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Khajuraho

Located in the culturally rich state of Madhya Pradesh in central India, the famous sculptures in the sandstone temples of Khajuraho are truly beautiful, executed with a joy, fluidity and lack of inhibition that is unrivalled in modern India. Their eroticism shocked the British ("the sculptor had at times allowed his subject to grow a little warmer than there was any absolute necessity for doing," wrote one officer primly in 1838), but they are widely acknowledged as some of the most exquisite temple art in India.

Representing the religious and sexual tolerance of the time, the temples belong to two different religions – Hinduism and Jainism – although most represent the Hindu faith and are dedicated to two sects, Shaivism and Vaishnavism. Spread over 20 square kilometres, intricate carvings cover every pillar of these temples from plinth to spire and feature every form of life – from plants and animals to celestial nymphs and an abundance of human life, depicting battles and banquets, music and meditation, lovemaking and a number of provocative erotic scenes.

Constructed from AD 950 to 1050 by the Chandela dynasty, 22 of Khajuraho’s original 85 temples remain today. Built mainly from sandstone but also using some granite, each temple contains an entrance, a hall, a vestibule and a sanctum. These temples are a UNESCO World Heritage Site which are categorised into three groups: the Western, Eastern and Southern complexes. The Western group does a nightly son et lumière and the exquisite intricacy of their carvings make them the main attraction. Kandariya Mahadeva, dedicated to Lord Shiva, is the largest and most magnificent of the Western Group, boasting over 800 individual sculptures.

The Eastern group should also not be missed as they are less crowded but also fascinating. The most remarkable is the Parsvanatha temple build in AD 975 with its three intricate sculptures of celestial nymphs and its beautifully carved ceiling pendants.  One of the most interesting sites here is a two-metre-high statue of the monkey god Hanuman that may predate all of Khajuraho's temples and shrines. Khajuraho's Southern Group consists of three widely separated temples including the Duladea Temple and Chaturbhuja Temple.

The temples were abandoned after the demise of the Chandela regime in the 11th century and they became swallowed by the surrounding jungle until they were rediscovered by British army captain T.S. Burt in 1838. The temples remoteness no doubt saved them from desecration during this long period of time. Restored after nearly a 1,000 years of neglect, the Khajuraho temples are a hugely important part of India’s architectural history offering beautifully preserved examples of Indo-Aryan architecture and some of India’s most erotic temple sculptures. 

There is a huge Shiva festival at Khajuraho in February/March. This annual dance festival takes place in the western group of temples next to the stunningly illuminated Khajuraho shrines with live musical performances and famous Indian classical dancers.

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