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12 December 2017 l 01:46:44 PM      New Delhi, -18°C/ °F
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The Konark Sun Temple

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Over the last few weeks I saw countless of #MeToo status updates on Social Media, each representing acts of sexual harassment or worse that was inflicted to women. The #MeToo campaign was initiated after sexual intimidation and harassment practices of Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein were uncovered. In terms of prosecution, the produced is still ‘accused’, and not ‘proven guilty’ in the court of law. Nonetheless, the movie and entertainment industry casted its verdict upon Weinstein. He turned persona non grata overnight. Career over. From celebrity to nobody, in a matter of days. The point was clear. Any abuse of power or intimidation with the purpose of sexual contact without mutual consent is a no go, a dead end street. The whole Weinstein drama was on my mind when recently visiting the Konark Temple in Odisha. Let me explain you why.
The temple of Konark, also known as the Black Pagoda, is a temple of the Sun God, commissioned by 13th century AD King Narasimhadeva I. It is a magnificent cone shaped structure, in Kalinga architectural style, famous for its divine iconography with minutious details. The explicit details of women in sensual poses and couples engaged in –let’s say- physical intimacy of advanced interpersonal nature. The complex, depicts a larger than life chariot and is UNESCO World Heritage Site. The wheels of the chariot represent Sun dials, which, divides the day into eight units of time and not twelve, In his days, King Narasimhadeva I lived in a different time as well.
Odisha is blessed with many temples, Konark is not just any of them. It is one of the most esteemed temples in all of India. By popular vote organized by the Times of India in 2007, the Sun Temple was marked as one of the Seven Wonders of India. As of yet, I visited five. (if you insist, the other six are: the Jain Gomateshwara statue in Karnataka, the Golden Temple of Amritsar, the Taj Mahal, the Hampi complex in Karnataka, the Nalanda university in Bihar, the temple complex of Khajuraho).
Nearby Bubaneshwar is worth a visit too, with its hundreds of temples, most of them attributed to Lord Shiva. Sadly, many are only accessible to Hindus. To catch a glimpse of the towering Lingraj temple, we ascended to the rooftop of the adjacent hospital. Linga is the phallic symbol of Lord Shiva. If the Lingraj temple was meant to look phallic, in my imagination it was top to bottom covered with draping garlands. Go check for yourself. Back to Konark. The Konark architecture is very similar to that of the Khajuraho temple complex, in Madhya Pradesh. Konark however is much less on the beaten track. I mean, you can easily plan Khajuraho in a week’s stretch combining it with Agra, Fatepur Sikri and Lucknow. Very doable. Konark on the other hand, sits in a much less visited corner of India, if not to say in the middle of nowhere. When telling our Defence Colony dentist that we were travelling to Odisha in the fall break of school, she raised one eyebrow and asked: “What …. is in Odisha?” I can now answer that question. Odisha is known for the enticing Konark Sun Temple, for the garlands of Bubaneshwar, for a monsoon season that stretches well into October and for persisting stomach bacteria.
Many icons on the outer temple walls of Konark display a sexual freedom that is unheard of in the India of today. Couples in poses leaving little for imagination, gesturing, engaging in oral sex or plainly copulating in various ways, some positions ambitious enough too. What more, most if not all positions display the couples standing up, leading me to believe that in 13th century India there was no hierarchy between man and woman, they were equal partners in life and love. More so, both man and woman seemed to enjoy the acts depicted. Konark shows pleasure and equality, and no dominance or subordinacy (eat that, Harvey Weinstein). These murals must have been made in an era expressing a progressive sexual morale, without secrecy, dogmas or normative behavior towards sexuality imposed by religious authorities, or otherwise. Konark being a temple of the sun, I am led to believe the notion at the time was that human intimacy was part of nature, and was equally worshipped as the Sun itself. Eight hundred years ago, sexuality was revered for what essentially symbolizes: the balance in heart, mind and body between two equal partners, as part of everyday life.
With Konark in our rear view mirror, a question keeps nagging in my mind: Why is it that eight hundred years ago sexuality was openly displayed, celebrated and revered in India, while today there is so much ado about it? 

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