July 7, 2008

Khajuraho, Mastery in Architecture

Madhya Pradesh diagram (borrowed)

What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word Khajuraho? Most likely the answer is going to be Temples or specifically, Erotic Temple Art.




The one of a kind Khajuraho Group of Temples is the main attraction of Khajuraho, however, there is more to the town than this. I shall write about my travels to the other interesting places of Khajuraho in subsequent posts. For now, I wish to devote this entire post to my experiences and impressions on the fascinating temples of Khajuraho.



The Legend

The story of Khajuraho is that in a burst of passion, the Moon God enticed the beautiful Brahmin girl, Hemavati, while bathing in the Rati one evening, resulting in the birth of Chandravarman. Harassed by society, the unwed mother sought refuge in the dense forests of Khajuraho where she was both mother and guru to her young son. The boy grew up to become the founder of the Chandela dynasty.

When he was the ruler of the land, Chandravarman had a dream where his mother implored him to build temples that would reveal all aspects of the human passion and fantasy to the world and in doing so bring about a realization of the emptiness of the human desire. Thus began the story of a fervent artistic desire for the construction of the first of the temples, and successive rulers added to that which resulted in the Khajuraho temples.


The History


It is said that artifacts from the middle and late Stone Age and Neolithic Age have been unearthed in Khajuraho so its history can be traced to prehistoric times.

The name Khajuraho is derived from the Hindi word khajur meaning date palm tree. It was once the city that was the capital of the Chandela Rajputs, a Hindu dynasty that ruled parts of India from the tenth to the end of twelfth century. It is said that there have been other Chandela rulers, who have been the patrons of the Khajuraho temples and instrumental in developing the art and the sculpture there. Some of them are Harshadeva, Yashovarman, Dangadeva, Jayavarman etc. Sadly, by the time the temples were completed, the Chandela dynasty had sunk into oblivion.




It is fascinating to learn that these elegant medieval temples of the finest architectural styles were unknown to the outside world as they were probably forgotten among the forests for centuries following their abandonment. They were accidentally rediscovered recently.

Over a span of about 100 years, about 85 temples were presumed to have been built of which now only 22 stand!


My Memoirs and Khajuraho Today


In December 2007, I took a taxi from Orchha via Alipura to reach Khajuraho as I written in my previous post here.




The temple town of Khajuraho apparently seems no different from any other temple city of India. Right from the time I reached till I departed days later, I found it to be like any other tourist town, catering to the needs of the locals and tourists alike in a comfortable and casual manner. Nevertheless, the quaint little town is unique for it is a place with a rich cultural heritage. Already a hot tourist destination, most likely its popularity ranks following that of the Taj Mahal of Agra.



As I reached and checked into the MP tourism hotel, the sun was preparing to set. All the same, I quickly got ready to catch a glimpse of the famous temples before it would get dark. After a few hurried inquiries at the reception desk and being assured that the place was safe to walk back in the dark, I set out on a brisk walk of 20 minutes to reach the popular western group of temples. I need not have rushed as I had two full days to explore the place at my own leisurely pace. But, as usual, I got restless in wanting to explore the moment I reach a new place and so tried to grab the opportunity to do so even in the fading lights of the day. This is one of the first few sights that I could capture that late evening through the closed gates.



The next two days were like being in a dreamland. I do not think I can even begin to describe the awe that I felt about the Khajuraho temples. If I start, I could go on endlessly into details of my own impression of the mastery and intricacy of the beauty of each temple, but that would mean thousands of words.

The architecture of each of the Khajuraho temples is magnificent. The elegance of the carvings is an achievement excelling in sculpture work and can rightly be called a merger of the science and art of architecture. To explore and admire what can be justifiably described as the pinnacle of Indian art and design was an overwhelming experience.



My first observation was that almost all the temples are built on a high platform. Constructed in the Nagara style of architecture between 950 AD and 1050 AD, these temples are in a reasonably good state of preservation and the Archeological Survey of India's dedicated effort for their conservation at Khajuraho should be appreciated. It is no wonder that these temples are listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site.



The mainly Hindu and Jain temples of Khajuraho, scattered over an area of 15 kms or so, are grouped into three geographical divisions: western, eastern and southern.

I found the 11 temples belonging to the Western Group of Temples the most attractive. That included admiring the biggest Kandariya Mahadeva, the awesome Lakshmana, and the Chaunsat Yogini, the Matangeshwara, the Chitragupta etc.

Following that, I had a long walk to reach the Eastern Group comprising of the Adinath, Ghantai, Parsvanatha Temples etc and this way, could be in touch with a bit of the local feel of the place.
Among the Eastern Group, I found the grandeur of the the Adinath the most impressive. I had published a picture of it in my previous post here.



