Khajuraho stone temples of India

Khajuraho, in the state of Madhya Pradesh in India, was the cultural capital of the Chandela rulers of the tenth century and, even today, is a place that pays homage to artistic talent. There was no mechanisation involved in the labour intensive process, where artists hand sculpted slabs of stone into medieval sculptures depicting gods, demigods, nymphs, other celestial beings, humans and animals. Several thousand statues and iconographic carvings can be seen in the temples of Khajuraho.

fig 1- the monolithic statue of Varaha which is the boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu
Fig 1. The monolithic statue of Varaha which is the boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu.

The stone temples are known for their mature temple architecture steeped in eroticism. Of the 85 richly carved temples built more than a thousand years ago, 22 have survived the test of time. Dr Devangana Desai, a well known art historian, has commented:

The Khajuraho temples represent a creative moment in Indian art when artistic talent combined with religious aspirations to produce a meaningful form. Aesthetically they express a superb harmony of architecture and sculpture.

fig 2- the main deity is cross legged with absolute expression of calm and bliss on its face
Fig 2. The main deity is cross legged with an absolute expression of calm and bliss on its face.

The name ‘Khajuraho’ is derived from the Sanskrit word Kharjuravahaka, where Kharjura refers to the date palm and Vahaka means the carrier. It is believed that two imposing date palm trees formed the gate to the temple complex. Kharjur also refers to scorpion in the local language of Bundelkhandi. Another derivation comes from the scorpions in the garland of Lord Shiva, while yet another philosophy states that it represented women who bore the scorpion shape on their thigh. However, there is no debate on the aesthetics, beauty and finesse of the sculptures of Khajuraho. The prominent temples include the Varaha Temple, Chaturbhuja Temple, Duladeo Temple, Jagadambi Temple, Kandariya Mahadev Temple and Lakshmana Temple.

fig 3- mythical lions symbolizing desires and other sculptures
Fig 3. Mythical lions symbolizing desires and other sculptures.

The Varaha Temple is built on a plinth. It consists of an oblong pavilion and has a roof with receding tiers that resemble a pyramid. Fourteen pillars support the roof. The architectural marvel of this temple is the statue of Varaha (Fig. 1), which is the boar incarnation of Lord Vishnu. This monolithic colossal work of art has entirely been constructed in sandstone. The statue is 2.6m long and 1.7m high. It has numerous figures carved on its entire body and is dated to about 900 to 925AD.


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