As the sun sets, drenching the entire sky in shades of pink and purple, I understand the true meaning of sensuality. Surrounding me are several beautiful sculptures, locked in embraces, making love. For a moment, you can almost feel the passion in the air. I am standing amidst the temples of Khajuraho, looking at the carvings cast in stone where love alternates with lust. The men and women are in various stages of love making and the erotic sculptures fill the walls of the temples. The amorous couples are lost in each other’s arms and even as these private moments are out here for public display, they are not making any attempt to hide their feelings for each other.
There is more to the temples of Khajuraho than just erotic sculptures though which are apparently only one -tenth of all the carvings on the walls of the shrines. Built between the 10th-12th centuries by the Chandela Rajputs, the temples of Khajuraho were hidden in dense forests and were discovered much later, only in the 19th century. Located on the banks of a tributary of the Ken river, these medieval monuments are today one of the World Heritage Sites. The Western Group of temples are the largest here and then you have the Eastern and the Southern Group and a few Jaina monuments as well.
My guide is a wise old man who goes by the name of Mamaji and he tells me that there were 85 temples at one time, however only 22 stand today. And these temples he says go beyond religion and eroticism. The Khajuraho sculptures may be synonymous with erotic art, but there are several different kinds of carvings here.
Standing here, I see tall towers lit up by the glow of the evening sun touching the sky. The birds are on their way home. The red shades of the sandstone stand out amidst the dusky sky as Mamaji tells me a little story. And the moon has just risen.
Passions are always running high when it concerns the moon and no wonder, the descendants of the celestial moon God have built shrines for love. The story goes that the moon seduced a beautiful woman called Hemavathy when was bathing in the dark under moonlight. However he apparently told her that their son would one day establish a kingdom. Hemavathy ran into the forests and raised her son Chandravarman who eventually grew up to establish the Chandela dynasty . According to Mamaji , one theory says he was influenced by his mother’s story and built the temples of Khajuraho with sculptures depicting human passions and probably, the futility of the same.
However there are many theories regarding the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho but I visit the oldest temple here, which is actually empty. I am at the Chausath Yogini temple built in 900 AD . Built In an open sanctuary all the sixty seven cells are empty. None of the 64 Yogini along with Goddess Durga are around , but I can feel a mystical aura around the temple.Mamaji my guide believes that the essence of Khajuraho lies in tantric cult and the erotic sculptures are manifestation of the same. Whatever the reason may be, Khajuraho ‘s temples go beyond the kamasutra.
The Kandariya Mahadev temple towers above the rest in the Western Group with almost 900 sculptures jostling for space on its walls. Mamaji says that it represents Kailash as the temple resembles a mountain range. The main tower is like a mountain, reaching out to 30 metres tall and there are several miniature towers popping out like smaller hillocks. Besides erotic sculptures you can see several different carvings here as well. Dedicated to Shiva, the temple is believed to have built by King Vidhyadhara after a successful war campaign.
The Lakshmana temple dedicated to Vishnu built by Yashovarman is one of my personal favourites among the temples of Khajuraho. The Vaikunta image of Vishnu seems to have three different faces – those of a lion, boar and a man. The carvings here depict social and cultural lives of the Chandelas .Facing this temple is a Lakshmi temple, that once housed a Garuda and next to it is an intricately carved monolith of Varaha , the incarnation of Vishnu built of sandstone. Along the same platform of the Kandariya Mahadev temple is a Mahadev temple, another shrine dedicated to Jagadhambi, a Chitragupt temple for Surya, the sun god, a shrine for Parvati and the massive Vishwanath temple.
The following day, we visit the Eastern and Southern groups. Mamaji takes me to a small Durga temple , where the deity was believed to have been discovered during an excavation. Our next stop is the Brahma temple, a small shrine by a lake. Although a lingam is housed here , it was initially meant to be built for Vishnu.Every temple has an interesting name. A Vishnu temple is called Javari as millet or Javar was cultivated close by. Another temple called Ghantai refers to the bells depicted on the pillars.
As we drive around Khajuraho, the village is quiet and clean. The locals live in a world of their own, however oblivious to the heritage surrounding them, except for the vendors who try to cash in on the “erotic” imagery and sell crude representations of the sculptures. More than guide books , the kamasutra is sold locally in front of every temple.
My final stop is at a few Jaina temples dedicated to the Teerthankaras – Adinatha, Parshwanatha and Shantinatha. We move on to the Chathurbhuj temple to see the last rays of sun falling on the feet of a charming idol of the four armed Vishnu . Finally Mamaji takes me to one of his favourite temples, probably the last built by the Chandelas. The Dulhadeo temple , where Shiva is a bridegroom is a temple dedicated to weddings, fertility rites and cults .
The day finally ends as we see the spectacular sound and light show and head to the Lalit Khajuraho who has hosted me. The silence in the air is soothing. The stars look down and I can feel the magic. And then I realize that no one will ever know what was in the sculptor’s mind as he carved these erotic sculptures of Khajuraho. Perhaps the charm of the destination lies in this mysticism.