I could not make it to the Southern Group of Temples as I kept getting attracted to the Western Group of temples time and again, and finally actually ended up making four trips there. Each visit was a wonderfully different experience.



Most of these mind-blowing temples are adorned with endless rows of intricately carved sculpted figures. The emotions of a woman have been exemplified in those stone sculptors – from her simple and smiling face of innocence right up to her seductive expressions and poses. Sculptures depicting a woman brushing her hair, applying eye make-up or dancing with joyous unconstrained poses are portrayed in detailed artistry. Most of the sculptures show ordinary course of everyday life events like scenes of action of dancers, musicians, warriors, hunters, potters, other ordinary folks and also animals. And yes, a small percentage of it with eroticism engraved on its walls in the form of sculptures.



The erotic sculptures of Khajuraho temples can be shocking to those not prepared. Khajuraho temple art was a shock to me too, though not for the eroticism in the art, instead, for the incredible beauty in that temple art. The cliché that beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder is pretty relevant here. The same object may appear different to different people. Anyway, what is indisputable is that these sculptures have gained the attention of art lovers all over the world and are often a topic of discussion to many.

Someday, I wish to write my thoughts on those "erotic" sculptures and shall, hopefully, do that when I can put my feelings on this matter into meaningful words. For now, I am highly impressed with the temple art there. Though I have admired intricate temple art in quite a few places in India, I can confidently say that what is revealed in Khajuraho surpasses all that!




Other Reflections

Khajuraho's local food is predominantly vegetarian, but non-vegetarian food is available on request. The market area has a number of hotels, restaurants, coffee shops and some good souvenir shops selling a variety of local handicrafts, books, and many other interesting items, all reasonably priced. December, when I travelled, is a pleasant month to be in Khajuraho.


There is a folk and tribal dance festival called Lokranjan held in the second week of December every year but I missed it by a few days. There is also another Dance Festival held in late February every year. From the details I've gathered on it, I'd recommend it to those who wish to travel there to include it in their itinerary. I wish someone had informed me about this before I travelled to Khajuraho. Can you imagine dance performances presented in a surreal setting of gorgeously illuminated temples? I can not think of another venue that could be more befitting than these temple grounds to witness a cultural festivity of that magnitude.

Sound and Light Show

That evening at 6:30 pm, I attended the Light and Sound Show held at the garden grounds of the Western temple group. It was a visual treat that lasted for almost an hour and it elicited the life and times of the Chandela kings. The Show details the construction, history and importance of the splendid Khajuraho temples from the tenth century to the present times. As at the Gwalior Fort, Amitabh Bachchan does the narration with his deep baritone voice.



Other Attractions of Khajuraho


Khajuraho has other interesting places to offer like the Ajaygarh Fort, the Kalinjar Fort, Dhubela Museum for those who are interested in the regal and cultural splendour of the place. There are picturesque waterfalls, lakes, rock formations, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries and other charming spots for nature and wild life enthusiasts.
Some of the places of interest that I enjoyed in and around Khajuraho are the Raneh Falls, the River Ken Nature Trail, the Ken Gharial Sanctuary, the Pandav Falls and Caves of Panna, and the Panna National Park and Panna Tiger Reserve.



How to reach Khajuraho

Khajuraho is accessible by road, rail and air. By road, Khajurao is approximately 620 kms southeast of Delhi, 400 kms southeast of Agra, 175 kms southwest of Jhansi, 90 kms from Alipura, 50 kms from Chattarupur, and 45 kms from Panna. By rail, Jhansi and Mahoba are the nearest station. Khajuraho has an airport of its own, with flights connecting the place from Delhi, Agra and Varanasi.


48 comments:

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

WOW!What an awesome experience that must have been!Fantastic shots dear!

You should be writing for National Geographic or Nature,the way you describe the travels :)

Shrinky said...

My goodness Celiene, this is utterly breathtaking.. and I had no idea they even existed up until now. You are a wonderful travel writer/guide, and a gifted photographer. Do you usually travel alone? I simply love your sense of adventure - you rock, girl!

Sandra Ree said...

Fascinating! And so beautiful! Thank you for allowing us to experience through your writing, this wonderful place!

Lakshmi said...

what a breathtaking post and some wonderful images..Ive read a bit about these legends, but your post gave the entire picture..thanks for sharing .Ive realized that most destinations are labelled for certain attractions like Coorg for coffee and Khajurao for erotic sculptures..but its always interesting when we delve deep ..
I was travelling this weekend to Madras and hence was not online at all and I guess Im a late arrival here ..do read my last post on Coorg

Ram said...

Celine,

I have just read your post on “Khajuraho”. I do not know what to say as I am still totally mesmerized.

On the outset this is the best post I have come across in the recent past. Looks like that the words come to you as naturally as breathing.

