Poetry in Stone

With late entry in Khajuraho, though groggy eyed by early rising, we all walked with swift steps through the dusty, shrubby surroundings of the temple town of Khajuraho. Placed in flat plains of Bundelkhand between Ken and Betwa river, this small town does have desert shrubs all around. For few long centuries, temples of Khajuraho remained out of public sight, in hands of sadhu and bairagee, shrouded in mystery and jungle. Late in 19’th century, some Englishmen re-discovered these massive stone temples in this ‘out of nowhere’ land. And from then this small town rose to fame on world map for this splendid work of art and architecture on a scale which will stop your breath and finesse which will keep you spellbound.

We walked for a short distance and there came the first panoramic view of 3 to 4 temples. Khajuraho temples are a scattered lot. The most famous are Western group of temples which are declared to be a World Heritage site.

Laxman Temple

There are a couple of eastern group of temples and few more in the vicinity. Chandel kings of the region built these temple from 9’th to 11’th century AD.. Yashovarman, Dhang, Vidyadhar to name a few are the illustrious kings of this lineage who have given us these monuments, arguably the best in India for structural beauty.
Vishwanath temple, the first temple in western group is dedicated to Shiv Shankar with a Nandi temple just outside. Laxman temple is for Vishnu with a separate temple for ‘Yadnya Varah’ placed opposite. Kandhariya Mahadev, the best and the most celebrated is for Shankar. Jagadamba mandir as the name suggest is for Devi and Chitragupta temple at the end is for Surya. There is a temple built like a mosque which is a creation of 17’th century kings. Most of the temples are of ‘Panchayatan’ type which means main temple of primary deity and four temples of secondary deities at four corners in the same premise. Panchayatan usually consists of Shankar, Vishnu, Surya, Devi-Shakti and Ganpati. Whoever the main temple belongs to is the primary deity in that case. What a superb idea to put all gods and their warring devotees under one canopy! May be we should think of building panchayatans with Jesus and Alla as well!

Anyway coming back to temple story all the temples are built on a very high plinth. During the Chandela reign, the entire area was a huge artificial lake bound by natural hills and man made dam walls. The kings would arrive in boats to visit these temples and offer their prayers, spend their time and enjoy the music and dance performances which would take place in temple mandaps. What a life !
These temples are full of carvings from outside and inside. Primarily the 8 direction lords, ‘Dikpal’ and ‘Sursundari’ the beautiful female figures dominate the scene. Though the temples are overhyped for the display of erotic sculptures, these are limited to only 3% of the entire carvings. These displays are mainly on the ‘Antaral’ area which is wall that connects Garbhagriha and Rangamandap. There are some sculptures which are small in number and in size which clearly look like ‘new’ additions. By publicizing the Khajuraho temples for erotic art has really hampered their reputation for being one of the splendid architectural wonders. I think they are better and more impressive than Taj Mahal also. This ‘western folk’ oriented spicy publicity has adversely affected the genuine tourist, Indian or otherwise to come and visit and praise this place without being looked at suspiciously. The town is normally crowded with foreigners. Not surprisingly the ‘cafes’ and ‘diners’ catering to foreign tongues are galore along with village guides selling them erotic sculpture books. I am always wary of such ‘touristy’ towns but sold out on the food and coffee you get there. The Light and sound show in the evening has a lot of scope for improvement, particularly the use of heavy old English such as ‘though’ and ‘shall’ could be avoided.

The next set of temples we visited was Vaman temple again for Vishnu, Javari temple and couple of Jain temples. All temples are equally impressive with abundance of stone carvings, ornate door walls, beautiful flower bed like galleries and inscriptions which give us incite into the past. Technically all temples are of ‘Nagar’ style commonly found in North with vertical silhouette. They are built from sandstone which is available locally and has a lovely rich reddish shade. Particularly the Jain temples though smaller, have the most exquisite carvings such as the woman adjusting earrings, or the one taking the thorn off from her leg. The camera crazy brigade had a field day! Interestingly many of us noticed that camera does not do full justice to the grandness of these monuments as they look cluttered in the photos. However in reality it is an experience of lifetime!
Back in the bus to Bhopal, the sight of Kandhariya Mahadev Mandir, fresh like a flower in the early morning, on the backdrop of serene blue sky stayed with me for a long time. It is still a mystery why so many temples were built in this town which is far from any flourishing city of that time. What inspired them to create this stone art on such a massive scale is definitely something to think about.


  • smitadhall says:

    Very nice, simple and detailed description. Khajuraho is really one of the worders of India!

    Did you also visit the eastern group of temples? We decided to give it a skip, so would like to know more about them please.

  • Manisha says:

    Smita, Thanks for comments.
    Vaman temple Javari temple and Jain temples of Adinath and Parshwanath are part of eastern group of temples. They are smaller in structure but equally rich in carvings.
    This post has a photo of one of the Jain temples.

  • nandanjha says:

    Manisha – I totally agree with you on the branding part. Though that branding is definitely helping us to get a load of foreign dollars but Khajuraho is much more and beyond those few frames.

    My story is pending on the same place for a while. After reading your story, guess the motivation got some more fuel.

    Because of a mix-up (Laloo was visiting) we ended up for the ‘Hindi’ version of ‘Sound n Light Show’ and it was pretty fine. By the way, we were wondering that how they could have really done it in English, your comment answers it.

    what next ?

  • Manisha says:


    We actually wanted to listen to Hindi version of the show but the timing was not suitable. I am sure it would be better.

    Look forward to your take on Khajuraho.

  • Manish Khamesra says:


    I don’t mind it being branded as erotic temples. What is more important is that the tourists and pilgrimage who go there come back with an altogether different experience. But of course, one can always look for what one wants to see.

    It was suprising to notice so less Indian tourists visiting the complex. But then less tourists do mean a bliss for others. You get lot of time and space to appreciate such an invaluable heritage.

    Your post reminded me of mine own visit to the complex. I was spellbound with its beauty and also how well kept it was.

    I have read that Mahatma Gandhi was keen on getting these temples destroyed. I don’t know how true it is, but I am sure if this was the case, it was only because he never visited that complex. This complex still has an aura of spirituality and one can sense those waves. Whatever it had been branded as but locals too are proud of their temples.

    Its a MUST visit for religious as well as tourists interested in architecture. Thanks for the beautiful post, although photographs posted could have been better.

  • Dr. Subhash Kale says:

    You have written a very studied account of the temples. You are right- the erotic aspect is unnecessaily stressed- like saying “how can you ban this and that in the land of Khajuraho?”
    I had the good fortune of driving down to Khajuraho on a dusty road from Jabalpur in the 50’s and staying at a sarai! How peaceful was it then!! Two days were not adequate to enjoy the beauty of the temples.
    Keep up the travelling and writing!

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