World Travel GuidesKhajuraho, India

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Khajuraho is a village in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India which is famous for its temples. Famous for their erotic sculptures, the temples of Khajuraho were inscribed as World Heritage Site under the title of Khajuraho Group of Monuments. The inscription was carried out during the 10th session of the World Heritage Committee which met at UNESCO Headquarters in Paris, France, on 24-28 November, 1986.

Kandariya Mahadeo Temple in Khajuraho
Kandariya Mahadeo Temple in Khajuraho" style="text-decoration:none" target="_blank">Jungpionier (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

World Heritage Site Inscription Details

Location: N 24 51 09 E 79 55 15 in the state of Madhya Pradesh
Inscription Year: 1986
Type of Site: Cultural
Inscription Criteria: I, III

About the Temples of Khajuraho

The temples of Khajuraho are the largest group of medieval Hindu and Jain temples in India. They were built over a span of 200 years, from 950 to 1150.

After the Chandela capital was moved to Mahoba, Khajuraho continued to flourish for some time. The whole area was enclosed by a wall with eight gates, each flanked by two golden palm trees.

The name Khajuraho evolved from the ancient word "Kharjuravahaka", which is derived from the Sanskrit word kharjur meaning date palm.

There were originally over 80 Hindu temples in Khajuraho. Today only 25 now stand in a reasonable state of preservation. They are scattered over an area of about 8 square miles (21 sq km).

The temples of Khajuraho suffered destruction by early Muslim invaders between circa 1100-1400 AD. Various disfigured statues at the temple complex attest to this.

Today, the temples serve as fine examples of Indian architectural styles that have gained popularity due to their explicit depiction of the traditional way of sexual life during medieval times.

Locals living in the Khajuraho village always knew about and kept up the temples as best as they could. They only became known to the Western world after villagers pointed them out to an Englishman in the late 19th century. By then, the jungles had taken its toll on all of the monuments.

Lakshamana Temple, Khajuraho
Lakshamana Temple, Khajuraho" style="text-decoration:none" target="_blank">YashiWong (GNU Free Documentation License)

The Khajuraho temples were built with spiral superstructures. This follows the northern Indian shikhara temple style. They were built on a Panchayatana plan or layout. A Panchayatana temple had four subordinate shrines on four corners and the main shrine in the center of the podium, which comprises their base. The temples are grouped into three geographical divisions: western, eastern and southern.

Kandariya Mahadeva, one of the most accomplished temples of the Western group, comprises eighty-four shikharas, the main one 116 feet from the ground level. The temples were mostly built of sandstone without the use of mortar. The stones were put together with tenon joints and held in place by gravity. This form of construction requires very precise joints. The columns and architraves were built with megaliths that weighed up to 20 tons.

A few of the temples are dedicated to the Jain pantheon of deities while the rest were for Hindu deities, namely the trio Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, and various Devi forms, such as the Devi Jagadambi temple.

The famous erotic sculptures of the Khajuraho temples are found on the exterior walls. The interior of the temples do not contain sexual or erotic art, nor are there such sculptures near the deities.

Some of the temples that have two layers of walls have small erotic carvings on the outside of the inner wall. One can interpret, from the positioning of the erotic carvings, that in order to approach the deities, one must leave his or her sexual desires outside the temple. They also show that divinity, such as the deities of the temples, is not affected by sexual desires and other characteristics of the physical body.

Some 10% of the carvings at Khajuraho contain sexual themes. These do not show deities, rather they show sexual activities between people. The rest depict the everyday life of the common people of the time when the carvings were made, and of various activities of other beings.

Among the subjects of the carvings include depictions of women putting on makeup, musicians, potters, farmers, and other folks. Those mundane scenes are all at some distance from the temple deities.

The Khajuraho temples are today set within a parkland landscape. This is very different from 1947, when India gained independence. At that time the landscape was semi-desert and scrub.

The archaeological park now has something of the character of an English public park, with mown grass, rose beds and ornamental trees. This may be popular with visitors but has no relationship with the historic landscape at the time the temples were built.

Sculptures of Kharujaho temple
Sculptures of Kharujaho temple" style="text-decoration:none" target="_blank">YashiWong (GNU Free Documentation License)

The development of landscape archaeology as an academic discipline raises questions concerning the earlier landscape of Khajuraho and the original relationship between the temple complex and the surrounding area. Alas, there are no records of what the original landscape might have been. It is however known that a large community of priests used the temple complex and that Indian gardens in the tenth century were predominantly tree gardens. They did not have lawns or herbaceous flowering plants as can be seen in present-day Khajuraho.

For the benefit of tourists, the Khajuraho temple complex offers an outstanding light and sound show every evening. There are two shows, the first in English language and the second in Hindi. The show, about an hour in length and taking place within the compound of the temple complex, covers the history, philosophy and art of sculpting of these temples.

Visiting Khajuraho

Most tourists to Khajuraho either fly there or take the train. The Khajuraho Airport (HJR) is just 5km from the city. It is served by Air India from Delhi, Varanasi and Mumbai. Jet Airways also fly there from Delhi and Varanasi while Kingfisher offers regular flights from Varanasi.

You can take a train from Delhi to Khajuraho via Jhansi. The journey from Delhi to Jhansi is 6 hours while from Jhansi to Khajuraho another 3-4 hours. Dakshin Express leaves Delhi at 10:50 pm and arrives in Jhansi at 5:00 am the following morning. Train 229 and 229A from Jhansi to Khajuraho leaves Jhansi at 7:20 am and arrives in Khajuraho at 12:10 pm. The train station in Khajuraho is newly opened in 2008.

View Khajuraho in a larger map

Getting around in Khajuraho

Probably the best way to move about is to rent a bicycle, which you can from bicycle shops near the Khajuraho temples. Alternatively, hire a bicycle rickshaw and be chauffeured around. Expect to pay about Rs20 per day for the service.

Climate of Khajuraho

Khajuraho's climate can be quite extreme. There is a wide variation between the day and night temperatures. Rainfall is often minimal. Summers are sizzling hot, reaching 45°C. Winters are a pleasant 27°C. The best time to visit Khajuraho is in the cooler months, from September to March.

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