Yesterday, after the fantastic visit to Raneh Falls, we took a break for lunch and then headed out on foot to the western group of temples in Khajuraho. It was a short, 5-minute walk from our hotel. The roads were cramped with shops selling everything from Kashmiri handicrafts to local handicrafts to groceries. We browsed through some stores that sell antique or antique-like stuff and had a great time.
The western group of temples in Khajuraho is set within a beautifully landscaped compound. It is the only group that has a ticketed entry and at Rs.10 per head, with no charge for cameras, it was quite cheap. Our bags were scanned on entry and we had to pass thru a metal detector as well. Inside we hired English audio guides for Rs.50 each. We were hoping they would be technologically advanced, like the iPod-like devices we got at Vadodara’s Laxmi Vilas palace. But to our dismay, we got battered walkmans that were at least 20 years old. Thankfully, the commentary itself was very helpful and totally worth the money.
The audio guide covers the two most important temples within the western group – Lakshmana temple and Kandariya Mahadeva templeus through each of them quite nicely. It started with the Lakshmana temple, Khajuraho, which is closest to the entrance, on its left. This temple is absolutely stunning! In fact, after touring all the temples, we feel that this one has probably the best facade and outlay ever! It is built atop a high platform. There are 4 small shrines in each corner of the platform and these are so built that the doors of all 5 shrines face the devotee as they climb up the stairs to the top of the platform. In fact, one of the guide books mentioned that the plan of this temple is supposed to be the most perfected style during the Chandela period. It was built in the 10th century by King Yashovarman. Inside is a 4-armed idol of Lord Vishnu, which is said to be originally from Tibet. Our audio guide led us around the temple giving brief descriptions of each feature of the temple. One magnificent sculpture of Lord Ganesha on the outer walls of the temple was one of the best I’ve seen till date. And then there were the erotic sculptures¦
I’ve always wondered why our temples had such explicit, often embarrassing, sculptures when we Indians, in general, have been quite coquettish about such things. The audio guide said that different experts have different views on this subject. The most common belief is that the temples were built to depict everything about the human life – from the wars that the people fought at that time to the act of procreation. Moreover, increasing the race was considered an act of celebration and hence this was joyously depicted in our sculptures. One other thing that the audio guide mentioned was that Khajuraho’s temples are seemingly a celebration of the human form, particularly the female form and this is apparent in the hundreds of full-figured, graceful, beautiful apsaras that adorn the temple walls.
Outside the Laxmana temple, is a shrine with a huge, monolithic monument of Lord Vishnu’s Varaha avatar. It’s quite a gorgeous monument with hundreds of small figurines carved onto its body. These are said to be of members of the Hindu pantheon. The shrine itself is quite small; the statue looks almost crowded within it.
From here we walked past the lovely, green lawns to the other end of the compound where Khajuraho’s biggest temple stood. Walking up to it, the Kandariya Mahadeva temple didn’t look quite as grand as the Laxmana but it definitely looked much taller. The word Kandariya means ‘caves’ and refers to Lord Shiva’s abode atop Mount Kailash. To depict this, the shikhara of the temple soars into the sky with many other smaller spires clinging to it. This temple is said to have the most perfect proportions and very rich ornamentation. Right from the sculptures at the base to the wood-like carvings on the shikhara, the temple looks completely covered with the most intricate designs – it’s a feast for the eyes. It is said that this temple has a total of 872 statues – 226 inside and 646 outside! And most of these are 2 to 3 feet in height! Unbelievable work!
We walked around the temple, admiring all the fantastic sculptures, before entering it. A huge, marble Shiva Lingam is enshrined in the inner sanctum. The doorway of this sanctum is supposedly more ornate than any other temple in Khajuraho.
By the time we finished with the audio guide, it was 5pm. We had taken 3 hours to tour 2 temples! The temples close at sunset, which is usually around 5:30pm. The guards soon started herding the tourists out of the complex. So we left as well. In a way, I was happy to leave. The 2 temples and their grandeur had completely zapped my energy. There was so much to grasp and understand about them. If we had stayed behind to see the other temples, I’m sure I would have rushed past them and not given them the attention that they deserve as well.
In the evening we shopped around a bit for antiques and finally found 2 pieces – a medium-sized bronze box adorned with delicate carvings and a Mughal-style chhatri as the lid, and a small bronze urn with 4 curved legs. Both were beautiful and within our budget, so we couldn’t help buying them. But the box was nearly 2kgs and we didn’t want to lug it around in our backpacks so we had both of them shipped to my mom’s place in Thane for safekeeping. Hopefully, over time we’ll have a decent collection with which to decorate our future home.
Today morning we woke up to find that it had rained last night. The roads were wet and the air was quite cool. Locals predicted that tonight will be cooler than before. We ate breakfast at the Madras Coffee House and then walked across the street to the entrance of the western group of temples. Apart from the grand Laxmana temple and the tall Kandariya Mahadeva temple, the western temple includes 3 other big temples (apart from smaller derelict shrines) – Devi Jagdambi temple, Vishvanatha temple and the Chitragupta temple. We visited each one of these starting with the ones that we had already visited yesterday, just as a refresher.
Devi Jagdambi temple stands on the same platform as the Kandariya Mahadev temple and is separated by a smaller shrine that is not as elaborate as the other two. This shrine is also dedicated to Lord Shiva but is in ruins, because of which the door to its inner sanctum was closed to the public. The Devi temple is said to have been originally dedicated to Lord Vishnu. But later an idol of Parvati was placed in the inner sanctum. And since it is a black idol, the temple is called Jagdambi, which refers to Goddess Parvati’s Kali avatar. The temple is just as pretty as the others but smaller and shorter.
The next temple was the Chitragupta temple, which is dedicated to Surya – the Sun God. An idol of the Lord wearing high boots and driving a chariot of seven horses could be seen in the inner sanctum. This temple looks quite similar to the Devi temple but it is a lot more ornate. It is said to have been built a few years after the Devi temple in the 11th century. The most striking feature of this temple is a sculpture of Vishnu on the outer wall. It has 11 heads, the central one being that of Vishnu and the other 10 representing his 10 avatars – loved it!
The Vishvanatha temple was a large, grand temple dedicated to Lord Shiva. It is built atop a platform and on the same is a smaller shrine encapsulating a large statue of Nandi, Lord Shiva’s vehicle. After the Laxmana and Kandariya Mahadeva, this temple impressed us the most. It has a beautiful shikhara and fantastic carvings just like the others. Inside is a lovely, stone Shiva Lingam. The women brackets supporting the ceiling of the inner sanctum were absolutely gorgeous!
By the end of this tour, we are now truly templed-out ! After returning to our rooms, we spent the rest of the day sorting pictures and updating our blogs. We’ve seen so much over the last few days that updating our blogs with all the pictures and information has been quite overwhelming; we had tons to catch up on.
This visit to Khajuraho has been awesome! All my expectations from the temples’ famed architecture were fulfilled; loved every single one of them! The trip to Raneh Falls and Ken Wildlife Sanctuary was an added bonus. Tomorrow we plan to head south to Bhopal. Since Khajuraho is not well connected, we will have to head back to Jhansi to catch a train – what a pain! It’s going to be looooong day¦.