Talked usually in a hushed voice in India, the village Khajuraho in central state of India, Madhya Pradesh is a place associated with India’s ancient maturity and comfort in talking about sex and its various aspects through the exquisite and impressive temple architecture. My desire to visit the place had been fired by scores of stories which highlighted the erotic art there as the world class and as a place where many tourists particularly foreigner women tourists were settling married with tourist guides, auto rickshaw drivers and sculptors and what not. The discussions about the place in the peer groups always raised crossed smiles. It was also declared as a place unworthy of a visit for the kids as if you needed to be of more than 18 years to watch the 11th century temple art ! It was simply classified as the adult thing with all the connotations attached.
So i waited to see it perhaps too long. I actually visited Khajuraho when i had crossed the age of almost 43 in mid august. This became possible also because this quest to see the things was shared by 3 more of of my friends, youngest of whom was 38 years ! Just one of us, had been there before. After getting suitable holidays we decided to do a 2 day trip to the place. We started from Lucknow in the morning at 8:30 am in the morning, so as to reach in time in the evening. A SUV was hired for a comfortable journey. The experienced ones of us took positions on comfortable seats in order of their joining the vehicle. I was the last to join the vehicle and was placed precariously on the middle seat in the 2nd row. In shared vehicles’ journeys this placement of co passengers in different perceived grade of seats is always an amusing experience. Many in so called good seats avoid on the way even a mandatory visit to the loo and if forced to would do it like an Olympian or at least Asian Games sprinter to run back to their posh seats. We too witnessed few such runs !
The road to Khajuraho from Lucknow passes through once been Manchester of India, the city of Kanpur. Its one of the most congested cities in India and passage through it was first major road block. Also many construction activities were going on in Unnao and inside the Kanpur City. We negotiated through the traffic of Kanpur and used the snail pace by picking up some freshly baked salted groundnuts. Our next city on route was the Bundelkhand town of Hamirpur. It is situated between the picturesque banks of river Yamuna and Betwa with both the rivers flowing on the other edges of city at a distance of hardly 3 km. The water of these rivers in these patches is cleaner than many rivers in India. The monsoon though meant the rivers were flowing full to their banks in an impressive monsoon hued greenish backdrop. We had a tea break on the road side tarpaulin shaded tea shop. The tea in these shops is prepared right in front of you and except some questionable wash of glasses there are no regrets in these really low priced shops. The smokers in the group had a quick kick and had few customary dash to reoccupy the advantage seats before halting for a delayed lunch at the city of Mahoba. This district famous for once the impregnable fort of Kalinjar and is now famous for cash rich stone quarrying. Our local host in Mahoba an ex school mate of a group member was posted there and arranged for food and for all and drinks for the die hard. Those who wanted to exchange old stories of college times took longer over drinks and we left a little late for last leg of around 100 kms to Khajuraho.
The journey from Mahoba onward became tough due to poor road conditions and unfortunately we chose the shorter but full of potholed road route. It took around 3 hours to reach the village town of Khajuraho and checked in straight into hotel Ramada. This reasonably priced hotel has impressive look from outside but lack of maintenance and off season had caused a decay in overall ambiance of the hotel. As we were little late in the evening and were exhausted, we decided to take some rest before enjoying the evening together. The evening party of the group started early and after cheering up ourselves with the blue value scotch courtesy the old friend, had some decent food. We discussed a lot about the progress of our lives as friends in last 20 years before retiring to the bed. The plan was to retire early as one of the group member had to join back to his duties a day before than planned originally.
The next morning we readied for the included in the room tariff breakfast and before venturing out. If you were a tourist in any part of the world and want to utilize the day ahead it is always better to have a king size breakfast, which we did actually. The town of Khajuraho is on international tourist map and despite being a small town has an airport and many luxurious hotels including from Taj and Raddisson group. The town and civic amenities though need a refurbishment seriously. The ring road to the temple was under construction and can put off tourists easily. The temple group of Khajuraho is in the mid of the town and the most famous western group of temples are situated in a cluster surrounded by a stone wall to offer protection. The temples were built between 10th and 11th century AD by over a period of 100 odd years by Chandela rulers. Of them notably king Yashovarman and Dhanga contributed a lot. The temples and their beauty finds mention in the travel diaries of Moroccan traveller Ibn Batuta and Arabic traveller Al Baruni. They were destroyed a bit during multiple raids by Mohammedan invaders. The weathering over centuries and negligence in maintenance before being declared as world heritage site by UNESCO have caused considerable damage to this this great treasure.
We hired a guide here who gave in detail nuances about the architecture and the socio-economic condition of the times narrated through architecture. Since the temple construction spawns over 100 years the difference in treatment in various temples is noticeable by the difference in the styling of sculpture of human bodies and other figurines. The later temples like Kandariya- Mahadeva got carved really well. The temples of Vishwanath and Laxman are particularly beautiful. So is one of the rare of this size sculpture of Varaha in the temple complex. The temples here apart from the normal well carved sculptures of God and Goddesses also depict the daily life of the court and courtiers and also normal human beings. The sculpture of a lady dressing up after a bath and a lady doing a make up with a mirror held in her left hand with her neck slightly tilted to left is so mesmerizing as the lady was actually in front of you. Likewise for a lady who was writing a letter to his lover. The daily chores of life like picking out a thorn from the foot palm by a vaidya etc are so neatly done that they appear like happening right in front of you.
The sculptures on various sexual poses of a man and woman are also done marvelously. The way the bodies of men and women are entwined in various poses are outstanding. The sculpture without being vulgar depict various aspects of sexual life and practices of that time. The sculptors have taken examples from the daily life and felt free to depict what they were wanted to in a temple complex. One possible reason could have been the practices of Tantrik Cult at that time which believed in renunciation through attainment and also to put sex as a healthy and obvious part of human life. The Konark Temple in eastern state of Orissa too have few of such sculptures but those in Khajuraho are in plenty the top class actually. But it is also very clear that the erotic sculpture is a very small part of temple architecture of Khajuraho though that is publicized most for obvious reasons.
Weather on the day of our visit was also very favorable with a very beautiful background of a blue sky with clouds strewn here and there. It was truly mesmerizing. The elaborate visit to the temple site needs a full day at least, in western group of temples alone. Then there is a eastern group of temples also but the most famous and rather best maintained are in western group.
Our visit to temple was limited to half day as we had to return to Lucknow by late evening. We packed off ourselves after having cold drinks etc to beat the heat. Taking lessons from our previous day journey we took a different route which was longish but certainly better. We had a quick lunch of Baigan Bharta and Arhar Daal this time at a local Dhaba with hot tandoori rotis. It was really fresh food and since served hot, tasted great. We carried on our journey and with few members of the group replenishing themselves again with chilled drinks again at Kanpur. On the way the discussions on Khajuraho and its myriad dimensions continued till few of us starting snoring on a full stomach after meals. The race to save the posh seats had by now receded and each was in a somber mood sensing the end of a great journey of a 11th century marvel by old friends together. Every moment of this long due visit was worth cherishing for all of us and has contributed a lot in our standing of life as it is.