Among most popular world heritage sites of Central India like Rock paintings, Buddhist Stupas and Temples, Khajuraho is known for its ornate temples that are spectacular piece of human imagination, artistic creativity, magnificent architectural work and deriving spiritual peace through eroticism.
Khajuraho Temples are among the most beautiful medieval monuments in the country. These temples were built by the Chandella ruler between AD 900 and 1130. It was the golden period of Chandella rulers. It is presumed that it was every Chandella ruler has built atleast one temple in his lifetime. So all Khajuraho Temples are not constructed by any single Chandella ruler but Temple building was a tradition of Chandella rulers and followed by almost all rulers of Chandella dynasty.
The first recorded mention of the Khajuraho temples is in the accounts of Abu Rihan al Biruni in AD 1022 and the Arab traveler Ibn Battuta in AD 1335. Local tradition lists 85 temples in Khajuraho out of which only 25 temples are surviving after various stages of preservation and care. All these temples are scattered over an area of about 9 square miles.
Khajuraho is believed to be the religious capital of Chandellas. Chandella rulers had tried to discriminate politics from religious & cultural activities, so they established their political capital in Mahoba which is about 60km. away from Khajuraho and religious/cultural capital in Khajuraho. Whole Khajuraho was enclosed by a wall with about 8 gates used for entry/exit. It is believed that each gate is flanked by two date/palm trees. Due to these date trees present Khajuraho get its name Khajura-vahika. In hindi language, “Khajura” means ‘Date’ and “Vahika” means ‘Bearing’. In history Khajuraho is also described with the name of Jejakbhukti.
After fall of Chandella dynasty (after AD 1150), Khajuraho Temples suffered destruction & disfigurement by muslim invaders in this area which forced local people to leave Khajuraho. As muslim invaders had a ruling policy of intolerance for worship places of other religions so all the citizens of Khajuraho left the town with a hope that its solitude will not attract attention of muslim invaders into the temple area and in this way both temple and they themselves will remain unhurt. So from about 13th century to 18th century, Khajuraho temples remain in forest cover, away from popularity till it was re-discovered by British engineer T. S. Burt.
The Kalinjar region of Bundelkhand is home to superior quality sandstone that was primarily used as building material for the Khajuraho temples except the Chusat Yogini temple which is completely made of granite. The foundations of the temples were made of granite but are mostly hidden from the view. Stonemasons used the mortise and tenon joints to put the blocks of stones together which were then held in place by gravity. The columns and epistyles were built from single monoliths to afford maximum stability. The sculptures were done on sandstones that allowed very precise carving, resulting in production of fine details with ease.
The Chausat Yogini temple was the first of the temples to be built among the temples still standing; it was built around late 9th century. Yashovarman, also known as Lakshmanvarman, ruled between 925 and 950 CE and commissioned the famous Lakshman Temple. King Dhangadeva, son of Lakshmanvarman, commissioned the two most well-known Shiva temples, the Vishwanath Temple and the Vidyanath Temple. He also commissioned the Parasvanath Temple for the Jain worshippers. The largest of the temples in Khajuraho is the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple built during the rule of King Gandadeva between 1017 and 1029 CE. Other smaller temples like the Jagadambi, Chaturbhuj. Dulhadeo etc. had maintained the same level of artistic details in the carvings as the bigger temples. Only exceptions are the Javari and the Brahma temples, which are devoid of such elaborate adornments.
The temples are clustered near water bodies, as is traditional for most Hindu temples. The complex originally had around 64 water bodies, 56 out of which have been identified by archeologists during various excavations. Currently three water bodies including a river are part of the complex - Sib Sagar, Khajur Sagar or Ninora Tal and Khudar Nadi.
The temples are grouped according to their location within the complex into three clusters.
First is the western group of temples comprising of the Lakshmana Temple, Kandariya Mahadeo Temple, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Chausat Yogini Temple, Chitragupta Temple, Matangeshwara Temple, Varaha Temple and Vishwanath Temple.
The Eastern Group of Temples includes the Parasvanath Temple, Ghantai Temple, Adinath Temple, Hanuman Temple, Brahma Temple, Vamana Temple and Javari Temple.
