The three temple districts contain Hindu and Jain temples with numerous erotic reliefs and almost 900 sculptures. They were created in the 10th and 11th centuries and are considered masterpieces of Indian sculpture. According to ehealthfacts, the temple precinct was abandoned in the 12th century and systematically excavated since the beginning of the 20th century.
Khajuraho Temple District: Facts
|Official title:||Khajuraho Temple District|
|Cultural monument:||in three “temple districts” 25 Hindu and Jain temples with partly erotic reliefs and sculptures; i.a. 872 sculptures of musicians, deities, beautiful women and erotic scenes by Kandariya Mahadeva with a 31 m high tower and 84 miniature towers; eleven-headed statue of Vishnu inside Chitragupta (probably early 11th century)|
|Country:||India, Madhya Pradesh|
|Location:||Khajuraho, southeast of Agra|
|Meaning:||a “Kamasutra in stone” from the time of the Chandella dynasty and a masterpiece of Indian sculpture of the 10th and 11th centuries.|
Khajuraho Temple District: History
|9th century||Construction of Chausath Yogini with formerly 64 cult cells of the servants of the goddess Kali|
|950-70||Parshvanatha, the largest and most beautiful of the Jaina temples with tiger-like hybrids and charming lovers|
|1000-25||Jagadambi Temple for the worship of the bloodthirsty Kali|
|around 1130||Construction of the Kandariya Temple (Kandariya Mahadeva)|
|1150||Construction of the Duladeo Temple|
|1870||»New building« of the Jain Shantinatha temple (originally 11th century)|
From sexual ecstasy to spiritual enlightenment
It would be pretty close to thinking that Khajuraho was one big misunderstanding, at least considering the modern interpretations of the stone scenes at the various temples. Viewed from a distance, they still seem quite unproblematic. Dozens of temple towers rise above the plain like silent witnesses to a long-gone high culture.
To document their lifting out of the secular world, the temples were placed on a high platform. All are aligned on an east-west axis, with the entrance facing the rising sun. The incomparable abundance of sculptures and reliefs made of soft sandstone, which unknown stonemasons left behind for posterity, are even more impressive than the entire ensemble. Every inch seems to be covered with gods, kings, musicians, animals and mythical creatures. At Kandariya Mahadeva alone, at 31 meters the tallest and at the same time most magnificent temple in Khajuraho, hundreds of sculptures were counted, many of them nearly one meter high. The local temple district represents a design in which the sculptures not only have a decorative function, but are also an integral part of the temple.
Ultimately, however, what makes Khajuraho’s actual importance and attracts tens of thousands of visitors every year are the erotic scenes depicted in incomparable abundance and detail. The pleasurable over-, under- and side by side of the obviously highly committed actors testifies to just as rich imagination as to almost Olympic-like acrobatics. Often it is necessary to take a second look to find out who is indulging in sexual pleasure, with whom and how. A scene in which a rider takes his love for his horse all too literally shows what seemingly bizarre fantasy drove the stonemasons in their literally pleasurable work.
The depiction of erotic scenes in Hinduism is by no means unusual, but nowhere does this happen with the same excess as in Khajuraho. The taboo openness stands in stark contrast to the prudish India of today. So the strictest Indians make the most hair-raising declarations in order to let the “rampant debauchery” appear in a different light. The thesis, which was meant very seriously, that the erotic sculptures should protect the church from lightning strikes, seems unintentionally comical. The admonition, with a raised index finger, that the lovers should show the visitor before entering the inside of the temple that one has to renounce all carnal desires in order to penetrate to the real meaning of life, the divine.
The representation of lovers is an important aspect of the pre-Aryan fertility cults that are deeply rooted in Hinduism. In sexual ecstasy, the divine and thus the real goal of every living being is experienced. So the faces of the lovers are not marked by lust, excitement and tension, but by an almost worldly serenity. The union here is not primarily a physical act, but a spiritual and thus religious form of experiencing God. The power emanates from the statue of the gods resting in the unadorned interior of the temple tower, which increases to the “dance of life” on the outer walls of the temple.