Its been over a month since I visited Khajuraho but it feels like only yesterday I was walking through the temple complex admiring the intricate and mesmerizing stonework. The craftsmanship done over a 1000 years ago besides the attention to detail can be a lesson or two for today’s architects. Be it the interlock between individual sandstone blocks to hold them together or the sheer scale of the temples, one ponders over the challenges which would have presented themselves during their build. And then there are the carvings.
The Trip – 31st Jan 2017
Once we stuffed ourselves with the delectable samosas from shops outside the Ram Mandir in Orchha (Read more about it. Here), I put the pedal to the metal. The arrow-head roads were lined with mustard fields for as far as the eyes could see and I was eager to reach Khajuraho being already high on the history lesson in Orchha, I was in no mood to miss out on anything.
We reached our beautiful resort (The Tourist Village) at mid-afternoon where we had pre-booked a guide to take us around. Since guide rates are for 24hrs, we decided to visit a part of temple complex on that day and the remaining temples on the next day before we started the return leg of our journey.
The Khajuraho temples were built between AD 950 and AD 1150 by rulers of Chandela Dynasty. Out of the 85 or so temples originally built, 20 have survived the test of time. The temples are segregated into Western Group (the most visited) , Southern Group and Eastern Group of temples.
Each temple has its own entrance, a hall, a vestibule and a garbha-griha (sanctum). Sandstone with varying shades of buff, pink and pale yellow/cream are used. The temple rooms are such that they are placed on an East/West line and constructed with spiral superstructures adhering to a North Indian shikhara temple style. The marvelous architecture of the spire enchants you to keep looking at them, believe me!
Notice the spires and multiple shikharas leading to the zenith
An inquisitive mind may not find peace after looking at the inscriptions, the sculptures engraved on the temple walls or the connection between short stories depicted in them and the present life. Why would people engrave life stories on the temples? Most of the sculptures contain animals, floral designs, apsaras, kings, hunting scenes, domestic scenes, tantric yogis and erotic scenes.
Our guide was well-informed to tell us that during the time when the temples were being built, people needed to be educated about the way of life. “What better way to do it than in the form of visual media?”, he explained. Regarding the eroticism depicted, his view was that the population was dwindling during those times with young boys going into brahmacharya (celibacy). The Kings thought that the people need to be educated regarding them to revive and sustain the race.
Although a valid perspective, I had a different take on this. My mind reasoned from the depictions that before entering the garbh-griha of the temple, one must let go off all the worldly desires and connections pulling him/her back from establishing a connection with God i.e. their own soul, in this case. The King or the common man all enter after shedding their worldly belongings and achievements. Hence, the prayer hall was devoid of any eroticism.
One looks at these temples and the immediate question that comes to mind – As the temples were discovered after almost 9 centuries since they were built, what was the logic behind building temples in the middle of nowhere hidden from everywhere? Was it the capital of the Chandela dynasty which was abandoned by the then ruler? But then where are the Forts/Palaces for the royal family to reside? If not, did Khajuraho have significance as a holy place where people used to come on pilgrimage?
I did some digging online to find that Mahoba, 50km north from there, was certainly their capital from some time after 11th century. Though the evidence suggests that these temples were active long after this, indicating that Khajuraho was the religious capital of the kingdom. Well, Khajuraho sure did flutter some grey matter in my brain during the trip!
The guide was referring to the sculptures and pointing out that this is how the people were living during those times. I beg to differ, again. When religious sites are built today, inscriptions adorning the walls are sayings/scenes taken from our scriptures. So, was it that the builders of that time may actually be depicting scenes from the scriptures and the people depicted may be even before the era of the temples and not the people living during those times? This cannot be said with full authority that the figures depicted were that of the common folk of that time. It leaves us in a cloud of doubt.
With our thirst for history quenched for the time being, we made our way towards a famous local restaurant, Raja Cafe’ . Surprisingly, it was giving vibes of a cafe’ not in Khajuraho but somewhere in a posh locality of a metro city. We went inside and ordered enough food to feed us for the next few days. 😛 With the sun setting over the temples, we savored every bite of the food and discussed about our day.
Soon, loudspeakers started blaring music which was more like a jack-hammer drilling in your head at low speed rather than music (New Year’s Eve parties). We decided to retire for the night as the exhaustion was overpowering our senses.
01st Jan 2018 – The New Year
We woke up early to cover Southern and Eastern Group of temples and start for the return leg by 9 AM, But God had other plans. With zero visibility outside, the fog and mist were playing havoc with our plans. We braved the chilly winds creeping into our jackets and decided to cover only the important temples which included the Jain temples and the Dulhadeo temple. Meanwhile, at the back of my mind I was cursing myself for not giving enough time for our stay in Khajuraho.
By 9 AM we returned back to our resort and had our breakfast. We packed some aloo parathas to eat on the way since we decided not to take any lunch break on the way.
After many detours (no thanks to Google Maps) , we reached Agra at around 1700hrs. It was not possible to continue ahead due to intense fog. We hastily booked a place to bunk for the night and decided to call it a day. While enjoying a sumptuous dinner at one of the local restaurants’ (Pinch of Spice) we looked back thinking about mesmerizing places covered during the last few days. With immense respect growing by the minute for our ancestors, we vowed to visit more such places and pledged to protect such marvels, We soon retired for the night only to begin the 2 hr ride back from Agra to Delhi next morning.
The Khajuraho Hangover was here to stay. And we had no complains!