Khajuraho, the World Heritage Site is studded with ornately carved shrines built by the Chandelas. Over 85 temples were built between 950 – 1050 AD, in a truly inspired burst of creativity. Today, only 22 temples have survived, which constitute one of the world’s great artistic wonders. Each shrine stands on a high, masonry platform, with a marked upward direction in the structure, further enhanced by vertical projections to create the effect of grace and lightness. The temple walls are embellished with exquisite stone carvings which portray every facet and mood of life, from the erotic to the divine, the commonplace to the sub line. The temples are geographically divided into three groups western, eastern and soughern.
Legend has it that when the Moon God saw the young maiden Hemavati bathing in a river, her beauty was such that he descended to Earth to engage in a passionate affair. Before his return to the celestial realm, he swore she would bear a son who would one day erect a great temple to celebrate the beauty of their divine love. Thus the founder of the mighty Chandela dynasty, a robust clan of the warrior Rajputs, was born, and between A.D. 900 and 1100, the Chandela kings—who settled in remote Khajuraho, where they were clearly unhindered by the usual distractions of fighting off invading forces—built not 1 but 85 temples, almost all of them featuring exquisite sculptures of men and women joyfully engaging in the most intimate and erotic acts. The Chandelas held sway here until the start of the 13th century, when the Sultans of Delhi increased their hold over vast swaths of central North India. By the end of the 15th century, the temples were abandoned, hidden deep within thick jungle, until their accidental discovery by a British military adventurer in 1838. By this time, 7 centuries after the political decline of their Chandela creators, only 22 of the original 85 temples remained. Today these UNESCO World Heritage Site monuments are famous for their transgressive, taboo-breaking erotic sculptures, images that are almost as intimately associated with India as the Taj. But the temples also represent an outstanding synthesis of advanced architecture and refined sculpture, and their beauty means that a trip here should definitely be included in your North India itinerary, particularly if you plan to fly from Agra or Delhi to Varanasi.
EXPLORING KHAJURAHO’S TEMPLES
Known for the profusion of sculptural embellishments on both exterior and interior walls, Khajuraho’s temples are also recognizable for the exaggerated vertical sweep in the majority of the temples, with a series of shikharas (spires) that grow successively higher. Serving as both metaphoric and literal “stairways to heaven,” these shikharas are believed to be a visual echo of the soaring Himalayan mountains, abode of Lord Shiva. Most of the sculpted temples are elevated on large plinths (often also shared by four smaller corner shrines), and follow the same five-part design. After admiring the raised entrance area, you will enter a colonnaded hall that leads to a smaller vestibule and then an inner courtyard, around which is an enclosed sanctum. You can circumnavigate the sanctum (move around the temple in a clockwise direction, in the manner of the ritual pradakshina, with your right shoulder nearest the temple building) to view the beautifully rendered friezes of gods, nymphs, animals, and energetically twisting bodies locked together in acts of hot-blooded passion. Originally spread across a large open area, unprotected by walls, the temples—most of them built from sandstone lugged on bullock carts from the banks of the River Ken 30km (19 miles) away—are today roughly divided into three sections according to geographic location: the Western, Eastern, and Southern groups. The most spectacular— and those most obviously dripping with erotic sculpture—are within the Western Group. The Eastern Group is located near the old village, and the Southern Group, which is the most missable, lies south of this. As none of the temples outside the Western Group are likely to evoke quite the same delighted reaction, see these first if you’re pushed for time or tired; they’re also conveniently located near the majority of hotels. Try to enter as soon as they open (sunrise), not only for the quality of light but to avoid the busloads of tourists who will almost certainly detract from the experience. You can cover the Western Group in 2 hours. The baritone voice of Amitabh Bachchan, arguably India’s most popular screen icon, narrates the fascinating history of Khajuraho for the 50-minute sound-and-light show held here each night at 6:30pm (an hour later in summer). Try to time your visit to the Eastern Group for about 3 or 4pm, so you can enjoy the sunset while you return either to the Western Group or to the imminently more peaceful Chaturbhuj Temple in the Southern Group. To save time and get the most out of the experience, an official guide—hired through the Raja Café, tourist office, or your hotel—is highly recommended; avoid all unofficial touts and guides. Note that you can rent an audioguide, which is useful if you don’t want to be accompanied by a guide.
