An Introduction to the Erotic Arts of India


By Dr. K. L. Kamat - 16.3 2023


The year 1999 marked a great symbolic step in the history of the erotic arts of India. Two thousand years ago, sage Vatsyayana wrote his landmark manuscript, the Kamasutra (erotic codes). One thousand years later, the Chandella kings (950-1050 A.D.) built one of the finest groups of temples in India, depicting erotic positions, at their capital Khajuraho. About five centuries later, king Kallarasa of Karnataka wrote an important treatise on the subject, "Janavashya" (1450 A.D.) in Kannada. In today's fast changing world, the values and sanctity attached to erotica and eroticism have also changed. Therefore, it has become necessary to re-evaluate the Erotic Arts of India in their true perspective.

Numerous writers, both Indian and foreign, have published their works on eroticism, mostly to feed the curiosity of westerners. In my decades of work on the subject, I have not come across a single book or paper that tried to study the topic without prejudice or without giving it a pornographic perspective. India thus lost immensely, through a wishful undermining of her history and art. This is an humble attempt to share my first-hand research and information about ancient erotic art and literature of India.

"We will study the Erotic Arts of India in Paintings, Wood Carvings and Sculptures"

To appreciate the erotic arts of India, one must understand the role of sex in the scheme of things according to Hinduism. Hinduism is a way of life according to prescribed codes. Every Hindu has to undergo sixteen denotary rituals (samskara) and four stages of life (ashramas). The final aim of life is salvation, which is the merging of the individual soul (atma) with the supreme soul (paramatma). One can attain salvation (moksha) through dharma, artha and kama. The ancient Indians took a healthy, integrated view of all aspects of life and gave sex its due importance in the overall picture. The pursuit of pleasure (kama) is one of the important aims of life, on the path to deliverance.

Loving couple (Mithuna) – Sculpture from Jinannathapura

Figures of loving couples (mithuna) in various art forms can be found in the very early periods of Indian civilization. This theme has been depicted consistently for thousands of years throughout India. Such sculpture can be found on the shrines of Buddhist, Jain, Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shakti, and also other cults, which proves its trans-religious nature. Mithuna is like any other life process and hence no taboo or inhibitions are attached to it. The worship of genitalia  has been prevalent for centuries and it is considered a part and parcel of Hindu worship.

" This is an humble attempt to share my first hand research and information about ancient erotic arts  of India"

Sources of Erotic Art

The Erotic arts of India have been studied here primarily in three forms:

Paintings: Due to their delicate nature, only a few paintings survived the onslaught of time and climatic hazards. The Narasimha Swamy temple of Sibi has such rare wall-paintings. In the last century, the kings of Mysore brought out some books of great importance, which are profusely illustrated with erotic art. Ancient books such as "Sougandhikaparinaya" and "Shritatwanidhi" contain illustrations (example) which are indirect and suggestive, and yet very modest. Indian miniatures such as Basholi, Kangra and Rajasthani styles have produced innumerable erotic paintings to cater to their rich clientele.


Wood Carvings: Many temples in India celebrate an annual chariot-festival (Rathotsava). The chariot (which is really a mobile temple) is specially built with hard woods such as teak, and innumerable panels depicting mythological themes are carved around the chariot (Ratha). Occasionally, the panels contain astonishingly explicit erotic carvings.


Sculptures:  The sculptural wealth has remained intact for centuries in spite of vandalism and mutilation by religious fanatics. The erotic sculptures of Khajuraho (in Madhya Pradesh) and Bhubaneshwar (Orissa) have been widely publicized, while others are almost unknown. In Karnataka State alone, there are a large number of such temples and sculptures, which will be studied individually.

Important Note

An important meaning of Kama (kaa-ma, from Sanskrit) is sensuous love, or an emotional feeling of attachment. In ancient Indian thought, it is recognized as the stimulus of action and personified as the god of erotic love (Kamadeva). In the Gita, as in Buddhism, it is the source of attachment to the world and the great impediment to spiritual freedom. For lack of a better word in English, I have used the term erotica to represent Kama, although erotica may essentially connote arousal.