Khajuraho is well
known all over the world for its temple architecture and exquisite
sculpture. The temples were built between the 9th and
11th centuries by the warrior kings of the Chandela
dynasty. Even though the definite reason behind such mass scale
temple construction remains unknown, it definitely proves the
Chandela dynastys immense appreciation and love for art.
Located in the forested
plains of Madhya Pradesh, in the region known as Bundelkhand, at a
distance from most city and town centers, Khajuraho remains an enigma
for art historians. For only did thee temples create what must, in
the medieval ages, have been a cathedral city, they also had explicit
erotic sculpture adorning them.
Hundreds of years later,
it is this unresolved mystery that continues to draw tourists from
all over the world. But even if Khajuraho had not had its erotic
sculptures (many Hindu temples of the same period too feature, these,
whether in Orissa or in Rajasthan), it would have been a draw, for
the architecture and sculpture of these temples, in total harmony, is
unlike any elsewhere in the country.
temples are built in the north Indian nagara style. The
sculptors fine skill and a sense of imagination have given form
to human emotion in the form of spiritual and physical love. Spread
through the high forest plateaus of the region, these temples were
rediscovered only a few decades back, and it was this isolation and
the encroachment of the jungles which had led to the destruction of
most. Built within a 200-year span, the temple plan, from the
simplest to the most sublime, follows the same pattern, and all of
them were heavily carved.
Many see the re-emergence
of Hinduism as a major force during this period, in the nature of a
backlash against Buddhism, as the reason not only for the renewed
energy with which temples were built, but also for the sensuous
nature of the sculpting. Every façade-wall, window, pillar,
ceiling-is carved with figures of mythical and historical origins,
and while many of these depict full-breasted, girdle-waisted women in
forms of innocent play, they also depict carnal love. One of the
tenets of Hinduism is that sexual love is the form of energy, and so
its depiction in temples was natural. Equally true was that according
to the four divisions of life, the second quarter-that of the
bachelor-was followed by that of the householder. But since bachelors
were schooled in ashrams, these temple walls lent credence to the
natural inclination towards sex, and in fact followed a guide to sex
Other theories too have
been put about for the need of these representations. While one
claims that the erotic sculptures acted as an advertisement to draw
people to the temple complex, from where on the priests would take
over the initiation into Hindu scriptures, another art historian
claims that the temples were built as a celebration of Shivas
marriage with Parvati-which is why the atmosphere is so romantically
charged. This also ties in with the theory that the sculptures
depict various moods frozen in the moment when Shivas barat or
wedding procession passed through the region.
But while several
theories abound, the actual reason for the building of the temples
may never be known. Or they may rest in the simple tale of the
Brahmin lady whose consummation with the Moon god hearalded the start
of the Chandeal dynasty. According to local legends, these temples
were built by the first Chandela raja to atone his mothers sin.
Among the 22 surviving
temples out of the original 85, some remain well preserved while
others are less so. They are located in three groups. The largest,
and most easily reached, western group consists of Chausath Yogini,
Lalguan Mahadev, Parvati, Varaha, Matangeswar, Lakshman, Vishvanatha,
Nandi, Chitragupta, Devi Jagdamba and Kandariya Mahadev. The seven
temples of the eastern group include four Jain temples-Parasnath,
Adinath, Shantinagh, and Ghantai-and three Brahmanical ones: Vamana,
Javari and Brahma. This is known as the Jain group. The small
southern group contains the Chaturbhuj and Duladeo temples.
The Kandariya Mahadeo is
considered the most evolved example of central Indian temple
architecture. Dedicated to Lord Shiva this temple is also the largest
of Khajurahos temples. It is also located close to the
Matangeshwara temple, the only one in the entire complex where the
deity (Shiva again) is worshipped, and where prayers and rituals are
followed every day. It is interesting to imagine, and perhaps
romantic too, that this is the way prayers would have been conducted
at all 85 temples, and bells pealed across the silence of the green
The basic ground plan of
the temple is almost a textbook example of Hindu temple architecture,
consisting of four compartments: an entrance porch (the ardhamandap),
the vestibule (antarala) and the sanctum (garbhagriha).
