Khajuraho temples, a world heritage site visited by millions of people every year, are simply unique. Each temple is a lyric of love with stone its diction. Love, the finest of human sentiments, the subtlest instrument of creation and the prime source of life, is the theme of these temples. Despite that devastating winds, torrential rains and charring summers have been ravaging them for centuries, and despite that the message they once imparted and the philosophy they once stood for have been obscured, in whatever remains of them, their power to emotionally move and transport thereby into the realms of transcendental ecstasy, they are still amongst the finest works of art, both architecture and sculpture, that man’s creative genius can claim to have ever created on the earth. The strength of these temples needs to be sought in their aesthetic totality, in their power to sublimate, to lead from the low material base to the highest plane of serenity. Here what eyes perceive and the senses inhale slips unnoticed into the deep recesses of mind and soul so sublimating the experience that neither the tongue seems to have the ability to put it into words, nor the pen, into ink.
Whether Chandela rulers, who built these temples, had divine origin or not, these temples with their power to spiritualise, were not only dedicated to gods but could not have been built by any one other than gods or those with divine links. As the popular tradition has it, Chandelas had their origin from the womb of a Brahmin maiden Hemavati by Moon-god. Abandoned by her kin and village community she wandered in the forest and bore her child amongst beasts in their care and for them to love. This child of Hemavati, Chandravarman, later founded the Chandela dynasty that ruled for some three hundred years. It is said that Hemavati wished that her son built temples that led suffering ones to salvation. The temples that Chandravarman might have built are perhaps lost; however, the temples that Chandelas built are still there. The first of these temples, Chausatha Yogini shrine, was built in around 950 AD, and the last phase of the Chandela temple art ended in around 1250 AD. Originally Khajuraho had 85 temples of which now only 24 survive, 6 largely in ruins and rest 18 in considerable shape. These temples lay neglected under the cover of darkness with uninhabited forests around till early nineteenth century when they were re-discovered.
Though there are indications of a Buddhist monastery and Buddhism being prevalent once, Khajuraho is the seat of Hindu and Jain temples, Jain shrines being devoted to Adinatha or Rishabhadeva, Parshvanatha and Mahavira, and Hindu, to Panchadevopasana, that is, dedicated to five major gods, Shiva, Vishnu including his incarnations, Shakti with her forms as Parvati and Kali, Agni and Ganesh. One of the temples is believed to have been dedicated once to Karttikeya, and the Chaturbhuja temple has a prominent image of Narsimhi, Narsimha’s consort, a female divinity in the Vaishnava line, not one in the Shaivite. Khajuraho also has two monumental lakes having same sanctity as has Pushkara in Rajasthan, Shivasagara, being built long before Khajuraho temples were built, and Chopara, simultaneous to the construction of temples. The Khajuraho Museum, created by Archaeological Survey of India, houses most of the sculptures and temples’ parts of the dilapidated temples and is hence as important to visit as the Khajuraho temples.
Khajuraho temples lay scattered in 13 square kilometre area and are divisible in three groups : Western, Eastern and Southern. Western Group has 13 temples, Eastern, 9 and Southern, 2. The temples of Western group are more evolved, intact and the most visited.
The temple is named after Lakshmanavarman also known as Yashovarman. A three-faced four-armed image of Vishnu enshrines the sanctum. At Khajuraho it is best preserved as also the best sculpted temple with a large variety of themes. It has been constructed in Nagara style and on Panchayatana plan. It has all its four subsidiary shrines surviving. The main temple consists of a porch, mandapa, mahamandapa, vestibule and sanctum with circumambulatory and transepts. Minor shikhara replicas cluster around the main shikhara. The roofs over the porch and mandapa are pyramidal.
Vishvanatha temple was built by Chandela ruler Dhanga. It follows Panchayatana plan though of the four only two of its subsidiary shrines survive. The temple had originally an emerald Shiva-ling which was later replaced by one of the ordinary stone. The temple has an independent shrine for Nandi. The temple has two doors instead of the usual one. The elephant and lion icons flank them. The temple has excellently carved sculptures numbering as many as 602, and none is smaller than 2feet.
Matangeshvara temple too was the work of Dhanga. A large size Shiva-ling with Gauri-pata enshrines the sanctum. At Khajuraho this is the only temple in live worship and is considered as the holiest of all. On Shivaratri huge crowds of devotees throng Matangeshvara temple. The temple is constructed on a square plan, with simple exterior, projections with oriels on three sides, and the porch on the fourth.
