Besotted by the splashes of marvellous monuments and cenotaphs on sites, and of course piqued by curiosity to know more about the bees and birds that hover around Khajuraho, we ultimately added Madhya Pradesh to our bucket list.
January of 2004 saw us making a week’s hasty trip to this vast terrain, a little after Chattisgarh and Jharkhand tore themselves apart from their ‘mother land’!
We undertook an overnight journey by road through Mumbai, and reached Indore by morning 8. After breakfast, we were raring to go and by afternoon whizzed through to reach Ujjain’s Mahakaleshwar Temple.
A mere 71 kms brought us to the ancient city of Ujjaini as it was formerly known. Ujjain’s Mahakelshwar Temple is one of the Jyothirlingas and the huge temple complex with the temple pond seemed undoubtedly divine. The 4 pm rush was minimal and we had a comfortable ‘darshan’ without being pushed and shoved.
If you love the rustic feel of a sleepy Indian hamlet, Ujjain is the place to go; it will never disappoint you. A stroll around the village surrounding the precincts of Mahakaleshwar, gave us rare glimpses of a quintessential village life in rural India.
Dusty roads leading to ‘kaccha’ homes with the occasional bleating of goats tied to posts and villagers huddled together for warmth and for whom languor is an idyllic activity– the picture of this village was simply perfect! I couldn’t but mull over spending a few days among these uncomplicated people, in an unhurried pace!
But the allure of Khajuraho made us beat a hasty retreat, for we had a night train scheduled for Satna, the following morning.
Ujjain’s market place was less touristy and reverberated with divine chants. Souvenirs here, were brass bells and ‘arti’ platess; and during our time there, the divine ambience made us determined to glut our altar back home with the burnished statues of deities, and the paraphernalia that lend a divine feel. Palm sized tailor-made outfits in bright colored satin with zari (brocades) adorned the shops and we bought a dozen!
Gods back home at my altar definitely needed a change of attire every week, or so I thought while buying the vibrant stuff!
After a 5 hour drive from Satna, we reached Khajuraho. The condition of the roads notwithstanding, we merrily darted through the roads that were flanked by cheery yellow mustard blossoms and this scene was what kept us wonder-eyed on this wondrous journey. And when the roads gave way to ‘kaccha’ or broken paths, the odor of cow-dung, the fragrance of smoldering twigs, the sight of ruminating cattle tied to posts and those of women with heads wrapped in vibrant ‘sarees’, cheered us along. We were getting closer to our destination…the pastoral Indian setting does have a charm of its own!
We drove past the village of Khajuraho in Chatarpur district exactly at 6 pm!! Wow! And the whole scenario changed in a jiffy! For the bucolic setting that was a constant even when we blinked, the village was displaying a different scene! It wasn’t exactly modern. But what greeted us were lines of souvenir shops, lending a touristy feel to the place and, white-skinned foreigners ambling along clean roads.
Sound & Light Show
The highlight of our evening visit was the ‘sound and light show’ in the voice of THE Amitabh Bacchan! We perched ourselves swathed in shawls and sweaters, on the green lawns, waiting for the sun to go down. The atmosphere was mesmeric with the sweet fragrance of dew-drenched grass and the crispness of cool air.
A few minutes after sun down, a baritone voice greeted us, even as whispers were hushed to capture the legendary voice. The spotlight fell on various niches on the cluster of temples as the voice of ‘AB’ trailed onto narrate the chronicle of the temples.
From illustrating the story of the Chandela Kings who built the temples, the erotic themes that found their way into the façade and the grandeur of the Khandariya Mahadev Temple, the narrative seemed simply electric! It was as if we were transported back in time….
As the voice of ‘Big B’ trailed off and the narration came to a close, the crowd dispersed unwillingly. Many remained, perhaps to catch a glimpse of the aura of bygone days….Don’t be surprised if you find tourists behaving like adolescents, ogling at the brazenly displayed manuscripts of Vatsayana! And equally amusing it is to watch newly wedded honeymooners, trying hard to shake their awkwardness (that comes with ‘Indian arranged marriages’) and eye the books with reluctance. Even wooden carts selling knickknacks have these manuscripts ‘tucked away’ conspicuously!
Early next morning, we found our way to the famed temples of Khajuarho.
The sweeping elegance of the Khadariya Mahadev Temple especially from the sides, has to be captured in a single shot to be admired! A flight of steps leads you into the sanctum, thus lending a soaring look to the temple’s architecture.
The name Khandariya is derived from the word ‘Khandara’ or ‘cave’ to mean a crest. You’d see devotees, or shall we say tourists circumambulating the shrine, more out of curiosity rather than out of reverence. Lo and behold! Sculpted on the edifice, are thousands of lithe figurines in various erotic poses! Running your gaze over, you’d suddenly sight voluptuous figurines come alive, striking coquettish poses!
The famed iconic representation of Khajuraho–a damsel with a shapely figure applying kohl, is a constant here. Enshrined within, is a mammoth stone Shivlinga with the Nandi (bull) perched outside.
