"The only thing new in the world is the history you don't know." ~ Harry S Truman


Enigma called Khajuraho

Ashish Kaul is a travel writer, a landscape and outdoor portrait photographer, a trekker and mountaineer. He has traversed many trails in the Himalayas as well as in the Nilgiris and is Editor, Indian Himalayas at suite101.com. Other than that, he lives in the corporate world.

Aptly called Madhya Pradesh, the state is truly central to India. It isn't only the awesome size of the topography that distinguishes it as the largest state of the country but rather its varied landscape of several hues and moods to titillate the traveller in every human being. From marble rocks to magnificent forts to the spine tingling Chambal ravines to the myriad dense wild life sanctuaries, waterfalls and hill stations, Madhya Pradesh has it all. As if to complete the picture, in the bleak, silent and vast stretches, temples sprout in pleasant disarray, under the enigmatic name of Khajuraho. With the peculiar architecture and erotic art, their unique appeal comes to life in February or March in the form of stunning dance performances with the flood lit temples providing a spectacular backdrop.. Known to the world as the Khajuraho Festival of Dances, the event represents prestige for a cross section of people. For the dancers it is a life time experience to perform at Khajuraho. For Khajuraho, it is a sense of pride and participation in the cultural life of a country. For visitors and tourists, it is a diary full of kaleidoscopic memories to be cherished for a long time.

More on M.P.
An Overview


Ruins of Pandua
Khajuraho & Erotic Art

A picture can speak a thousand words but one visit to Khajuraho is worth a thousand pictures.

Khajuraho - A Geographical Personality
It is a bit of a paradox that Khajuraho, which seems ages away from Delhi by road isn't much of a journey by air. For starters, just when you unfasten your seatbelts, you have to fasten them again as the flight seems to spend time mostly in take-off and landing. Quite a contrast from the near twelve hours road journey through the stark, if somewhat nervous Chambal ravines. But then it is this bleakly beautiful remoteness that lends a special charm to Khajuraho.

From the air one sees slightly undulating land of green fields and bizarre rocky outcrops with spirally sprouting structures that are the now famous temples. For a remote offbeat locale, the road from the airport, like most others in Khajuraho, are well maintained and tree lined, with a small market that leaves you wondering if the local population lives only on handicrafts. That is apart from wondering where the local population actually resides ! For you actually do not spot any residential areas at all. A rural lush green landscape with rocky outcrops and temples sprouting on all sides with a market full of handicrafts, with only a few hotels ( most of them nice ones) tells you that this is just a tourist town with an incredibly small population. About 7000 at last count.


If you are shocked on seeing only five taxis outside the airport as you disembark, you will find five more in exactly the next five minutes. The reality is that there are probably only five taxis in Khajuraho and the farthest distances are not more than five or six kilometers. Which makes the five wonderful vehicles return to the airport in the next five minutes.

Many a tourist has blundered in the notion that there is a small cluster of temples together in one location. However, temples are all around Khajuraho and they are all strikingly similar in their outward appearance. It is impossible to distinguish one from the other. And they are all well maintained with lush green and wide open gardens around them.

As the sun sets against the silhouette of the shockingly beautiful temples, a warm glow embraces a small town with still and languid lakes. It is only a gentle breeze that reminds you that you are still awake.

The Khajuraho Temples
The Chandela dynasty may have been felled by the Mughals after five stubborn centuries, but the Khajuraho temples will now be a thousand years old. One look at the temples makes it easy to appreciate another startling reality. That it took roughly hundred years to build them from 950 to 1050 AD. As usual, destruction being so much easier than creation, only 22 of the original 85 temples have survived. And yet the debate of the choice of their location hangs in suspense. For Khajuraho is not just remote today but always was. Though this peculiarity, in retrospect, could be considered quite welcome, with the remoteness protecting the blasphemy of their depiction from aggressive Mughal conservatism.


Within this Indo-Aryan architectural brilliance, gods and goddesses, warriors and musicians bring a thousand years of history and mythology to the forefront. But the highlight is the predominant theme of women and erotica engraved on sandstone that strike poses to stake a brazen claim to a unique natural beauty.

