Khajuraho is a group of temples in India, and a declared UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was comprised of originally 85 temples in total, but today only 22 remained, standing the test of time. Khajuraho is known to the world as the Love Temple, due to its erotic sculptures and relations to Kamasutra.
The real truth is that the temple really isn’t that obscene as many people think it is. There is a popular, and obviously wrong opinion about the number of erotic sculptures in Khajuraho, but the truth is that only a small number of carvings actually contain eroticism. However, sort of a sensuous feel does pervade in all the sculptures, which only flames the popular opinion. All in all, don’t expect a Kamasutra museum if you decide to travel there.
Khajuraho Fun Facts:
- Khajuraho temples were rediscovered to the world in the 20th century, not before.
- The Beejamandaltemple is currently under excavation
- Khajuraho temples especially show the women’s traditional lifestyle of the medieval age.
- Khajuraho temples are built with spiral structures and resemble a North Indian shikhara temple style.
Where is Actually Khajuraho Located?
Khajuraho is located 620 kilometers southeast of New Delhi. All 85 Khajuraho temples were built around between 950 and 1050, and were spread across a vast land that numbered more than 8 square miles (20 square kilometers). Nowadays, the entire temple area survives on about 2 square miles (6 square kilometers). Khajuraho temple is actually dedicated to two religions – Hinduism and Jainism, which can only speak volumes about respect for diversity and culture. The entire site is linked to Shiva, and some scholars claim that this is the spot where Shiva got married.
There are two theories about how it had gotten its name – either it derived from two golden palms that were guarding the entrance to the temples, which in Sanskrit are called kharjura, or it originates from god Shiva, who wears scorpion ornaments, and whose name Kharjuravāhaka means scorpion bearer. The golden dates were mentioned several times in literature and there are local legends that claim their existence, however they were nowhere to be found once the temples were re-discovered.
The Origins of Khajuraho
Kajuraho temple complex was built by the famous Chandela dynasty. As soon as they rose to power, they started building their legacy. It makes sense that they started building the temples so near their seat of power, just 35 miles away from Mahoba, the Chandela dynasty’s capital.
The temples were built to be used, and they were, all until the end of 12th century. Then, the Muslim Sultan seized the Chandela’s lands and temples were desecrated and pillaged. Others that weren’t were badly neglected for more than 500 hundred years. The most preserved temple to this day is the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, built around 1030. It contains plenty of ancient Indian art and apart from being the largest, this is the main reason why it’s the shining star of all Khajuraho temples. But, even though it is the most preserved, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t subjected to desecration. Its remoteness helped with warding off the attacks, that’s for sure, and over time the vegetation took over the ruins.
During the 13th century, many yogis inhabited the remainder of temples, and often taught yoga to Muslims, who traveled the world, from afar just to get a glimpse of their knowledge.
Temple Complex Layout
As majority of Hindu temples, so does the Khajuraho temple complex fulfill certain prerequisites regarding the layout and overall location. Hindus love building temples in places where they would be surrounded by bodies of water, and on high grounds where, as they say “gods love to play”. Also, almst all temples face the sunrise, which has a symbolic meaning. Khajuraho is both surrounded by rivers and is on the majestic slopes of Khalinjar. Out of 22 preserved temples, 8 were dedicated to Vishnu, 6 to Shiva, 3 to Jain deities, 1 to Ganesha and 1 to Sun god. Three remaining temples and all other ruins don’t have enough markings so that their dedication to what deities they belong can be confirmed.
As far as the very buildings go, even the architecture embellishes the core Hindu values. Those are reflected through special patterns and part arrangement. The placement of diverse sculptures isn’t random at all – they together form words and stories.
All the rooms inside the temple are connected to one another. Each temple is comprised of the main entrance, a vestibule and a sanctum. Some larger temples now have windows placed all over, so that they can seem more spacious and have more light.
