Popular for its detailed erotic art and stone carvings, the Khajuraho temples are among the most beautiful medieval monuments in India
WORDS: SHIFA MEYAJI
LOCATED in Madhya Pradesh, the ‘heart of India,’ the Khajuraho temples were commissioned when the Chandelas ruled between AD 900 and 1130.
They were dedicated to two Indian religions, Hinduism and Jainism, suggesting a culture of acceptance and respect for differing religious identities.
In a space of about 20 sq kms in Khajuraho, 85 temples were built by successive Chandela rulers. This period was considered the golden age for central India.
The ancient transcripts list 85 temples in Khajuraho out of which only 25 could survive after various stages of preservation and care.
No mortar was used in building the walls and most work was left to gravity. The architecture of the temples was symbolic to the central Hindu beliefs and was based on designs of mandala principle of squares and circles.
INTRICATELY CARVED STATUES
The temples have a wide array of intricately carved statues and the art work depicts the daily life and symbolic values in ancient Indian culture.
The temples also depict the many different manifestations of Shakti and Shiva, the female and male divine principles.
Under the patronage of the Chandela Rajput kings of central India, the temples of Khajuraho were grouped into three complexes based on their geographic locations – east, west and south.
The western group of temples are the best preserved, mainly because they were declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1986. The most significant in the complex is Lakshamana temple whose walls are filled with innumerable idols and images of almost 600 Hindu gods, animals and sensuous couples.
The surprising element is that even though Khajuraho temples are known worldwide for their erotic sculptures, the sexual themes cover less than 10 per cent of the sculpture.
Much has been written about the enthralling architecture and masterful sculpting, but little is known for certain about the intent of the sexual imagery.
Some believe that the depiction of sexual activities in temples is a good omen because they signify new beginnings and represent new life.
However, it is widely believed that the temples were meant to celebrate all aspects of human life including sex.
Sexual pleasure was considered an art form and the Kama Sutra to be practiced and perfected by both genders.
“Hinduism has traditionally considered sex an essential part of life, which could be why the carvings are casually interspersed between others that potray activities as varied as prayer and war,” wrote Charukesi Ramadurai in BBC
Travel in October 2015. “The fact that they are set in plain view and not tucked away in an obscure corner seems to suggest that their creators meant for them to be seen by all.”
The difference is especially striking considering how conservative Indian society has grown over the last few centuries.
It is hard to miss how much the town has changed and developed. A number of tourists, both national and international, visit Khajuraho to experience the legends about the Kama Sutra temples.
Khajuraho, which was known for its ornate temples, artistic creativity, magnificent architectural work and carvings of eroticism, now receives financial aid from the UNESCO along with heap loads of tourists including researchers, historians and art enthusiasts.
It is also a major symbol of ancient and religious tolerance that India holds for its monuments and ancient practices.