Khajuraho: Cruising beyond sex and history

Khajuraho has always been associated as a “sex symbol”, a source of comparison between the medieval outlook towards sex and sensuality, and the puritan values that is more prevalent in the current society. Unfortunately or not, sex sells. From the smallest vendor to the tour guides, and of course the tourists themselves, the smirk on their face while looking at Khajuraho speaks louder than what the original intention of this monuments were supposed to be about.

Your desires will source you with the inspiration to release your outdated beliefs and let go of whatever behavior is keeping you stuck in the past.

Debbie Ford

Out of the original 85, the surviving temples of Khajuraho highlight a tale of religious acceptance – from temples dedicated to Shiva, avataars of Vishnu, Ganesha, Sun, the elemental gods, and Jain Tirthankars. Interestingly, Khajuraho group is one of the four holy sites linked to Hindu deity Shiva, the other three being Kedarnath, Kashi and Gaya. According to the Hindu mythology, Khajuraho is the place where Lord Shiva got married with ‘’Matanga’’, or god of love. Local legend talks about the story of Hemvati who bore a child named Chandravarman with the Moon god out of wedlock. The god prophesied that their son would become a great king. The prophesy came true and Chandravarman came to be known as the founder of the Chandela dynasty. It is said that one night his mother appeared in his dream and instructed him to build temples celebrating human passion.

This is a humble photoessay curated to document the journey of Khajuraho that one should undertake, at least once in their lifetime. Not for the eroticism or the sex part, but the sheer magnificent glory that has been left behind for us to explore, revel and marvel over.

Eastern group of Khajuraho monuments

The representation of the Yali has been more thoroughly exploited in the Jain temples of Khajuraho, as compared to the erotic sculptures in the Western group. Yali (or Vyala) is a mythical creature which is considered as a mixture of two or more animals, commonly used as a decorative element in both North Indian (Nagara) and South Indian (Dravidian) temple architecture. The difference between the two styles will be the placement – in the Nagara style, these are carved on the outer walls in the form separators between the figures of various apsaras and other hindu deities, whereas in the Dravidian style there feature prominently in pillars bases and balustrades and are considered as guardians of the temples. Samarangana Sutradhara (the encyclopedia of Indian classical architecture) mentiones 16 different types of Vyalas.

The ones that I missed out (maybe because third time is the charm!!):

Western group of Khajuraho monuments

The Western group of temples highlight three major Shiva temples – Kandariya Mahadev, Matangeshwar and Vishwanath, and are considered to be a symbolic representation of cosmic design. The artworks broadly symbolise the four goals of human life as per Hinduism: Dharma (righteousnes), represented by duties of a human in their daily life. Kama (desire), represented by the erotic sculptures and sensual fulfilment in human life. Artha (purpose), represented by the economic activities to make a living; and Moksha (liberation) represented by the deity inside the temple. Only after passing through the first three stages, a human is eligible for attaining-self-relaisation or moksha.

At an individual level, when human implement the principles of cosmic union within himself/ herself by the virtue of self-realisation, he/she attain the ultimate balance, and experiences the ultimate truth about life called enlightenment. The flamboyant display of eroticism is just a way of teaching this lesson. Intriguing isn’t it? FYI, these depth of detail is not a product of my mind or my imagination. These are verifiable, well-documented facts from ASI, shared by our very well-versed guide, who came highly recommended.

Situated between the Kandariya Mahadev and Jagadambi temples and sharing the same platform, this structure now known simply as Mahadeva, characteristically marked by Sardula, a popular motif in Chandella and Rajput art. The Sardula consists of a composite leonine creature with the head of a tiger, elephant, bird, or other animal, frequently shown in combat with humans. Here we have a warrior cowering beneath the lion-like monster. Some historians have an alternate opinion where they claim that the structure represents the royal emblem of the Chandelas with the Chandela king depicted as a powerful figure who can befriend even the most fiercest of animals. Others claim that this is a representation of Yali who have blessed the Chandella king.

Southern group of Khajuraho monuments

Chaturbhuj Temple (also known as Jatkari Temple) – 2.75m high four-armed statue of Vishnu, with the head appearing to have the Jata (hairs) of Shiva, but the posture with one leg resting on the toe is similar to that of Krishna (the eighth avatar of Vishnu).

Bijamandal is one of eighteen unexplored mounds in the vicinity of Khajuraho, and which I didn’t visit both times. But adding a link here for reference for those who are interested.

Pro Tip: One of the best way to explore your time in Khajuraho is to attend the Khajuraho dance festival that occurs in the month of February, every year.

Disclaimer: I have been to Khajuraho twice now – once in February 2017 (during the dance festival) and this time in March 2022. So the post has a mix of both old and new photographs. Where my DSLR failed in 2017, either my phone was successful this time, or I had to resort to external sources (Thank you Kevin Standage). On the other hand, the extensive guided tour of Khajuraho that we took in 2022, allowed me a greater understanding but skipped out on the ones that I saw in 2017. A weird balance for me!

Related (and not-so related) Posts:

Madhya Pradesh


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