January 10, 2013


[The most magnificent temple in this complex is the Lakshmana Temple, whose walls are studded with beautiful idols and images of as many as 600 Hindu gods, animals and sensuous couples, which remain unchanged. Ms. Horwitz described them as "sinuous figures cavort, hunt, make love, make war, make music, smile at themselves in mirrors, twist, turn, wiggle and dance - all in level after level of horizontal friezes encircling the edifices."]
Devlin Barrett/Associated Press
An intricately carved temple in Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh in 
this Feb. 13, 2008, file photo.
When you pass the sign that says "Welcome to Khajuraho," you enter a different land. The roads become broad and smooth. Lush lawns and tall green trees line up on both sides of the street.
And, most strikingly, sex and eroticism are no longer taboo. Khajuraho - which is at the heart of Madhya Pradesh, a state called the "Heart of India" -- is famous for its 1,000-year-old temples full of highly detailed erotic art and stone carvings, which draw millions of visitors each year.
In 1968, when Elinor L. Horwitz visited the place for The New York Times, four Indian Airlines flights a week to Khajuraho from New Delhi had just been scheduled. There was only one place to stay overnight, a $6-a-night government bungalow, which also served the only tourist lunch in the area, a $1 affair that included "bland soup, hot curry and custard."
Recently, India Ink traveled to Khajuraho to see what has changed and what has remained the same in the four decades since.
In 1968, Ms. Horwitz observed, "of the original 85 temples, 32 baroque marvels remain intact in their 1,000-year splendor." Built between 950 A.D. and 1050 A.D., under the generous patronage of the Chandela Rajput kings of central India, the temples of Khajuraho have been grouped into three complexes based on their geographic location: east, west and south.
The western group of temples is the best preserved and was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1986. These temples are inside a huge compound, and a ticket is required for entry. Once inside, massive green lawns are interspersed with ancient temples dedicated to different gods.
The most magnificent temple in this complex is the Lakshmana Temple, whose walls are studded with beautiful idols and images of as many as 600 Hindu gods, animals and sensuous couples, which remain unchanged. Ms. Horwitz described them as "sinuous figures cavort, hunt, make love, make war, make music, smile at themselves in mirrors, twist, turn, wiggle and dance - all in level after level of horizontal friezes encircling the edifices."
The purpose of these sculptures is still being debated among scholars. Devangana Desai has written three books on Khajuraho, including "Erotic Sculpture of India: A Socio Cultural Study." She contended that erotic sculptures around places of worship of any society would require an explanation.
"What is the rationale of erotic depictions in religious art," she asked. "What is their thematic content? Is erotic sculpture confined to temples or 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."
Tourists who visit the temples have similar questions. Hans Mahler, 27, an antiques store owner in Germany who was visiting the temples wondered aloud how the Hindu society of a thousand years ago could be more open than the German society today.
Even if the sculptures haven't changed, pretty much everything else has. Today, there are several flights to the town from many cities every day, bringing in almost as many visitors as the Taj Mahal -- more than 2 million visitors during the peak tourist season, between February and April and between September and November. The small airport at Khajuraho is also getting a facelift.
Unesco, or the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is not only giving this heritage site financial assistance for the upkeep of the sculptures, but is also instrumental in drawing foreign tourists to these artistic temples.
Those foreign tourists will find the town has changed to cater to them. Several restaurants boast of specializing in country-specific cuisine. Pizzerias are sprinkled across the town, as are Korean restaurants. A guide who could speak six international languages was trying to draw the attention of foreign tourists in front of the temple complex.
In a 1973 essay from Khajuraho, Anees Jung wrote in The New York Times that these "legendary" temples had very little impact on the lives of the people living in Khajuraho. That was about to change, she wrote, with the opening of a the "Khajuraho Motel, the first hostelry expressly for automobile drivers in this land of richly carved temples and mahua trees."
"The people who live in Khajuraho are not the same as those who built the temples," the curator of the Archeological Museum in Khajuraho told Ms. Jung. "They have been living in the village probably for only 200 years. Not one of them can sculpt in stone. Otherwise, they just live in the village and work on their farms and small businesses. They are quiet, unpretentious people, whose lives go on apart from the splendor of the past. The temples are just a natural part of their lives. What will probably affect them is this motel and tourism."
The curator was right. Today, the economy of Khajuraho is driven only by tourism. It has become a town that never sleeps, with restaurants and bars open until late in the night. And according to a resident, the aspiration of most young men is to become a tour guide.
Khajuraho also has many five-star hotels and luxury accommodations, like the Radisson, the Lalit and Hotel Clarks, all of them built in the past decade or so. For many years, the only decent place to stay used to be Hotel Jhankar, a Madhya Pradesh Tourism initiative. This hotel is still popular as it is located in the center of the town, close to all three temple complexes.
Amid the transformations that have changed the face of this little town, thousands of years of ancient Hindu iconography and sensual sculptures seem to be the only constant.


KATHMANDU: Even as journalists vehemently protested Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai's yesterday's statement that the arrest of Maoist cadres for murdering journalist Dekendra Thapa would affect peace process, the prime minister today appeared defiant. The prime minister reiterated that the murder case of Thapa should not be addressed by the administration.

Media reports were rife today that the prime minister even 'instructed' the local police and judicial agency to halt legal proceedings in Dailekh where five Maoist cadres were arrested on Saturday on charge of murdering Thapa.

Federation of Nepali Journalists, different associations and unions of mediapersons, opposition parties, including the Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, today strongly condemned the prime minister's act of halting the legal proceedings.

An FNJ team led by its Chairman Shiva Gaunle also submitted a memorandum to the prime minister this evening, which Prime Minister did receive, but stood defiant, plainly refuted media reports and reiterated his statement that 'blowing individual cases could hamper the peace process', much to the chagrin of journalists.
Prime Minster Bhattarai, issuing a statement, said, "If we start picking up individual cases, no one will be spared — neither the Maoists, NC and UML nor the security bodies."

FNJ Chairman Gaunle said, "It is an irresponsible and helpless statement from the prime minister. It is not appropriate at all — neither constitutionally nor politically. It is not only about journalists; such statements are sure to shake the entire nation."

Gaunle added that FNJ would wait and see how the judicial proceedings move ahead and would launch a movement if they are halted. On the arrest of Nepali Army Colonel Kumar Lama in London, Prime Minister Bhattarai said, "Arresting and charging Lama in an unauthorised way is very much objectionable."

One of the five accused of murdering Thapa has already admitted to the crime and said they had buried the journalist alive some eight years ago. National Human Rights Commission too condemned the government obstruction in the legal proceedings. FNJ and other journalists' associations had organised a protest rally in Baneshwor for about half an hour this afternoon.

NPU condemns govt move

KATHMANDU: Issuing a press statement, the Nepal Press Union on Wednesday condemned the government move to obstruct the legal proceedings against the murderers of journalists Dekendra Thapa. "We are ashamed to have a prime minister who wants to save those criminals who buried one of our fellow journalists alive," said NPU Chairman Kiran Pokharel. Press Chautari Nepal General Secretary Bishnu Rijal, in a statement, said, "The move is objectionable and against the principle of separation of power. Is it a prime minister or a guerrilla that kills innocent people and seeks justice through kangaroo court?" said PCN. Editors' Society and other different organisations also condemned the obstruction in judicial proceedings. — HNS