The Magnificent Temples of Khajuraho – Looking beyond the erotic – MindofAll

The Magnificent Temples of Khajuraho – Looking beyond the erotic

This article is about the architecture, design and sculptures of the best temples in Khajuraho namely Lakshmana and Kandariya Mahadev. Numerous pictures explain the temple design.

Khajuraho is a small town located in the Bundelkhand region of Madhya Pradesh in Central India which boasts of a rich legacy of Medieval Era Temples that represent a perfect blend of architecture and sculpture which is a composite of Tantric and Puranic elements.

Khajuraho was once the capital of the Chandel Kings, the descendants of the Moon God, who patronized artists, poets and performers and built numerous temples. It is worth knowing that for these architectural wonders, the stone sculptures were carved and brought from Panna (about 25 kms away), assembled without any mortar or pasting, but with hinges fixed in between the holes with metal wires, which are still intact and without any corrosion.

Eighty-five temples were built in the Nagara Style of architecture out of which only 25 have survived the ravages of time and nature. Most of the temples are made of sandstone except a few that are made of granite.

Intricate sculptured walls.

Sculpture is an art of visual expression, impression and feeling that is best communicated in the temples of Khajuraho. They portray dynamism in static stones and movement in immovable spaces which is a unique feature of this divine establishment…

Known for their artistic creativity, magnificent architectural works, spiritual and erotic sculptures, it’s believed that the temples in Khajuraho derive their peace through eroticism, which is in fact a misconception. Actually, erotic sculpturesconstitute only 10% of the sculptures in the entire complex. Further, they have a metaphysical significance of connecting the physical being to the supreme energy source, which is indeed a journey from the real to the surreal!

Khajuraho temples celebrate life with all its realm including the four goals of Dharma, Artha, Kama, Moksh. Dharma is duty towards all, Arth is taking care of the financial aspects, Kama or Kamana contributes to the beautiful act of lovemaking i.e. a union of two souls and the source of procreation whilst Moksha is self-realization or becoming one with the ultimate reality.

Aruna Mohanty.

Odissi Exponent Aruna Mohanty explains these erotic sculptures beautifully. She says, “One cannot look at them from a purely erotic sense, or either from a spiritual angle, or just because of its beauty, we cannot isolate these pieces of art and need to look at them coherently. When you see the beautiful curves of the body, they are again not only erotic but also very divine because it is God’s most beautiful creation. When they strike a pose they become someone’s Nayika, someone’s beloved, mother or someone’s sister Jaya, Janani, Bhagini. That is the very philosophy behind these erotic sculptures, which portray life.”

Beautiful Sura Sundaris & Apsaras.

Behind the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho temples is a story which says that the Moon God seduced and made love to a beautiful girl Hemwati. Soon she gave birth to Chandravarman who was the founder of the Chandel Dynasty. As Chandravarman grew, his mother came to his dream and requested him to make a temple that revealed all aspects of passion and erotic fantasy in the world. The story is still sung in the village of Khajuraho, which is an opera full of mystery, seduction, tragedy and finally triumph.

These complex of sunshines was built, keeping in mind the East West axis so they face the direct rays of the rising sun, by King Yasovarma between the 9th and 13th centuries. Extending over an area of 13 square kilometres, the temples represent the pinnacle of the Hindu temple architecture in India.

Initially, the region acquired the name ‘Jejakabhukti’, named after the Chandella Chief Jeju, or Jayashakti, the third in the genealogy of the kingdom.

After the decline of the Chandela Dynasty in the 13th century, the temples in Khajuraho were left under the cover of dense date palm trees for many years. The word Khajuraho is derived from the word ‘Khajur’ which means dates in Hindi and eventually in the due course of time gave the city its name ‘Khajoraho’. The temples were rediscovered in 1838 by a British Engineer Captain T.S.Burt.

The Khajuraho complex is divided into 3 geographical regions: Western, Eastern and Southern. Looking at the architecture we find that the temples have 4-5 unified units namely Mukhmandapa (entrance porch), followed by a Mandapa (assembly hall), Mahamandapa (dance hall), Antarala (vestibule) and Garbhagariha (inner sanctum). Lastly, Ardhmandapa (a porch) with a hanging embellishment at the entrance called a Torana.

Lakshmana Temple.


Lakshmana Temple happens to be the oldest and the finest of all Khajuraho temples. It was built in between 930-950 A.D.

The original patron of the Lakshmana temple was Yashovarman, a leader of the Chandella clan. He gained control over territories in the Bundelkhand region that was once part of the Pratihara Dynasty and celebrated his victory by building the temple. His son Dhanga completed the temple work in 954 C.E.

An inscription in Sanskrit describes temple history.

The Lakshmana Temple is a Sandhara temple of the Panchayatan (five shrined) variety. It has an entrance-porch, Mandapa, Maha-mandapa, Vestibule, Sanctum with an Ambulatory along with three transepts that were made of finely grained sandstone. It is one of the best preserved temples.

This is the only temple that preserves intact all the subsidiary shrines, the Jagati (platform) with its mouldings and friezes, and Shikhara (meaning mountain peak). The lowest platform called Adhishthana forms the base on which the imposing 25.9 metres long Lakshmana Temple stands.

Gods & Goddesses.

A horizontal beam over the entrance of this stunning Vaishnavite temple shows the trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva with Goddess Lakshmi, Vishnu’s consort. The womb chamber, symbolic core of the temple’s shrine, is designed dark and windowless for intimate, individualized worship of the divine, which is quite different from large congregational worshipping spaces. The sanctum enshrines a three-headed and four-armed image of Vishnu as Vaikuntha – Vishnu with a human central head and the side-heads of boar and lion.

Ganesha Sculpture.

Devotees approach the temple for circumambulation called Parikrama starting from the east and walk around its entirety, in a clockwise direction starting from the left of the stairs of the plinth passing through images of the temple exterior and finally reaching the Mandapa, to worship the main deity.

The image of Lord Ganesha, symbolic of auspicious new beginnings, is placed on the left niche suggesting that devotees are moving in the correct direction for circumambulation. The temple has smaller, subsidiary shrines in each corner of the plinth that appear like miniature temples with their vimanas, shikharas, mandapas, and womb chambers with images of deities, originally other forms or avatars of Vishnu.

King on a chariot.

The well-carved sculpture portrays a king sitting in a chariot being served by female servants. The stone inscriptions describe different types of women to include within a temple’s sculptural program, and emphasizes on their roles as symbols of fertility, growth, and prosperity. There are also stone slabs inscribed with mantras devoted to Lord Shiva.

The King and the Lion Statue is the most common figurine at Khajuraho. It is called Vyala, body of a lion and face of a man, an elephant, goat, parrot or other animals and birds.

Centre of pic is Vyala.

The temple’s architecture is simply marvellous and its exterior wall exhibits images of over 600 gods. While the sculpted friezes along the plinth also depict images of daily life, love, war and historical events of the Chandella period. A section of a narrative frieze are engraved with exotic battle filled scenes depicting the arms of the era along with elephants and horses as part of the army.

The Laxmana temple is adorned with beautiful women on its northwest exterior walls depicting the idealized female power.

Woman with the Thorn.

This iconic sculpture depicts the ideal feminine beauty of an elegant woman who walks barefoot where she steps on a thorn and turns – adeptly bending her left leg, twisting her body, and arching her back – to point out the thorn and ask her attendant’s help in removing it. Note the attendant has a bag round shoulder.

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