All about Khajuraho Temples

Kandariya Mahadev Mandir Khajuraho

The trip was a dream come true. Our travel schedule was –
1. Day 1 Gwalior.
2. Day 2 Jhansi & Orchha.
3. Day 3 Orchha.
4. Day 4 Khajuraho.
5. Day 5 travel to Chitrakoot and stay.
6. Day 6 Chitrakoot and travel to Prayag.
7. Day 7 Prayag +Vindhya Vasini temple + travel to Kashi, Sarnath.
8. Day 8 Varanasi, left for Delhi by 7pm Shiv Ganga express.

This piece was written in 2008 and edited in 2017. This piece is compiled based on inputs from Khajuraho Temples by Rajaram Panda published by Mittal Publications, History & Culture of the Indian People by the Bhartiya Vidya Bhawan, MP Tourism booklet, boards in the temple complex and our own experiences. I thank them for sharing their experiences.

We left Orchha at about 6.15 am to reach Khajuraho at 9.45 am and headed straight to the MP Tourism hotel. It was Diwali so the hotel was virtually empty. After washing up we reached the temple complex at about 10.30am. We wanted a Guide but found most of them preferring to be with foreigners or and very busy. They charge Rs 500-600/ for about 4 hours. Since we could not find one we decided to walk around on our own. The guides could speak various languages like Spanish, Italian and French.

You can fly into Khajuraho from Delhi/Varanasi, take a bus from Jhansi or reach Satna by train and drive some two hours. Work on railway station in Khajuraho is on.

The whole complex is very clean, well laid out & has beautiful gardens. The toilet is very good also. It is maintained like a world class heritage site. Do attend the Light & Sound show in the evening. It is outstanding to say the least. The town is very tourist friendly, has a variety of restaurants and quite clean.

During the Shivratri festival a great mela is held here. The Khajuraho Dance Festival is held every spring in order to celebrate the glory of the temples. Do visit the Raneh waterfalls 19kms away. We did not but am told they are worth a visit.

This piece includes technical aspects of the temple in general, reasons for having sculptures of couples engaged in sex and details of each temple.

The temples except the Chaunsath Yogini Temple were built of fine-grained sand stone buff-pale yellow and pinkish in color. This was brought from the quarries of Panna on the east bank of the river Ken. It is said that big stones were carved near the quarries’ and transported and assembled thereafter and inter-locking system was followed in the entire construction of the temples.

Except the Chaturbhuja and Lalgaun Mahadev Temples most temples have their entrances from the east. These two temples have their entrance from the west.

By the 16th century Khajuraho seems to have lost its importance till it was rediscovered in 1838 by Captain T S Burt.

Stone inscription as we entered complex, ‘It was known as Vatsa in ancient time, Jejakbhukti in medieval times and Bundelkhand from 14th century. The Chandelas, (are Rajputs who claim to be descendants of ‘Chandra Kula’ (Moon born) who rose to power during the early 10th century, had their capital at Khajuraho. They decorated the palace with tanks and temples. According to local tradition there were 85 temples but now around 25 stand in varying stages of preservation. The place lost its importance around 1800 a.d.

Most of these temples are built of sand stone except the Chausath Yogini, Brahma and Lalguan Mahadeva which are made of granite. The temples belong to the Shaiva, Vaishnav and Jain sects and they mark the culmination of the central Indian temple building style revealing distinctive peculiarities of plan and elevation. These compact temples without enclosure wall are erected on a high platform. Normally the temple consists of a garbhriha (sanctum), antrarala (vestibule), mandapa and ardhamandapa (entrance porch or gateway).

The Khajuraho temples mark the highest development of Indian architectural design. The sculptures represented at Khajuraho include the cult-images, parivara devatas (family deities), apsaras or sura-sundaris, secular and animal sculptures and their maturity can be seen at the Kandariya Mahadev Temple which displays and slender figures with distinctive physiognomy.

The erotic figures have given it the finest sculptural scompoistions which vibrate with a rare sensitiveness and warmth of emotion and remarkable for their sculptural quality.”

The craftsmen have transformed even the mundane into excellence for e.g. depicting a maiden stretching her limbs or a lady taking a thorn out of her foot. Such details in these sculptures are unparalleled anywhere in the world. There are also court scenes, scenes of battle and advice to the citizens of the kingdom. Kaimur sandstone that is mostly used in Khajuraho was most receptive to chiseling and allowed the sculptors to carve minute details like folds of garments, drops of water etc.

