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Khajuraho, derived from the word 'khajur' meaning the date palm, was a quiet,
unknown town till a chance discovery made it a popular tourist destination.
Forgotten and unvisited until the mid-1960s, the place is now, after the
Taj, India's biggest single tourist attraction. Khajuraho has the largest
group of medieval temples; each studded with countless sculptures of extraordinary
grace and delicacy. The temples of Khajuraho, are indeed, celebrations of
the stylized and refined courtly accomplishments of beauty, love and creative
arts. Khajuraho lies about 385 miles (616 kilometers) southeast of Delhi.
It was once the religious capital of the Chandela Rajputs, a tribal dynasty
who ruled this part of India from the tenth to the twelfth centuries. The
Khajuraho temples were built in the short span of a hundred years, from
950-1050 AD in a truly inspired burst of creativity. The whole area was
enclosed by a wall with eight gates, each flanked by two golden palm trees.
There were originally over 80 temples, of which only 22 now stand in a reasonable
state of preservation, scattered over an area of about eight square miles.
The set of temples at Khajuraho celebrating Hindu religious thought in its
bewildering variety of scope and inclusion stands distinguished from rest
of the Hindu temples. The temples highlight the existential ethos in religion
that venerates 'Yoga' and 'Bhoga'. 'Yoga' is union of the self with the
Almighty, while 'Bhoga' is the path to God through physical pleasure. The
temples at Khajuraho, dedicated to physical love and pleasure are a testimony
to this philosophy.
Declared a World Heritage Site in 1986 in order to preserve its splendour
for geterity, Khajuraho is a prominent, must-see destination on most tourist
itineraries. The temples of Khajuraho are India's unique gift to the world,
representing, an ode to life, to love, to joy; perfect in execution and
sublime in expression. Life, in every form and mood, has been captured in
stone, testifying not only to the craftsman's artistry but also to the extraordinary
breadth of vision of the Chandela Rajputs under whose rule the temples were
conceived and constructed.
The creators of Khajuraho claimed descent from the moon as is testified
by the fascinating legend behind the creation of this great dynasty and
the temples. Hemwati, the lovely young widowed daughter of a Brahmin priest,
was seduced by the moon-god while she was bathing in a forest pool.
As the moon-god prepared to leave, Hemvati threatened to curse him for having
molested her chastity, at which the moon-god blessed her with an invincible
son, who would grow up to become a reputed world ruler and from whom will
would spring a thousand royal branches. The child born of this union was
Chandravarman, founder of the Chandela dynasty. It is believed that Brihsapati;
the preceptor of gods' descended on the earth to write his horoscope.
Brought up in the forests by his mother who sought refuge from a censorious
society, at an age of sixteen, the young Chandravarman was so strong that
he killed a tiger with a piece of stone and a full grown lion with a small
stick. When he was established as a ruler, he had a dream-visitation from
his mother. It is said that she implored him to build temples that would
reveal human passions, and in doing so bring about a realization of the
emptiness of human desire.
It is also believed that Chandelas were followers of the Tantric cult, which
believes that gratification of earthly desires is a step towards attaining
the infinite liberation or 'nirvana'. With their decline, the temples lay
forgotten for many centuries, covered by the encroaching forests, victim
to the ravages of the elements. Re-discovered only in this century, restored
and cleaned, the temples of Khajuraho once again testify to a past glory.