Three wide-eyed young Indian women, resplendent in their colorful saris, took one long look at these ancient sculptures and friezes and all I hear are muted shrieks. Could this be their first time to see these temples brimming with Kama Sutra acts? Between AD 900 and 1100, Khajuraho was the seat of power for the Chandela dynasty which built 85 temples. These were abandoned in the 15th century, ransacked by Muslim invaders, and not until 1838 did they resurface again after being rediscovered in the thick jungle by a British military officer. Today, only 25 of these temples remain scattered in an area about 8 square miles.
Khajuraho's temples - grouped into Western, Eastern and Southern - are considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The prospect of seeing twisted bodies doing erotic poses in conservative India certainly aroused my curiosity to include it in my itinerary. Sangam drove me early this morning from the tranquil village of Orchha, arriving at Hotel Usha Bundela just before noon. It's quite hot at this time so I rested a bit before having lunch.
By mid-afternoon, I was at the Western group - considered the most interesting of the three - gawking at Lakshmana Temple, dedicated to the holy trinity of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva. Some renovations are ongoing but what really catches a visitor's attention is the first set of images depicting men and women, gods and nymphs (and even an animal!) in hot-blooded passion. But it's not all erotica. Many also convey scenes like marching soldiers, playing elephants, servants fanning members of royalty and musicians playing instruments. It's a matter of craning one's neck to see different images spread from the bottom all the way to the top of the shikharas (spires).
Another gorgeous temple in this group is Kandariya Mahadev, believed to have been built between AD 1017 and 1029. There's a bewildering display of 872 statues lining inside and outside this soaring temple. The profusion of earthly pleasures will again be felt here as men and women are depicted in many lascivious activities below sculptures of various Hindu gods and deities. It's not surprising to see many visitors feeling giddy with the scale of work on display. It's truly a visual overload.
There are some other temples within this compex: Devi Jagadambi, Chitragupta, and Vishvanatha. Again, you see a pattern of Hindu women and gods in their various incarnations and avatars. After viewing all these for almost 3 hours, I felt a "temple fatigue" probably brought by the afternoon heat. Sangam and I had cold drinks at this restaurant with a tree house that had a commanding view of the temples just across the street. I sigh a relief but then Sangam reminds me of the early wake-up call tomorrow for my long train trip to Varanasi.