The beautiful temples of Khajuraho offer an interesting peek into medieval Hindu life
If Burma has Bagan and Cambodia has Angkor Wat, India has Khajuraho – one of the largest collection of medieval temples in the world. Along with the Kamasutra, Khajuraho is now synonymous with erotica – but the “bold” sculptures depicting lovemaking and tantric practices are not the only reason to visit this temple town named after a date laden street (Khajur = date, Rah = street). The 25 sandstone temples – dedicated to a variety of Jain & Hindu deities, from Brahma, Vishnu & Shiva to Parvati – are one of the finest examples of Hindu-Jain architecture to be found in Asia.
Spread over an area of 20 square kilometers, the Khajuraho temples were built by the Chandela Dynasty between 900 to 1130 AD. Of the 85 temples that were originally built, only 25 remain – these are grouped into the Western Complex, the Eastern Complex & the Southern Complex. The largest and most ornate collection of temples is found in the Western Complex – budget for a minimum of 4 hours to fully admire the stunning architecture and intricate workmanship on display. While audio tours and smartphone apps are available, we strongly recommend hiring one of the trained local guides – even the finest recording cannot match up to their elaborate tales and theatrical delivery!
Just like the Romans, the architects of the Khajuraho temples conferred a unique structure to their creations. Each temple has a platform (Jagati), an entrance (Ardh Mandapa), a hall (Mandapa), oftentimes a great hall (Maha Mandapa), a vestibule (Antarala), towers (Sikhara), a shrine housed inside the towers (Garba Griha) and a crown (Kalasha). The laddered construction and imposing height is reminiscent of a range of mountains reaching for the sky!
The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple is the largest and tallest of the temples in Khajuraho, and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The main sikhara of the temple is an ode to Mount Kailash, and the sanctum houses a marble linga representing Shiva. It has an exquisitely carved entrance and several depictions of tantric sex.
Our guide was quite animated while describing the prevalence of tantric sex during the Chandela reign, but when the most inquisitive of our group asked a slightly, errr, technical question, he gave us a flustered response of “It’s confidential”! Evidently our ancestors were centuries ahead of us when it comes to sexual discourse.
Adjacent to the Kandariya temple is the Devi Jagadambi temple, which is named after the statue of Parvati that is enshrined in its sanctum (the temple was originally dedicated to Lord Vishnu). Some of the most erotic sculptures in Khajuraho can be found on its walls.
Hello beautiful! Flowers and birds find shelter in the luxuriant gardens of the Western complex -we were lucky to catch sight of this Blue Jay.
The oldest amongst the western group of temples is the Lakshmana Temple, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It’s exterior has several interesting panels, from the march of an army through a forest to scenes from Krishna’s battles. The middle arch of the doorway is inscribed with several incantations to Vishnu, and the inner sanctum has a 3 headed and 4 armed statue of Vishnu.
Contrary to popular belief, the Khajuraho temples depict the ordinary life of men and women – including, but not restricted to, sexual enjoyment. Many scholars also believe that the voluptuous sculptures of females depicting various scenes of their lives – from applying make up to sometimes pleasuring themselves – celebrate womanhood. Isn’t it ironic that 1,000 years of progress has turned us into a nation of prudes?
Directly opposite the Lakshmana temple are two shrines – Devi Mandap & Varaha Mandap.The Varaha Mandap has a statue of a boar (Varaha) with a serpent (Sheshnag) at its feet. Numerous gods and goddesses are carved all over the boar, including Goddess Saraswati on its snout.
Other notable temples in the complex are the Viswanath temple (dedicated to Shiva), the Chitragupta temple (dedicated to Surya) and the Brahma temple on the banks of the man made lake behind these temples.
Close to the Brahma temple is is Chausath Yogini, supposed to be the oldest temple in the Khajuraho complex and the only one carved out of granite. Climbing the steep steps of the temple led us to ancient ruins and corroded slabs, but we were adequately compensated by the sight of these boys playing cricket, with a few lazy cows filling in for the missing fielders.
Khajuraho has an airport that is connected to Delhi, Mumbai, Agra & Varanasi. It is also connected by rail to Delhi, Agra, Bangalore & Chennai. Khajuraho is 3 hours by road to Jhansi, which is well connected to all major towns in India.
Being a UNESCO World Heritage site, Khajuraho is popular with international tourists and offers a host of accommodation, from budget to luxury. There are also numerous dining options – from the popular Raja Cafe & Gandhi Cafe (the former run by two Swiss sisters ) to Indian, Italian & Mediterranean cuisine.
Local guides charge Rs. 900 – 1100 for the Western Complex. It goes without saying that the actual amount you pay depends upon the number of visitors and your bargaining skills!
Madhya Pradesh gets unbearably hot during summers, so the best time to visit Khajuraho is from September to March.
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Editors’s Note: Minor edits were made to this article on 06 May, 2014