I have been proudly associated with Khajuraho even before the influx of tourists started – thanks to the great personality, Mr. S S Poddar, the founder of Orient Express group of companies. In the beginning, he used to take the groups of tourists to this lesser known hidden treasure. With no direct rail connections and hardly any good roads, Mr. Poddar had to struggle hard. In 1966, this visionary came up with an idea of setting up a hotel at this isolated place. So, he was virtually a pioneer in bringing Khajuraho on the tourist map of India. I believe, practically all the major hoteliers have their presence in Khajuraho now.

We being the bankers to the group (I used to work for Grindlays Bank), I had the honour of visiting their property at Khajuraho on three occasions.

Your brilliantly written and equally well photographed post has made me nostalgic about my visits to this town.

Thanks for sharing.

Regards,

Ram Dhall

Maalie said...

Wonderful pictures, and magnificent textual thread. I see your map shows the Kanha National Park, and you make passing reference to parks in your text. Were you able to observe any wildlife? (Maybe not tigers LOL!).

Priyank said...

I always thought that its more than just erotic sculptures, and your post proves it. This is one of the bestest posts here and the story line behind the pictures makes it even more interesting. Indeed, beauty is defined in many different ways. Cheers to Celine's travels

Merisi said...

Dear Celine,
before I started reading, I looked at the pictures. I tried to imagine how these buildings came about, and the reasons for their existence. The legend you write about could contain at least a kernel of truth.

They more I learn about India from your posts, the more I understand why the Italian writer Antonio Tabucchi called his rather unusual "Indian Nocturne" an insomniac's journey through India. A country so vast, and of so many different facets, seems almost impossible to experience in an alert cognitive state, without slipping out of wakefulness at least occasionally.

Thank you for taking the time and care to bring your country closer to people like me.

M.Kate said...

Wonderful Celine!! Love all those pictures and informative post as usual!

flyingstars said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bendtherulz said...

Loved it. Except one pic -rest I found just amazing and the words to go with it, it just transported me to that era.

I must say our country has so many hidden places, so many folklores...stories....!! Do you think we will ever be able to get all of that in one life time ??

Very good post Celine !! Thanks for sharing.
Also I hope you dont mind that I will be sending this link to friends and am sure after reading this they will surely finalize their trip to Khajuraho..... !!
Tk care ~

indicaspecies said...

Sameera,

Thank you. It has been awesome indeed, and yes, I should be writing for them...haha!

indicaspecies said...

Shrinky,

Good to see you here again, and I'm so glad that you enjoyed this. Thank you very much for such lovely words. They are not only encouraging but uplifting as well.

indicaspecies said...

Sandra Ree,

Welcome, and thank you for your nice words. I'm so pleased that you enjoyed your visit here. Black & white, and colour, let's all just get along.;)

indicaspecies said...

Lakshmi,

Thank you. Glad that I succeeded in presenting a better picture to you. This blogging world is so interesting for sharing each other's experiences, isn't it?

indicaspecies said...

Ram,

I am delighted to know readers like you take the time to read my posts and doubly delighted that you enjoyed it too.

It's very interesting to read about Mr. Poddar. Perhaps we can describe him as the founder of modern Khajuraho. It is equally interesting to learn that you have been one of the first few visitors to the great temples there.

Thank you for the compliments Ram and please accept my best wishes.

indicaspecies said...

Maalie,

Welcome aboard. I wonder if you have been to India.

I am also a wildlife enthusiast, and have been to quite a few National Parks and enjoyed wildlife, both in India and abroad.

As for tigers, I will not answer you now but I do hope you drop by here when I come up with a post on my visit to the Bandavgarh National Park. I hope to be in touch with you then.

Thank you very much for your kind words and your visit here.

indicaspecies said...

Priyank,

Bestest..haha! Thank you Puku. I'm pleased that you liked it. It's definitely much more than mere erotic sculptures.

indicaspecies said...

Merisi,

Comments such as yours make it worthwhile to create and introduce posts such as these. Your words are highly encouraging and fill me up with joy.

It's so interesting to read your reference to Antonio Tabucchi. Yes, India is an enigma, what with 5,000 years of civilization to its credit and now more than a billion inhabitants of different faith and culture co-existing, more or less, in harmony as one nation. And you have beautifully described how to savor it!!

Thank you so very much for appreciating not just my presentation but also its contents. Always a pleasure to hear from you Merisi.

indicaspecies said...

Kate,

Thank you for your nice words and I'm glad that you loved the pictures!

indicaspecies said...

Flyingstars:

WoW, so many compliments in one comment. Thank you very much and I'm glad you enjoyed this Kalyan.

indicaspecies said...

BTR,

Thank you. Guess I know which picture you are referring to, the night mode wasn't set well but I published it anyway as it gives some idea of how the illumination was done. I'm glad you liked the rest.

