Khajuraho and the ‘art of love’
Khajuraho, a small village in Madhya Pradesh, is reputed for its sumptuous temples, built under the Chandela dynasty and listed as Unesco World Heritage. They are famous all over the world for their relief sculptures of the “art of love”.
The temples were built by kings of the Chandela dynasty, over a period stretching from the 10th to the 13th centuries. There were originally 85 but only 22 are still standing. They included both Hindu and Jain temples.
Khajuraho temples were in active use through the end of 12th century. This changed in the 13th century, after the army of Delhi Sultanate, under the command of the Muslim Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak, attacked and seized the Chandela kingdom.
There are three groups of temples, West, East and South. For centuries they lay hidden by dense jungle vegetation, to be rediscovered only in 1840. Renovation work was undertaken in the 20th century and lasted about 15 years.
The largest group is the West group (where the village is). It comprises the Varaha, Lakshmana, Matangeshwara, Kandariya, Chitragupta, Vishwanatha and Pratapeshvara temples. But the east and South groups also contain some major temples such as those dedicated to Parshvanath, Adinath, Shantinath and Chaturbhuja.
Of all temples, the Matangeshvara temple with a large 2.5 m high lingam placed on a 8 m diameter platform remains an active site of worship.
The temples have a rich display of intricately carved statues. The arts cover numerous aspects of human life and values considered important in Hindu pantheon.
These temples are also world famous for their erotic scenes. These constitute only a tiny proportion of the carved decorations and the temples cannot be reduced to that. Also, there are sculptures of this type in many other places, for example the Sun Temples in Konark and Modhera, though none can rival those at Khajuraho.
Why erotic sculptures in spiritual places?
- The spiritual theory, according to which the erotic figures remind us that sexual energy is to be transcended to reach a state of spiritual awakening. Man must focus his attention on his inner world rather than remaining dependent on his five senses, which drive him to endlessly strive for material things.
- The tantric explanation, according to which sex in all its forms is sacred. It reproduces the ultimate act of creation, the union of male and female. Sex is the cause of the creation and manifestation of the universe.
- Some also say that these temples had educational value. While talking about sex might be taboo, the art of lovemaking can be learnt by studying these sculptures.
Khajuraho Dance festival
Khajuraho dance festival, organised by the Madhya Pradesh Kala Parishad, is a one-week-long festival of classical dances held annually in February against the spectacular backdrop of the magnificently lit Khajuraho temples.
This cultural festival highlights the richness of the various Indian classical dance styles such as Kathak, Bharathanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Kathakali with performances of some of the best exponents in the field. Modern Indian dance has also been added recently. The dances are performed in an open-air auditorium, usually in front of the Chitragupta Temple dedicated to Surya (the Sun God) and the Vishwanatha Temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, belonging to the western group.