The Khajuraho Temple complex is comprised of three groups of temples – eastern, western and southern.
The Eastern Temples of Khajuraho
Brahma temple is one of the oldest in Khajuraho complex, and it’s made of sandstone and granite in its entirety. Brahma is dedicated to Vishnu deity. Ghantai and Adinath are temples dedicated to Jain gods. Other temples in the eastern complex are Javari, Vamana, Hanuman, and Parsvanath.
The Western Temples of Khajuraho
The western group of temples is the largest group of temples, and one of the richest too. Notable temples here are the Lakhmana temple, Devi Jagdamba, Chaunsat Yogini, Matangeswara, and Kandariya Mahadeva temple. Devi Jagdamba is the temple with most erotic sculptures in the group, while the Chaunsat is dedicated to the Sun god, and it’s the only temple made entirely of granite.
Good to know: You have to pay an entry fee to enter the western group of temples. Bear in mind that the temples are open for visits only between the sunrise and sunset.
The Southern Temples of Khajuraho
This group is comprised of Dulhadev, Chattarbhuj and Beejamandal temples, among others. Chattarbhuj is the only temple in Kharjuraho without any erotic sculptures whatsoever, and the only one that doesn’t face the sunrise.
The Eroticism in Khajuraho
As we have said in the beginning, even though this temple complex does hove sensual and erotic depictions, carvings and sculptures, far from it that it is its main purpose and main theme. It would be wrong to consider them as just erotica. Love and passion are a part of Hindu culture.
Good to know: Hinduism’s teachings can be seen in 4 goals, 4 concepts: Dharma, Kama, Artha and Moksha. Loosely explained, Dharma represents all virtues and the right way of living, Kama is the desire (both sexual, and non-sexual, love and passion), Artha depicts all means of life like career, wealth, activities, and Moksha – freedom, self-knowledge and personal growth.
Even though some of the carvings depict the erotica, and the temple complex is worldly famous for it since they are after all unique in the whole wide world, only 10% of sculptures actually contain sensual carvings. Moreover, these sculptures aren’t even immediately visible, or prominent, nor even anything more in focus then the rest – fact is, most people wouldn’t even notice them if the tour guys didn’t draw the attention to them.
The complete art in the temples covers life aspects and Chandela dynasty’s motifs, and they considered themselves to be passionate, about life, about everything. That is why one can see intricate carvings of bliss, goddesses and gods, plants, animals, royalty, war, but also marriage, courtship, spiritual teachings, passion, love making, music and dance – the union of it all. The sculptures simply depict worldly things, professions, daily jobs and activities.
That’s also a part of the symbolism. While intricate carvings are on the temples’ outsides, they represent the earthly desires, while the deity itself is in the temples – which means one must leave worldly desires behind in order to attain spiritualism.
The Legend of Khajuraho
Legend of the Khajuraho origin has it that the beautiful maiden Hemvati, a daughter of the Varanasi priest, bathed in the moonstruck pond filled with lilies. The Moon God was so stricken with her beauty and reflection that he had to descend and take a human form. He couldn’t contain himself and he ravished the pure maiden, and left her pregnant with his child.
Hemvati, out of her wits, threatened him that she would lay a dreadful curse because he took her virtue, and ruined her reputation. To appease her, the Moon God promised her that their child, Chandravarman, will become a mighty and brave king, known for his wisdom, kindness and a good heart. Hemvati gave birth to a boy, but she sought refuge in the woods because she was shunned for being an unwed single mother.
When Chandravarman grew up, he founded the Chandela dynasty (Chand-ela – the Moon). Later on, he said that his mother came to him in a dream and asked of him to build temples and show the human passions. So, he started the Khajuraho temple complex, and his successors after him continued that endeavor. All the way to their demise, the Chandela dynasty claimed that they are descendants of the moon. Seeing the intricate carvings and sensual depictions of their life and passion, who’s to say there actually isn’t something magical about them?