2013-2014 Colloquium Series

The Tourism Studies Working Group is pleased to announce

Khajuraho Temple

Following Flâneurs in Phantasmagoric Temples

Swetha Vijayakumar
MS Student, Architecture
University of California, Berkeley

Friday, September 20, 5:00 PM
Gifford Room, 221 Kroeber Hall
University of California, Berkeley

While most temples in India are considered to be sacred sites for pilgrimage and worship, a group of temples at Khajuraho, a small town in central India, is an anomaly. The distinguishing feature of these temples is the thousands of erotic carvings that saturate its exterior walls. The mystifying carvings, often referred to as the mithuna sculptures, depict men and women in various explicitly sexual forms. Although one of the temples remains to be a pilgrimage site at the local level, in the last four decades, the entire group has gained much international recognition solely for its erotic sculptures. In this project, I study the tourism industry at Khajuraho which is a unique amalgamation of religion, culture, and eroticism. Deifying eroticism and promoting tourism using sensual imagery by an otherwise puritanical government in a fairly conservative Indian society is complex, tricky and riddled with contradictions. Khajuraho thrives on this dichotomy of being damned as pornography and transgressing of Indian culture on one hand, and on the other being endorsed to international tourists and Indian urban elites as an epitome of Indian liberalness - as the quintessential Kamasutra Temple. Along with briefly discussing Khajuraho's history and the myths surrounding the temple's unique sculptures, this presentation will trace the evolution of an isolated town into a major tourist attraction, and analyze the social, cultural, and environmental impacts of a rapidly burgeoning tourism. I will explore the complex gender issues at play, and the different perceptions of foreign and Indian tourists towards exhibitionism using the theoretical frameworks of gaze and voyeurism. In doing so, I draw from advertisement strategies, marketing of tourist arts and souvenirs, and the trade of prostitution that is rampant around Khajuraho's tourist village.

Khujaraho Sculptures

Speaker Bio: Swetha Vijayakumar is a MS student in the department of architecture at University of California, Berkeley. She is pursuing an interdisciplinary degree in History of Architecture and Environmental Design in Developing Countries. Her research interests include cultural ecologies of Hindu pilgrimage sites in South Asia, evolution of contemporary Indian temple architecture, and the traditional-modern dialectic in built environments. As a part of her thesis, she is currently studying 'spiritual theme parks' and 'touristic pilgrimages' in 21st century India. She has a Bachelor of Architecture degree from RV College of Engineering in India.

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