It is the largest, finest and most exquisitely embellished temple at Khajuraho. It is built on Panchayatana plan. The temple stands on a massive platform and consists of plinth, porch, mandapa, mahamandapa, vestibule and sanctum with ambulatory and lateral transepts. It has the most evolved sapta-ratha shikhara with amalaka and kalasha and excellent contours, its own 84 minor replicas clustering around. The roofs from porch to sanctum have a gradual rise like Himalayan peaks, and alike the inner floors, elevating the devotional vision from high to higher. Profusely sculpted the temple has 900 statues depicting multiple themes, sensuous, intellectual and religious. With every inch of space teeming with life the temple is simply unparalleled in its magnificence. Loop toranas, plinth mouldings, brackets, columns, lintels, door-jambs, ceiling panels and oriel windows, besides statues of gods, goddesses, humans and celestial beings, shardulas and other mythical animals, all are great works of art.
Devi Jagdamba temple shares a common platform and plan with Kandariya Mahadeva temple except that it does not have porch and ambulatory. The temple is dedicated to Kali. Both, the temple’s exterior and interior are richly and profusely embellished with sculptures depicting multiple themes including those of love. The sculptures of Yama with terrific expression, three-headed eight-armed Shiva and that of Varaha are more significant.
A well preserved temple, it enshrines an impression image of the sun-god Surya riding his chariot that seven horses – symbolic of seven days of the week, drive. The temple consists of sanctum, vestibule, mahamandapa and a largely renovated porch. The friezes around the plinth depicting a very wide range of themes and the three-band girdle around the ‘jangha’ portraying human and celestial beings, single, mithunas and those engaged in sexual union, and mythical animals, are simply astonishing.
Varah temple consists of a porch and wide cella. It is dedicated to Boar god Varah, Vishnu’s third incarnation. A large size Varah statue, with 674 figures of Hindu gods and goddesses engraved, enshrines the sanctum. The deity has along its tusk the icon of the earth goddess whom Vishnu as Varah had rescued from the oceanic mud identified as a demon seeking to destroy her.
More than a shrine the Parshvanatha temple is a picture gallery, most striking and varied, which besides imparting great aesthetic delight relieves of the monotony of the flat wall surface and compensate for the architectural lapses. The magnificence of this temple lies in its depiction of several untouched themes, the lyrics of common man’s life, profound calm to track only by a half concealed smile and brilliance in eyes, and thereby vibrating the entire surface with life and rhythm. Here the iconographic drawings of mythological beings, like shardulas, are seen creating decorative geometry and arabesques.
Dedicated to the first Tirthankara Rishabhadeva, widely known as Adinatha, the first, the Adinatha temple has only the sanctum and vestibule surviving, and a subsequently added porch. The rectangular superstructure over the vestibule betrays the influence of South Indian temple architecture. Three bands of sculptures embellish temple’s exterior. Their elegance and richness is superb.
Vamana temple comprises a sanctum surmounted by a sapta-ratha shikhara, vestibule, mahamandapa with lateral transepts, and a porch. The temple is dedicated to Vamana, Vishnu’s dwarf incarnation. Temple’s superstructure betrays South Indian impact. Insides the sanctum a Buddha figure in bhumi-sparsha-mudra is quite curious. With an infinite variety of attitudes, tortuous movements, and provocative warmth of flesh the temple’s exterior creates a strange world of passion.
Javari temple consists of the usual components but with a taller shikhara and the superstructure over vestibule betraying South Indian influence. Other significant features are its well projected cornices that separate the superstructure from the main body. In its general plan, design, proportions, embellishment with makaratoranas consisting of twenty-four loops Javari temple is a gem of architectural skill.
Duladeva, believed to have been built and so named to commemorate the death of a ‘dulha’ – bridegroom, who died here during his marriage procession, is a Shaivite shrine originally dedicated to Shiva’s son Karttikeya. The temple significantly defines the last phase of Khajuraho temple art and the transition in social mind. Duladeva is known for its finely carved apsara-brackets, depiction around the plinth of common man’s life, and its large octagonal mahamandapa.
The four-armed large size image of Lord Vishnu enshrining this temple gives the temple its Chaturbhuja name. The temple has usual components except ambulatory. Its porch and vestibule are compressed and the shikhara is heavy and simple. It has a rare statue of Narsimhi, consort of Narsimha, Vishnu’s fourth incarnation. The sculpture of Shiva in Ardha-Narishvara form and the colossal sanctum image of Vishnu, which betrays influence of Buddhist iconography, are masterpieces of sculptural art. Chaturbhuja temple is west-facing symbolising perhaps that with this temple the sun of Khajuraho temple art is also about to set.