This topic, about erotic carvings as always, is set full of mystery and questions. Although we have books related to this subject, there is no authentic answer considering it. The author of the book named Sacred Love: Erotic Arts in the temples of Nepal, Shivaji Das himself said that,
“No one knows why the erotic art is there in the struts of the temples. It could be because of all of the reasons I mentioned, which I found during my research for the book. Or it could be none of it, That’s why the whole topic of why it was carved is fascinating.” -The Kathmandu Post
Exactly this fascinating subject however always put us on an amaze. Occurring feelers like why they were carved? Even if they tend to be carved, why they are in public places, especially in temples? Erotic, this word sounds vulgar in our Nepalese society to this day, but could it be possible that it was not the same back then when these carvings were actually carved.
Nonetheless, we can’t deny the fact that these erotic carvings are still in various temples, within the Kathmandu valley. The Jagannath temple of Kathmandu, Charnarayan temple of patan and Pashupatinath temple of Bhaktapur are some of the examples of the temples which consist of these erotic yet beautiful carvings.
Normally, we find such carvings outside the temples, most likely in the struts of the temples. But there are not only temples, which consists of this kind of carvings, the patis (public resthouse) and other architecture also seem impacted with them, especially in Bhaktapur.
There are particularly five such temples in Bhaktapur that consist of erotic carvings. The Pashupatinath temple of Bhaktapur Durbar Square, Dattatraya temple and Laxminarayan temple of Dattatraya Square, Narayan Temple of Khauma and Bhadrakali Temple of Bhelukhel.
It is a fact that all the erogenous carvings are carved only in the struts, yet all the struts are not carved with such carvings. You can see that there are only 12 (East) and 14(North) such carvings in the struts of the Dattatraya temple.
Among the mentioned temples, in Pashupatinath, Bhadrakali and Laxminarayan, available all struts have before-mentioned carvings. Besides, the Nyatapola cafe also seems to have some odd numbering of carvings. It has 6,2,5 and 4 such carvings in the west, north, east and south respectively.
Tales/Anecdotes behind Erotic Carvings in Nepalese Temples
Many stories cover the erotic carvings and their reasons to be carved over there. Despite this, there is no pure reason to believe them all. Just like the misty history of the lives of the kings of Nepal, the mystery behind the erotic carvings are also quite unclear.
However, some proclaim that the notable feature of the period (second half of the 9th century to the first quarter of the 11th century) was the introduction of rampant erotic sculptures due to the influence of Vajrayana philosophy.
Vajrayana philosophy is also known as Tantrism. In it, everything is permitted, nothing is inadmissible. As Tantrism emphasizes the worship of the feminine energy, definitely as a result people could have erotic carvings. The erotic images might have been made as per the instruction of elite people such as rulers as a part of luxury.
Likewise, Dharabasi says: Hindu temples were in great crises of invasion from Muslims. It was thought that Muslims do not attack over if they find erotic figures.
Another tale stands telling that during the time of Shankaracharya when Buddhism was massively increasing when there was a cut-throat competition to be monks and nuns, to motivate people with life, to orient people towards reproduction, erotic carvings were made reminding people of their duties. It was kind of the sublime way to fight against Buddhism.
Some say that it was carved to give education about sex to the people while some say it was carved there to make people desire sex. Similarly, it is said that during ancient times, when there was only war and war and the number of soldiers was diminishing, the need for extra population plus soldiers might have made the erotic carving’s existence.
However, there is another story that said that to avoid the lightning in the temples, such carvings were done. The lightening, as many believe, is a virgin goddess who simply cannot stand anything erotic in the temple”.
Above all these counterclaims about the erection of suggestive carvings, we are still not sure why exactly they were carved? Although some stories seem to justify the crafting thus far there are some doubts over it. If such carvings were meant to protect temples then why they were carved on the patis and Sattals excessively? Also, if it was meant to convey sex education, then why did the temples made after those temples have no such carvings?
These doubts somehow further lead us to think about incidents that probably might have taken place on the verso of history. Disregarding, did you know that there exist not only the amatory carvings of human beings but also of the animals.
Besides, you probably have also noticed that these carvings somehow also showcases the then lifestyle. Bathing using a tub, bathing at Hiti (Stone spout), going to the stone spouts to get drinking water and doing other household kinds of stuff. These all things somehow gives us an idea about the then living style but again, we get quite unsure about the illustrated affinity activities since our society today do not simply concern such activities.
At last, we got stuck on the same question why they were eventually carved?
You can also check out the photo story of the erotic carvings in Bhaktapur which consists of a lot more images of such craftings.
Deep, Dhurba K. Popular Deities, Emblems and Images of Nepal
Erotic carvings of Medival Nepalese temples: A locus of Knowledge
Author-Krishna Kumar Yogi (University of Tasmania)