Love of heritage


German architect and curator Wolfgang Korn first came to Nepal in 1974 to work on the Bhaktapur Project. But it was not until the 2015 earthquake that he met Nepali archaeologist Sukra Sagar Shrestha amidst the rubble of the Nautale Darbar. The two found a common passion for heritage conservation, and in particular saving the erotic art in Kathmandu Valley temples.

The earthquake brought down many of these monuments, and their meticulously carved wooden struts were strewn among the debris. Korn and Shrestha realised how precious and fragile the carvings were, and set about carefully collecting, photographing and documenting them. The result is the book Erotic Carvings of the Kathmandu Valley Found on the Struts of Newar Temples, an exhaustive collection of the priceless items rescued from the quake debris five years ago, but also a catalogue of all possible positions of sexual congress. (Caution: Some readers may find the content of this book too explicit.)

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The first part of the book analyses the evolution of erotic art in Hindu-Buddhist Tantric theology and mysticism, from its antecedents in Vatsayana’s Kamasutra, through the eroticism of the temples of Khajuraho and Konarak in India, right up to the eruption of temple building in Malla-era Nepal 500 years ago.

The authors discuss various reasons for ubiquitous erotica. Some have explained these carvings in terms of the importance of the Shiva-Shakti sexual union in Hinduism as a symbol of spiritual fulfillment.

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Others suggest they provided sex education for young people who congregated at temple squares during festivals. These explanations, however, do not account for the level of obscenity in these carvings, and the fact that many of them depict practices that are deviant by any standards.

Some argue that the carvings actually depict the do’s and dont’s of acceptable sexual behaviour. And the most common explanation is that the shocking acts shown here are meant to be too disgusting even for evil spirits, who would then spare the temples in question from lightning strikes or earthquakes.

But that did not protect the Nautale Darbar in Kathmandu and the Char Narayan Temple in Patan from destruction in the earthquake of 25 April 2015. Both had some of the most sexually explicit carvings in Kathmandu Valley on their eaves and corner struts, including orgiastic scenes, bestiality, and the use of sex toys.

Shrestha rescued and cleaned the struts at Char Narayan, and Korn painstakingly photographed them to be catalogued in this book along with sketches based on them by Roshan Dongol and Ekaram Singh. The restoration of Char Narayan was completed by Kathmandu Valley Preservation Trust this month.

Sukra Sagar Shrestha passed away in 2017, leaving behind much of the research for this book. His daughter, Silu Shrestha, writes in the Foreword: ‘My father was worried that no heritage conservation expert would dare write about erotic carvings of Newar temples, but he and Wolfgang did it because of their love for heritage.’

Erotic Carvings of the Kathmandu Valley

Found on the Struts of Newar Temple

Raju Rokka 2019

217 pages   Rs 2,750

Kunda Dixit


Kunda Dixit is the former editor and publisher of Nepali Times. He is the author of 'Dateline Earth: Journalism As If the Planet Mattered' and 'A People War' trilogy of the Nepal conflict. He has a Masters in Journalism from Columbia University and is Visiting Faculty at New York University (Abu Dhabi Campus).

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