The Khajuraho Temples is a group of temples built during the period of 950-1050 BCE and they are one of the oldest group of monuments in India. Khajuraho Temples and sculptures are nearly 1000 years old and they are the finest example of Indian architecture and sculpture. The Khajuraho Temples were built by the rulers of Chandela Dynasty and these temples were dedicated to various Gods of Hinduism and Tirthankara’s of Jainism. At the time of construction there were as many as 85 temples out of which only 22 have survived till date. Thousands of Indians as well as foreigners visit Khajuraho every year making it one of the most visited tourist destination in India. The Khajuraho Group of Monuments were added in the UNESCO list of world heritage sites. In this article we would provide out readers a brief introduction to Khajuraho Temples and Khajuraho Sculptures. We would also discuss the Historical facts about the Khajuraho Temples, how these temples survived for 1000 of years in-spite of Islamic attacks on India, how Khajuraho Temples are classified, beautiful Images of Khajuraho Temples, great paintings and sculptures carved out on Temple walls. We would also discuss one of the most important fact i.e. are Khajuraho Temples a group of Erotic designs carved out on temples walls or is there some other reason for these erotic drawings? Hope this article would provide our readers a better understanding of our ancient architectural masterpiece and clear the myths created by western scholars and travelers.
History of Khajuraho Temples and Sculptures
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The Khajuraho Group of Monuments were built during a period of 200 years with most of the temples built in between 950-1050 BCE. They are the best living example of human imagination, artistic creativity and magnificent architectural work. The credit of construction of Khajuraho temples goes to the rulers of Chandela Dynasty. It is believed that every Chandella ruler built at least one temple in his lifetime. Therefor all the Khajuraho Temples were not built by a single ruler but the process of construction of Temple was a tradition and almost every ruler of Chandella Dynasty followed it.
Location of Khajuraho Group of Monuments in India
Khajuraho Group of Temples is situated in Chhatarpur District of Madhya Pradesh. Khajuraho Railway station is 615 Km away from New Delhi, 375 Km away from Bhopal (Capital of Madhya Pradesh) and 170 Km from city of Jhansi. From Khajuraho Railway station Khajuraho Temples are just 6 Km away and can be reached via bus or auto rickshaw. Khajuraho is well connected by Air route and flights are available from all across India. National highway 86 and 75 passing through Khajuraho provides connectivity to major cities of India.
To Whom Khajuraho Temples are Dedicated
The Khajuraho Temples are dedicated to various Gods of Hinduism and their incarnations. The temples are also dedicated to Jainism but majority of them are dedicated to Hinduism. Of the temples which have survived till now, 6 are dedicated to Lord Shiva, 8 to Lord Vishnu 1 to God Ganesh and one to Sun God. Three temples are also dedicated to Jain Tirthankaras. There is one more theory which states “Chandela Kings were followers of Tantric Principles”, therefore these temples are associated with Tantric Sect of Hinduism. The existence of erotic motifs strengthen the proof as Tantric principles advocated the balance between the male and female forces and therefore they commissioned the construction of temples to promote their faith.
Khajuraho Temples at the time of Construction and their Current State
According to the text and writings from various historians and travelers initially the site had nearly 85 temples. Initially the temples covered an area of 20 Km2 but today it has shrink to just 6 Km2 . The text also states that the temple complex had 64 water bodies out of which 56 have been physically identified by archeologists till now. Ibn Battuta a Moroccan Traveller stayed in India from 1335 to 1342 BCE. During his stay in India he visited Khajuraho Temples and called them “Kajarra”. He also mentioned:
“Near Kajarra (Khajuraho) Temples which contain the idols that have been mutilated by the Moslems, live a number of yogis whose matted locks (Jata in Hindi) have grown as long as their bodies. They are all yellow in color and many Moslems attend these men in order to take lessons (yoga) from them.”
Recent excavations have discovered one more temple called the Beejamandal Temple. The temple is situated in Jatkara village and it is totally in ruined state and yet to be fully excavated. Beejamandal temple has a length of 35 meters and therefore it is longer than the largest Khajuraho temple i.e. Kandariya Mahadev Temple.
Classification of Khajuraho Temples & Sculptures
Khajuraho temples are classified into three major parts. They are 1) Western Group of Temples, 2) The Eastern Group of Temples and 3) Southern Group of Temples.
How Khajuraho Temples Survived the Islamic Invasions of India
From time to time Muslim invaders like Mahmud Ghazni and Muhammad Ghori raided Indian temples and other historical and cultural places. The Temple of Somnath in Gujrat is the best witness of these raids. An interesting fact is, the Khajuraho temples survived the wrath of foreign invaders. According to Abu Rihan-al-Biruni (Persian Historian) Mahmud Ghazni invaded the Khajuraho Temples in his raid of 1022 BCE. The temples were saved when a peace accord was signed between Mahmud Ghazni and King of Khajuraho and the King agreed to pay a ransom.
