The temples of Khajuraho are rightly regarded as the most creative works of Hindu architecture. The Khajuraho Group of Monuments are among the UNESCO World Heritage sites.
The beauty of their proportions, the vibrant texture of the carvings which enrich their walls and their impressive size testify to the architectural genius of their builders.
The temples are in three groups. To the west of the Bamitha-Rajnagar Road is situated the best-known group of temples at Khajuraho. The eastern group lies in close proximity to the Khajuraho village. There is a further group of temples three miles to the south.
It might be convenient for the tourist to commence with the Chausat Yogini Temple of the western group. It is believed that the temple was dedicated o the goddess Kali. The temple is oblong in shape and stands on a masonry terrace 18 feet in height. It is the only shrine at Khajuraho built entirely of granite and also the only one oriented north-east and south-west instead of the usual north and south. The courtyard, which is 103 feet long and 60 feet broad, was surrounded by 65 cells of which only 35 have survived the passage of time. It is presumed that the biggest cell had an image of the goddess Kali, but none has been found. This is believed to be the earliest surviving temple at Khajuraho and is ascribed to 900 A.D.
Six hundred yards to the west of the Chausat Yogini is a small shrine dedicated to Shiva and known as the Lalguan Mahadeva temple.
To the north of the Chausat Yogini Temple lies the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, the biggest of the shrines at Khajuraho and the most typical of the local school of architecture. This magnificent shrine is 102 feet 3 inches long 66 feet 10 inches wide, and 101 feet 9 inches high. Although four subsidiary temples erected on its corners have perished, the main shrine is in fine condition and impresses the beholders by its majestic size and the perfect symmetry of t\its features. The shrine is dedicated to Shiva.
Almost every inch of the surface of its walls boasts of the most vibrant representation of Hindu art at its best. At the entrance is a richly carved tarchway, decorated with figures of various kings; musicians playing on different kinds of instruments, terrifying crocodiles, lover in fond embrace, and winged gods and goddesses. The ceiling of the assembly halls and that of the main hall make an unforgettable impression b the richness of their carvings. The concentric overlapping circles of decoration on the ceiling of the main hall form an interesting pattern. The pillars supporting the ceiling have finely carved capitals.
Beautiful flowers and ascetics performing penance are depicted with equal facility on the lintel and door-jambs of the sanctum. The sacred rivers, Ganga (Ganges) and Yamuna (Jamuna), are worshipped by the Hindus and regarded as goddesses. The base of the door-jams of the main sanctum shows the goddess Ganga standing on a crocodile, and the goddess Yamuna on a tortoise, their respective vehicles. Inside the sanctum stands a marble lingam, the symbol of Shiva.
The passage which encircles the sanctum is notable for the elaborately molded plinth on the outside wall which is decorated with two rows of figures. Each of the eight directions (north, north-east, etc.) has a deity presiding over it, and these eight gods are portrayed on the lower row.
The outside walls of the sanctum and the transept have a triple belt of images running around them. There show angels, gods and goddesses in their various forms and groups of lovers.
To the north of the Kandariya Temple lies the Devi Jagadambi Temple. On the way to the Jagadambi Temple is the shrine of Mahadeva.
Chitragupta’s or Bharatji’s Temple which lies a short distance to the north of Devi Jagadambi and like most other shrines at Khajuraho faces east, is dedicated to Surya or the Sun god. The temple measures 74 feet 9 inches by 51 feet. The 5-foot high image of the Sun God in the sanctum is extremely beautiful. The Sun God is shown wearing high boots and driving a chariot drawn by 7 horses. He is also portrayed on the lintel of the doorway. The carvings on the outside are interesting and show hunting scenes, royal processions, and dances by lovely girls and fights between mad elephants. There is an image of Vishnu in the central niche to the south of the sanctum. The god is shown with eleven heads. The central head is his own, while the rest represent his ten incarnations.
The Viswanath Temple with the Nandi pavilion stands in the most northerly part of the eastern row of temples in the western group. There are two fights of steps, the northern flanked by a pair of lions, and the southern by a pair of elephants. The Viwanatha Temple measures 89 feet 1 inch by 45 feet 10 inches and is similar in plan to the Kandariya Mahadev Temple.
