Thursday, 7 January 2016

Khajuraho - Enigmatic Temples Of Ancient India

Kandariya Mahadev temple
After soaking ourselves in lavish palaces of Udaipur and walking through majestic Mughal era, we headed towards ours next destination - Khajuraho. I still can't remember why we had picked this place, I mean all we knew was there were few temples which were very famous for their sculptures. It crossed our mind only because we had to cross Madhya Pradesh and we were looking for some tourist stop. So to be honest, had it not been a road trip we would have never visited Khajuraho and that would have been a biggest loss of my life!

You see with places like Udaipur, Agra or Delhi, I knew what was awaiting (even though we made sure we didn't google about any of the places we were planning to visit), but Khajuraho was more like an wild card entry. I was deeply apprehensive about travelling through isolated countrysides of M.P (thanks to some rumors about the place being not safe) and even more worried if the place was worth the risk. But let me make this crystal clear, the place is a gem! I was completely taken by surprise by it's beauty.

Lakshmana temple
The sculptures of Khajuraho are mind blowing! Enormous, gracious and fascinating images of varied categories have been lavishly chiseled both on the interior and exterior walls of the huge mountain like temples. No space on the walls of some of the temples has been left without significant sculptures. The patient hands of the craftsmen have transformed even the mundane chores to exquisite art, like depicting a maiden stretching her limbs in the morning, another wriggling water out of her hair after bath, a lady taking thorn out of her foot.

Sculptures on the wall of Lakshmana temple
Although the place is widely popular for it's erotic sculptors, it occupies only 10% of the entire work! The sculptors basically show every aspect of human life and only difference is, unlike other places these people were not ashamed to show their erotic side. Apart from erotic there are court scenes, scenes of battle and advice to the citizens of the kingdom.

Some of the temples are dedicated to Hindu deities while some to Jainism. They are divided into three broad groups, Western Group, the Eastern Group and the Southern Group. Most popular among which is Western Group, which is largest and has the some of the well preserved temples like Kandariya Mahadev temple (Shiva), Lakshmana temple (Vishnu), Vishwanatha temple (Shiva) and Devi Jagadambdi temple (Parvati). These temples are breathtakingly beautiful.

Also, the amazing thing about these temples are that they were not built using mortar: the stones were put together with mortise and tenon joints and they were held in place by gravity! It is built using inter-locking system which requires very precise joints. But beauty of this style is that if needed the entire temple can be dismantled and reassembled like a Lego block!

Another important tip is don't visit the temples without a guide. We tried doing that as guides were quite expensive (starting price Rs 500!), but we soon realized that it's useless without someone telling us what we are supposed to be looking at. And what's even more surprising was I expected "Indian" guide wont be able to deal with this topic in mature way and things may get awkward. Once again, I was completely wrong. Even though the place in filled with erotic theme, in entire town I didn't find a single person behaving in inappropriate manner. In fact, the township is so safe that even at night we could walk around without any trouble.

Temple influenced by Hinduism, Jainism and Islam

Sculptures on the wall of kandariya Mahadev temple
Intricate work on the ceiling on Kandariya temple
From the moment I have laid eyes on those temples I have been in awe of it, we were literally gawking! You just can't escape the enchantment of these temples. Regardless of what scene the sculptures depict, every image is so sublime and sensual that you can't stop thinking how in the world anyone could capture beauty such effortlessly. You could actually see yourself in that era as if magically transported under a spell.

But I have to agree that these temples are quite scandalous! I think they only managed to survive because by 16th century the place had lost all importance and was lost to the outside world. Over the centuries, vegetation and forests overgrew, took over the temples until it was rediscovered by Captain T.S Burt in 1838 (imagine look on his face when he saw these sculptures for first time!).

The temples of Khajuraho are really a great enigma. The question remains, why were these erotic figures made in the place of worship? Some say it is to test the sincerity and concentration of the devotees. But many believe that these temples are evidence to a time when sex was not looked down upon, it was not an act of mere enjoyment of body but for the soul as well, bringing man close to God. To have these figures on the walls of temple means that society was open to it and it had the approval of religion. Quite contradictory to current scenario isn't it? In fact, our father of nation- Mahatma Gandhi wanted these temples destroyed. He felt they were "indecent and embarrassing", but thankfully Rabindranath Tagore intervened, saying it was insane to even think of destroying something so incredible.

I am glad that the monument has survived centuries of harsh environment (both natural and human) because they are truly unique. You would never find what you see in these temples anywhere else in the world- past , present or future. To have what they have, so beautifully and elegantly and that too on temple walls! These temples lay testimony for the time which was indeed very different from our own. Just when you think you have figured out India, it reveals a whole new chapter...

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