One of the most potent symbols of Medieval art in India survives in the form of the Khajuraho temples in the Chatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. It is about 620 kilometers south east of New Delhi and is India’s best known complex of Hindu and Jain temples. The walls of the temple are adorned with exquisite signature sculpture which speak volumes of the local craftsmanship. One tenth of the sculptures are explicitly erotic in nature and the blatant display of passion has earned the temple a sobriquet- the Kamasutra temples. Out of the 85 temples originally built, 22 still stand today. More sites are being excavated in a quest to unearth India’s forgotten legacy. The temples display a highly precise and distinct form of architecture. Mortar has not been used. The temples are carved out of sandstone blocks that have been joined together by means of precisely constructed joints and held together by the forces of gravity. The Khajuraho group of monuments have been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The name Khajuraho is borrowed from ‘khajura vahaka’ which literally means the ‘carriers of date palm’. The surrounding areas were densely populated with date palms, giving the place its name. In the period between 900-1300 AD the place was under the rule of the Chandela dynasty under whose patronage the 85 temples were constructed. Khajuraho was their cultural capital (political capital being the city of Mahoba). Khajuraho was never really fortified but the walls surrounding it had eight gates, each flanked by two golden palm trees. It is said that every Chandela ruler had at least one temple built during his lifetime. The famous traveler Al Biruni mentions the Khajuraho temples in his travelogues. In AD 13335 Khajuraho also crops up in the works of the famous Arab traveler Ibn Batuta. However owing to Muslim invasion in the 12th century, the grandeur of the monuments took a beating. The Muslim invaders defaced many of the religious monuments of the area.
In 1819 AD the British Engineer T. S. Burt discovered the Khajuraho temples assisted by the locals and was followed by General Alexander Cunningham. General Cunningham led a excavation in the area with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and put Khajuraho on the world map. Today, with a conscious effort at restoration Khajuraho has recovered a part of its lost glory. The temples attract tourists from all over the world and has become a tourism hot spot. The Madhya Pradesh state government as well as the Government of India have adopted steps to promote tourism in the area. The otherwise remote area is now accessible due to the building of the Khajuraho railway station. You can get direct trains to Khajuraho from the New Delhi station.
The temples standing today are divided into three clusters, the southern, eastern and western temples. The western block is the most popular and it has the most imposing structure, the Kandariya Mahashiv mandir dedicated to Lord Shiva. The Chaunsath Jogini Temple, situated on the bank of the Shivsagar Lake, is believed to be the oldest temple in Khajuraho and depicts a style different from the Chandela style of architecture. The Western temples are characterised by the ornate wall carvings, which are often erotic in nature. The temples are dedicated to the holy trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva (the Hindu Gods of creation, nurturing and destruction respectively).
The Eastern temples are comparatively quieter and have a more simplistic architecture. The grand erotic sculptures are missing, however the understated elegance is as pristine as it gets. In the backdrop of the Khajursagar lake, the scenic beauty of the temples are breathtaking. The most important structure here is the Brahma temple which however is a misnomer. The temple’s central deity is actually Lord Shiva. The confusion perhaps arised from the fact that a four headed shivalinga (statue of Shiva) was placed at the entrance of the temple. Lord Brahma usually sports four heads.
The different temples are listed here.
- Chausath Yogini (64 Yoginis)
- Brahma Mandir
- Lalgun Mahadev
- Matangeshwar (in active worship)
- Varaha (an avatar of Lord Vishnu)
- Lakshmana Mandir
- Parshvanath (Jain Compound)
- Devi Jagadambi (the Mother of the Universe)
- Chitragupta Mandir
- Kandariya Mahadeva Mandir
- Javari Madir
- Chaturbhuja Mandir
- Duladeo Mandir
- Ghantai Mandir
- Beejamandal Mandir (under excavation)
Erotic Art at Khajuraho
The Virata Samhita scriptures of the Hindus say that the placing of erotic art, and motivs of mithunas (lovemaking couples), goblins, plinths and other alankaras at the entrance of a building is auspicious. Many temples had already started using erotic alankaras as temple carvings but they were usually placed below eye level. The Khajuraho temples were the first to blatantly display copulating couples in passionate embraces and elaborate orgies in the wall sculptures. Broad hipped nymphs (apsaras) have been depicted in various stages. However only one tenth of all the sculptures are erotic in nature. The remaining murals depict the daily lifestyle of common people where they are involved in mundane activities like women applying make up, washing their hair and musicians playing on their instruments.
Now the Khajuraho temples have been long known for their erotic carvings. Many say that the carvings celebrate the male and female powers coming together to create power. Others say that the carvings were supposed to educate the young boys who spent the first years of their life in hermitage (Brahmacharya). However contrary to popular imagination, the statues are not of deities engaging in passionate acts.
The Khajuraho dance festival, held every year in the first week of February is another attraction of the place. During this period the various classical Indian dance forms are showcased here.
Visit Khajuraho and know for yourself!