With huge mind-blowing temples, the sculptures cover every part of the temples by the beautiful carving of warriors, musicians, dancers, celestial bodies and animals on stone. This apart, the architecture of each Khajuraho temple is a monumental sculpture in itself. Traditionally, it is believed that there were 85 temples in Khajuraho; however today only 25 Khajuraho temples remain and are being preserved. These temples are surrounded by the most exotic locations, as they stand amidst the banks of tranquil lakes, and lush green fields and gardens. Most of the temples are not used for worship anymore; only two of them are used for worship today.
Khajuraho has been traced to prehistoric times, as artifacts from the Middle and late Stone Age and Neolithic ages have been unearthed here. Khajuraho was a prominent temple town built during the period between 900 AD and 1200 AD, extending over an area of 13 square kilometres. This site flourished under the Chandellas, either by themselves or their Chieftains and Jain Merchants. The region acquired the name 'Jejakabhukti', named after the Chandella chief Jeja, or Jayashakti, the third in the genealogy of Chandellas. By the middle of the 10th century the Chandellas, became an established power in the north; Khajuraho thus, gaining importance. The Chandellas considered Khajuraho very special, as they concentrated most of their temple building activity here. The temples built by them when they were still feudatories, were made of rough granite, and built on the outskirts of Khajuraho. The Chausath Yogini temple and the Shiva temple, called Lalguan Mahadeva belonged to this category.
There have been many rulers, who were the patrons of the Khajuraho temples and instrumental in developing the art and the sculpture of this site. They are as follows:
Harshadeva: The event of his victory over the Rashtrakuta King Krishna II, Harshadeva reinstated as the King of Kanauj, in 917 AD has been recorded in a stone inscription at Khajuraho, near the Vamana temple. The recently excavated brick complex in the northeastern area of the site, and the 'Brahma' temple on the bank of the Khajursagar Lake, can also be associated with Harshadeva.
Yashovarman: The prestigious Vaikuntha-Vishnu image was acquired by Yashovarman from his Pratihara overlord Devapala and celebrated this victory by building a magnificent temple at Khajuraho. This temple is the first in the Nagara style at Khajuraho, and he embellished it abundantly with sculptures. Now known as the Lakshmana temple, this temple is made of finely grained sandstone brought from the quarries near Panna, not far from Khajuraho. One inscription of this temple declares the conquest of the strategic fort of Kalanjar by Yashovarman. After conquering Kalanjar, Yashovarman further asserted his power by installing a huge icon of the boar incarnation of Vishnu, which depicts a boar rescuing mother earth in front of the Lakshmana temple.
King Dhangadeva: He installed two lingas, one made of emerald and the other of stone, in the temple then called Marakateshvara (Lord of Emerald), and now known as the Vishvanatha temple. The temple was consecrated in AD 999, after Dhangadeva's death. Vidyadhara: The grandest temple at Khajuraho, the Kandariya Mahadeva, was built, to celebrate Vidhyadhara's victory over Mahmud Ghazni.
Jayavarman: He carried out renovation work at Khajuraho and there is a possibility that he might have built the Chaturbhuja temple, which is known for its exquisite Vishnu image. In an inscription, he is described as a great devotee of Lord Narayana. Madanavarman: He is believed to have built the Duladeva temple, the last towering monument at Khajuraho.
Apart from the patrons building the various art forms in Khajuraho, there have been questions posed by many, regarding the religion in Khajuraho during its flourishing days, including the very existence of religion over here. There are several images of divine beings, with many holding manuscripts and several others in yogic postures. Khajuraho was a place of worship and religious discourses were also held here. It is important to note that the monuments at Khajuraho were temples, built by their patrons primarily for the sake of worship, since they were the centers of both religious and artistic expression in medieval India.
The temples built by the Chandella kings are in the Nagara style, mostly affiliated with the brahminical or Hindu religion. The temples built by their ministers or the Jain merchants belong to the Jain Digambara faith. Of the twenty-five temples that exist today, ten have Vishnu enshrined in various forms, such as Vamana, Varaha and a composite Vaikuntha form. Eight temples are dedicated to Shiva, one to Surya, one to the Sixty-four Yoginis and 5 temples belong to the Jain Digambara faith. More temples were constructed at Khajuraho, many of whose epigraphs and sculptures remain. A large image of Hanuman with a 922 AD inscription suggests the worship of Hanuman too.
Excavations have also discovered an image of Buddha in the eastern side of Khajuraho. The image has an inscription belonging to the Buddhist faith, suggesting the existence of Buddhism here, however, on a limited scale. In the recent excavations at the Bijamandala mound in the southern area of Khajuraho, there are signs of what seems to be a Shiva temple of the early eleventh century. Along with the images of Shiva and Vishnu, some Jain images have also been excavated.
The Jain group of temples, found in the eastern part of Khajuraho, was patronized by the Jain merchants, who belonged to the sect of Digambaras. The temples were dedicated to Tirthankaras Adinatha (Rishabhanatha), Parshvanatha (installed later in 1860), and Shantinatha. A large image of 14 feet in height of Shantinatha has an inscription from AD 1027-28. Several independent donors installed images of Tirthankaras. Several images of Jain Yakshis and Kshetrapalas can also be seen in the temples and also as independent sculptures, which are now kept in museums. Some pillars with images of Jain divinity are found to the south of the Yogini temple.
A composite of both tantric and puranic elements prevailed in Khajuraho. The inscriptions at Khajuraho however, support Brahmins and highly proclaim the three Vedas. The puranas strongly recommend the practice of giving gifts to Brahmins, and building of temples, tanks, and undertaking of charitable works. The inscription dating 999 AD mentions King Dhangadeva performing the Tulapurushadana ceremony, in which he weighed himself against gold and distributed this gold to Brahmins. The performances of fire sacrifices were also glorified in inscriptions. The Chandellas believed they got merits by giving gifts on eclipse days. Satyabhama, wife of King Vidyadhara made donations on the days of solar eclipse.
The composite religious practices at Khajuraho are evident in the Lakshmana temple. This temple enshrines the mystical icon of Vaikuntha. Built in AD 954, it was associated with Tantric Vaishnavism of the Kashmir school (Pancharatra) but this image was acquired by the Chandella King Yashovarman as a victory tokenOne of the grandest temples in Khajuraho, The Kandariya Mahadeva temple, built in about AD 1030, was affiliated to Siddhanta, a moderate Tantric Shaivite order.
The numerous Khajuraho sculptures depict various architects, their masons, musicians, dancers, traders, animals, gods and goddesses, which indicate the intense religious and cultural activity that flourished in Khajuraho during the medieval period. Some of these are as follows:
Vyala: It had a body of a lion and the face of an elephant, goat, parrot or other animals and birds. It also enjoyed a great popularity in medieval Indian temples. It was considered to be a protective motif, and is placed in recesses of the wall, and on the brackets of pillars, at Khajuraho.
Makara: This mythical aquatic creature combines the jaws of a crocodile, trunk of an elephant, ears of a lion, horns of a ram, and the tail offish. It is the mount of the river goddess Ganga, and also of the Dikpala Varuna. One can find makaras on the torana-gates of the Kandariya and other temples, on arched frames of divinities, on water chutes (pranala), and in many other places in Khajuraho.
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