Khajuraho is located in the forested plains of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh in the region known as Bundelkhand. The place is at a considerable distance from most cities and towns of the state. Khajuraho is well connected by rail, road and air.
The climate of this region is tropical. The summers are very hot with the mercury climbing up to 47°C. On the other hand, winters can be very cold with temperature dipping down to 4°C. On the other hand, winters can be very cold with temperature dipping down to 4°C. The monsoon begins from the month of July and lasts until September. The annual average rainfall is about 114cm. The best time to travel to Khajuraho is from October to March.
Khajuraho is a small village described in one guidebook as "on the road from nowhere to nowhere" - in the Chattarpur District of northern Madhya Pradesh. It is renowned for a magnificent collection of Hindu temples built by the Chandella dynasty, about one thousand years ago, when it was their capital.
Khajuraho Tourism Information
One of the most popular tourist destinations in India, Khajuraho has the largest group of medieval Hindu temples, famous for their erotic sculpture. The name, 'Khajuraho' is derived from the Hindi word, khajur meaning date palm.
Kandariya Mahadeo, the largest and most typical temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Chaunsath Yogini is the only granite temple and the oldest surviving shrine of the group. Other important shrines in the western group are Vishwanath, Lakshmana, Varah and Matangeswara etc.
As you make your way around the complex in a clockwise direction, the first important
structure you’ll encounter is Lakshmana Temple , one of the three largest
in Khajuraho. Built in commemoration of military victory and temporal power, it is
thought to be one of the earliest Chandela temples, completed around A.D. 954, yet
relatively intact. The structure is as high as it is long, and its raised platform is, like
the entire temple, heavily decorated with a variety of sculptures that allude to the pleasures, pastimes, lifestyle, desires, and conquests of the Chandela dynasty. Here you
will witness an astonishing diversity of scenes: horse-mounted hunters pursuing their
prey, musicians providing lively entertainment for the court, couples drunk on love
and liquor, female attendants fanning their king, elephants engaged in playful battle,
soldiers on the march and, of course, amorous couples keeping themselves occupied
in the most literal of pleasures. Higher up, above bands of images of Shiva and Vishnu,
are the voluptuous depictions of women engaged in worldly activity while draped in
little more than jewelry and gossamer-like garments.
Inside the temple, covered with more depictions of gorgeous women and deities in
their various avatars and incarnations, light pours in through high balconies on each
side of the structure, and shadows are cast seductively over the imaginatively carved
walls. The main shrine was built to house the three-headed image of Vishnu-Vaikuntha,
which features one human head and the head of two of Vishnu’s avatars (incarnations),
a lion and a boar.
Opposite the temple are two smaller structures, Devi Mandap and Varaha Mandap
. The latter is an open sandstone pavilion on a high platform with 14 pillars
supporting a high pyramidal roof with a flat ceiling carved with lovely lotus designs.
A large stone sculpture of Varaha, the incarnation of Vishnu as the Boar, dominates
the space. Varaha’s polished monolithic body is carved with hundreds of tiny Brahmanical
gods and goddesses.
At the northeastern end of the Western Group complex, a number of magnificent
temples are found in close proximity to one another. Thought to have been
built between A.D. 1017 and 1029, elegantly proportioned Kandariya Mahadev
Temple is considered the finest temple in Khajuraho, with 872 statues adorning
the interior and exterior. Within niches around the temple are images of Ganesh
and the seven mother goddesses or Sapta Matrikas. Again, among the sculptures of
Shiva and the other deities is a profusion of female figures engaged in daily activities
made lovely by the sheer exuberance of the sculptural technique: A woman stretches,
another plays with a ball, another admires her reflection in a mirror. You won’t have
to search too hard to find fascinating erotic panels; kissing, caressing couples are
depicted with their bodies entwined in blissful union.
