History of Khajuraho
Khajuraho, one of the gems of ancient Indian architectural prowess is the third most visited tourist destination in India. It is listed as UNESCO world heritage site and also finds a place on the list of the wonders of India. Built by the Chandela Rajput rulers between 950 to 1050 A.D., these series of temple complexes with their explicit and intriguing frescoes have been under constant scrutiny over their meaning and significance. The myth and legends behind the temples and their sculptures has been debated for centuries now but what remains even today is the allure of these magnificent structures.
Origin of the name & region
Khajuraho takes its name from the Golden Date Palm trees, which line the city gates. Khajur-vahika or Khajjurpura as it is known literally means the bearer of date palms. While there are differing versions of how the city of Khajuraho came into existence, the one consensus among legends is that it owes its existence to the beautiful maiden names Hemvati. According to Chandbardai who wrote Prithviraj Raso, Hemvati was the beautiful daughter of Hemraj, the royal priest of Kashi.
The legend says that once when Hemvati was bathing in the sparkling waters of a lotus filled pond, the moon god was so awestruck by her that he descended upon earth and ravished the beautiful maiden. Distressed, Hemvati threatened to curse the moon god who then gave her a boon that she would bear a child who would be a brave king, the one who would eventually perform a yagya to wash away her sins. Hemvati was advised by the moon god to go forth and give birth to the child in Khajjurpura and this is where Chandravarman, the son of Hemvati was born.A brave warrior, he was gifted a touchstone by his father, the moon god, which could turn iron to pure gold. He was also installed as the king at Khajuraho. At his mother’s request, he started building the 85 beautiful temples around the city. He also performed the Bhandya yagya, which expunged Hemvati of all her guilt.
Ancient history of Khajuraho
The Chandela rulers built the enthralling temples at Khajuraho over a period of 100 years from 950 AD to 1050 AD. Khajuraho was the cultural capital of the Chandela Rajputs, the Hindu dynasty that ruled over the region from the 10th-12th centuries. The political capital of the Chandelas was Kalinjar. Later the capital was moved to Mahoba, but Khajuraho continued to find patronage for some time. It fell into neglect and dispair much later by medieval period.
The most intriguing aspect about these temples is the choice of location, as there is nothing exceptional about Khajuraho as a place nor is there as sizeable population around the city. The Chandelas were followers of the Tantric cult, which believed that gratification of earthly desires is the first step towards salvation. The legend says that these erotic sculptures were intended as a part of a lesson for young boys in Brahmacharya stage to train them for family life in the Grihasta stage.
Khajuraho during the Medieval era
While many temples of ancient India lie in disrepair, the temples of Khajuraho are incredibly well preserved and have lived the ravages of time. After the fall of the Chandelas, the temples faced much destruction by the Muslim invaders who were against idol worship. The inhabitants of Khajuraho slowly moved away from the city in the hope that solitude and lack of people around the region would detract attention from the temples. From the 13th to the 18th century, these temples remained tucked away in the jungle, away from all attention and desecration.
Khajuraho during the Modern era
Tucked away in the jungles and off the beaten track, these temples were unknown to many for centuries except for a few locals. It was one of the best kept secrets of the region. It was rediscovered in 1838 by T.S.Burt, a young British official who diverted from his official itinerary to visit the temples his Palki bearers had been talking about. Covered with dense greenery and numerous ponds, he was shocked to find the architectural treasure house of Khajuraho.
Today, Khajuraho is one of the places listed in the UNESCO world heritage sites list. It is one of India’s major tourist attractions and is a must see on the list of both domestic and international travelers. These avant-garde sculptures are both sensuous and shocking at the same time and legends and historians have always been at a loss to explain the exact significance of these temples and their sculptures. Some historians believe that the sculptures take inspiration from Vatsyayan’s famed work, the Kamasutra, and are a rendition of the erotic poses from that epic work. Whatever be the source of inspiration, it is a testimony to the fact that much before the dawn of sexual taboos and mores, there once existed a culture, which believed in celebrating the very basis of human needs and desires.
The temples of Khajuraho
The temples are segregated into three clusters, the western cluster with temples of Shiva and Vishnu, the Eastern cluster with the Jain temples and the Eastern cluster with Chaturbhuj and Dhuladeo temples. The Western group is the most popular cluster among tourists because it houses the famed Kandariya Mahadev temple, an example of impeccable craftsmanship and superb sculptural embellishments. The Jain temples attract a large number of domestic tourists mainly of the Jain sect for religious worship.
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