A journey to magnificence.

5, May, 2015, by Seema Bhatnagar

Northern wall of Lakshmana temple

Sometimes it happens that looking at certain object invokes a deep seated feeling which actually helps in understanding the real meaning of a particular word. This is what I realized after visiting temples of Khajuraho. Khajuraho is a small village in Madhya Pradesh state, located in northern part of India.

Read more in detail about Khajuraho here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khajuraho_Group_of_Monuments

My visit to Khajuraho, from 14 March till 18 March 2015, gave me an opportunity to experience the real meaning of certain dictionary words which earlier I was shallowly using in my everyday writing and speaking. Magnificence, dedication, coordination, masterpieces, team work, skill, persistence, sincerity, attention to details, intricacy are some words which are now seen by me in a new light after my visit.

Intro stone for Khajuraho.

It was hard to believe that somebody can really give his soul to work. Every piece displayed over there had some story to tell. I was simply wondering how that artist had immersed his soul to that particular piece of art.

Going by the intricacy of work, how hard it must have been for sculptors to reproduce the same quality of work in all sculptures. Our guide told us, that the site of creating sculptures was different from the site of construction of temples, sculptures used to get transported to temple site using elephants.

To ensure the perfect alignment of stones used on floors and walls, each and every stone was numbered to maintain some sequence. Check image below.

Sequenced stone at Varaha temple.
Sequenced stone at Varaha temple.

There used to be a special technique of interlocking two stones. Check image below. This was at the time when there were no automatic driller machines as we have now. The special handles were created using seven metals (sapt dhaatu) and these are still rust free even after 1000 years. It is difficult to believe because the gadgets and other useable items which we use in our daily life lose their sheen within a year what to speak of decades.

Interlocking of stones at Varaha temple.
Interlocking of stones at Varaha temple.

All those temple were built at different times probably after a gap of a century or so but the quality of sculptures and stones look almost same unless you have discerning eyes for work of art.

Each temple is a perfect masterpiece of magnificent architecture which speaks volume of skill and mastery of sculptors of that time. The architecture used here is of Nagara style very typical of Indo-Aryan architecture.

How great that architect must have been who designed and developed these masterpieces. Hats off to that person who managed this whole project involving hundreds of artisans across different sites. I could correlate how difficult and challenging it must have been to manage architect and team of sculptors to ensure the quality and alignment of each and every piece, that too across the distributed teams without any means of remote communication. Kings of Chandela dynasty had been really fortunate to have those dedicated and sincere people who came together for the higher cause towards society.

The very name of Khjuraho invokes perception about its erotic sculptures but there is much more to it than just this. There were mainly three types of sculptures - maithune couples (couples in congress), celestial nymphs(sura sundaries) and everyday scenes from society.

Soldiers coming back from battle.
Soldiers coming back from battle.
Erotic sculptures are just ten percent of the total number of images. These too would be visible when one really looks at them with a previous knowledge or somebody explain it in details. After visiting there I realized how mind filled with art looks at the world. Yes, it is true that certain sculptures displayed there are depicting positions of congress but that depiction had its own relevance during that time. There are different stories attached about these erotic images. After reading into history and taking guided tour I came to know about these stories.

Erotic sculptures at Kandariya Mahadev Temple.
Erotic sculptures at Kandariya Mahadev Temple.

According to one version, these images were used to educate public about the importance of worldly affairs when youths of that time were attracted towards brahmacharya or abstinence. Because of this, Chandela kings had problems finding warriors for army, so they decided to build temple to attract those yogis back to worldly affairs. In ancient times, people used to visit temple every day as an important part of the daily routine. So, it was used as a medium to invoke attraction towards worldly affairs.

The second version, to display the importance of physicality and intimacy in the four important phases of life, i.e. dharma (first 25 years), artha (25 years), kama (25 years) and moksha(25 years). According to Hindu philosophy for attaining salvation, one should experience all these four phases of life. It is said, that one can also attain liberation through Kama (lust) only, this is known as a tantric yoga, involving union of male and female energies.

The third version says, these are simple depictions of daily lives of people at that time. It is displaying images of people coming back from wars, teachers educating disciples about wars, celebrations of winning battles etc.

"True art takes note not merely of form but also of what lies behind. ~ M.K Gandhi

So, one should combine all these versions and look at the images, I am sure keeping all these perspective in mind, it will be impossible to resist self from appreciating the work of those anonymous artists.

Personally, I didnt find any vulgarity looking at those sculptures; rather I was thinking how an artist could do the sculpturing when there used to be no photo or other means to copy. How stable and focus minded that artist must be who could simply manifest his mind in a form of a sculpture using imagination or probably personal experience. Whatever it may be, either imagination or experience it is for sure not at all easy for a common man to pursue creation of magnificence.

