The erotic carvings that swathe the three groups of UNESCO World Heritage–listed temples at Khajuraho are among the finest temple art in the world.
Legend has it that Khajuraho was founded by Chardravarman, the son of the moon god Chandra, who descended to earth to engage in a passionate affair with the young and beautiful maiden Hemavati who he saw bathing in a river. Before his return to the celestial realm, he swore she would bear a son who would one day erect a great temple to celebrate the beauty of their divine love. Thus the founder of the mighty Chandela dynasty, a robust clan of the warrior Rajputs, was born, and between 900 A.D. and 1100 A.D., the Chandela kings – who settled in remote Khajuraho, where they were clearly unhindered by the usual distractions of fighting off invading forces – built not one but 85 temples, almost all of them featuring exquisite sculptures of men and women joyfully engaging in the most intimate and erotic acts. The Chandelas held sway here until the start of the 13th century, when the Sultans of Delhi strengthened their hold over vast swaths of central North India. The remoteness of the temples’ location saved them from the ravages of Islamic raiders, but also led to their being abandoned after the decline of the Chandelas in the 13th century. Hidden in a dense forest for 700 years, they were rediscovered in 1838 by a British military adventurer, Captain TS Burt of the Bengal Engineers. By this time, 7 centuries after the political decline of their Chandela creators, only around 25 of the original 85 temples were found.
Today, these UNESCO World Heritage Site monuments are famous for their erotic sculptures, images that, despite being transgressive by India’s conservative contemporary standards, are almost as intimately associated with India as the Taj. But the temples also represent an outstanding synthesis of advanced architecture and refined sculpture, and their beauty means that a trip here should definitely be included in your North India itinerary.
Click on one of the sections on the right for more information about Khajuraho.