The third and comparatively smaller group of temples id the Southern Temples Group include the Dulhadev Temple, Beejamandal Temple and Chaturbhuj or Jatkari Temple.
The design of the temples echo the Hindu mandala design principle of square and circles and laid out in a pentagon formed by convergence of three triangles, reciprocating the concept of ‘Panchbhut’ or five elements and ‘Trilokin’ or three realms. The principle of ‘Vastu-Purusha-Mandala’ is followed in the design of the temples. The Vastu or the structure in symmetrical, concentrically layered, and self-repeating design of the mandala is laid out encircling the Purusha or the deity in the central inner sanctum. The temples consists of several repetitive architectural elements that are listed below –
Adhishsthana or the Base Platform – generally made of a solid block of granite laid out to hold the structure’s weight and also accentuate the temples upward thrust.
Shringa or Central Tower – the whole temple structure is capped by an elevated structure that towers directly over the site where the deity is placed inside.
Urushringa or Secondary Tower –the Shringa is often surrounded by smaller similarly designed towers around it known as Urushringa. These help in emphasizing the height of the structure
The shringa is often topped with a stone disk with ridges on the sides known as the amalaka which in turn is crowned with a kalasha or the finial from where the banner is flown. The amalaka represents the sun. The entrance porch or the Ardhamandapa leads to the main hall of the temple or the Mandapa and in case of bigger temples it leads to the Mahamandapa or the Great Hall. Elaborate pillars generally adorn the Mahamandapa with carving and sculptures. From the hall there is usually an ambulatory space on both sides surrounding the Inner Sanctum or the Garbhagriha where the temples’ primary deity is situated. These ambulatory spaces allow devotees to perform the ritual circumambulation of the deity in clockwise direction known as Pradakshina. The temple’s Garbhagriha contains either stone sculpture or relief or image of the deity. The word ‘garbha’ refers to womb and the inner sanctum represents all the things that it stands for – potential, secret, and a space for development. The deity is place directly below the highest point of the structure.
The main attraction of the Khajuraho temples is the beautifully intricate carvings and sculptures that adorn the temples’ outer walls. These sculptures were often inspired by religious sensibilities of the kings or may be from various Vedic literatures and even from the traditional lifestyle in the day-to-day life. The sculptures are curved in strict accordance with the Shilpashastra that governed the various aspects of correct depiction of a deity or female forms. The sculptures display various levels of perfection and artfulness.
The temples of Parasvanatha, Vishwanatha and Lakshmana display sculptures in most classical forms that follow the dictated guidelines of proportions and adornments. From there, a gradual increase in artistic touch is evident in the sculptures of the Citragupta and Jagadambi temples.
The beauty and elegance of the sculptures reach their zenith in the Kandariya Mahadeo temple, where the human form attains perfect physiognomy. The figures here attain distinctively slender forms with a wide variety among elegantly posing Apsara figures. This sculpture style is evident in the Vamana and Adinatha temples as well.
The decline in the refinement of the art form is evident from the sculptures of Javari and Chaturbhuja temples. The figures appear lifeless and conventionalized.
The scene gets slightly better in Dulhadeo with a combination of dynamic yet romantic forms depicting elaborate ornaments.
The general theme running through the sculptural carvings are examples from the four necessary pursuits of life which are Artha, Kama, Dharma and Moksha. About 10% of the total sculptures in Khajuraho depict erotic and explicit imagery which is the main attraction for people from all over the world. The Chandela rulers were believed to be followers of tantric practices which involved practicing of various sexual rituals. The sculptures depict men and women, together referred to as Mithunas, engaged in various forms of sexual acts according to the descriptions provided in the Kamasutra.
Other sculptures depict scenes from various stages of human life as well as various day-to-day activities performed by men and women. Considering the positioning and proportion of erotic sculpture among others, a natural philosophical conclusion may be drawn. One must go through the various worldly pursuits like physical pursuits or Kaam before they can get jaded of them and are ready to join the quest of true knowledge or Gyan. As a powerful symbolism, these erotic sculptures are placed mostly on the outer walls of the temples which imply that one must leave all erotic thoughts outside before entering the statuary of God.