Sitting behind Kandariya Mahadev Temple.
Sitting behind Kandariya Mahadev Temple.

On the intricacy of work, see the single stone sculpture of Varaha (the boar), the third incarnation of Lord Vishnu, is shown in separate temple, Varaha temple. The single stone sculpture of Varaha, shows the intricacy of work, there are some 672 small images carved on the single stone and it simply looks flawless.

Varaha Temple.
Varaha Temple.
Intricacy of work in Varaha Temple.
Intricacy of work carved on Varaha.

Due to Mughal invasion during 13th century, Mehmud Gazni, ordered destruction of these temples. This caused many temples to be destroyed, initially it used to be 85 in number but due to destruction and natural calamities now only 21 are left. There are many sculptures which can be seen with broken and missing parts.

Broken image of Goddess.
Broken image of Goddess.

A great job has been done by ASI (Archeological survey of India) in conserving these temples otherwise we would have missed the fortune of seeing magnificence in its ultimate form. Looking at the quality of the restoration work, I realized that we have lost the skill and artistry over the period of time, because the restored sculptures and certain parts like pillars etc. are nowhere to what was built 1000 years back. I was wondering, in the time when we have all the technologies of internet, lasers, scanning blah blah but still we cant produce that soul-stirring work. That tells me that how art is close to spirituality.

Lakshmana temple.
Lakshmana temple.
Restoration work under progress.
Restoration work under progress.

How truly it was said during the commentary in his dashing voice (I just love it.) of Amitabh Bachchan (most famous Bollywood actor) at light and sound show which happens every day for 50 mins in Hindi and English - a true artist needs focused mind and two hands as the only instruments for a birth of a masterpiece. How great those artists had been, who dedicated their lives for producing such masterpieces.

Each temple has its own deity for which it is made, for example Kandariya Mahadev is a temple dedicated to Lord Shiva, and this is also the best preserved temple. Similarly, there are temples for Goddess Parvati, consort of Lord Shiva, for Lord Vishnu, for Varha, an avatar of Lord Vishnu, for Goddess Jagdamba, Lord Adinath (Jain saint), Goddess Mantageshwari etc.

In all these temples there is no daily worship offered to deities except in Goddess Mantageshwari temple. All these temples are built to display the magnificence of deities.

Introduction of Kandariya Mahadev Temple.
Introduction of Kandariya Mahadev Temple.
Kandariya Mahadev Temple.
Kandariya Mahadev Temple.

We both really felt enamoured by the beauty and charm of these temples and decided to drop our visit to nearby sites, Panna National Park, Rena waterfalls and spent time deep diving in understanding more about temples and sculptures. It was really a pleasure looking at those masterpieces so closely. To our surprise, people there thought that we are some journalists arrived from Delhi and have come here for some coverage. This is so because, I was loaded with my DSLR and I was keenly taking pictures from different angles and were asking questions which average visitor might not ask. People who were visiting there were either in groups or as married couples, we both were the only two single women as visitors, so no wonder if anybody is thinking differently.

Both of us (I and my friend Ch) enjoyed our morning meditation at Kandariya Mahadev temple. It was a soft glow and warmth of early rays of sun. We went early morning to temple compound to see how the first rays of Sun touched the sanctum sanctorum, the actual deities placed inside the temples. This is due to the fact that all temples are constructed facing east and there is no window in the temple, either it is early morning sunlight (for all temples) or the dim day light throughout the day which keeps light inside the temples.

Meditation at Kandariya.
Meditation at Kandariya Mahadev temple. Look at the yellowish tinge in the image, this is because of early morning Sun light.

Personally I feel, any individual who is an art lover must visit this place and should immerse in this magnificence. I enjoyed my trip thoroughly as it gave me an opportunity to correlate my knowledge about Hindu mythology, Indian history blended with my taste for art and above all my spiritual nature. Had there been even one element missing from this combination, it would have been a simple visit to temple. The art appreciation course that I did couple of years back has filled me with curiosity to look at piece of art from a different angle or from the view of an artist, attending that course has truly paid me manifold.

It was hard to digest for me how anybody can think of destroying the labour of love. How much pervert that minds would have been who sought solace only in destruction. How painful it would have been for those artists to see those broken pieces of their masterpieces.

Kandariya Mahadev Temple during light and sound show.
Kandariya Mahadev Temple during light and sound show.

In essence, the glory of truth and authenticity never dies and so for another millennial these temples would remain standing tall to tell the glories of those great artists and kings who gave their lives and soul to create these masterpieces.

Seema Bhatnagar
, Blogger, Writer, Life Coach and Founder of Abundance Thinkers, site for personal growth and development. Empowering people in achieving and living the best of personal potential.

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