The Art of Khajuraho

(where men are gods and women are goddess, carved in golden stone.)

If a picture speaks a thousand words, the sculptured temples of Khajuraho must rank as an "epic" in the world of expressive art.

Khajuraho, land of temples, centre of a glorious kingdom, home to one of the most ancient and esoteric traditions of ancient India, Tantra.
Tantra literally means "to expand the mind". Tantric teachings allow a person to experience the "absolute" through various means.  Recent sex gurus have tarnished the purity of Tantra, but at Khajuraho one can see Tantric teachings immortalised in stone. Greatly influenced by the Tantric school of thought, the Chandela kings promoted various tantric doctrines through royal monuments, including temples.

Every morning, the warmth of the morning sun revives centuries old life in these ancient temples. The figures in the innumerable carvings begin to take shape and live once again. The art of the ancients slowly comes to life once again, reminding us of the mortality of man and the immortality of his genius. Built over a thousand years ago, the temples now stand in silence, meditating in the well manicured gardens of the archaeological park. The present archaeological site covers a fraction of the original city, once thriving at the centre of a rich and powerful kingdom. The temples remain to remind us of their architectural and artistic genius.

Elegance and grace seems to have dripped from the perspiration of the sculptors. Their patient hands transforming even the mundane aspects of life in to unparalleled art. For example, a slender maiden stretches her limbs lazily in the morning, another puts on a fine garment as yet another gently wrings water out of her long hair after a refreshing bath. A vigorous battle scene shows an elephant throwing a man in the air, while another tramples an enemy underfoot. Artistry of the sculptor makes even the battle seem like a poem.

Bewildering array of jewels adorn perfectly proportioned figures, carved in the "Nagar" style. Aquiline figures (perfected by rigors of yoga) of the innumerable residents of the temples portray a health concious society. A society where the mind and body were in unison with the spirit. A society in which art and science combined happily with spirituality and sexuality.

Sculptors of Khajuraho depicted all aspects of life. Society of the time believed in dealing frankly and openly with all aspects of life, including sex. Sex too has a role to play in life, over or under representation of sex is eventually harmful to any society. Frank depiction of uninhibited sex speaks of a liberated society which was open minded in its views concerning sex and sexuality. Graphically and realistically illustrated scenes of love making served to elaborate on the actual Tantric Texts. All aspects of love, from seduction to copulation, enticement to separation are carefully executed. Depiction of sex forms only a fraction of the total carving at Khajuraho, Yet the current notoriety of the temples centres almost exclusively on sex. In accordance with ancient treaties on architecture, eroticas were reserved for specific parts of the temples. Rest of the temple was profusely covered with other aspects of life, secular and spiritual.

Erotic element can hardly be understood in isolation from the rest of the structure of art at Khajuraho or India. Tantra does not deny any aspect of life, because that would mean denial of God himself. It finds the divine spark in both beauty and ugliness, transcending both, desire and aversion, is its ultimate goal. Artist at Khajuraho found life to be mutilated and incomplete without sex.

Tantric cosmos is divided in to the male and female principle. Male principle has the form and potential, female has the energy. According to Hindu and Tantric philosophy, one can not achieve anything without the other. The male / female principle manifests itself in all aspects of the universe. Nothing can exist without their co-operation and coexistence. Hence, the whole universe is based on the union of male and female, why feel ashamed of it!

Intercourse depicted in sculptures is there a metaphysical/ metaphorical for the merging of inner energies, achievable through meditation. The bliss and joy of a union between soul and god is so intense, it is almost impossible to describe this feeling except as an intense and prolonged orgasm. In the ultimate union, one sees love overflowing the body and soul. The sculptures attempt to describe this sublime love.

According to the Kamasutra, sexual enjoyment is complementary to the moral, material and spiritual well-being of a person. Sex is as natural as sunshine and rain, as food and drink, as sight and scent. It is not something to be hidden in shame and then brooded on with guilt. Pleasure is as essential as food for our existence, yet it must be pursued with moderation and caution. The whole point of the Kamasutra and the temples at Khajuraho, is to regulate and become perfect masters of sex, rather than be a slave to it. Images are there to educate as well as cause aversion to the morbid physical aspects of sex and progress on to continence.

Dedicated to various gods and goddesses, the temples depict the equality of sexes that must have once existed here. Proud bearing of the females in golden sandstone are a witness to the highly respected position of women in pre-Islamic India. Unveiled and free of many social fetters of post-Muslim India, women pursued many professions, including the gentle and martial arts. For everything in the Chandela kingdom was an art, even love making. Blissfully unaware of the Western concept of "sin", they believed in enjoyment of an object by self-identification with the subject, through all faculties and all senses. Enjoyment is an essential step to renunciation, as detachment is achieved only by going through and overcoming all attachments.

The riot of activity on the outer wall of the temple is in stark contrast to the serene inner sanctum, where the only figure is that of the god. Similarly, the material world should remain as our life's facade and oneness with God should be our life's cherished ultimate goal. The abundant variety of life featured on the outer walls dissolves in to a single deity of the inner sanctum. In this there is a conscious attempt to lead us from the numerous outward activities to the focused inner spirit; from a fluid facade to a stable, inner aspect. Temples at Khajuraho are a celebration of man as the image of god and man's body as the house of God.


Present-day Khajuraho is a tiny fragment of it's once magnificent past. There is a town and a village of the same name, within the boundaries of the original city. A tourist town has conveniently sprung up near the largest group of temples from the Chandela kingdom. The town is there to mainly serve the tourists and hence is full of hotels, restaurants, roadside cafes and lots of shops selling touristy things. There is bank, just in-case you need to change your money, and a government museum, which contains some excellent sculptures from the various sites around the region.

The village is where the locals live. It is picturesque in it's own way. The residents make a good living from the tourist trade, but are wise enough not to let the tourists' lifestyle invade their little world. They preserve the genetic pool of the denizens of ancient Khajuraho. If you care to look, you can still catch a glimpse of their ancestors in their faces. Suddenly, the statues come alive and are no longer anonymous anymore.  Every year, in the spring, there is a dance festival at Khajuraho.  Check with the tourist borad (either national or regional) to get the actual dates.


From a travel log in 1989
An abridged version of this was published in the "I-to-I" magazine, a UK "Newage" quaterly magazine, October-December edition 1992.

� Bhagwat    [email protected]


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