To enter the temple building, you pass through the beautiful entrance toran;
sculpted from a single piece of stone, this is a floral garland that stems from the
mouths of makaras, ever-watchful mythical crocodiles, and is carried across the doorway
by flying nymphs. Within the temple chambers, the walls are covered with exquisite
carvings and sculptures: Don’t forget to look upward to appreciate the sculpted
flower and leaf motifs of the ceilings. There’s a Shiva lingam deep within the garbha
griha, or “womb chamber”; devotees today place flowers on and around the lingam.
Next to Kandariya Mahadev Temple is small Mahadev Shrine, which features a
sculpted figure of what is thought to be the emblem of the Chandela dynasty, a raging
lion fighting with a kneeling figure. Alongside it is Devi Jagadambi Temple — note the graceful woman who stands half-naked as she interrupts her bath, possibly to
catch a glimpse of Shiva’s wedding procession. The southern wall includes a panel with
a woman climbing up her lover’s stout, standing body so that she can kiss him passionately.
Although originally dedicated to Vishnu, the temple now houses a large image of
Devi Jagadambi, the goddess of the universe, also known as Kali, one of the avatars of
Shiva’s divine consort. In both this and nearby Chitragupta Temple , images of Parvati
and Shiva in the throes of amorous passion are symbolic of the “cosmic union that makes the world go round.” Chitragupta, which was poorly renovated by the Maharaja
of Chattarpur, is dedicated to Surya, the sun god; the relief carving around the entrance
is the temple’s highlight. Within the temple is the figure of Surya riding his sun chariot
across the eternal sky.
Back near the entrance of the complex stands the Temple of Vishvanatha , built
in A.D. 1002 by King Dhanga, and notable for three female figures that decorate the
building. One maiden plays the flute, her back sensuously exposed to the viewer,
another cradles a baby, and the third has a parrot seated on her wrist. Opposite the
main entrance of the temple is Nandi Pavilion (or mandap), in which one of the
largest figures of Shiva’s companion, Nandi the bull, can be found, sculpted from a
single piece of stone.
Outside the walls of the Western Group complex, but right alongside the Lakshman
Temple, is the still-functioning Matangeshvar Temple. It is here that the annual
Maha-Shivratri Festival culminates when the Shiva-Parvati marriage ceremony is
accompanied by latter-day wedding rituals, lasting through the entire night in a fantastic
collaboration of myth and reality.
Across the road from the entrance to the Western Group is the Archaeological
Museum, with its modest selection of sculptures collected from various Khajuraho
sites. The advantage of spending a few minutes here is that you get to see close-up
details of carved figures that usually occur high up on the temple shikharas.
Parsvanath Temple, Gantai Temple, Adinath Temple. The Eastern Group comprises both Hindu and Jain temples. The entrance to the Jain
Shantinath Temple is guarded by a pair of mythical lions; inside, you are confronted
by esoteric charts detailing some of the finer points of Jain philosophy. Photographs of
important sculptures and Jain architecture line some of the walls, while the individual
shrine entrances are carved with amorous, non-erotic couples and other figures. The
main shrine contains a large sculpted image of a naked saint. Throughout the temple,
devotees place grains of rice and nuts as tributes at the feet of the various saints.
Parsvanatha Temple dates to the middle of the 10th century A.D. and is the
finest and best preserved of Khajuraho’s old Jain temples. Since Jainism promotes an
ascetic doctrine, there are no erotic images here, but the sculptural decoration is rich
nonetheless. In a large panel at the right side of the entrance are images of meditating
and naked Jain saints (tirthankaras), while the temple exterior is covered in decorative
sculptures of voluptuous maidens, embracing couples, and solo male figures representing
various Hindu deities. This is a strong indication that the temple—which recalls
the temples of the Western Group—was perhaps originally Hindu. In the same complex,
Adinath Temple has been modified and reconstructed with plastered masonry
and even concrete.
Moving north to the Hindu temples, you will pass Ghantai Temple; built in A.D.
