boards from Archaeological Survey of India giving out any info and its the only structure left out in ‘light and sound’ show as well as the Information Booklets. If you notice the structure, it has the domes of Arabic/Muslim influence and the sharp prismatic construction of Hindu architecture. The construction is relatively modern, 18th century by my guess, but has no definitive markings as such and is locked. Seems like an anomaly or love child no one wants to talk about. Just like the ‘Light and Sound Show’ which very prudishly ignores the erotic statues in the temple. Perhaps, it’s a Pandora’s box, which no one wants to open.
Does it take a genius at ASI to translate the tablets carved by the builders themselves so than we can understand their point of view?
5. Stay at Hotel Siddartha
The reason is three simple words: Location, Location, Location.
I stayed at room no. 201. The best place to stay in the entire village. I could see the temples from my bed. For rs 1590/- it was a steal, given that it had TV, AC & a bath tub!
I was a little apprehensive that since it’s in the heart of the city, it must be beating with crowd & noise. I was wrong. The lane is serene & peaceful. No vehicle is allowed here. Moreover, it’s adjacent to Raja Cafe (only decent place to eat), couple of steps away from the lake, main market, museum, Ayur Arogyam (Lovely massage place, just be careful of what they use on your face. The masseuse used Fairness cream on mine!!!), cycle rental joint & Shilpgram. This lane is the South Bombay of Khajuraho.
I strongly recommend that you do this pronto. As, they are planning to bulldoze it down. In fact, this entire lane is going to go under thrasher & the entry of the temple will be made from the Lake area. So, I recommend you to visit Khajuraho before the chaos begins.
The presence of these sculptures is both magical & educational (I’ve made a bucket list reflective of what I saw). Penetration encompass every conceivable position! Some are so acrobatic, that they require assistance. If you observe carefully, the erotic representation of humans is more realistic, while the gods & other heavenly creatures enjoy romanticized & stylized sex. It’s quite intriguing that scenes of male homosexuality always show at least one person draped in a monastic grab.
What does this symbolism represent? Why ‘pornography’ in land of spirituality? Many masters, many theories. We also had our discussion on the topic. It was like wording our own version of ’50 Shades of Grey’, just that it way more sensuous.
On a spiritual note, coming from the Shaivik cult, my personal belief is that these represent the ties of nature & liberation. Our ‘buddhi’ (conscious intelligence) must strive to free us from Nature’s ‘Vraka’ (designs). For this sexuality must be exposed without artifice. Because, if sexuality manages to keep its secrets from us, it will play games with us. The minute we’ll feel that we have tasted real freedom, it’ll sneak up on us to hold us firmly, preventing liberation. I think it can substantiated by the fact that if we look around, we’ll find that major crises have roots in sexual repression.
The Yogis of Tantric cult, therefore, contemplate on divine phallus, meditate upon centers of eroticism within our body. Through this, they acquire chastity as a technique & not as a virtue. This technique helps them in converting sexual energy into mental power, which is believed to accelerate the journey of enlightenment.
That’s about the Yogis, I don’t have Tantra, yet. I just have love. So, in the company of these sculptors, I closed my language door & opened the love-window. I moved into silence with my partner, we became escapees & revelation came in the language of experience. I wish everyone could live that experience at least once in this life, since its advocacy can’t be verbalized. Although, I feel Rumi came very close it, when he said:
“Stay here, quivering with each moment
like a drop of mercury”
7. Dance with the Gods
When I was in 9th grade, my Kathak teacher wanted me to join her as a backup dancer in Khajuraho festival. I went from ‘Haddippa’ to ‘Siyappa’ in an hour when my parents denied the permission (my final exams were just 2 weeks away).
Since then I have always wondered what it must be like to dance in the temple where Natraj (King of dance- Shiva) resides in his most romantic form. And then, in a moment I stopped wondering & began dancing. What better way to show gratitude to HIM for all the love he has bestowed in my life? The mudras of Kathak, dissolved me with the surroundings and everything became beside the point.
8. Read Rumi
9. Paddle up
Khajuraho is best explored on bicycles. You can rent for rupees 50 for a day. Wandering in the unknown with the one you love on cycles is connecting with them on the different level. When we climbed on the cycles our grown up self stayed behind and then began an association between our inner child. It’s beautiful journey to take together.
People say cycling in morning hours in the old village of Khajuraho is fun. I, however, enjoyed cycling in the night in the residential area of Khajuraho, with no street lights, no sense of direction. It was an adventure in a capsule.
10. Quiver with the strings of ‘Iktara’ on Bundelkhandi tunes
“The nightingale sometimes flies from a garden
to sing in the forest.”
I saw this happening in Khajuraho. I was let down by ‘Shilpgram’- state’s centre to provide a platform to art & culture & got drunk on music in front of the Eastern temples.
A blind man sits with his Iktara, his rendering of Bundelkhandi folk songs has power of absorption. Heads up- Tip him only when you’re ready to leave. As, the minute he gets money, he stops playing & comes back only when he needs more.
What are experiences with Khajuraho? How do you resolve the mystery of the History? What, in your opinion, does the erotica symbolizes?