The erotic and other carvings that swathe Khajuraho’s three groups of World Heritage–listed temples are among the finest temple art in the world. The Western Group of temples, in particular, contains some stunning sculptures.
Khajuraho is fully on the tour bus map, and the touts infesting the town can be a pain in the neck. But they’re not so bad that you should contemplate missing out on these beautiful temples.
The large Lakshmana Temple took 20 years to build and was completed in about AD 954 during the reign of Dhanga, according to an inscription in its mandapa (pillared front pavilion). It’s arguably the best preserved of all the Khajuraho temples. On the southern side of its base are some of Khajuraho’s most orgiastic carvings, including one gentleman proving that a horse can be a man’s best friend while a shocked figure peeps out from behind her hands.
The 30.5m-long Kandariya-Mahadev, built between 1025 and 1050, is the largest Western Group temple and represents the highpoint of Chandela architecture. It also has the most representations of female beauty and sexual acrobatics of any Khajuraho temple. There are 872 statues, most nearly 1m high – taller than those at the other temples. One frequently photographed sculpture on the south side illustrates the feasibility of the headstand position.
Believed to have been built in 1002, the Vishvanath Temple anticipates the plan and style of the Kandariya-Mahadev Temple. Dedicated to Shiva, it’s a superlative example of Chandela architecture, with a riot of carved figures continuing up to the highest levels of the sikharas. Sculptures include a female doing a headstand in the north-side recess; sensuous surasundaris writing letters, cuddling babies, looking in mirrors and scratching their backs; and miniature camels, horses, musicians, elephants, warriors and dancers in the lowest frieze.
Khajuraho’s most striking and best-preserved temples are those within the fenced-off section of the Western Group and are the only temples here you have to pay to see. An Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) guidebook to Khajuraho (₹60) may be available at the ticket office on Main Rd.
While not competing in size or erotica with the Western Group temples, this largest of the Jain temples in the walled enclosure is notable for the exceptional precision of its construction as well as for its sculptural beauty. Some of the best preserved examples of Khajuraho’s most famous images can be seen here, including the woman removing a thorn from her foot and another applying eye makeup, both on the southern side.