The Khajuraho Group of Monuments in Khajuraho, a town in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, located in Chhatarpur District, about 620 kilometres (385 mi) southeast of New Delhi, is one of the most popular tourist destinations in India. Khajuraho has the largest group of medieval Hindu and Jain temples, famous for their erotic sculptures.
The name Khajuraho, ancient “Kharjuravāhaka”, is derived from the Sanskrit words kharjura = date palm and vāhaka = “one who carries”. Locals living in the Khajuraho village always knew about and kept up the temples as best as they could. They were pointed out to the English in the late 19th century when the jungles had taken a toll on the monuments. In the 19th century, British engineer T.S. Burt arrived in the area, followed by General Alexander Cunningham. Cunningham put Khajuraho on the world map when he explored the site on behalf of the Archaeological Survey of India and described what he found in glowing terms. The Khajuraho Group of Monuments has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is considered to be one of the “seven wonders” of India.
Khajuraho is a town in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, located in Chhatarpur District, about 620 kilometres (385 mi) southeast of New Delhi, the capital city of India. According to the 2001 India census, Khajuraho has a population of 19,282. Males constitute 52% of the population and females 48%. The town has an average literacy rate of 53%, lower than the national average of 59.5%: male literacy is 62%, and female literacy is 43%. In Khajuraho, 19% of the population is under 6 years of age. Khajuraho is located at 24.85°N 79.93°E and has an average elevation of 283 metres (928 feet).
Khajuraho is served by Khajuraho Airport and there is a railway station in the centre of the town.
Some Bargujar moved eastward to central India; they ruled over the Northeastern region of Rajasthan, called Dhundhar, and were referred to as Dhundhel or Dhundhela in ancient times, for the region they governed. Later on they called themselves Chandelas; those who were in the ruling class having gotra Kashyap were definitely all Bargujars; they were vassals of Gurjara – Pratihara empire of North India, which lasted from 500 CE to 1300 CE and at its peak the major monuments were built. The Bargujars also built the Kalinjar fort and Neelkanth Mahadev temple, similar to one at Sariska National Park, and Baroli, being Shiva
The city was the cultural capital of Chandel Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty that ruled this part of India from the 10 to 12th centuries. The political capital of the Chandelas was Kalinjar. The Khajuraho temples were built over a span of 200 years, from 950 to 1150. The Chandela capital was moved to Mahoba after this time, but Khajuraho continued to flourish for some time. Khajuraho has no forts because the Chandel Kings never lived in their cultural capital.
The whole area was enclosed by a wall with eight originates, each flanked by two golden palm trees. There were originally over 80 Hindu temples, of which only 25 now stand in a reasonable state of preservation, scattered over an area of about 20 square kilometres (8 sq mi). The erotic sculptures were crafted by Chandella artisans. The temples, maintained by the locals, were pointed out to the English in the late 19th century when the jungles had taken a toll on the monuments. Today, the temples serve as fine examples of Indian architectural styles that have gained popularity due to their explicit depiction of sexual life during medieval times.
The temples are grouped into three geographical divisions: western, eastern and southern.
The Khajuraho temples are made of sandstone. The builders didn’t use mortar: the stones were put together with mortise and tenon joints and they were held in place by gravity. This form of construction requires very precise joints. The columns and architraves were built with megaliths that weighed up to 20 tons.
The Saraswati temple on the campus of the Birla Institute of Technology and Science in Pilani, India, is modeled after the Khajuraho temples.
Statues and carvings
The Khajuraho temples contain some sexual or erotic art outside the temple or near the deities. Also, some of the temples that have two layers of walls have small erotic carvings on the outside of the inner wall. There are many interpretations of the erotic carvings. It has been suggested that these suggest tantric sexual practices. Meanwhile, the external curvature and carvings of the temples depict humans, human bodies, and the changes that occur in bodies, as well as facts of life. Some 10% of the carvings contain sexual themes; those reportedly do not show deities but rather sexual activities between people. The rest depict the everyday life of the common Indian when the carvings were made and activities of other beings. For example, those depictions show women putting on makeup, musicians, potters, farmers, and other folk. The mundane scenes are all at some distance from the temple deities. A common misconception is that, since the old structures with carvings in Khajuraho are temples, the carvings depict sex between deities.
Another perspective of these carvings is presented by James McConnachie. In his history of the Kamasutra, McConnachie describes the zesty 10% of the Khajuraho sculptures as “the apogee of erotic art”:
Twisting, broad-hipped and high breasted nymphs display their generously contoured and bejewelled bodies on exquisitely worked exterior wall panels. These fleshy apsaras run riot across the surface of the stone, putting on make-up, washing their hair, playing games, dancing, and endlessly knotting and unknotting their girdles….Beside the heavenly nymphs are serried ranks of griffins, guardian deities and, most notoriously, extravagantly interlocked maithunas, or lovemaking couples.
While the sexual nature of these carvings have caused the site to be referred to as the Kamasutra temple, they do not illustrate the meticulously described positions. Neither do they express the philosophy of Vatsyayana’s famous sutra. As “a strange union of Tantrism and fertility motifs, with a heavy dose of magic” they belief a document which focuses on pleasure rather than procreation. That is, fertility is moot.
The strategically placed sculptures are “symbolical-magical diagrams, or yantras” designed to appease malevolent spirits. This alamkara (ornamentation) expresses sophisticated artistic transcendence over the natural; sexual images imply a virile, thus powerful, ruler.
Between 950 and 1150, the Chandela monarchs built these temples when the Tantric tradition may have been accepted. In the days before the Mughal conquests, when boys lived in hermitages, following brahmacharya until they became men, they could learn about the world and prepare themselves to become householders through examining these sculptures and the worldly desires they depicted.
While recording the television show Lost Worlds (History Channel) at Khajuraho, Alex Evans, a contemporary stonemason and sculptor gave his expert opinion and forensically examined the tool marks and construction techniques involved in creating the stunning stonework at the sites. He also recreated a stone sculpture under 4 feet that took about 60 days to carve in an attempt to develop a rough idea how much work must have been involved. Roger Hopkins and Mark Lehner also conducted experiments to quarry limestone which took 12 quarrymen 22 days to quarry about 400 tons of stone. These temples would have required hundreds of highly trained sculptors.
The Khajuraho temples are now set in a parkland landscape. When India gained independence from Britain in 1947 the landscape setting was semi-desert and scrub. The archaeological park now has something of the character of a public park, with mowed grass, rose beds and ornamental trees. This design is aimed for tourists comfort but has no relationship with the historic landscape at the time the temples were built.
The development of landscape archaeology as an academic discipline raises questions concerning the earlier landscape of Khajuraho and the original relationship between the temple complex and the surrounding area. There are no records of what the original landscape might have been, but it is known that a large community of priests used the temple complex and that Indian gardens in the 10th century predominantly had fragrant trees, shady gardens, pools, climbing vines, birds and animals and nikunj houses. They did not have lawns.
The Archaeological Survey of India has recently started digging on a mound where perhaps the largest underground temple in Khajuraho has been unearthed. The dig will take at least a couple of years to conclude. The M P Tourism Development has set up kiosks at the Railway Station (which is 9 km away from the city), with helpful tourist officers to guide the travelers. The temples in Khajuraho are broadly divided into three parts : the Eastern group, the Southern Group and the Western group of temples of which the Western group alone has the facility of an Audio guided tour wherein the tourists are guided through the seven eight temples. There is also an audio guided tour developed by the Archaeological Survey of India which includes a narration of the historical data related to the temples.