Decoding the sculptures of Khajuraho

“Where are you today?” enquired my mom. I seldom tell her about my travel plans. “I am at Khajuraho!” I answered. 

“Khajuraho! Where is Khajuraho? I have heard of it. Khajurahooooo!!! Oh my God, Khajurahoooo. Is it THAT Khajuraho? What are you doing there??” She exclaimed in a shrill and fast-paced tone. 

These are precisely the thoughts that run in any Indian’s mind on the mention of Khajuraho

Khajuraho and its erotic sculptures! What do these sculptures signify? Why do we have these sculptures on the walls of a temple? 

On the one hand, we live in a country where on the one hand, erotica is considered as a hush-hush subject, and on the other hand, we have them depicted at places as sacred as the temples. 

Indian history and architecture have always fascinated me, so I was standing in front of the UNESCO World Heritage site. 

The place was once full of Khajur, aka date trees, and hence it gets the name, “Khajuraho,” so narrated the local guide. Khajuraho has a western, eastern, and southern group of temples, of which the group of the west is the most prominent. 

Neat lawns, green trees, pink bougainvillaea added to the beauty of the towering stunning monuments. The temples were built in the early 10th century during the Chandela dynasty. It is said that there were nearly 85 such temples in and around, but now only 25 of them remain.

I looked around the place and couldn’t stop imagining the beauty of 85 such tall temples with splendid architecture nestled among the date trees! What a sight it must have been.

Lakshmana temple Khajuraho
Lakshmana Temple Khajuraho

“Very often, the sculptures of these temples are misinterpreted. People talk only about the erotica and not about the philosophy behind them. Some are even embarrassed to hire a guide. 

In the olden days, the men also had long hair. So people easily misinterpret a statue facing back as a woman because it has a bun. You should hear them interpreting, for it can get hilarious at times. 

A man was chuckling away, and I couldn’t hide a smile either. 

Around the walls of each temple are usually the prominent idols of the guardians of directions, or ten incarnations of Vishnu, or a male God and a female incarnation of them, or the seven mother of Goddesses, or a similar pattern. 

Then you can see the emblem or the symbol of the Chandela dynasty — a man fighting a lion. 

There are three kinds of women depicted — one from the heavenly adobe identified with multiple arms, the apsaras identified as the beautiful woman from the earth, and the last is the serpent lady from the evil world. 

The depictions worth noticing are that of the fire God or the Agni Dev, who can be seen with a knotted beard. The sculptures are very intricately carved. For instance, check the dancing Ganesha idol below; look at how realistic the wobbling tummy is carved!

Dancing Ganesha Khajuraho
Dancing Ganesha

Our guide deserves a special mention here. He was supremely knowledgeable and was so good at connecting the dots to how, why, and what these sculptures depicted. 

In the olden days, tantric activities were prevalent all around. The sculptures of Aghoris and the Kapaalikas (lady tantric) are seen holding a skull in their hands. 

Kundalini awakening is the tapping of huge energy potential within human beings. It is considered the centre of ultimate bliss, spiritual energy, and a way to attain Moksha. 

As a modern-day human, we know that it is done chiefly through intense practice of Yoga, whereas the tantric used sex to awaken this energy. It is not merely the act of making love but the perfect sex posture that awakens the Kundalini. 

The Chandela king, who was interested in tantrism, is said to have been involved in these practices. The picture below shows the king with a kapaalika while the two other tantric help them get the posture right. It can be seen that the tantric also get aroused on seeing them. Also by the side is a woman showing her love bite. 

Kundalini Awakening
Kundalini Awakening

But this is not the only reason why there is the depiction of erotica in a temple. It is also said that before you attain Moksha, you need to inhibit dharma, art, and kaam. Meaning, when you are done with the worldly deeds of performing your duty, done with your money/ economy, and overcome your sexual desire, it is then that you attain salvation. 

That is why the outside of the temple has other sculptures related to the three, while the inner sanctum sanctorum does not have the lovemaking couples but only the divine sculptures. 

