Much has been written and talked about the Sun Temple at Konark in Odisha. The architecture, the pivotal location by the sea, the magnetic property of the lodestone and the scenic – serene – sublime aura, quintessential of Odisha tourism, a UNESCO world heritage site, tales surrounding the Black Pagoda has been extensively researched. However, the dominance of eroticism as a theme over the rest of the style of the temple is unarguably evident. No one has summed up the beauty of erotica on these walls better than Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore. He wrote, “Here, the language of stone surpasses the language of men.”
Today, we live in a sexually repressed India where mere talk of sex is considered a taboo and anything remotely associated with it is hush-hush. But, if we go back in time, say about 761 years to be precise, this wasn’t the case. In fact, those were the years of a sexually liberal India that basked in the glory of the Kama sutra and believed it to be a great form of education for the mankind. After all, reproduction and creation of offspring is the underlying essence of Mother Nature.
What is the normal physical relationship between two individuals becomes in Konark, a complex exchange of many sensation and emotions. The sculptures are reflections of a time that allowed free and public expression of erotic love, without shame or censure. These erotic sculptures represent a society where artists had the freedom to sculpt a buxom woman happily embracing her lover. There is no denying that these images of women and men freely partaking of sexual pleasures was a powerful one and its exhibition on the walls of a sacred place had a connotation in the minds of the viewer. Temples are an extremely pious place. The fanciful erotica that adorns its walls did not, at the time of its creation, contradict this sense of holiness. Rather, sexuality was something natural and magnificent, an essential element of human life worth celebrating.
Today, however, mainstream India’s views on sexuality are far more rooted in censorship and oppression than free expression. In December 2013, India’s LGBT community suffered a severe setback as the country’s Supreme Court ruled homosexuality to be a criminal offence. More recently, in August 2015, the Indian government imposed a ban, lifted conditionally a few days later, on more than 800 websites deemed pornographic, in an ostensible bid to curb sexual violence. That apart, it is really strange, almost bizarre, that today, conservative extremists react to sexuality with suspicion and venom, vitriol and violence. There are numerous cases of art exhibitions being vandalised, books being burnt and films censored.
After winning political freedom and liberalising the economy, now perhaps it’s time to liberate our minds.
Today, India has been relegated to the level of the most backward countries in the sphere of personal liberty, and one might wonder how such a drastic change could have come about. The scriptures reveal a gradual descent into Puritanism and homophobia.
This succeeds in posing a vital question: If society was so open-minded and people so uninhabited back in 13th Century AD, what makes it a taboo in the 21st Century today that we feel the need to talk in undertones or keep mum altogether? Have our morals evolved or devolved?
Freedom of Expression and right to personal liberties are a fundamental right enshrined in the constitution. It is essential for any modern democracy, a minimum requirement for free flow of ideas necessary for the growth of any culture. Let the creative juices surge unhindered, ideas flow freely, let the debates rage, only then can we grow as a civilisation.
Konark holds within its walls a larger lesson – a lesson on tolerance, a lesson of free flow of ideas and a lesson on liberalism.
‘There is no shame attached to the human form, shame can only be in the way we look at it’