India - we can neither explore enough during a lifetime, nor can can we ever have enough of it. So the quest will forever remain.

Please go right ahead and forward the link. It's my pleasure to share, and all the best to you.;)

Indrani said...

Good read Celine. I had been there many years back. Reading the post brought back fond memeories of the visit.

indicaspecies said...

Indrani,

Thank you, and am glad that this post refreshed fond memories.

indicaspecies said...

Aaarti,
Anirudh,

I have received lovely words from both of you in my mailbox which should have been a comment on my blog, but for some reason that is beyond my comprehension, those comments do not show here.

Anyway, I'd like to thank you both for your visit, and I'm delighted that you enjoyed the post on these Khajuraho temples.

CrazyCath said...

Absolutely fascinating and extraordinary buildings! Thank you for sharing this and the work you have put into researching it.

Over from authorblog's where you were nominated by merisi (as you discovered.) Great stuff.

Zhu said...

As usual, my favorite picture is the one of the family.

I like the sunset pictures too... makes it look like the temples are alive for some reason. More mysterious, definitely.

The architecture is truly amazing. I had never heard of this place before but I'll remember it!

Lakshmi said...

I completely agree..its a great platform to share views and traditions..request you to come over to my blog and participate in the discussion on Madras Day...would be great to hear your point of view

indicaspecies said...

Cath,

Good to see you again, and thank you very much. Oh, the place is indeed fascinating and it's a pleasure to share.

indicaspecies said...

Zhu,

Thank you very much. I'm glad my post introduced Khajuraho to you. Oh, btw, I was almost certain of your favorite picture.;)

indicaspecies said...

Lakshmi,

Thank you. I'm just back from your lovely blog leaving behind a long comment. I enjoyed it thoroughly.;)

indicaspecies said...

Charles Gramlich,

I've received your lovely comment in my mailbox but strangely, does not show here for some reason.

Welcome, and thank you dropping by and your nice words. Introducing Khajuraho to you is a pleasure.:)

*~*{Sameera}*~* said...

I have been to the Golconda Fort near Hyderabad and they have the evening Sound & Light Show as well,with AB's voice narrating its history.

Really enjoyable!

Shantanu said...

What beauty in temples and buildings. Do you think a few hundred years from now, our modern buildings will look pretty to future eyes too?

San said...

Splendid photographs, Celine. I can see how you would feel as though you were in "a dreamland." I felt that way a bit, reading your words.

I would LOVE to read your personal reflections on those erotic sculptures. A contemporary woman's take on such ancient depictions of female sensuality--that would be fascinating.

Thank you for another informative, very interesting post.

Manasa said...

Great pics and wonderful writeup! Not getting enough words to describe.

Now, am tempted to visit this place :)

indicaspecies said...

Sameera,

I think Big B is doing the narration of those Shows in quite a few historical places. He is so popular he's needed everywhere, not just at Bollywood.

indicaspecies said...

Shantanu,

Yep, a lot of beauty in there. What you asked is a million dollar question, and I wonder too!

indicaspecies said...

San,

Thank you. Your words encourage me to write my personal reflections on those erotic sculptures, and I shall do that, but I am afraid that will be most likely after I return from another trip that I'm planning on leaving shortly to the Himalayas.:)

indicaspecies said...

Manasa,

Thank you very much for the nice words. Please do go, the place is definitely worth a visit.:)

Nandan Jha said...

Great story Celine. Not so far back, I was reading about Khajuraho and the debate on why its there since its far from any of the forts/palaces. One of the theory was that Orccha king (Raja Deo I guess) might have commissioned it, would try to find that article again and post here.

Very good narration. Keep traveling.

I have never been to Khajuraho, and its on my list. Thanks for sharing.

Saibal Barman said...

Loved to read its history.
I have neither visited Kharjurao nor has read about its history in so much of details.
Love the mythological anecdotes; I do love to know more about its mythological reference as temples are the best places to learn about Indian mythologies.
Thanks for sharing

indicaspecies said...

Nandan,

Thank you very much for the kind words and encouragement.

I would love to read what you have to share.:)

indicaspecies said...

Saibal,

Thank you for your kind words. Don't miss an opportunity to go to Khajuraho. Sharing this post is truly my pleasure.:)

bendtherulz said...

My friend has conveyed her thanks to you. She loved your post and has booked her ticket.... :))

Tk care ~~

indicaspecies said...

BTR,

You are welcome, and so is she. My best regards to both of you.;)

Alok said...

Wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing all those information and need not mention those pictures are amazing.

It reminds me my trip to Konark temple, I still due for exploring this heavenly place.

indicaspecies said...

Alok,

Thank you for reading this long post, and I'm glad you liked it. I hope you get a chance to see the place soon. It's definitely worth a visit.

Konark temple is a place in my list of 'must-see' places.:)