The profusely carved figures on temple walls can be classified into five categories. One is formal cult images of Shiva, Vishnu, and Surya etc. Two minor Gods, Goddesses, Apsaras and Sura-sundaris mainly carved on the interior bands and in the pillared niches. Women occupied so much of importance that some scholars say women is the theme of Khajuraho art. Perhaps for the artist of that time women symbolized creative energy the Shakti.

The 3rd category comprises Mithunas i.e. couples engaged in sex. When we talk of Khajuraho the first thing that people talk about are exotic sculptures. A lot of mindless noise has been made about the frank eroticism of the figure sculptures of Khajuraho, Puri & Konark!

Mithuna subjects have never been taboo in Indian art, & a creative sensuousness has ever been regarded as an important source of energy – as much in religious & spiritual quest as in the quest for expression – in certain schools of Indian sadhana. It was accepted as a normal, nay essential part of life without any shame or secrecy attached to it. So it is at these places where admittedly the eroticism is not only in the sensuous suggestiveness but also in the depiction of sexual acts in the widest possible varieties of poses & attitudes known to the Kamasastras.

What is remarkable at Konarak is that even in those scenes that depict a sexual act there is a sort of delightful detachment in the actors themselves. The temples of Orissa & Khajuraho show the extent reached by Indian craftsmen in giving concrete form to this very subtle & complex view of life.

OSHO wrote in Vigyan Bhairav Tantra Vol 1 pg 415, "Have you seen Khajuraho? Or if you have not seen Khajuraho, you might have seen pictures of the Khajuraho temple. Then look at the faces, at couples making love. Look at the faces, the faces look divine. They are in the act of sex, but the faces are as ecstatic as any buddha’s face. What is happening to them? This sex is not cerebral. They are not making love through the head; they are not thinking about it. They have dropped down from the head. Their focusing has changed."

"Because of this dropping from the head, the consciousness has moved to the genital area. The mind is no more. The mind has become no-mind. Their faces have the same ecstasy as a buddha has. This sex has become a meditation."

The origin of these sexous scenes can also be traced to the Tantric form of Buddhism. In Tibet Buddhist devotees who wanted to enter their monasteries were required to pass through this test. According to Harrison Foreman who wrote Buddhist Tantric temple of Tibet ‘when the Lama has reached a stage of spiritual training without emotions he enters the obscene idol house for examination where life like figures are depicted to test his self control’.

Kalinjar, the fortified city near Khajuraho was a big center of Tantric practices. Tantrics believe in the amalgamation of sex into religion. According to Mulkraj Anand sex life had been viewed as a sacred right from days as old as the Rig Vedic period. Sexo-yogic technique is attributed to be an important method in Tantrism for attaining nirvana.

Swami Krishnananda wrote in Tantra Yoga, a Divine Life Society publication, ‘In all forms of religious practice thereis an ascetic injunction towards a rejection of the outer for the sake of the inner, the material for the sake of the spiritual. In Tantra a desire cannot be overcome by rejecting the desire itself. Desire can be overcome by desire”.

In the 4th category the sculpture depicts group of dancers and musicians, hunting scenes, animal fight, army marching etc. The 5th category consisting of sculptures of animals including the vyala or sardula, which is heraldic and fabulous beast, primarily represented as a rampant horned lion with an armed human rider on the back and a warrior counter player attacking it from behind.

Temples are divided into three groups.

The Western group consists of the Chausauth-yogini temple, Lalgaun Mahadev temple, Varaha temple(900-925ad), Matangeshwara temple (900-925ad), Parvati temple (950-1000ad), Lakshmana temple (930-950ad), Vishwanatha temple (1002ad), Nandi shrine, Chitragupta temple (early 11th century), Devi Jagdambi temple (early 11th century), ruined Shiva temple, Kandariya Mahadeva temple (1025-50ad).

The Eastern group consists of the Brahma Temple (900 ad), statue of Hanuman, Vamana temple (1050-75ad), Shantinath temple, Parshwanath temple (mid 10th century), Adhinath temple (late 11th century), Ghantai temple (late 10th century), Javari temple (1075 to 1100 ad).

The Southern group consists of the Duladeo temple (1100-50ad), Chaturbhuja temple (early 11th century). There is an Archaeological Museum close to the temple.

Board outside Visvanatha Temple - ‘This temple is among the finest monuments of Khajuraho and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. It was a Panchayatana (five shrine temples) shrine but of the four subsidiary shrines only two in the northeast and southwest have survived. The temple shows all the elements of the developed Khajuraho temples – entrance porch (ardha mandapa), Mandapa, Maha Mandapa and Sanctum enclosed by an ambulatory.

Architecturally the temple falls between the laxmana and Quandary Mahadev temples. The inscriptions on the Manadapa refer to the dedication of two lingas, one made of emerald and the other of stone in a towering temple of Siva Marakatesvara built by the Chandela King.’

