In the midst of pristine nature, 620 kilometers from Delhi, there is a series of amazing temples. They are astonishing in their craftsmanship and the number of statues that cover literally every inch of the exterior walls and interior rooms. The temples of Khajuraho in India are listed as a UNESCO cultural heritage, attracting great attention from scholars and tourists.
What is known about temples of love?
Temples of love in India raise a lot of questions without giving even the slightest clue as to where to look for the answers. First of all, one wonders why the buildings are so isolated, there are no signs of other buildings around, including palaces or residential neighborhoods.
The temple complex consisted of 85 buildings connected with each other by passages or common walls. Stunning in its beauty and realism of erotic scenes reproduced in stone with the elaboration of all the details have become a veritable hymn to the art of love. The Kama Sutra is believed to be a description of the marriage ceremony and the subsequent week of the wedding of the god Shiva and Parvati.
Location of temples on a map of India
History of the appearance of the temples of Khajuraho
Originally 85 temples were erected; 25 have survived. The found ruins tell us that there were many more of them.
It is doubtful that the complex had only religious significance, but other versions do not yet exist.
No documentary evidence, sketches, drawings or descriptions of the buildings were found either. All hypotheses about the meaning, purpose, and timing of structures are based only on archaeological data obtained during excavations.
The name itself translates as “date palm”. The complex was surrounded by a high wall, and eight gates decorated with images of these trees led inside. It occupied an area of 14 square kilometers.
There is a version, according to which the temples were built around 950-1050, as indirectly indicated by the age of the oldest buildings. At that time the city of Kalinjar, the former capital of the state ruled by the Chandela dynasty, was located nearby.
The history has not preserved any authentic facts about the construction process, the names of architects or the ruler under whom the temples of love in Kazhduraho were erected. They were replaced by the romantic story of the beautiful daughter of a priest-brahman and the moon god Chandra. According to legend, from the heights of heaven, he saw a maiden bathing in a lake of unprecedented beauty and descended to her. He their bond was born a boy with divine blood, who later became a king and built 85 temples, and whose sculptures depict the love story of his parents. The child’s name was Chandravarman and he became the founder of the ruling dynasty.
In the 12th-14th centuries, during the Muslim invasion, the temples were looted, some were destroyed, and the place itself was consigned to oblivion because the frankness of the sculptures offended their eyes. The jungle quickly took over the abandoned place, covering traces of its former greatness with a green carpet.
Returning from the depths of time
It is not known how the fate of the temples of Khajuraho would have turned out had it not been for the rediscovery of the temples by the British military engineer Thomas Burt. In 1836 he accidentally discovered the buildings and the many ruins that remained of the remaining buildings. It took a long time to restore them and free them from the captivity of vegetation. In 1923, the heritage of centuries that had been hidden from public view for almost 600 years became available.
The temples of Khajuraho are partially open to the public, and the Adivart Museums of Archaeology and Folk Art are open.
When examining the structures, it is advisable to stick to moving with the right shoulder towards them, as this is the side considered to be blessed with the divine touch.
Peculiarities of the architecture of the temples of Khajuraho
Most of them are dedicated to Shiva, Parvati, and Vishnu. Secondary buildings, small in size, were erected in honor of local guardian gods or benevolent spirits.
They differ greatly from the traditional examples of Indian architecture. Like the ancient pyramids, the structures are clearly oriented to the sides of the world, installed on special pedestals, built without the use of mortar. At the base is a domed structure imitating the mountain range on which, according to legends, the gods dwell.
They are also characterized by their compactness, the absence of walls around the main buildings, elongated silhouettes, the presence of open galleries, a large number of sculptures and bas-reliefs arranged in several rows.
Regardless of the size of the building, they are built according to the same plan:
- gallery vestibule;
- central hall;
As with most iconic Indian buildings, the material was sandstone. It is quite malleable, but even this fact does not explain how the blocks of 20 tons were lifted to a height of 30 meters and filigree installed in special grooves.