As the legend goes, Hemvati, the beautiful daughter of a Brahmin priest was seduced while bathing in a forest pool. The love child was named Chandravarman. Unable to face the ravages of society, Hemvati brought up the boy in the forests. Chandravarman went on to become the founder of the Chandela dynasty. As a ruler, one night in his dream, his mother visited him and implored him to build temples that would reveal human passions. This, it was expected, would reveal the emptiness of human desires. As history is stoically silent about the genesis of the temples, this legend is now advanced as the only logical explanation for all the sexual motifs in the temples.

The main temples of Khajuraho are called the Western Group of Temples and include in clockwise order, the following :


Lakshmi & Varaha : These are in fact two small shrines with a beautifully carved boar incarnation of Vishnu.

Lakshmana : One of the oldest temples of the western group and also one of the finest and perhaps also one of the best preserved. It is a rather big temple with four other shrines. The general norm is three bands of sculpture but this temple for some reason, has two. Battles, hunting and women are the salient themes. A must visit temple of Khajuraho.

Kandariya Mahadeo : This one is the largest, going up to 31 metres in height. The sanctum sanctorum enshrines a lingum, replete with the typical Khajuraho carvings. One of the finest temples to study the art of the period, with over 800 statues ! Mahadeva : In ruins, small and quite unnoticeable, but this temple has one of the most remarkable sculptures of Khajuraho. A sardula figure caressing a lion.

Devi Jagadamba : Considered by many to be one of the most erotic temples of Khajuraho, it houses Khajuraho's most talked about image, the mithuna, sensuously carved figures. Whether this temple is dedicated to Vishnu, Parvati or Kali has remained a matter of much debate.


Chitragupta : This one is dedicated to Surya, the sun god. Though it is not in the most desirable condition in terms of restoration and maintenance, it has a fascinating story to tell in the fine sculptures.

Parvati : Why it is called Parvati is not clear, since this temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu and then to Ganga. For tourists with limited time, this temple goes unnoticed.

Vishvanath Temple & Nandi : Women depicted in this temple draw the most attention. From traditional images of women fondling babies and writing letters, they are seen also in the most provocative of images. With a shrine of Shiva that finds expression as the bull Nandi, it is quite a complete temple. This temple is truly impressive and also commonly photographed.

Matangesvara Temple : The notable features of this temple are that it is commonly used even today and sports a lingum that is nearly three metres high. This temple is quite simple with very little of the characteristic sculpture of Khajuraho.


Chaunsat Yogini : This is the earliest surviving shrine of the Group dated 900 A D and the only granite temple. This temple is dedicated to Kali. The other Kali temple is the Devi Jagdambe Temple. The name 'Chaunsat' seems to have come about by way of the original 64 cells for figures of the 64 yoginis who attended the goddess Kali. The 65 th cell was for Kali herself. The Eastern Group of temples are near the old village of Khajuraho and include Jain temples in an enclosure:

Parsvanath : This temple is the largest of the Jain temples of Khajuraho and also considered one of the finest. It was originally dedicated to Adinath and later to Parsvanath. Without too many sexual motifs, it is a beautiful example of sensitive art with images of a woman taking a thorn out of a foot or applying make-up. Near this temple is the Adinath Temple with fine carvings. Although a Jain temple, it is quite similar to the Hindu temples of Khajuraho.

Shanti Nath : This temple is a youthful cousin of its neighbours. Though it is very much like the older Khajuraho temples, it is just about a century old. It has a four and a half metre statue of Adinath. Naked groups of Digambara Jains are often seen here.


Ghantai : Fine columns and chains and bells, with the figure of a Jain goddess on a garuda, is what this temple shows through its ruins.

Javari : This one is a pocket edition of excellent Khajuraho architecture dating around 1000 AD.

Vamana : Named after the dwarf incarnation of Vishnu, it is fairly secluded with the Khajuraho maidens that decorate it.

Brahma & Hanuman : This temple is really dedicated to Vishnu and is among the oldest ones. It is mostly of granite and sandstone.. Nearby is a Hanuman temple reputed to have the earliest inscription dating 922 AD on a 2.5 m statue. The Southern Group of temples include only two :


Duladeo : Though it is a beautiful erotic image of Khajuraho that this one represents, it is still a very new temple which seems to have been built after the creativity of Khajuraho was on its way to a new era and well down its peak. It has more wooden sculpture that takes away its authenticity somewhat.

Chaturbhuja : Pretty far from the village, this unremarkable temple has a three metre high statue of Vishnu.

Photo Credit: Ashish Kaul

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