Khajuraho, Madhya Pradesh 471606, India
Through the erotic temples of KhajurahoLike most people, travel was not my forte once upon a time. I would visit a place because someone would take me or someone recommended. And my trip to Khajuraho happened in that phase. Ignorant me, I didn’t even know it was listed as a place to watch erotic sculptures and many books had been written on this.
My friend and I were busy trying to find a decent hotel to stay and reach the place because someone said it would make for a nice holiday. Those were not the days of the internet and discount schemes. Everything was word of mouth. Our means of travel was the best train in India—the Shatabdi. I don’t even remember the hotel we stayed in but now Khajuraho has many five-star hotels.
In those days, I was not a history fan either. I would not bother about guides, travel people, local guides and the ‘www’ didn’t exist in India. So, I reached one of the most exotic places in India knowing nothing, except that Khajuraho was the erotic talked about part of India.
Tour of Khajuraho temple complex
Here began my education. The temple complex is as green as it can be. And foreigners were busy exclaiming and capturing it on their huge professional cameras. And they talked in their native languages, pointing out at the sculptures. The marvellous men, women and animals, the heritage structure that had beaten the weather gods for a long, long time, sightseeing in Khajuraho is also an art.
Located in the heart of India, the temple complex is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These are a group of Hindu and Jain temples. And then I saw a huge bull. It was picture time. The guide continued his narration, even as Indian women in groups shied when they looked at the monuments. They whispered and scurried past. This intrigued me, the westerners were busy gazing in awe and the Indians scurried. The guide continued. The temples are built in Nagara-style architecture, which needs a lot of digging into books and drawings to understand, but, in short, the visible is a magnificent view.
Must see Kandariya temple
The Chandela dynasty built the temples between 950 and 1050 CE. By the 12th century, there were 85 temples across the 20 sq km temple area. Only 20 temples survived, as per records. It is the Kandariya temple which is has sculptures with intricate details, symbolism and expressiveness and is a must see in Khajuraho. The temples are a blend of Hindusim and Jainism, showcasing the Indian way of coming together. Our heads went up and down, as the guide pointed out the figurines and different symbols and forms.
The Chandela legacy
Slowly, we walked around, into the dark interiors of a temple. I couldn’t see anything. Why was it called a temple? It was no longer a place where daily rituals were held. The Rajput Chandela dynasty built the temples as they rose to power and the kingdom was known as Bundelkhand. Kings Yashovarman and Dhanga built most of the temples during their reign.
The Lakshman temple is the legacy of Yashovarman. And king Dhanga’s influence can be seen in Vishvanatha temple. But it’s the largest and best known Kandariya Mahadeva temple that was built by King Ganda between 1017-1029 CE.
Khajuraho in history books
Khajuraho finds mention in the works of Persian historian Abu Rihan-al-Biruni who used to accompany Mahmud of Ghazni. He mentioned Khajuraho as the capital of Jajahuti. This was during a raid of Kalinjar in 1022 CE. By now my interest had grown and I
sat down on the green grass to take in the history and absorb travel tips on places to visit around as well.
Khajuraho temples were in active use through the end of 12th century. But in the 13th century, Muslim Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak seized the Chandela kingdom. About a century later, Ibn Battuta, the Moroccan traveller in his memoirs wrote about his stay in India from 1335 to 1342 CE, mentioned visiting Khajuraho temples, calling them “Kajarra”. Khajurao, as per historians, was a place where yogis with matted locks and yellow coloured-bodies lived. Well, the old ones have left their legacy behind—some do follow this path even now.
It was in the 1830s that local Hindus guided a British surveyor, T.S. Burt to the temples. And Khajuraho found its way on the global map. It is on Shivaratri, the night Shiva got married to Parvati (sometime in February-March every year), that the temples come to life. Now a dance festival is also held annually.
Must see on Khajuraho temple walls
The temples are made of sandstone and are famous for their erotic arts. But these make up only 10 per cent of the art forms sculpted on the temple walls. There are some amazing works with detailed jewellery, nails, exotic faces and more.
Now, I knew why some put their eyes down while others admired the works of hands that knew nothing but how to create. I think Khajuraho needs another visit this year during the annual festival to see from the eyes of a woman who wants to explore the threads of a deep culture.