Khajuraho Temples and Monuments

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India has a few world heritage sites of note. (Sorry, that deserves some caps.) UNESCO World Heritage Sites of note. (Yes, there is a difference.)

The definitive United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization World Heritage programme recognises only the most monumental cultural and natural sites on the planet - and, indeed, safeguards and monitors their conditions thereafter. It’s an exclusive club, to be sure, with 981 members at last count and original members like the City of Quito, Ecuador, the Historic Centre of Kraków, Poland, the Galápagos Islands, and Simien National Park, Ethiopia.

Italy has the most UNESCO World Heritage Sites, with 49. China and Spain come in a close second and third, with 45 and 44 sites, respectively. And then there’s India, in seventh place, with 30 sites.

On the Rise

While not a contest, of course, it’s likely that over time India will outpace some of the other states above it on the UNESCO list. This is the country, after all, that gave us Sundarbans National Park, the Hill Forts of Rajasthan, sublime Mountain Railways, and the Taj Mahal.

Without a doubt, India is home to a spectacular assembly of heritage sites, - both current ones and future candidates - that evince a diversity unlike any other UNESCO state party. A standout is the Khajuraho Temples and Monuments.

One of the Seven Wonders of India

The town of Khajuraho is in Madhya Pradesh, or Central Province, some 600 km from Delhi. The Temples and Monuments site the area is famous for was one of the first UNESCO World Heritage inscriptions in the country.

The Chandella Dynasty built the temples between 950 and 1050. After a millennium, a handful, perhaps 20 or so, remain. The temples, a mix of Brahmin/Hindu and Jain styles, blend the constraints of architecture and art in what can only be described as singular masterpieces.

The temples and monuments cover a compact territory of 6 km square. The site once contained an estimated 85 temples, all created during the Chandella period of rule in what is now Madhya Pradesh.

Tantric Models

To call the temples “ornately decorated” is to do their original artisans and engineers a disservice. The sculpted panels and broad reliefs that cover the temples are impeccably vivid, even to this day. One can imagine the first impression the largest temple in Khajuraho, the  Kandariyâ Mahâdeva, made on 19th century British engineer T.S. Burt as he thrashed his way through dense jungle, guided on by locals, to catch a glimpse of what he must have assumed was a rumour.

If the temples were indeed built to inspire awe and wonder, they largely succeed on this score even to contemporary visitors. The candid and explicit Tantric images promoted by the Chandella rulers on the temple walls quicken the pulse, some 1,000 years on, and, in a world where hot yoga is trendy, have a lot to teach us about the ancient, sacred bonds between spirituality and sexuality.

While Madhya Pradesh’s bellwether UNESCO World Heritage Site is a popular stopover between the Taj Mahal and Varanasi, do some research on hotels in Khajuraho and consider a longer stay. It’s totally worth your time.

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