If sculptures could sing, then Khajuraho would undoubtedly be its most romantic symphony. However before swinging along with the symphony, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room which in this case are the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho. Yes, they are explicit to the extent even beyond your wildest imagination. Now, let’s start off by playing the other notes of the symphony that is cast in stone.
Khajuraho temples are the crowning glory of the Chandela empire. These temples were predominantly built between 9th and 11th century. These temples were lost to the mankind for a number of centuries until 1838 when the palanquin bearer of T S Burt led him to their existence. Thanks to the untiring restoration efforts, today their are about 25 out of the 85 temples in all their glory. The key temples are Kendariya Mahadev and Lakshmana.
Out of these the Kendariya Mahadev temple stands the tallest and is a fine example of the north India style of temple architecture. All the temples(barring a few exceptions) follow the nagara style of North Indian temple architecture with ardh mandapa, mandapa, antarala and garbha-griha. The temples are architected so that the sikhara is directly above the garbha-girha and is arranged in an ascending order to give a grand look. None of temples have a perimeter wall and are perched high up on a platform giving more credence to the theory of Khajuraho being a lake town in its hey days.
That one is in for a sensory treat is obvious when the huge monolithic idol of Varaha with Saraswati carved on its snout welcomes at the Varaha temple. This is followed up by the Lakshmana temple, whose lower reliefs depict the lives of the Chandela people. The mythical Chandela lion idol depicting the glory and strength of Chandelas can be found in the complex. Whether or not one believes the story of the moon lion impregnating the princess that led to the birth of Chandravrman and to a whole dynasty is left entirely open to imagination.
The numerous Khajuraho carvings essentially be categorized in five types. The first type is the carvings of gods and goddesses and are done true to their cannonical form. The second type is the carving of normal people (family, attendants and enclosing dvinties). The third type is of Sura sundaris in their most sensuous poses. They are carved brilliantly and aesthetically in various poses like admiring themselves in mirrors, picking a thorn out from their feet and so on. Of all the carvings in Khajuraho the carvings of the Sura sundaris are the ones that get admired the most. The fourth type is the carving of normal people engaged in their daily activities. This include depiction of scenes like teacher-disciples, dancers and musicians, erotic couples. The last category is sculptures of mythical animals like vyala or sardula which is normally present in the niches and recesses between the main carvings.
Time to bring the elephant out of the bag. Khajuraho – the name evokes different emotions in people of India. From the land which had produced the text Kamasutra, comes the explicit erotic sculptures of Khajuraho. People engaged in sexual acts in every conceivable posture possible, brings out the culture of a society that was not at all conservative. The fact that these sculptures are carved on the temples which housed the gods and goddess they worshipped also leads one to believe of the normal place attributed to these activites in their society. The freedom and the joys of the society shines through remarkably through them. The finesse and the class of the sculptures have ensured that these carvings are an immortal piece of art rather than a vulgur portrayal of eroticism. No wonder the site and its beautiful art has been declared a Unesco World Heritage site.
These erotic sculptures are very few and are just part of the depictions of the normal lives. The ancient text of Kamasutra and the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho along side the Gods and Goddesses point towards a very liberal Hindu way of living. A society which enjoyed living and was open minded. This is another one of the examples which demonstrates somewhere down the line, the Hindus have become a closed society and created unnecessary shackles around their growth by creating dogmas and moral barriers.
For the restoration of Khajuraho and other archaeological restorations we should be thankful to the British empire for whatever their evils were, they did their best to restore the art, culture and heritage wherever they could find. This is in sharp contrast to the other dynasties who destroy culture at the drop of the hat. So before a tyrannical society comes along to destroy the temples or the Hindu moral brigade manages to do so in name of upholding religion, a favour upon oneself is due in order to go out and enjoy the symphony unbridled while it is still there.
That time stands still in Khajuraho is a given. One of the lessons I have learned while travelling is that both time and money stretches a lot in small towns. Ample time to take the lesiurely strolls, with money bringing in a lot of value. If you have to stay in luxury places small towns like Khajuraho are the place to be. Additionally whenever one is visiting Archaeological sites it pays to stay closer to the main complex and to plan multiple trips to the complex possible. In the first look one is simply overawed by the sheer number of temples that the intricate details are very easy to miss out. It is only in the subsequent trips that the place starts to come alive. Not only do the eyes become sharper, the senses would also concentrate on the art and the history much better. Needless to say making these trips at different times of the day can also provide you different light conditions for the best shots(photographic).
Rich tributes are also due to the unknown sculptors of Khajuraho who relentlessly toiled hard to create these magnificent structures for us to enjoy. All it takes is a fool with his narrowmindedness to come swooping down on these and destroy them. Act before they do.