Thursday, January 08, 2015
Spending two days in this small provincial town, a part of Chattarpur district in Madhya Pradesh, surrounded by a series of 10th Century temple, on the first two days of the New Year, was an experience. The weather was bad. There was fog and rain, and it was cold. It suited us perfectly, for the Khajuraho town was almost devoid of tourist types, except a few white foreign nationals (you will find them everywhere in India; in Khajuraho, more so. Here, we met several tourist guides who can speak fluent Italian, Spanish, French, Russian, German; the most uncanny was a villager type uncle sprouting perfect German!)
Khajuraho is our Angkor Wat, and equally magnificent. You wonder how a small-time dynasty, almost forgotten by history, the Chandela kings of Bundelkhand, before the Mughals started their dominion on India, could manage to build such magnificent structures. Then you are told that most artisans came from Mathura, the same people who started the famous Mathura school of art during the Kushana and Gupta period, or their descendents. They created the artworks near the river, some distance away from Khajuraho, and then the sculptures were transported and fitted into the temple.
As you admire the craftsmanship, you also admire the ingenuity of those Indian builders and those local architectures, who designed the temples and made sure that each piece of art was fitted in its designated place. The temples, big and small, were raised on high platforms so that they are visible from far away, are dedicated to different gods, including those who are not worshipped anymore, such as Vishnu’s Vamana Avatar and Varaha Avatar, Surya or Chitragupta, and so on. There are also a series of temples dedicated to the Jain tirthankaras.
The temples reminded me of the temples in Puri, Odisha, the same architecture. And the sculptures… forget the eroticism, what strikes you is how lifelike the panels are, featuring apsaras, and gods with the consorts and common men and women, busy in their daily chores, and with their animals. What strikes you is the meticulous representation of the figures, their faces and their limbs… For example, most of the male figures have raised midriffs, to suggest that in those days too, Indian men had bellies; six-pack abs is an unnatural invention.