Erotic Sculpture of India - A Socio-cultural Study

Erotic Sculpture of India - A Socio-cultural Study

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Erotic sculpture around places of worship of any society would require an explanation. Its unignorable presence outside Hindu temples when the religion itself has been known for its other-worldly ideals and spiritual aspirations has both astonished and puzzled visitors. The Brahmin panda (guide) accompanying the inquisitive tourist at sites like Bhubaneswar or Konarak as well as the scholarly Hindu steeped in a less free later day morality find the anomaly embarrassing and proffer idealistic explanations in which sexual expression is interpreted either as a symbolic representation of Eternal Bliss or as the overt manifestation of kama, the third purusartha. Such explanations fail to account for themes like orgies and bestiality and the vast upsurge in sexual depiction in sculpture between AD 900 and 1400. What is the rationale of erotic depictions in religious art? What is their thematic content? Is erotic sculpture confined to temples of particular religious cults? Could esoteric Tantrikas display their own secret practices? This inquiry is concerned as much with the question of religious sanction as with the sociological factors generating the permissive atmosphere and mood for the depiction of sexual motifs. The proliferation of feudal chiefs and rulers, their interest in temple-building, the feudalization of temple institution and its growing wealth and power, the degeneration of devadasi (sacred, prostitution) system are found to be some of the medieval developments responsible for the profuse display of eroticism. Eroticism in sculpture is compared with the dominant themes in the other modes of art prevalent during the period. The present study examines practically the entire corpus of the empirical material on erotic motives and action over the period from the third century BC to the fifteenth century AD. In the course of the examination the author brings to light a wide variety of themes in the erotic sculpture of India. The illustrations represent prominently the lesser known sites like Bavka, Modhera, Bagali, etc., along with familiar sites like Khajuraho, Konarak and Bhubaneswar and are not merely illustrative; they throw up questions for examination to begin with, and serve also as supporting evidence for the argument advanced. In the present edition the bibliography is upto dated and new illustrations added with notes. Printed Pages: 287 with 157 b/w illustrations and 26 line drawings.


About the Author


Dr. Devangana Desai was born in 1937 in Bombay. An academic training both in Philosophy and Sociology roused in her a keen interest in the Sociology of Art and Religion. Her Ph.D. dissertation submitted in 1970 to the University of Bombay forms the basis of the present book. She has to her credit a large number of papers on Ancient Indian Terracottas, Temple Art and Architecture, and Ramayana scenes in Indian sculpture. Dr. Desai was awarded the Silver Medal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay (1977) for her contribution to oriental research. She received the Homi Bhabha Fellowship in 1978-1980 and worked on "Narration in Indian Sculpture (upto AD 1300)". She has participated in several national and international seminars of Art History including the "Discourses on Siva" Symposium convened by the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia in 1981, and the "Destiny of Man" Seminar held during the Festival of India in Britain in 1982.


She was awarded the prestigious Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Prize in 1983 for her research in Indian Art. Dr. Desai is the Editor of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay and Chairman of the Museum Society of Bombay.

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Erotic sculpture around places of worship of any society would require an explanation. Its unignorable presence outside Hindu temples when the religion itself has been known for its other-worldly ideals and spiritual aspirations has both astonished and puzzled visitors. The Brahmin panda (guide) accompanying the inquisitive tourist at sites like Bhubaneswar or Konarak as well as the scholarly Hindu steeped in a less free later day morality find the anomaly embarrassing and proffer idealistic explanations in which sexual expression is interpreted either as a symbolic representation of Eternal Bliss or as the overt manifestation of kama, the third purusartha. Such explanations fail to account for themes like orgies and bestiality and the vast upsurge in sexual depiction in sculpture between AD 900 and 1400. What is the rationale of erotic depictions in religious art? What is their thematic content? Is erotic sculpture confined to temples of particular religious cults? Could esoteric Tantrikas display their own secret practices? This inquiry is concerned as much with the question of religious sanction as with the sociological factors generating the permissive atmosphere and mood for the depiction of sexual motifs. The proliferation of feudal chiefs and rulers, their interest in temple-building, the feudalization of temple institution and its growing wealth and power, the degeneration of devadasi (sacred, prostitution) system are found to be some of the medieval developments responsible for the profuse display of eroticism. Eroticism in sculpture is compared with the dominant themes in the other modes of art prevalent during the period. The present study examines practically the entire corpus of the empirical material on erotic motives and action over the period from the third century BC to the fifteenth century AD. In the course of the examination the author brings to light a wide variety of themes in the erotic sculpture of India. The illustrations represent prominently the lesser known sites like Bavka, Modhera, Bagali, etc., along with familiar sites like Khajuraho, Konarak and Bhubaneswar and are not merely illustrative; they throw up questions for examination to begin with, and serve also as supporting evidence for the argument advanced. In the present edition the bibliography is upto dated and new illustrations added with notes. Printed Pages: 287 with 157 b/w illustrations and 26 line drawings.


About the Author


Dr. Devangana Desai was born in 1937 in Bombay. An academic training both in Philosophy and Sociology roused in her a keen interest in the Sociology of Art and Religion. Her Ph.D. dissertation submitted in 1970 to the University of Bombay forms the basis of the present book. She has to her credit a large number of papers on Ancient Indian Terracottas, Temple Art and Architecture, and Ramayana scenes in Indian sculpture. Dr. Desai was awarded the Silver Medal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay (1977) for her contribution to oriental research. She received the Homi Bhabha Fellowship in 1978-1980 and worked on "Narration in Indian Sculpture (upto AD 1300)". She has participated in several national and international seminars of Art History including the "Discourses on Siva" Symposium convened by the University of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia in 1981, and the "Destiny of Man" Seminar held during the Festival of India in Britain in 1982.


She was awarded the prestigious Dadabhai Naoroji Memorial Prize in 1983 for her research in Indian Art. Dr. Desai is the Editor of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay and Chairman of the Museum Society of Bombay.

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