Published: May 22nd 2005May 6th 2005
Eastern group - temple tower
Curvilinear tower of the Parsvanatha Temple
The rickshaw-driver wanted to take us to the bus stand in Jhansi but we stayed firm knowing that bus to Khajuraho
would leave from the train station at 11 a.m. We arrived in due time and were happy to get numbered seats, this way we could avoid struggling for the best seats, which we have come to hate. A couple of minutes before the bus' departure two white ladies came on board, probably mother and daughter, they arrived just in time. This bus also stopped at the bus stand and we were glad to have got in at the train station because now it filled up and quite many people had to stand. The trip itself was fine, although it took 5 hours, we arrived as fresh as paint because the bus was a so-called 'deluxe' and fairly comfortable. In Khajuraho we had the same trouble as in all major tourist destinations in India, the rickshaw-drivers wanted overpriced rates. We were fed up and ready to walk, when the American ladies (we realized their accent when they were talking) supported us in our wish not to pay too much. In the end we found a decently priced rickshaw and soon found
This Jain temple from the mid-10th century is the largest and one of the finest
out that we could actually have walked, the hotel was only about 400m from the local bus stand. Our hotel was not directly by the temples but on a quieter part of the main road. It had a balcony and an aircooler and a nice garden around. The only drawback, as we had to find out in the first night, was the fact that a big art emporium (shop with fixed prices) was integrated and this had to be guarded during nighttime. In order to chase possible robbers away, the guards kept blowing the whistle and would not let us sleep in peace. Stephan even went downstairs to complain, whereupon the guards restricted their path to the front gates and disturbed us less because our room lay a bit back form the street. We soon walked in the direction of the famous Western group of temples, passed the Sib Sagar Lake reduced in water but beautifully covered with lotus flowers, and many pushy shop assistants. After seeing the Americans again on the balcony of their hotel and exchanging some words, we stood at the entrance of one of India's famous sites but it was so hot and the light was
Of this temple (late 11th cenury) only the sanctum and vestibule have survived
not ideal for pictures, so we decided to visit it next day very early and only cast a quick glance at the sandstone temples from outside. We found several internet cafes but the connections were quite slow, so we only wrote some emails and surfed the web a bit. Once again not the best place for our travelblog! Around 5:30 p.m. it had cooled down enough for us to make a walk to the Eastern group of temples
south of the village.
Once again we were fascinated by Jain temples
,we did not even go to see the other temples of the same group. The first temple on our right side was the Santinatha Temple, the main site of Jain worship on the spot. The thoroughly renovated temple retains its ancient heart (it was built in 1027-28) and medieval sculptures, for us it was pure pleasure to wander around slowly admiring the pieces of the small Jain museum and the photo gallery. Will we ever get enough of temples? We guess not. The Parsvanatha Temple (mid-10th century) is the largest and a very fine one with its beautifully carved curvilinear tower, which dominates the structure. This temple displays some of
Lady applying makeup
She is painting her face for her lover, maybe?
the finest and best-known non-erotic sculptures and we could not help admiring them, wandering around the temple several times. It was almost unbelievable how graceful the female figures were, one applying make-up, another one removing a thorn from her foot, a third one tying ankle-bells. They represent the ideal female form, with a tiny waist, full round breasts in relaxed poses with perfect curves and a pretty neckline. In the corners we detected fine Dikpolas
, guardians of one of the cardinal directions, they mostly appear in groups of eight and seem to be holding the whole temple. Next to it is the smaller and simpler Adinatha Temple (late 11th century), of which only the sanctum and the vestibule have survived - the porch is modern. This is one characteristics of the place, the temples lay in ruins and were rebuilt, whenever pieces were missing they were replaced by modern ones; of some temples hardly any original piece remains, but they were still rebuilt and the originals set into a modern temple. The Adinatha Temple's fine sculptures on three bands again depict attractive ladies and Dikpolas in the corners, the niches have yakshis
(demi-gods associated with nature). We stayed around quite
Group of male and female statues
Please notice how languidly they are posing
a long time, officially the site (the entrance is free by the way) closes at sunset, actually the temples were locked soon after we came and we could not visit them inside, but we were allowed to linger on. There was an Indian man present, probably a guard, he seems to have been impressed by our zeal and gave us some additional explanations. Dusk was already breaking, and at the end of our stay at the Eastern group of temples we spotted two small owls which had just woken up, a lovely finish indeed!
The name Khajuraho may be derived from khajura
(date palm), which grows freely in the area and perhaps because there were two golden khajura
trees on a carved gate here. The old name was Kharjuravahaka
(scorpion bearer), the scorpion symbolizing poisonous lust. The temples were built under the late Chandela kings between 950 and 1050 AD in a truly inspired burst of creativity. With the fading of Chandela fortunes, the importance of Khajuraho waned but temple building continued until the 12th century at a much reduced pace. Far removed from the political centres of the kingdom, the location of Khajuraho minimized the danger of external
Beautiful statues of musicians
It's not all about sex, is it?
attack and symbolized its role as a celestial refuge. Khajuraho's temples were 'lost' for centuries until they were accidentally 'discovered' by a British army engineer in 1839. Of the original 85 temples, the 20 surviving are among the finest in India.
