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All over Nepal on the struts of Hindu temples and pagodas of the early Buddhist period you can see richly detailed wood carvings, depicting scenes of a very erotic nature. Some temples reveal just the odd sly image while others are covered in them.
Activities range from straight forward exhibitionism to scenes of couples engaged in impressively athletic sexual acts. The more exotic carvings include animal coition and women coupling with demons. These scenes are rarely the central carving on the strut; they are usually the smaller carving at the bottom, like a footnote to the larger image. Nor are they sensuous and finely sculptured like those at Khajuraho and Konark in India. In Nepal, the figures are often smaller and cruder – even cartoon like.
There are many myths surrounding these erotic arts on Nepali Temples. According to Hindu myth, the goddess of lightening is shy virgin, who wouldn’t strike a temple with such goings on. In his way they are a method of protecting the Holy temple from natural disaster. But they could also be a celebration of an important part of the lifecycle. Their Tantric themes show a clear intermingling of Tibetan Buddhist and Hindu beliefs in Nepal. Tantric creed implies that sex should be viewed and practiced as an act of creation, with which every being is born for the sake of multiplying oneself. According to Vedas, the Hindu religious texts, sexual union represents the union of the individual with the universe. This could be why-until the 16th century- sex was not considered taboo in most of the parts of India and Nepal. It was openly exposed on the street. The ancient attitude was that sex is the founder of living creatures- so why keep it in secret and out of sight?
These erotic scenes are also connected with the Shiva temples –the god of creation. In Nepal, there is a unique practice of paying homage and worshiping the symbolic phallus of Lord Shiva. Young married or unmarried girls will bow down, touching their head on the symbolic phallus, called Shiva Linga. It is said that lord Shiva once had sex with the beautiful young wife of Rishis – a poet-sage through whom the Vedic hymns flowed. Rishis cursed the phallus of lord Shiva so it would fall to the ground along with the female sex organ of his wife. Shiva Linga therefore became the distinct symbol of lord Shiva‘s phallus relaxing in the female sexual passage. Similarly ‘Guhya’ means vagina – the female sexual organ and ‘Shwori’ means goddess. Therefore an idol of Guheshowri (Goddess Durga) is shaped like the female sexual organ, and young men also worship and touch their head to it. Others worshipped include Kama deva who is the god of sex and Rati who is the goddess of sex. Kama deva creates lust, infatuation and carnal desire and becomes the passion and fire in a man’s body. Rati is created in the body of woman when a man and women unite during sexual intercourse.
From the 12th century onwards Malla Kings patronized this art form, but only specimens dating back from the 14th century really remain. This is because the wood is vulnerable to the ravages of time. Generally Sal (Shorea) teak (agarth) deodar (cedrus) and Sisso (dalbegia) which can all be found around Kathmandu, were used for the carvings. Their life span is affected by mild climate, lynches, mosses, insects, dry rots and biochemical defects. There was also an earthquake in the 14th century which meant many of the wooden monuments were destroyed. From the 14th century onwards wood carving became an integral part of Nepalese architecture and reached its classical peak during the late Malla period. (1400- 1768) If you get the chance to wonder the streets of Kathmandu or travel further afield then some of the best examples of these erotic carvings can be seen at the old royal palaces of Kathmandu, Patan and Bhaktapur and a number of different Viharas (monasteries) around the valley.