Tantric Temples of Khajuraho
in the state of Madhya Pradesh, North India
city of Khajuraho is the legacy of the Chandela Dynasty.
King Yasovarman began the era of temple construction early
in the tenth century CE. Eighty-five temples were built, of
which only twenty two still exist. The murals and friezes
depict scenes from hunting, warfare, feasting, dancing, and
so forth, but are best known for their many erotic depictions, all
of which -- like the famous ancient erotic Hindu scripture, the
Kama Sutra ("Love Lesson") -- are spiritual in nature. In fact,
the temples of Khajuraho have often been called the Kama Sutra
temples, whether or not they were consciously modeled after that
book. They certainly are in the same tradition.
existing temples, all of which were built between 900 and
1050 CE, are laid out in three regions: west, east, and south.
western group (highlighted above and pictured below)
is by far the most spectacular. Though the map indicates ten,
there are other smaller standing temples, and the ruins of
others. Most lie in a rather jagged row that runs from north to
south on the east side of this western site, the two most
impressive being the Vishvanatha and Lakshmana. Far more
impressive, however, are the three that form another row
on the west side of this site: Chitragupta, Devi Jagdambe,
and (above all) Kandariya Mahadeva.
of the large temples at Khajuraho are variations of the
Nagara style of North India, which looks like this:
Because these famous temples are in the Tantric
Hindu tradition, some of the sculptures on them are
erotic in nature, and are not suitable for viewing by
children or anyone sensitive about graphic sexual imagery.
In order to avoid being offended, do not scroll down past the
first eighteen images.)
Clicking on any image will give a larger version of it.
three images are of temples in the
northeast quadrant of the western group site, the
largest of which is the Vishvanatha.
The Vishvanatha is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
spectacular in its own right,
the Vishvanatha is only a smaller copy of the
largest and most impressive of the temples of the
western group at Khajuraho, the Kandariya Mahadevo
Temple (pictured immediately below), which is the
southernmost of the three temples
on the west side of this western group site.
(spire) of the Kandariya Mahadevo
rises to nearly 100 feet. The friezes around it and
the rest of the temple are some of the best preserved
at Khajuraho, and contain some of the most famous
of the erotic depictions (see below).
to the north of Kandariya Mahadevo Temple
(and on the right in the following photo) is the
Devi Jagdambe Temple, which was first dedicated to
the god Vishnu, but later rededicated to Kali.
style to the Kandariya, but simpler, the Devi
Jagdambe is really a smaller replica of the temple just
to the north of it, the Chitragupta Temple (next photo),
which was built in 1000 CE and dedicated to Surya,
the sun god.
two images are of the Lakshmana Temple,
dedicated to the god Vishnu in 954 CE, making it the oldest
of the standing temples here. Though smaller in size than
the Kandariya Mahadevo, the Lakshmana is similar in style
and in many ways the best preserved temple at Khajuraho.
Here is one
of the many images of the ever-present
Ganesha (or Ganesh), the elephant-headed son of
the god Shiva, and -- as "The Remover of Obstacles" --
the god of good fortune. No matter to which deity a
temple in India is dedicated, there is often a shrine to
Ganesha at the entrance, where prayers are offered
to him to ensure that prayers to other deities will
The images beyond this point are very graphic
depictions of a sexual nature.
of incorporating such images as the
following in Hindu architecture and art was not simply
decorative, much less titillating in a pornographic sort of way,
but was in fact spiritual. In Tantric Hinduism (as in Tantric
Buddhism), the male and female represent two important
aspects of both the human spirit (atman) and the Ultimate
Spirit (Brahman), all of which constitute (according to the
Upanishads) a cosmic Unity. As with the yin and yang of
ancient Chinese philosophy, male and female are not polar
opposites, but two complementary aspects in an eternal,
dynamic, and multifaceted process of spiritual and
physical unfoldment. Sexual imagery and indeed sexual
practice (as evidenced by the famous Hindu scripture,
Kama Sutra or "Love Lesson") are not only appropriate
but fitting spiritual expressions, which offer a foretaste of
the ultimate experience of liberation (moksha or nirvana)
and bliss (ananda) to which both philosophy and religion
in the East ideally point and lead.
images show a little kissing and moderate
groping. Things quickly become more heated, however.
Ever-present are images and symbols of Shiva, the god
of sexuality and, oddly enough, of ascetics who renounce
sex. (Shiva is also a god of destruction, decay, and death,
as well as creation, dance, music, and spiritual liberation.)
image is perhaps the most famous of all
of the thousands at Khajuraho. The geometric pattern
formed by the limbs of the participants actually represents
a yantra, a design representing the inner spiritual dynamic
of the cosmos.
Those who have studied these temples and their sculptures
most diligently have identified over eighty sexual positions
depicted. The variety is imaginative to say the least, and
many of the scenes exhibit a tongue-in-cheek (so to speak)
sense of humor.
The final image below is a case in point. The elephant
on the right, which is part of a formation, breaks ranks by
turning his head to his left to behold a curiously
coupled human couple and laughing at the sight.
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