Although each temple here is dedicated to a different deity, each expresses its own nature through the creative energy of Shakti (feminine counterpart to each of the Gods of the Hindu pantheon, especially of Shiva). Tantric beliefs within Hinduism led to the development of Shakti cults which stressed that the male could be activated only by being united by the female in which sexual expression and spiritual desire were intermingled. (This idea reminded us of one of the main topics in Dan Brown's book 'The Da Vinci Code'.) The presence of erotic temple sculptures , even though they account for less than 10% of the total carvings, have sometimes been viewed as the work of a degenerate society obsessed with sex. Some believe they illustrate the Kama Sutra, the sensuality outside the temple contrasting with the serenity within. Yet others argue that they illustrate ritual symbolism of sexual intercourse in Tantric belief. The Chandelas were followers of the
Indian version of Gothic gargoyle
It's not rain water that pours from its mouth but the oil that had been spread over the lingam
Tantric cult which believes that gratification of earthly desires is a step towards attaining the ultimate liberation. Whatever the explanation, the sculptures are remarkable and show great sensitivity and warmth, reflecting society in an age free from inhibitions. They express the celebration of all human activity, displaying one aspect of the nature of Hinduism itself, a genuine love of life. It is suggested that India's art came from secular craftsmen who, although they worked to instructions, loved the world they knew, their inspiration not so much the ceaseless quest for the absolute, as a delight in the world as they saw it.
We visited the Western group of temples
as early as possible for us, around 7 a.m. and met the American ladies again at the entrance, Cleone and her daughter Sabi. The evening before we already sat with them for a long time, immerged in a long and vivid conversation. These temples are compact and tall, raised on a high platform (there was water around them in former times) with an ambulatory path around, but with no enclosure wall. Each has the essential sanctum containing the chief image, joined to the hall of worship by a vestibule. The
Western group - Chitragupta Temple
This temple is dedicated to the Sun God Surya
hall is approached trough a porch; both have pyramidal towers. Larger temples have lateral transepts and balconied windows, an internal ambulatory and subsidiary shrines. We had taken an audio guide at the entrance, hoping that it might be as good as the one in Jodhpur, but we were disappointed and soon switched it off again. It did not tell us anything that we did not already know (we hope we do not sound too presumptuous) by own experience or that was not written in our wonderful guidebook. But we did the circuit as suggested, starting with the Lakshmana Temple (circa 950 AD), which is the earliest and best preserves the architectural features that typify the larger temples at Khajuraho. The platform has friezes of hunting and battle scenes with soldiers, elephants and horses as well as scenes from daily life including the erotic. The basement again has bands of carvings - processional friezes showing animals, soldiers, acrobats, musicians, dancers, domestic scenes, festivities, ceremonies, loving couples and deities. On the walls are the major sculptures of gods and goddesses in two rows, with celestial nymphs in attendance on the raised sections and loving couples in the recesses. All the figures are
Klaudia and Varaha
This boar is the third Vishnu incarnation and saved the world from disaster
relaxed, resting their weight on one leg, thus accentuating their curves. The bands are broken by ornate balconied windows with carved pillars or overhanging eaves. The nymphs shown attending to their toilet, bearing offerings, dancing, playing musical instruments or as sensual lovers, are executed with great skill. They are graceful and fluid, with expressive faces and gestures. We got stiff necks by circling this ad other temples again and again and were simply overwhelmed by the mastery of the sculptures! One temple was a bit different, it is a shrine dedicated to Vishnu in his third incarnation, as Vahara, the boar. Vishnu is usually depicted resting on a bed of serpents, until summoned to save the world from disaster (Vishnu the Preserver). Once a demon stole the earth and dragged it down to its underwater home. He created 1000 replicas of himself to confuse any pursuer, but Vishnu incarnated himself as a boar and was able to dig deep and seek out the real demon. Thus, the rat-demon was destroyed and the world saved. This 2.6-m long Varaha is of highly polished sandstone covered with 674 deities. Absolutely superb! Inside a temple dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, was said
Stephan and Nandi bull
He rests his back against Siva's vehicle of polished sandstone
to be a statue of him driving his chariot of seven horses. As we had already seen the modern Sun Temple in Gwalior with the horses, we were keen on seeing an old version. As usual in Hindu temples, the statue of the deity was in the darkest spot, after a while our eyes had got accustomed to the darkness and we soon found Surya, but the horses and the chariot remained invisible. Stephan took out the binoculars and after several minutes, he discovered tiny statues at the god's feet, yes the horses. We had a hearty laugh and were proud to have found them.
The temperatures were rising quickly and for the first time, the heat really bothered us. We would have loved to stay in the temple complex all day and duly admire each single statue, but it was impossible. At Khajuraho we saw many beautiful and richly carved temples and found its reputation as 'sex temples' too onesided to do justice the complexity of the site.
There are more photos below