1148, it is named for the pretty sculpted bells that adorn its pillars. Passing between
Javari Temple and the granite and sandstone “Brahma” Temple (more likely to be dedicated
to Shiva given the presence of a lingam), you come to the northernmost of the
Eastern Group temples, the Hindu Vamana Temple, built between A.D. 1050 and
1075. Vamana is the short, plump, dwarf incarnation of Vishnu. The entrance to the
inner sanctum of this temple is decorated with small erotic relief panels; within the sanctum you will see Vishnu in many forms, including the Buddha, believed to be one
of his incarnations.
Duladeo Temple, Chaturbhuj Temple etc. One of the last temples to be built, Duladeo Temple dates back to the 12th century
A.D. but has been subjected to later restoration. Standing on the banks of Khuddar
Stream, facing east, the temple is dedicated to Shiva. Elaborately crowned and ornamented
apsaras, flying vidyadharas, crocodile-mounted ashtavasu figures, and sculptures
of over-ornamented and stereotypically endowed characters in relatively shallow
relief decorate the interior. As at Parshvanath Temple, the walls of Duladeo feature a
narrow band of sculptures that depict the celestial garland carriers and musicians in
attendance at the wedding of Shiva and Parvati.
The unexceptional Chaturbhuj Temple, 3km (2 miles) south of Duladeo, sees very
little traffic but has a remarkable sculpture of Vishnu and is a peaceful place at the best
of times, not least at sunset. Nearby excavations continue to unearth new temple complexes,
as Khajuraho keeps revealing more hidden gems.
Sound & Light Show
The spectacular show held at the western group of temples, narrates the life and times of Chandela kings.
State Museum of Tribal & Folk Art
A rich collection of tribal and folk arts and artefacts are exhibited at the Chandela cultural complex. The State Museum displays items of terracotta’s, metal craft, woodcraft, tribal artefacts etc.
Khajuraho Dance Festival
This festival of classical dances is celebrated in February / March. Eminent dancers perform against the backdrop of floodlit temple.
Khajuraho Tour Information
Panna National Park (32km)
Panna National Park A mere 27km (17 miles) from Khajuraho, Panna covers 542 sq. km (211 sq. miles) of dry deciduous forests, fed by the Ken River—jungles of teak, Indian ebony, and flame-of-the-forest trees alternate with wide-open grassy plains in what were once the hunting grounds of several royal families. Although Panna has as few as 25 tigers, sightings have begun to escalate in recent years, so this is a good place to visit if you’re unlikely to make it to any other tiger reserve. You’re certainly likely to encounter nilgai, Indian gazelle, sambar, and four-horned antelope; sightings are dramatically improved if you take a relaxing elephant safari. Adjacent to the park is the ancient town of Panna, home to the largest diamond mines in Asia.
The jungles spread along river Ken amidst Vindya ranges are some to some of the best wildlife species in India. The Panna National Reserve was created in 1081 and declared a Project Tiger Reserve in 1994. Its most famous inhabitants are wild cats as well as deer’s and antelopes. Other animals seen here are wild dog, hyena. Slot bear, crocodile etc. Best season is November to February.
North of it, facing eastward to the rising sun, is the Chitragupta temple, dedicated to the Sun God, Surya. The image of this powerful deity in the inner sanctum is particularly imposing: 5ft high, and driving a seven-horsed chariot. The group scenes depicted are equally spectacular, such as, royal processions, elephant-fights, hunting scenes, group dances, etc.
A three-headed image of Brahma is enshrined in the Vishwanath Temple. The approach is equally impressive, with lions flaking the northern, and elephants, the southern steps that lead up to it.
Khajuraho Dance Festival
The Khajuraho Dance Festival is a weeklong dance festival, and is held during the months of February and March in Khajuraho. This dance festival is a comparatively new dance festival, and was first organized in the year, 2002. Although this festival is just few years old, it has earned a great deal of reputation among the locals and foreigners. The dances performed here are truly divine with the wonderful backdrop of the sculptures of Khajuraho. The temples are brightly lit to mark the occasion.
The dances that are portrayed here are that of Kathak, Odissi, Kathakali, Bharatnatyam, Kuchipudi and Manipuri. The best in these dances are specially invited for performing their art here.
Khajuraho Distance Guide