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Khajuraho Temples

Khajuraho is one of the most famous temple complexes of India. It is a very well developed tourist centre in Madhya Pradesh. Most people know this temple complex only because of its erotic sculptures. It is a World Heritage Site that features temples of the Hindu as well as Jain faiths. From time to time Khajuraho catches the media attention and creates much debate about the true purpose and meaning of the sculptures. 

Khajuraho – The Date Palm

Khajuraho means ‘the one who carries the date palm’. Some legends and stories about the temple also state that there were two golden date-palms at their gate. These were however not found in newer records. Khajuraho could also be a reference to Kharjuravāhaka which is a name for a fierce form of Lord Shiva. 

Abu Rihan Alberuni, a 11th century CE historian also named it ‘The City Of The Gods’. The Khajuraho Temples are located in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh, India. This is a distance of approximately 175 kilometres away from Jhansi. This location was the cultural capital city of the Chandela kings from the 10th to 12th century CE. Records show that it was a flourishing and great cultural centre but the only surviving buildings are the temples. Nevertheless, the temples are so unique that they remain a great attraction.

The History Of The Khajuraho Temples

The rulers of the Chandela Dynasty constructed most of the Khajuraho Temples between 950 AD and 1050 AD. This kingdom also came to be known by the name Bundelkhand. There are records that show that there were originally 85 temples at the site. The original temple complex measured 20 square kilometres. But, only 25 temples have survived till date. They are spread over an area of 6 square kilometres. The most noteworthy temple that has survived is the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple. It is also well decorated with many sculptures and intricate details. It is believed that al the temples were constructed together but were dedicated to two different religions; Jainism as well as Hinduism. 

The Vishvanatha Temple
The Vishvanatha Temple

The records indicate that most of the temples and monuments were constructed during the reign of the Hindu Kings Yashovarman and Dhanga. King Yashovarman’s most noteworthy construction is the Lakshmana Temple while King Dhanga’s most standout construction is the Vishvanatha Temple. 

The Lakshmana Temple
The Lakshmana Temple

Khajuraho Escapes Destruction

In the present times, the largest surviving temple is the Kandariya Mahadeva temple. It was built during the reign of King Vidyadhara. Many of the temples that still stand today were constructed in the period 970 and 1030 AD. The temples were in use through the 12th century. But in the 13th century, the army of the Delhi Sultanat commanded by the Muslim Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak overcame and occupied the Chandela Kingdom. Khajuraho finds mention in the memoirs of Ibn Battuta, a Moroccan traveller who travelled and stayed in India from 1335 to 1342 AD. The area was in the control of Muslim rulers till the end of the 18th century. Most of the temples fell into a state of neglect. Though there were many invading campaigns that destroyed and desecrated temples in the region the remote location of the temple complex protected it from the worst. 

The temple complex attracted international attention in the 1830s when local guides led T.S. Burt, a surveyor to the temples. It is also recorded that the temples had been used secretly by Yogis and that there were annual gatherings and festivals celebrated there. 

Chausath Yogini Temple
Chaunsat Yogini Temple

Some Interesting Facts About Khajuraho You Didn’t Know

Although only 10 per cent of the temple sculptures are erotic in nature, it is this aspect of the temples that garner the most attention. Most of the temples are sandstone structures. But four temples that are in the group dedicated to the Chaunsat Yogini or 64 tantric goddesses are made of granite. This group was constructed between 875 and 900 CE and have 64 shrines around a courtyard. It is thought that the Brahma, Lalguan Mahadeva and Matangesvara Temples were built at a later date. 

The Kandariya Mahadeo Temple that is dedicated to Lord Shiva is the most well known. It was built in the early 11th century during the time of Vidyadhara. The design is typical of the North Indian temple design and has a series of towers called Shikaras that get higher till the tallest Shikhara that is over the main Garbhagriha. The design is thought to allude to the pattern of a range of mountain peaks.

The Kandariya Mahadeo Temple

The Kandariya Mahadeo Temple

Sculpture

Numerous sculptures decorate the temples. There are 646 sculptural figures on the exterior of the temple and 226 inside the temple. Most of them are less than a metre in height and depict Gods and deities such as Brahma, Vishnu, Ganesh. They are accompanied by many attendants, celestial maidens as well as figures of lovers. The Southern wall has many depictions of bestial eroticism and erotic figures in acrobatic poses. There are also LGBTQ themes and groups of lovers. It is thought that these themes are those of fertility and happiness. These erotic sculptures are particularly located at architecturally weak points between the Mandapa and Garbagriha. Perhaps these sculptures were thought to be protective.

