Khajuraho, the jewel in the heart of India


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The temples of Khajuraho were built by the Kings of the Chandela dynasty during the 10th and the 11th century CE. The building of these temples started almost immediately after the Chandelas came into power. Surviving temple inscription suggest that many of the currently existing temples were completed between 970 to 1030 CE.

The temples are made of very good quality sandstone, with a granite foundation that is usually concealed. The builders didn’t use mortar: the stones are put together with mortise and tenon joints and they are held in place by gravity. This form of construction requires very precise joints. The columns and architraves were built with megaliths that weighed up to 20 tons.

The Khajuraho temples were in active use till the early 13th century when tha armies of the Muslim Sultan, Qutb-ud-din Aibak defeated the Chandelas. Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan traveller who visited India from 1335 to 1342 CE mentions the temples of Khajuraho in his memoirs.

Central India, where Khajuraho temples are, remained in the control of many different Muslim dynasties from 13th century through the 18th century. In this period, the temples were desecrated and left in neglect. In 1495 CE, for example, Sikandar Lodi’s campaign of temple destruction included Khajuraho. The remoteness and isolation of Khajuraho protected the Hindu and Jain temples from continued destruction by Muslims. Over the centuries, vegetation and forests overgrew and took over the temples.

In the 1830s, local Hindus guided a British surveyor, T.S. Burt, to the temples and they were thus rediscovered by the global audience. Alexander Cunningham later reported, few years after the rediscovery, that the temples were secretly in use by yogis and thousands of Hindus would arrive for pilgrimage during Shivaratri celebrated annually in February or March based on a lunar calendar.

The temples have several thousand statues and art works, with Kandarya Mahadeva temple alone decorated with over 870. A vast majority of sculptures depict various aspects of everyday life, mythical stories as well as symbolic display of various secular and spiritual values important in Hindu tradition. For example, depictions show women putting on makeup, musicians making music, potters, farmers, and other folks in their daily life during the medieval era.

Some 10% of the carvings contain sexual themes and various sexual poses. Some scholars suggest these to be tantric sexual practices. Other scholars state that the erotic arts are part of Hindu tradition of treating Kama as an essential and proper part of human life, and its symbolic or explicit display is common in Hindu temples. Be that as it may. It is definite that there is iconographic symbolism embedded in the arts displayed in Khajuraho temples. Core Hindu values are expressed in multitude of ways. Even the Kama scenes, when seen in combination of sculptures that precede and follow, may depict the spiritual themes such as moksha .

In the words of Stella Kramrisch,

This state which is “like a man and woman in close embrace” is a symbol of moksa, final release or reunion of two principles, the essence (Purusha) and the nature (Prakriti).

—Stella Kramrisch, 1976

The portfolio displayed below was captured by me in 2006. Hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

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