On the western part of the outside wall of the temple is the graceful figure of a woman holding a bunch of fruits in her right hand and a parrot resting on her left wrist. She has an almost life-like quality. On the southern wall is a woman is fondling a child and on the north a woman playing on a flute. An inscription found on the wall of the temple records that the shrine was built by King Dhanga and dedicated in 1002-03 A.D.
The Nandi pavilion measures 31 feet 3 inches by 30 feet 9 inches and faces the Viswanatha shrine. It contains a finely polished gigantic statue of Nandi, the bull, on which Shiva rides. The bull is 6 feet in height and 7 feet 3 inches long.
The Parvati Temple is to the south-west of the Viswanatha shrine.
The Laksmana (Ramchandra or Chaturbhuja) Temple is dedicated to Vishnu. It measures 98 feet by 45 feet 3 inches. There are four subordinate shrines on the corners of the terrace. The main sanctum is noteworthy for its highly decorated entrance. The lintel over the entrance shows Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth, and the wife of Lord Vishnu, with Lord Brahma to her left and Lord Shiva to her right. The nine planets are depicted on the frieze above the lintel. On the doorway is a relief illustrating the churning of the ocean by the gods and the demons to obtain the divine nectar which conferred immortality on those who drank it. Although both the gods and the demons co-operated in bringing out the kumbh (pitcher) containing the nectar from its deep resting place at the bottom of the ocean, they fought with one another afterwards. The war lasted for twelve heavenly days (equivalent to twelve years on earth), resulting in a victory for the gods. The kumbh mela festival, which occurs in a twelve-year cycle at Ujjain, Nasik, Allahabad and Hardwar, commemorates this war.
On a doorway shows the ten incarnations of Vishnu.
The idol installed in the sanctum of the Lakshmana Temple has four arms (Chaturbhuja) and here heads. The middle head is human, while the side ones are those of Narasimha (man-lion) and Varaha (boar), two incarnations of Vishnu. On the outside are two rows of statues. The elephant frieze on the plinth is remarkable for the boldness of its outline. Other scenes depict fighting, processions, horses and boar-hunting.
The Matangeshwar Temple, to the south of the Lakshmana shrine, is still worshipped. A colossal lingam, 8 feet 4 inches in height and 3 feet 8 inches in diameter, is installed in the sanctum.
The Varaha Temple Situated in front of the Matangeshwar Temple is dedicated to the Board incarnation of Vishnu. The entire body, head and legs of the Boar are carved with multiple figures of the Hindu gods and goddesses. Under the Boar are the remains of a serpent.
The tourist may now proceed to the eastern group of temples which lie in close proximity to Khajuraho village. The group includes three Hindu temples known as the Brahma, Vamana and Javari and three large Jain temples, the Ghantai, Adinatha and Parsvanatha. A colossal statue of Hanuman is installed in a modern temple about half-way between the western group of temples and Khajuraho village. It bears an inscription dated 922 A.D. the oldest inscription at Khajuraho.
The Brahma Temple, built partly of granite and partly of sandstone, is dedicated to Brahma, Lord of Creation.
The Vamana Temple is dedicated to Vishnu, who took the incarnation of a dwarf to humble the pride of an arrogant ruler named Bali.
The Ghantai Temple lies to the south-east of Khajuraho village. It is now in ruins but still bears evidence of the great artistic skill of its builders. An eight-armed Jain goddess riding the sacred bird Garuda (mythical bird) adorns the entrance. The frieze above the lintel depicts the sixteen dreams of the mother of Mahavira, the last of the Jain Tirthankaras.
The Parsvanatha Temple, the largest and finest of the Jain temples surviving at Khajuraho. The sanctum contains an ornamental throne with a carved bull in front. The bull is the emblem of Adinatha, the first of the Jain religious leaders. The modern image of Parsvanatha was installed in 1860. There are excellent sculptures on the outer walls of the sanctum – a woman fondling a child, a woman writing a letter, a little figure extracting a thorn from her foot, etc. all on the northern side.
The Adinatha Temple is located immediately to the north of the Parsvanatha Temple and is smaller in size.
The Southern Group, about 3 miles from Khajuraho village, comprises the Duladeo Temple dedicated to Shiva and the Chaturbhuja temple dedicated to Vishnu.
The Duladeo temple has some fine bracket-capitals in its main wall showing women sporting around trees. The Chaturbhuja temple has a colossal exquisitely carved image of Vishnu.