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Khajuraho: The Ancient Indian Temples Covered With Erotic Architecture

Dedicated to the Hindu and Jain religions, and steeped in legend, the 22 temples of Khajuraho are intricately carved architectural masterpieces. Perhaps most famous for the erotic sculptures that are included among the scenes of everyday life on the facades of the temples.

The Kandariya Mahadeo Temple at Khajuraho.
The Kandariya Mahadeo Temple at Khajuraho.

It is a common misconception that most, if not all, of the carvings, are sexual in nature. In fact, only about 10 percent depict amorous scenes and the remainder serve as a vivid exhibition of life at the peak of the Khajuraho's cultural importance. Although archeologists and historians often disagree about the purpose of the sculptures, there is no doubting their magnificent artistry.

The small town of Khajuraho is in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, at the centre of northern India, and dates back over a thousand years to the time of the Chandela dynasty that held sway in the region from the 10th century AD until the 13th.

Considered by many to represent the peak of India's architectural achievement during the Medieval age, there were originally 85 temples, built between about 950 and 1050. Today, only 22 remain but stand testament to their creators' genius.

The temples were all built of sandstone and, unusually, no mortar was used to hold the blocks together. Instead, the masons used a highly precise method of mortise and tenon joints that help to make the temples look as if they have each been carved from a single giant piece of rock.

Outside, the sculptures largely depict scenes of Indian life. Apart from erotic displays, other figures are putting on make-up, playing instruments, farming, making pots, and going about other everyday tasks.

The sexual gymnastics, which appear to illustrate scenes from the Kama Sutra, are usually kept at some distance from the carvings of deities. Inside, the carvings are more calm and respectful.

To walk through one of the temples' east-facing grand entranceways is to leave behind the bustle of earthly life depicted on the exterior. Stepped ceilings are decorated with carved flowers and geometric designs.

The largest of the temples is the Kandariya Mahadeo, which rises over 31 metres and is a shrine dedicated to Lord Shiva - the supreme god in Shiva Hindu lore. Other notable temples include the Chitragupta, with its impressive 1.5 metre statue of the sun god Surya driving a chariot and the partially ruined Chaunsat, dedicated to the goddess Kaili - who presides over the passing of time and eternal change - which is thought to be the oldest of the temples.

Today, the temple complex of Khajuraho is one of India's most visited places, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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