Once outside, you’d come face to face with the temple fascia, bearing well-chiseled sculptures of damsels and nymphs (Apsaras) striking graceful poses. The titillating Apsaras with their ‘come-hither’ look are the teasers at the start, while the best is yet to come.
Upon closer scrutiny, you’d find every nook and cranny on the edifice, filled with ideas of ‘poses’ that have run amok on some creative, sensual human mind. These are sure to leave you gasping for more!
Little wonder why Khajuraho beckons honeymooners– daring to turn naivety into expertise. The poses perhaps are the expulsion of sensuous longings unleashed by deft sculptors of yore!
The profusion of carvings needs to be seen to be believed and beheld…
Built by the Chandela Ruler Yashovarman, this is dedicated to Vishnu and dates back to 930-950 CE. Only second to Khadariya Mahadev, this temple’s exclusivity lies in the beauty of its ‘chariot shaped’ garba-griha (sanctum). An elevated plinth gives you a reasonable view of the emerald green well-manicured lawns.
As with any temple in Khajuraho, Lakshmana Temple also has a cornucopia of erotica, engraved on every available niche on the facade.
On the ceiling, are more well-chiseled men and women’s busts explicitly engaging in their ‘sport’. The aesthetic expression of promiscuity is a sure tease!
The eye-catching sculpture here is that of ‘Shalbhanjika’, who stands striking a graceful pose with her ample posterior springing from a slender waist. This fascinating bearing captures the form of a maiden in its entirety and the posture notwithstanding, her ample bosom finds a mention too ―albeit in stone.
This western group temple stands tall and proud, supported by 14 pillars crowned with a pleasantly carved cupola for a shikara. The highlight is the massive monolithic statue of Varaha (boar). Lavishly carved images of Gods and demigods and the carvings of Goddess Saraswati between the mouth and the nose, make this a stunning masterpiece! It must be remembered that Varaha is one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.
Like any other Shiva Temple, this one has too has the Nandi(bull). This structure is embellished with maidens striking a willowy comportment.
On the western side of the temple, stands the figure of a lissome lass holding a bunch of luscious looking fruits on one hand, and balancing a parrot on the other. On one wall, is a woman fondling a baby and on the other, is another playing the flute. The most striking statue is that of a limber nymph plucking out a thorn from her sole.
The comely look of these damsels is sure to fan the dying embers of a nonagenarian!
If you thought only sculptors of yore could breathe life into stone, then you aren’t entirely right. True, the figurines bedecking the temples are masterpieces, but outside in souvenir shops, you’d find a plethora of stone curios which are a replica of the masterpiece adorning the temple edifice. Some of these have found their way into my home.
Named after the Chausanth(64) Yoginis who are the incarnations of the Goddess, this famed temple belongs to the western group. Sadly, nothing much seems to be left now of this temple. But the allure of the temple exteriors is worth a glimpse.
This Shiva Temple houses a colossal Linga and daily worship is organized every dawn and dusk.
This is an assortment of Hindu and Jain Temples. Among the Hindu shrines are the Barhma, Vamana and Javeri and among the Jain shrines are Ghantai, Adinatha and Parswanatha.
The Javeri Temple displays a stunning Makara Torana.
The Vamana Temple exhibits a plethora of well-chiseled nymphs aesthetically showcasing their supple forms.
The Adinatha Temple’s Shikara is the quintessence of North Indian Temple architecture and the Parswanatha Shrine is the largest.
The effigies seem as though drawing out the feminine form in her different moods! If there’s a spry girl writing a letter, then there’s another ―sprightly one, playing with a baby. If there’s a nimble form extracting a thorn from her foot, then another coquettish maiden waits with a garland!
Yet another is a statue of a buxom belle tying anklets.
As the name goes, the four-armed (chaturbhuj) massively carved image of Vishnu is enshrined. The most conspicuous figurine here is that of a ‘lion-headed’ sprite. Among other depictions are mundane worldly activities of chariot-drawn carts, elephants, snakes and even scorpions! Others include the overflowing boughs of trees and pretty blossoms. This is one temple that is bereft of any erotica!
A ‘mithuna’ couple in passionate embrace graces another wall, along with other concupiscence that has been brought alive in stone.
What sets these temples apart?
What sets these temples apart?
What ‘is’ the purpose behind such erotica we know not. There’s nothing parochial or prudish about these depictions; in fact these stone sculptures throb, celebrating life and its vicissitudes. Honestly, visitors to Khajuraho Temples are mainly tourists who’d go with the sole purpose of sating their curiosity. So, petitions and prayers are a far cry here. But, the statues pulsating with life have the potential to bring out the best in humans! These elegant figurines bespeak grace, style and ardor–the very essence of humans. And I’m sure the differences between man and woman begin to fade out, as energies merge together to create the subtleties of this cosmos…erasing chauvinism and replacing it with oneness!