Khajuraho is famously known all over the world as some of the finest sculpted temples in the world. They often lead to the eternal question about the co-existence of spirituality and erotica. It had been on my wishlist to be visited places for a long time. Finally, it happened this December.
The first thing that you wonder about when you reach Khajuraho is the obscure location. Add to it, the existence of such magnificent structural gems in the middle of nowhere. It is said that this place was a dense forest once, though it is difficult to believe it so now.
You just keep wondering where all the forests have gone and why did Chandela kings choose this place to build these temples. Another thing to be noticed is the existence of Jain temples with Hindu temples in every era and in every form and shape.
Khajuraho can be described as a temple town, though Bhubaneshwar competes for this name as well. There were supposedly 85 temples built over a couple of centuries, from the 10-12th century by various generations of Chandela kings.
As of now, only 22 or so remain in varying degrees of preservation. The temples exist in bunches spread over a small area. This is similar to what I saw in Pattadakal last month. I am still trying to figure out why did they build the temples so close to each other.
Khajuraho Temples – UNESCO World Heritage Site
From a tourist perspective, the temples have been divided into three main groups. The western group of temples is classified as a world heritage site, southern and eastern groups.
The Western group has the better-preserved temples. If you observe the temples chronologically, you can clearly observe the evolution of the craft carefully depicted in and outside the temples. Over the period, the figures do not change much. The body proportions, the expressions on the face, the body movements, and the multi-angular view of the figures get refined.
Kandariya Mahadev Temple
The Kandariya Mahadev temple is one of the best-preserved and most evolved temples of all the temples here. Specifically in the western group of temples. You can almost fall in love with this temple with an intricate ‘Makar Toran’.
As the sun circles around this temple, you get a feeling of a temple made from sandalwood. There are 84 shikharas in all in the temple. And you would get lost counting them.
When you look closely at the figures on the outer walls of the temple, you would get a feeling as if each of them is trying to tell you a story, a philosophy, or is trying to tease you and at times invite you.
The body proportions are just perfect. Artists have depicted motion using Tribhangi (dividing the body into 3 parts by bending or twisting) technique. The depiction of jewelry and clothes is so fine that you wonder at the mastery of the artists who would have first conceived them and then crafted them on stone.
Other Temples at Khajuraho
Other noticeable temples are Lakshama temple, Chitragupta temple, and Vishwanath temple in the western group. Jain temples in the southern group are worth visiting.
Matangeshwar temple just outside the main complex is also interesting. It is the only practicing temple as of now, with a huge Shivalinga. You can hear the enchanting aarti in the evening and early morning there.
Chausath Yogini must have been a very different temple, but it is in such ruins that it is difficult to imagine how it must have been. There are some temples that are still being excavated in and around Khajuraho. You can visit those sites if you like.
All the temples define the Nagar style of temple architecture. There are 3 or 5 major portions of a temple, in which the subsequent shikhara increase in height as you get closer to the Garbhagriha.
As per the Vaastu shastra, all temples face east. They have been designed in such a way that the first rays of the sun fall on the feet of the main deity of the temple in the Garbhagriha. Observe this phenomenon early morning as the sun rises. You will feel divinity around you, even though the temples are not practicing temples anymore.
It is again one of those sites which are frequented more by non-Indians than by Indians. You can see the preparedness of the town to handle foreigners all around. Literally, everyone can speak decent English. There are books and guides available in at least 10-12 languages from around the world.
There is a good market for Indian art and craft which is mostly priced in the international currency. If you are wearing Western clothes, hanging a camera around your neck, have a lonely planet in your hand, and have curiosity in your eyes, you would invariably be asked ‘Which country are you from? If you say ‘India’, you would see a bit of disbelief and disappointment in the eyes.
But nonetheless, they will move on and try to sell you the merchandise that they have. There are art and craft shops in literally every house in town, apart from the marketplace.
The renovation work is still going on in Khajuraho. Archeological Survey of India is working on maintaining the look and feel of the temples as they must have been designed by the architect himself.
Temples open at sunrise and remain so until sunset. When you visit it early morning, with very few visitors around, you would hear the sound of stone being chiseled. As you follow the sound, you would reach a corner of the complex, where you would see some people working on the sandstone. Which matches exactly with the stone that has been used to build the temples.
I tried my hands at chiseling some of the stones and now when I look back, I feel being a part of the legacy. More importantly, I enjoyed talking with current-day artists. They said everyone comes and sees the temples, but no one comes to meet them.
You need only one complete day to visit these temples. However, if you want to cover temples in detail and the surrounding spots as well, you can plan for two days.
Like Hampi and Pattadakal, this is also a place where your camera would love to flirt with the sculptures, carvings, skylines, symmetry, and the feel of the place. Early morning you can just go on clicking the amazing art scattered in front of you.
Tour guides are awfully costly here and you can try reading the literature and taking an audio tour which is good. Guides can point out a lot of things that you may miss out on your own. I feel they need to be genuinely priced.
There is a new railway station coming up in the place, which should make the connectivity better and more affordable. I don’t think the place needs any recommendation if you have the slightest interest in architecture, it is a must-visit. The way it is located, this special place deserves a special trip.