Stories from the Road: Worship in Stone, Khajuraho, India

Stories from the Road is a collection of stories about my own photographic adventures in South Asia. Sometimes the stories are exciting and sometimes mundane and at times emotional. I hope you enjoy the pictures and the story.


Last year, I visited Khajuraho which is a small town known for the medieval Hindu temples with erotic sculptures carved on the outside of them. I visited the temple complex twice over two days. The first day I just walked around looking at the outsides of the temple. On the second day I spent more time there and explore the exterior and interior spaces of the temples.

On the second day, a man took it upon himself to become my tour guide for a while. We walked through three spaces together. Most of the time this kind of behavior would annoy me, I don’t really know why he didn’t. If it wasn’t for my tour guide I probably would not have seen the small detail in the photograph above. The small carving depicts a Shiva Lingam ceremony. On the left side of the photograph there is an abstract cylindrical shape. Next to that is a dancing woman. Just left of center is a figure holding a vessel over the lingam. A lingam is an abstract representation of Shiva which also represents¬† male and female genitalia. The base of the Shiva Lingam looks like a circle on top of a circle base, however, if you saw a lingam in three-dimensional form it would be shaped more like a pear. It represents the yoni or vagina. The phallic cylinder protruding from the top represents a penis. The figure on the right side of the lingam has her hands around the penis part of the sculpture. This small scene is actually carved on the side of a three-dimensional Shiva Limgam.

I have experience this ceremony in Ellora in 2009. The figure on the left is pouring milk or water over the lingam. I believe the figure on the right is using her hands to wash the lingam. My experience with the Shiva temple in Ellora was interesting. At the beginning while the were pouring liquids over the lingam, people were singing. Once that part of the ceremony was over everyone including myself put a garland of marigolds around the lingam. Then like everyone else I place my forehead on the base or the yoni. It was like a special treat to find this small carving among the many overwhelming carvings in Khajuraho.



By |2018-09-08T19:48:52-05:00July 12th, 2016|India|0 Comments

About the Author:

Betsy Williamson is an assistant professor of art in the state of New Mexico. Before coming to New Mexico for this job she was an adjunct professor throughout Dallas/Fort Worth, Texas, teaching photography and art appreciation. Between September 2015 and May 2017, she took a break from teaching to pursue art, research and life in India. Now she is back to teaching and part-timing it in India.

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