A Panchayatan temple consist of a large central shrine which the principal shrine housing the deity to whom the temple is dedicated, and four subsidiary shrines at the four corners of the platform which are dedicated to the other members of the panchayat of Gods.

Nandi Shrine opposite the Visvanatha Temple – As in all Shiv temples there is a Nandi at the entrance so also in this case. The detached Nandi pavilion forms an integral part of the architectural scheme of the Visvanatha temple. The square pavilion rests on 12 pillars, enshrines a massive image of Nandi, the bull vehicle of Siva, which faced the main deity of the temple.

Remember that entrance or portico is called Ardha Mandap, assembly hall is Mandap, vestibule is Antaral, and the sanctum is Garbhagriha and Mahamandap (the transepts) together with the Pradakshina path i.e. the circumambulatory package. Shikhara is the spire crowned by the Amalaka (cogged ring stone) which is surrounded by the Stupika (finial) with the Kalash (vase) as its most conspicuous part.

Pics of Vishwanatha temple

Board outside Chitragupta Temple - ‘The temple closely resembles the Jagdambi temple and consists of a sanctum (Garbhagriha) without ambulatory, avestibule (Antarala), a Maha Mandapa with lateral transepts and an entrance porch (Ardha Mandapa). The main image in the sanctum is an impressive sculpture of Surya standing in a chariot driven by seven horses. This is the only temple in Khajuraho dedicated to Surya.

The temple walls are carved with some of the finest figures of Sura-Sundaris. Erotic couples and Gods including an 11 headed Vishnu in the central niche of the South façade. Stylistically the temple can be placed between Visvanatha and Kandariya Mahadeva temple’.

Board outside Jagadambi Temple - ‘Named for the image of Parvati now enshrined in the sanctum, Jagdambi temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu. The temple stands on a high platform and consist of a sanctum without ambulatory, a vestibule, a Maha Mandapa with lateral transept and an entrance porch (Ardha Mandapa). The temple is known for its sculpture embellishments. The lintel of the Garabhagriha contains a four armed standing Vishnu figure.

Pics of these temples

Board outside Kandariya Mahadeva Temple - ‘the temple was built between 1025-1050 ad in the largest and loftiest monument of Khajuraho dedicated to Lord Shiva. It consists of an entrance porch (ardha mandapa), Mandapa, Maha mandapa, Antarala (vestibule) and Garbhagriha (sanctum). The sanctum is enclosed by a Pradakshinapatha (ambulatory passage).

Its mature plan and design, its dimensions and symmetrical proportions, its superb sculptural embellishment and architectural elaboration, all mark it out as the most evolved of the central Indian building style and one of the most sublime creations of Indian architecture.

The temple has a lofty basement with elegantly ornamented moldings including friezes of elephants, horses, warriors and hunters, acrobats and musicians, dancers, devotees and miscellaneous scenes.

The temple is entered through a flight of steps and an elegantly carved Torana decorated with a kirtim ukha and a frieze of dancers and musicians. The lintel of the sanctum is represented with a four armed Siva flanked by Brahma and Vishnu on the right and left side respectively.’

This is the most majestic temple of them all. Spent hours sitting and just admiring the temple, the sculptures, the entrance, the mandapa and so on.

One can count as many as 872 images of 21/2 feet to 3 ft in height on the walls of the Kandariya temple, 674 on the Vishwanath temple. On the body of Varah in the Varaha temple 672 images of Hindu Gods and Goddesses have been carved.

Pics of Kandariya Mahadeva Temple

Board outside Varaha Temple - ‘The Varaha shrine built on a loft plinth is simpler and more modest. It is an oblong pavilion with a pyramidal roof of receding tiers, resting on fourteen plain pillars. The temple enshrines the monolithic image of Varaha, the boar incarnation of Vishnu. The shrine is built entirely of sandstone. It is dated circa 900-925 a.d.’ It is an amazing piece of work.

Board outside Lakshmana Temple - ‘The temple dedicated to Vishnu is built by Chandela ruler Yasovarman between circa 930-950 a.d. It is a sandhara temple of the Panchayatana variety. The entire temple complex stands on a high platform. The temple consists of all the principal elements of the developed temple – the entrance porch (ardha mandapa), mandapa, maha mandapa, antarala and garbhagriha.

Unlike other temples its sanctum is Pancha Ratna on plan and its shikhara is clustered with fewer minor shikharas. The wall portion of the temple is studded with balconied windows with ornate balustrades. Two rows of sculptures including divine figures, couples and erotic scenes adorn the wall surfaces.