There are depictions of the king having a foursome; mithunas or the lovemaking couples lost in love; women taking their clothes off in heat; anything and everything you can imagine, even differentiation between a young lady and a woman. 

It is not all about eroticism. There are also sculptures of a child playing with mother, an astrologer reading the palm lines, trading, war scenes, a playful monkey, woman dripping with water after a bath, a scene from war, a scene of training elephants for battle, business, and trading; all these depicted as sculptures. 

It seems like an entire city and their way of life being depicted on the walls. 

The pictures below show the crowd listening to a baba, a wedding, going to war, and a war scene.

Life at Khajuraho
Life at Khajuraho

Khajuraho is a rich wellspring of information. Each temple speaks of the most exemplary architecture and imparts valuable life lessons or the right way of living. 

What more legacy can you leave behind for the ordinary person whose visual depiction is much easier to understand. 

Here are some more sculptures from Khajuraho.

The first one shows men away at war having unnatural sex with a horse. Since it is unacceptable, the person behind the horse is hiding his face in shame. 

The second also depicts unnatural sex a woman has with a dog since her man is away at war. She is then dragged to a local leader or panchayat or equivalent, where she is seen apologizing for her actions. 

So unlike what we see in social media, where they post such pictures and justify men in those days being involved in unnatural sex, it was considered punishable. 

The last one is couples having coitus before the men depart for war.

Various depiction of Sex
Various depiction of Sex

The beautiful architecture of the Kandariya Mahadeva temple. It is so mighty and splendid to stand in front of it and look up.

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Khajuraho
Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Khajuraho

The detail of architecture found in these pieces is awe-inspiring.

Watch the middle column from the last row. First, the couple is involved in foreplay, and the colour of the stone is lighter. The middle is where it is intense, and a dark reddish colour is used to show the fierceness. The top one is a relaxed state after making love and hence almost a yellowish shade used. Also, notice how the differences are indicated with the leg posture.

Stages of Sex
Stages of Love Making

Khajuraho is a wonder to visit. 

Make sure you carry an extra battery for your camera. Please hire a guide. There is so much story behind Khajuraho which only a guide can narrate with accuracy. We had a guide by the name Surendra. He was very, very well informed about the history behind the place along with its philosophy. 

It is important to find the right guide. However, some were very uncomfortable even to say the word sex. It needs some talent to show around this temple without making one uncomfortable. 

Where to Stay: I stayed at the swanky Syna Heritage Hotel. It is conveniently located with just a 15 min walk from the western group of temples. It is one of the hotels where the interiors are thoughtfully designed to match the heritage site that we are at. 

Some of the artefacts are passed on from generations, making them unique. The Royal suite comes with a living room, a bedroom, a changing room, and a washroom with a fabulous jacuzzi. 

There is also a honeymoon suite which is furnished with paintings and sculptures depicting the symbolic erotica. The walls are made of sandstone and are hand-carved, making the hotel itself an architecture to marvel at. 

After walking around throughout the day, ending it with a scrumptious dinner at their restaurant and relaxing in the jacuzzi was my favourite thing to do. 

For bookings: Syna Heritage Hotel

Syna heritage hotel
Syna Heritage Hotel, Khajuraho

Note: I was hosted in Khajuraho by Syna Heritage hotels. However, the views about the hotel are based on my experience.

Also Read – Visit the Grand Canyon of Khajuraho – The Raneh Falls

How to reach Khajuraho

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  1. Thanks for your article. It was one of the most informative I’ve ever seen.
    The way of presenting the valuable information about the temples is out of praise. 🙂

  2. There are many stories behind these incredible sculptures. Renowned Indologist Udayan Indurkar explains the sculptures with divinity. he calls it cosmic explosion. Many researchers say these are some sort of tantric codes.. whatever it may be, it is definitely very intriguing.

    • Interesting piece by Udayan.. I just read it.. What he says I think can be correlated to the awakening of Kundalini energy.. Kundalini is also tapping the ultimate potential energy from within.. It’s quite fascinating to see so many interpretations being drawn out of one temple..

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