Erotic Sculpture
Erotic Sculpture

The Deities At Khajuraho

The temples at Khajuraho are either of the Hindu or Jain faiths. The fact that they are all in the same complex points to the pluralistic nature of society under the Chandela rulers.

The Hindu Temples are:

Temple NameDeity
Chausath YoginiDevi, 64 Yoginis
Lalgun MahadevLord Shiva
Brahma Lord Vishnu
LakshmanaLord Vaikuntha Vishnu
VarahaLord Vishnu
MahishasuramardiniDevi Mahishasuramardini
Vishvanatha Lord Shiva
MatangeshwarLord Shiva
Vishnu-GarudaLord Vishnu
BeejamandalLord Shiva
GaneshaLord Shiva
JagadambiDevi Jagadambi
ChitraguptaSun/Chitragupta
Kandariya MahadevaLord Shiva
VamanaLord Vamana
JaveriLord Vishnu
ChaturbhujaLord Vishnu
Duladeo (Duladeva)Lord Shiva

The Jain Temples Are:

Temple NameDeity
ParshvanathaParshvanatha
GhantaiAdinatha
Adinath TempleAdinatha
Shantinatha templeShantinatha

The Unforgettable Legends Of Khajuraho

The legend behind Khajuraho is very interesting. Hemavati was the beautiful daughter of a Brahmin priest. The Moon God Chandra was very attracted to her beauty. One evening, when Hemavati was bathing, Chandra descended on earth and seduced her. She also desired him. This union produced a child. This boy was Chandravarman. 

However, society did not accept the union of God and mortal. Moreover, the union was not solemnised by marriage or rituals. People harassed Hemavati for being an unwed mother. Finally, she went away to the forest and brought her son up there. This child would be the founder of the Chandel dynasty. When he was king, his mother, Hemavati appeared to him in a dream. She told him to build temples that would depict human passions. She believed that passion was the result of the yearning for love. So, Chandravarman built the first group of temples and his successors built the rest. So, this legend states that the Khajuraho Temples aim to make people respect the sanctity of love. 

How To Reach Khajuraho

Khajuraho is in the northern regions of the state of Madhya Pradesh. Since Khajuraho is such a major attraction it is very easy to reach. It has its own airport which is a very short drive from the town of Khajuraho. One can also reach the town by bus, taxi or train. The nearest major cities are Jhansi (175 km away) and Jabalpur (260 km away).

Of the three groups of temples, the Western group has an audio guided tour facility. A dance festival featuring classical Indian dances is also held annually. Visitors enjoy a sound and light show every evening in English and Hindi. 

Other Places Of Interest

Museum: There is a museum that is located that displays artefacts and carvings from the area. 

Nandi Temple: There is also a Nandi temple in the area with beautiful pillars and ceilings.

The are has many forts that served as outposts to defend the Chandela rulers. Neighbouring wildlife sanctuaries, jungle trails as well as dams are an attraction for the tourist who enjoys picnics and spending time with nature. Tiger sightings are not uncommon. Winter is a good time for bird watching and many migratory species can be seen in the area. 

  • Kalinjar Fort 
  • Ajaygarh Fort
  • Bandhavgarh National Park, Ken Nature Trail 
  • Benisagar Dam, Ranguan Dam, Gangau Dam and Sanctuary 
  • Pandav Falls, Raneh Falls
  • Majhgavan Diamond Mines 

Best Khahuraho Hotels To Stay At

Khajuraho being a leading tourist centre, there are many choices of places to stay. There are two Madhya Pradesh Tourism Board Hotels. The budget traveller will be spoilt for choices from the many hotels that are available. There are also mid-range hotels. Most luxury brand hotels also have hotels and resorts in the area. There are also resorts that offer a simple ashram lifestyle accommodation. Visitors can also use the swimming pools at some resorts for a fee. Khajuraho also has many bars and pubs for visitors who want to socialise. Restaurants with both Indian and International cuisine are aplenty. Jain food is readily available.