The sanctum doorway is of seven sakhas, the central one is decorated with various incarnations of Vishnu. The lintel depicts Laxmi in the centre flanked by Brahma and Vishnu. The sanctum contains an image of the 4 armed Vishnu’.

Matangeswara Temple – it is still a place of worship. Dedicated to Lord Shiva it has an 8 feet high lingam. Saw lots of devotees including those who danced with peacock feathers. They first danced outside the temple, then in the lingam area and at the mid landing area after having darshan. Interesting they performed some sort of a dandya dance with sticks. Though not like the dandiya of Gujarat it look similar although the sticks were smaller and the dance brisk.

Board outside Vamana temple - ‘The temple is dedicated to the Vamana incarnation of Vishnu consisting on plan of a saptartha sanctum vestibule, Mahamandapa with late-raltransepts and in entrance porch. The sanctum is Niradhara and enshrines an image of the 4 armed Vishnu flanked by Chakrapurusha on the left and Sankhapurusha on the right. Over the Mahamandapa a peculiar rook known as Samvarana which is characteristic of the medieval temples of Western India is shown. The doorway of the sanctum has seven bands decorated with stencil scrolls, dancing ganas, mithuna and lotus petals, scrolls terminating in a figure on Naga Ganga and Yamuna standing in a tribhanga, flanked by female attendant on one side carrying full base or garland and the other is flanked by a door keeper, the lentel contain a 4 armed standing Vishnu and the nich sculptures include Brahma and Siva.

The outer wall of the temples has two bands of sculptures which include graceful figures of sura-sundaries, the sculptures of Varaha, Narasimha and Vamana adorn the niches of the sanctum on the bases of the sculptural and architectural style the temple is assignable to 1050-1075a.d.

Pics Vamana Temple

Eastern group of temples are -

Board outside Adhinath Temple – ‘The Jaina temple is known after the enshrined image of Adhinatha. Originally encompassed all the basic members of Nirandhara temple including Mandapa and Ardhamandapa which has since been completely lost. The temple with its extant intact portion of garbhagraha and antarala and the modern time plastered masonry of arched doorways and domical ceilings is incongruous the original structure. Conceived as a Saptratha temple both in plan and elevation it bears closest kinship with the Vamana temple. However this temple is more evolved as observed from the elegance of the shikhara and decoration in Jangha. Supposed to have been built in the later part of the 11th century a.d.’.

Board outside Parsvanatha Temple ‘The largest and best preserved amongst the old temples of Khajuraho has individual features of plan and design’.

Pics of Jain temples

Southern group of temples are -

Board outside Duladeo Temple - ‘dedicated to Siva, the temple faces the east and consists of a sanctum without ambulatory, vestibule, mahamandapa and an entrance porch. The Sikhara is clustered round by three rows of minor sikhara, its Mahamandapa shows some peculiarities of design and decoration, the Mahamandapa is octagonal showing 20 Apsaras bracket which are elaborately crowned and heavily ornamented The flying Vidadharas, Apsaras and other sculptures are generally stereo typed and over burdened with ornamentation and in many cases lacks relief. Some of the sculptures such as Ashtavasu figures which are invariably depicted with a crocodile mount in place of the AAd the two dirpalas, Yama and Nariti wear their raised curls in a stylized fan shape are note worthy. The original temple can be dated to the early half of the12th century and it has extensively repaired at a later date.

Board outside Chaturbhuja Temple - ‘this temple consists of a sanctum without ambulatory, vestibule mandapa and an entrance porch. This is the only temple at Khajuraho which lacks exotic sculptures. Except the vidyadhars the top rows are stereo typed and without much life or expression. There has been a decline in the sculptural art, the wall portion includes images of Dikpals in the first row and of the Ashtavasu in the middle one and the remaining projections are carved with nymphs and the recesses are mythical lions the lower part of the doorway the sanctum shows Ganga on the right and Yamuna on the left standing in the Tri-Bhanga under a canopy of leyes flanked by door keepers. The image of Dakshinamurthi which is houses in the sanctum is remarkable for its expression of transcendental calm and bliss. The temple is datable to 1100 a.d.’

On day two did not feel like leaving the temple complex. The more I saw it the more I wanted to stay there. If you are a travel photographer go about seeing the temples in a very systematic way.

We left at about 10 am for Chitrakoot via Satna. As always the MP Tourism hotel at Khajuraho was good.

Khajuraho is a must visit. Do visit the Panna Tiger Reserve close by.

Also see
1. Introduction to Tantra
2. What is Tantra
3. Sun Temple Konarak
4. Bhoramdeo Temple

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