During the period of Delhi Sultanate and Mughal invasions temples at Khajuraho survived as people migrated to other places and over a period of time vegetation and forests overgrew and isolated the temples. The temples lie in the Bundelkhand Region of India and there were no big cities. Also the hills surrounding the area protected the temple from future hostilities. Within a few centuries the temples were covered under the dense forest of palm trees and this remoteness and isolation protected the temples from continued destruction by Muslims Rulers. In the year 1838, Khajuraho Temples were discovered by British Army Engineer Captain T.S. Burt. It is also believed that during the 600 years of isolation many Yogis and Hindus secretly visited the temple to celebrate the festival of Maha Shivratri to worship Lord Shiva.
Are Erotic sculptures and paintings Found only on Khajuraho Temples in India?
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The answer is NO. Erotic sculptures and paintings can be found on many temples in India and not just on Khajuraho temples. Erotic and nude sculptures can be found on Ajanta (2nd Century BCE) and Ellora (5th to 10th Centuries) Temples, Sun Temple in Konark, Virupaksha Temple in Hampi, Lingaraja Temple in Bhubaneshwar and many more. According to Beliefs of Hinduism the depiction of sexual activities in temples was considered a good omen because it represented new beginnings and new life. The depiction of erotic sculptures could have been a scene from any temple in India but it’s just that the temples at Khajuraho happens to be the King amongst all. One important thing to note is only 10% of the sculptures and paintings displayed are in the form of Erotic work and rest depicts the various aspects human life, mythical stories as well as a symbolic display of secular and spiritual values centered to Hindu tradition. There are also images of Gods and Goddesses, warriors, musicians, animals and birds. Many historians and archeologists state:
“Erotic themes constitute not even one-tenth of the total sculpture on the temples, but have drawn undue attention. Western travelers mentions the temples as Catalog of Sex or Sex Temples of India, which is not true.“
Khajuraho Sculpture Images and the Messages they convey
As mentioned earlier due to misinformation by a few people that the temples only depicts the sexually explicit statutes, so most of the visitors try to search only erotic sculptures. There are vast number of sculptures showing women putting on makeup, musicians making music, potters, farmers, and other folks in their daily life during their era. The temples also have thousands of statues and art works and only some of these iconographic carvings contain sexual themes and various sexual poses. The outer walls of temple comprises sexual paintings and the inner walls of temple and sanctum sanctorum do not have any erotic sculptures at all. The sculptures and paintings also cover various aspect of human life from birth to death like education, marriage and other activities considered important in Hindu Religion. Since sex is also an essential part of human life therefore it was also given importance while carving out other images. Further the erotic sculptures are neither prominent nor emphasized in comparison to other sculptures and they are in proportional balance with the non-sexual images.
List of Prominent Khajuraho Temples
Today only 22 temples have survived out of 85 commissioned at the time of Chandela Kings. Out of these 22 temples, prominent temples are:
Kandariya Mahadeva Temple: The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple is the largest temple in Kahajuraho. Kandariya Mahadeva means “the Great God of the Cave”. Lord Shiva is the chief deity in the temple and it has been built by the Chandela king Vidhyadhara. According to historians Kandariya Mahadeva Temple was built when Mahmud Gazni was unable to capture the fort of King Vidhyadhara.
Devi Jagadambi Temple: The Devi Jagadambi Temple is also known as Jagadambika Temple and the temple is dedicated to Goddess Parvati. Initially the temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu but later idol of Goddess Parvati was established here.
Lakshmana Temple: The Lakshmana Temple in Khajuraho is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The sanctum contains seven vertical panels and are decorated with various incarnations of Lord Vishnu. It also contains sculptures carved with life of Lord Krishna like subjugation of the serpent Kaliya and the killing of demon Putana. The shrines also has a three-headed and four-armed image of Lord Vishnu known as Vaikuntha Vishnu.
Vishvanatha Temple: The Vishvanatha Temple is one of the finest Khajuraho Temple and the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The word Vishvanatha means “Lord of the Universe“. The wall of the temples contains carvings of couples making love and various mythical creatures. Temple also has a shrine dedicated to Nandi Bull (Lord Shiva’s Mount).
Javari Temple: The Javari Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The entrance of the temple features sculptures depicting nava-graha (Nine Planets). It also has sculptures of the Lord Brahma, Lord Vishnu and Lord Shiva.
Chaturbhuj Temple: The Chaturbhuj Temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and the word Chaturbhuj means four arms describing Lord Vishnu as he is also known as “the Lord with four arms.” The Chaturbhuj temple is the only Khajuraho temple which totally lacks erotic sculptures as well as only temple to face sunrise. The sanctum contains a large image of four-armed Lord Vishnu.
Duladeo Temple: The Duladeo temple is also called Kunwar Math and the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The main hall of the temple is octagonal in shape and a Lingam is placed at the center. There are 999 more Lingas carved around surface which signifies that going round the Lingam would be equal to taking of circumambulation a 1,000 times.