The imaginations of the wood carvers of the past have no limit. They are bold, unfettered and expansive, and nothing is profane or strange. One popular motif found in the carvings in the Valley is a bowl or a jug, often carried by an attendant or a monkey. These vessels are strategically placed under the sex organs as if to collect the fluids. Chazot explains that this could be to signify the importance of sexual fluids, which would be ritual offerings.
As for the many depictions of bestiality (pictured below), all women with an animal, Chazot remarks it could be another symbolism. “Sex organs in ancient texts are often described in animal terms, such as elephant, dog, horse,” he says, “and these could be to make a comment on compatibility and harmony.”
Some of the carvings could also be taken as warnings, especially for women: for example a common image of a man penetrating from behind a woman who has gone to collect water. In a few carvings, a third figure, learned by the way he looks and holds a book in his hands, lurking in the shadows, engages in voyeurism, with a particularly sinister look on his face.
Scholars conjecture that this could also be a metaphor, of women as receiving semen from men, mirrored in the water pouring into the pot right beside them. Nevertheless, noteworthy is the fact that women appear in more carvings than men. Tantrism, which positioned men in the role of actors, was also historically reserved for males, utilising the female image as the receiver, or a vessel. As such, this calls into question the role of male gaze in depictions of pleasure.
Read also: How art empowers Nepal’s women, Anita Bhetwal