Most of the bas-reliefs and sculptural groups are distinctly erotic in nature, the rest relate to domestic themes, show scenes of hunting, farming. The rows of sculptures are clearly aligned horizontally and to scale. It seems as if they were created with a single movement of the chisel. The lintels between the bas-reliefs are also decorated with stone carvings on a smaller scale. Despite the fact that some parts of the figures are chipped, crumbled by time and wind, most of the surviving ornaments are strikingly accurate and realistic reproduction. They are full of life, with many sculptures capturing the moment of movement.
The temple buildings are located in three groups. They are erected at a distance of several kilometers, which clearly has a sacred meaning, but its meaning is also still hidden from the researchers.
It includes three Hindu temples and four Jain temples. Hanuman is famous for the statue of the monkey god, which reaches 2.5 meters in height and the inscription, dated 922. It is considered one of the oldest in the temple complex.
The Brahma Temple is also one of the oldest, and the image above the entrance indicates that it was originally dedicated to Vishnu. The buildings dedicated to Vaman and Javari are not badly preserved.
Only three temples have survived to this day:
- Duladeo, distinguished by the introduction of wooden elements;
- Chaturohuja, where statues and bas-reliefs of an erotic nature are completely absent;
- Bijamandala, which is in the process of being excavated.
It contains the largest, best-preserved structures. These include temples:
- Devi Jagadamba;
The buildings on the outside of the fence are mostly picturesque ruins.
The entrance to the western group is considered the largest and best preserved. Its architecture is rich and quite unusual, combining elements of several styles. The decoration are 900 sculptures, alone or in groups. They depict animals, musicians, dancers, mythical characters, reproduce the domestic, battle scenes. The erotic component dominates, for which the temple is often called the “Kamasutra in stone”.
The entrances to the inner rooms, located on the west and east sides, are miniature porches with long staircases leading to them. The spire rose 31 meters above the base. It is decorated with 84 towers, made in the form of miniature copies of the temple.
The arrangement of the interior space is unified. Immediately from the entrance, visitors enter the mandala, a preliminary room. It is decorated with bas-reliefs and several columns or their imitations, slightly protruding from the walls. A special feature is the circular garland of stone. The ornamentation is woven of plants, couples in love, figures of mythical animals.
From there you have to go to the main hall. In the center there is a pedestal where a sculpture or a symbolic image of the god is placed. The walls and partially the vaults of the dome are covered with bas-reliefs, artistic images. The ceiling is painted with geometric shapes. In its heyday many of the interior details were covered in gold, but after the invaders’ raids nothing remained of them except for the sculptural compositions made with amazing craftsmanship. Without the gold vestment, they look more realistic.
Sculptures of the temples of Khajuraho
For ease of perception, all figures can be divided into 5 types:
- religious, set in strict order;
- gods and their surroundings, made in canonical and free versions;
- Apsaras and surasundari, female incarnations of demigods and spirits, dancing or engaged in daily activities;
- secular sculptures depicting musicians, rulers, couples, and lovers;
- animals characteristic of India and mythical animals, among which images of elephants, monkeys, birds, wild boars are often found.
Two beginnings are clearly visible in the stories: male and female. According to the Tantric principle, the cosmos consists of 2 types of energy. It is only together that harmony and wholeness of the world is found. Although the figures are realistic, they conceal a certain symbolism. The main protagonist is a woman. She is depicted in a variety of life situations: looking in the mirror, cradling a child, talking with friends, immersed in the many cares of the house.
Expressions of carnal love become the second dominant theme. The beauty of the naked body was revered not only in ancient Greece. Proportionality and harmony were praised in many cultures of the ancient world, including India.
Complex sculptural compositions had a protective value. In depicting the complex relationship between humans, gods and demonic entities, they created a kind of labyrinth, warding off enemies of the human race. The beauty and harmony of the images create the creative energy of love materialized in the stone.
The temples of Khajuraho are a unique complex, preserved thanks to the amazing art of the masters of the past. Its architecture embodies the principle of the unity of the universe, the harmony of body and soul. The sculptural compositions, made with a high level of skill, illustrate all aspects of life in all their diversity.
To move around the temple complex is more convenient to rent a bike, the territory is impressive and walking is quite tedious. The complex is open for visits from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.