In some of the large temples an extra mandap with lateral
transepts is added for size and splendour, converting it into a large
assembly hall. The temples rest on a risen open platform, a
distinctive feature of the Khajuraho temples, with subsidiary shrines
at the four corners of the platform in the bigger temples.
The sides of the risen
platform are decorated with friezes depicting scenes from everyday
life, war, processions, and erotic. Seen from a distance, the temples
seem to rise skyward, layer upon layer, the multiple spires depicting
the Himalayan as that the sages retired for meditation, and it was
here that the gods lived. So it was expected that the temples
recreate the atmosphere of the holiest Indian grounds.
The ceilings of the
compartments are supported on beams and pillars resting on walls with
a carved decorative lotus motif. This framework graduates into an
octagonal shape before taking on a circular form. One ascends to the
temples up a flight of steps, and each succeeding compartment is at a
higher level so that the sanctum sanctorum is at the highest level.
Each temple has only one entrance, and this faces the rising sun in
the east (the only exceptions, it would appear, are the Chaturbhuj,
Lalguan Mahadev and Chausath Yogini temples). Built of granite and
sandstone, the temples also embody the human form with the sanctum
housing the soul, the platform representing the legs, the middle
portion walls seen as the waist, the shikhar or spire the head, and
the kalash or pitcher on top representing the crown.
While the erotic carvings
of Khajuraho have attracted most attention, there are in fact several
categories of sculpture which dominate the sensual by far. The most
revered are the cult images located within the sanctum for purpose of
worship, and these consist of Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva, Surya and Jain
Tirthankarras. The numerous gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon
grace all the walls of the temples, and are distinguished from imges
of mortal humans only by their attributes, mounts, or by the
suggestion of a diamond or long necklace on their chests. There are,
of course, thousands of images of celestial beauties or
surasundaris-all of them young and beautiful, and often depicted in
dancing poses, or at their toilette. The next range of sculptures
depicts people in acts of everyday life, such as working, listening
to teachers, waging battles etc. Then there are representations of
real and mythical animals and beasts. Of course, there are the
mithuns too, the friezes that show couples or groups in erotic and
amorous poses. And finally, to fill in the gaps, but excellent
examples of ornamentation in themselves, are the geometrical bands
and floral motifs, mostly on the inner and outer walls of the
temples, and especially on the higher spires. The ceiling of the
entrance porch of the Lakshmana temple is considered among the best
in the country.
Equally fascinating are
the ornaments, head-dresses and clothes with which the sculptures
have been adorned, for they record the high levels of grooming and
fashion of medieval India. And for those looking for reference of the
social and religious history of India, a close study of Khajuraho
should be references enough. For these temples are not mere
buildings of prayer but centers of learning-now, as then.
A daily flight links
Khajuraho with Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.
The nearest railheads are
Harpalpur (94 kilometer) and Mahoba (63 kilometer). Country buses and
tongas take you to Khajuraho. The Shatabdi Express from Delhi to
Bhopal stops at Jhansi (172 kilometer from Khajuraho). Buses and
tourist cars meet the train. Satna, 117 kilometer away is convenient
for travelers from Bombay, Calcutta and Varanasi. Taxis and buses are
available from here.
Direct bus services
connect Khajuraho with Panna, Satna, Chattarpur, Jabalpur, Mahoba,
Bhopal and Indore.
Hotel Taj chandela
Hotel Jass Oberoi
Hotel Khajuraho Ashok
Madhya Pradesh Tourism
also has tourist bungalows and hotels.
Cycle rickshaws, tongas,
taxis are available.
Government of India
Opposite Western Group of
Deputy Director of
Government of Madhya
Pradesh Bust Stand, Khajuraho.