Mystical India holds many interests for many people, including exotic food, sculpted architecture, a variety of wildlife and archeological wonders. One such ancient site is the temples at Khajuraho, located a two hour train ride from Agra or a thirty minute flight from Varanasi.
The town of Khajuraho, with a population of 19,000, would be relatively insignificant were it not for the amazing discovery of 25 temples and monuments in the late 1800’s. Originally the site held 85 shrines but many have crumbled and lack of money has prevented additional restoration. The site as it stands now, however, is nothing short of amazing. It is easily a two or three day visit where you are magically whisked back in history.
The temples were originally built between 950 and 1150 CE at a time when the population of India was declining. The rulers of the day devised a concept to increase the number of inhabitants by building temples and commissioning artists to decorate them. It would not be an ordinary form of decoration, for the rulers asked the artists to create images depicted in the 4th century Kama Sutra, a 4 page book of Indian eroticism.
Only 10 % of the temples were to be covered this way, the rest being festooned with deities of the Hindu Religion. They were very careful not to offend anyone who visited the temples.
The artists did their best and adorned each temple with statues relating to the ancient manuscript. As predicted by the rulers, people who visited the temples and saw the carvings were reminded of their duty and the population began to increase. Today, the temples serve as fine examples of Indian architectural styles that have gained popularity due to their explicit depiction of sexual life during medieval times.
Over time, with the rise of the Muslim population, the Hindu temples became neglected, eventually being overrun by the jungles of the area. The local population was aware of the sacred monuments, but little was remembered and no one showed any interest until the late nineteenth century.
British Engineer T.S. Burt was interested in the legends about the temples and decided to mention it to General Alexander Cunningham, a well-known English army engineer with the Bengal Engineering Corps. He began to explore the area and was responsible for putting the temples on the map on behalf of the Archaeological Survey of India. The sanctuary is now a Unesco World Heritage site.
The temples are all made of sandstone, without any metal fasteners of any kind. The builders did not use mortar: the stones were put together with mortise and tenon joints and they were held in place by gravity. This form of construction requires very precise linkages. The columns were built with megaliths that weighed up to 20 tons. They were built to last thousands of years and are still constructed in a similar fashion. The temple in Mississauga, Ontario near Derry Road and Highway 427 is built in a similar style. It was totally constructed in India and shipped here for assembly. At a cost of $42 million, not one penny came from taxpayers. The temple is designed to last over a thousand years.
Many visitors miss the temples at Khajuraho because they are not familiar with the site or tour companies do not include them, as they are cumbersome to get to. It is unfortunate because these are by far India’s most famous archeological and best preserved historic locations.
The Khajuraho temple complex offers a professional light and sound show every evening. The first show is in English and the second one in Hindi. The show is about an hour long and covers the history, philosophy and the art of sculpting these temples. It is held in the open lawns in the temple complex.
If you plan to visit India be sure to add Khajuraho to your list. No matter where your interests lie you will not regret a visit to this ancient capital of the Hindu empire.