In the age and times of religious divisiveness and fight for supremacy amongst the Gods, the Khajuraho Group of Temples in Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, India, is a testimony to the spirit of tolerance and harmonious co-existence that Hinduism in the medieval age stood for. Khajuraho Temple is a group of Hindu and Jain temples that were built between 950 AD and 1050 AD by the Chandela Dynasty.
Khajuraho is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and draws tourists from across the country and all over the world. The temples are famed for their architectural magnificence and intricate carvings that tell a thousand tales of the subcontinent’s history and mythology.
History of Khajuraho Temple
The Khajuraho monuments were not the product of any one monarch’s fantasy. Each Chandela ruler from 900 AD onwards is believed to have contributed to the temple complex and hence the entire 21 square metre structure was built over several centuries.
The Khajuraho temples are found mentioned as early as 1022 AD in the travelogues of Abu Rihan Al-Biruni. The Sanskrit nomenclature of the monuments was ‘Kharjuravahaka’ which is the amalgamation of two Sanskrit words: ‘Kharjur’ meaning date palm and ‘Vahaka’ meaning ‘bearer’. There are several ways to interpret the naming of the structure but the most commonly believed one is that the complex had 8 entry/exit points and each of these doors was flanked by two date/palm trees, hence the name Khajuraho.
After the fall of the Chandela dynasty in the hands of the Muslim ruler, Qutb-ud-din-Aibak in the 13th century, a large part of the complex was destroyed by the invaders. It is believed that the residents in the area eventually decided to abandon the town completely and the resulting isolation saved the few temples that survive today. Till the 19th century, the temples were relegated to oblivion though it is believed that Hindu ‘sanyasis’ or hermits resided in the temples surrounded by dense forests and pilgrims who knew about its existence continued to visit the shrine. It was in 1830 that finally a British officer, T.S. Burt, rediscovered the temples and began the work of reinstating them to their former glory.
Out of the approximately 85 temples originally built, only 25 have survived the onslaughts of destructive invading forces and are spread over an area of about 6 square kilometres.
How to reach Khajuraho Temple
Khajuraho has its own domestic airport and has flights from most of the leading Indian cities. The airport is about 3 kms away from the temples and a cab or auto can be hired from the airport to reach the site.
You can also take a train to Khajuraho from New Delhi (Khajuraho-Hazrat Nizamuddin Express). The station is about 4kms from the temples.
Buses are available from the nearby cities of Jhansi, Bhopal, Indore, Allahabad, Varanasi etc.
Other options include reaching Allahabad or Lucknow and then hiring a long-distance cab from there.
Best time to travel
The winter season (October to February) is the best time to travel to Khajuraho since walking around in the hot and humid summer months can be tiresome.
Stay options at Khajuraho Temple
There are several hotels in the vicinity to suit all kinds of budgets and mostly Indian food joints are available.
What to see?
The temple complex is divided into 3 regions- the western, eastern and southern groups. Most of the temples are built of sandstone derived from the Bundelkhand area. They comprise both Hindu and Jain temples- 6 are dedicated to Lord Shiva, 8 to Lord Vishnu, 1 each to Lord Ganesha and the Sun God, while 4 are dedicated to Jain Tirthankaras.
Each of the temples follow a similar architectural shape and orientation and displays certain elements: a high raised platform, an Ardh Mandapam (entrance porch), a Mandapam (portico), an Antrala (vestibule), and a Garbha Griha (inner sanctum). Some of the larger temples have a walkway around the inner sanctum, a Maha Mandapam (hall), and subsidiary shrines on each corner of the platform, making a complete Panchayatana (five-shrine complex).
Must See Temples in the Eastern Block:
The four Jain temples- Parasvanath, Adinath, Shantinath and Ghantai– are located in the eastern block.
Brahma Temple, one of the earliest, is built of granite and sandstone and has a shivlinga inside the shrine.
Vamana Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and containing exquisite carvings of various incarnations of Vishnu and apsaras on the exterior.
Must See Temples in the Western Block:
The largest of the temples in Khajuraho is the Kandariya Mahadev Temple built during the rule of King Gandadeva between 1017 and 1029 CE and is dedicated to Lord Shiva. This is the largest of the surviving structures and has a series of towers (sikharas), the highest of them being 31 metres from the base of the temple’s shrine (garbhagriha). It is believed that the temple was designed to resemble a mountain range with a series of peaks and was originally painted white to represent the Himalayas, the abode of Lord Shiva.
The temple is adorned by exquisite carvings- 646 carvings on the exterior and 226 in the interior. They are predominantly figures of various Hindu deities but also have several of the mithuna figures which show men and women in acrobatic and often erotic postures.
Matangesvara Temple is the only one still in use and worship takes place in the morning and afternoon. The Chausat Yogini temple, made entirely from granite, was the first of the temples to be built around the 9th century. It has 64 shrine rooms arranged around a rectangular courtyard.
The Lakshmana Temple in the Western Group is famed for its depiction of the trinity- Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva- at its entrance.
The Visvanatha Temple not only has a grand Shivalinga but also a massive sculpture of Nandi beside it and a grand statue of Brahma.
The Devi Jagdamba Temple dedicated to Goddess Parvati. The Varaha temple which houses an idol of lord Vishnu in the incarnation of Varaha, a boar.
Vamana temple dedicated to an incarnation of Vishnu has several mithuna sculpture on its exterior. Chitragupta temple dedicated to the sun god.
Must See Temples in the Southern Block:
The Dulhadev Temple houses a magnificent structure of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati.
Chaturbhui Temple is a single-spired structure with a striking four-handed image of Vishnu inside.
There are five kinds of sculptures adorning the various temples-
i. The Shilpashastra or cult images
ii. The family, attendants etc. found in the reliefs and niches
iii. The Apsaras (nymphs) in various activities
iv. The secular sculptures- regular scenes from the court or common life
v. The Mithunas or erotic sculptures (only seen in the exterior walls of the temples)
Start from the Western Group in the early morning, followed by the Eastern Group and then ending it at Chaturbhuj Temple in the South in time for sunset.
Definitely carry an umbrella, shades and water with you no matter which season you travel in.