Temple Architecture at Khajuraho

Indian temple architecture is broadly divided into two distinct styles – the Nagari or the north Indian and Dravida or the south Indian. The temples at Khajuraho, built by the Chandella rulers circa 1000 AD are at the pinnacle of the Nagari architectural style. The Nagari style has several distinct features, all of which are clearly manifested in the temples at Khajuraho.

A fully developed Nagari temple has five distinct chambers. The ardhamandap which is the outermost chamber, the mandap, the mahamandap (which was often with internal pillers), the antaraal and the garbhagraha. Not all of these chambers may necessarily be present. Many temples lack the mahamandap, for example. The garbhagraha is situated inside the antaraal and there may be a pradakshina path provided all around it. The garbhagraha was the sanctum sanctorum that housed the deity and often it was only the priest who could enter it. These chambers are distinctly visible in the following photo (all images can be clicked to enlarge.)

The plan of the temple often used to be in the Latin cross shape with the antaraal and/or the mandap often flaring out into additional chambers that flanked on the sides and then developed into balconies. A schematic of the plan follows.

As can be seen in the figure, the temple axis and hence the deity faced the east. The temples often used to be built in the panchayatana style which comprised of one central temple with four subshrines at four corners. The Lakshamana temple at Khajuraho is one such temple. Unfortunately only two of the original four shrines survive.

The temples have been built from granite or sandstone, the two chief rocks found in this area upon raised platforms. The platforms themselves stand on solid rock masses that are one of the oldest rocks on this earth.

Hindu architecture did not use the arches like Islamic architecture. The spires were constructed simply by placing solid blocks of stone upon four pillars and then adding blocks of stone that reduced in size with height. Also, the art of aligning objects in a straight line had also not been perfected. For example, if one visits the Imambara at Lucknow, one will notice that the outer nakkarkhana, the gate and the Imamabara itself are in a perfect straight line. This however is not the case at Khajuraho. The various spires are clearly seen to be out of alignment in this photo.

It was interesting to compare a standalone Islamic structure at the site with the Hindu structures that surrounded it. I found a lonesome Islamic building at the western temple complex in Khajuraho which had no documentation about it at the site or in the ASI booklet we purchased. Notice the use of dome, arches and the inverted lotus at the top. This building left me wondering what part of history is remaining untold because of the secular hang-ups that this country suffers from.

If you’ve had the patience to read this far, I’m sure you’re wondering where the famous erotic statues have disappeared. Nowhere, dear friend. They are very much the part of the majesty and enigma of these wondrous structures. The outsides and the insides of these temples are profusely decorated with sculptures of all sorts, including the erotic ones. The erotic sculptures are located primarily on the outer wall of the antaraal in the recess that is formed by the two cross arms. This must have some religious significance, though what it may be I cannot guess.

The sculptures are exquisite. They show the daily lives of the kings (hunting etc), the deities in their various forms, the beautiful apsarases in their elegant and enticing postures (these I liked the most) and other royal motifs like lions and elephants. A motif of note is the saradula which is warrior with a sword fighting a lion. The warrior is shown to be under the lions legs or behind his back. The saradula can be seen in these photos in extreme right and left.

One thing that I noted particularly was that only Agni and Bhairav are the deities that are depicted with beards. Rest of them are all clean shaved. Unfortunately I realized this late and clicked only Agni. Here he is.

Very clearly, there is lot to these temples that gets hidden behind the glamour of the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho. Being my first encounter with temples from medieval India I was spellbound when I beheld these world heritage monuments. I admired the beauty and a pang of sadness at a culture that is now lost to us. I tried to imagine people coming to these temples to worship or socialize or maybe just take a peek at a beautiful apsara statue they liked. And then I tried to imagine what they would be wearing and what they would be talking about and what they would feel when they came here. Unfortunately, now we can just sit and wonder …



  1. there is a series of article going on in frontline mag. about indian art. it is awesome..... check out if you are interested.
    waise aaj kal aap blogging bahut karne lage hain... jindgi mein koi kaam nahi bacha kya :)


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