Khajuraho, a UNESCO World Heritage site & one of the most popular tourist spots in Madhya Pradesh is famous for its ancient temples that depict some of the finest art in the world.

Visit Khajuraho - the temple architecture of India

The Khajuraho temple complex is simply unique. One thousand years ago, under the generous and artistic patronage of the Chandela Rajput kings of Central India, 85 temples, magnificent in form and richly carved, came up on one site, near the village of Khajuraho.Right in the heart of this country, which gives plenty of evidence of its discomfort with expressions of love and intimacy every day, exist some of the most explicit and eloquent depictions of lovemaking and sexual liberation carved in stone. In the middle of a rural stretch, where infrastructure and other parameters of progress have never quite found their way, stands an airport. 

Amid the surrounding forests and the dusty village thrive several fancy hotels, cafes doling out pancakes, and any number of foreign tourists.All for one of the most intriguing mysteries of Indian history – what are these acrobatic, orgiastic scenes doing on the walls of ancient Indian temples? The amazingly short span of 100 years, from 950 AD – 1050 AD, saw the completion of all the temples, in an inspired burst of creativity. Today, of the original 85, only 22 have survived the ravages of time. These remain as a collective paean to life, to joy and to creativity to the ultimate fusion of man with his creator. 

Why did the Chandelas choose Khajuraho or Khajirvahila – garden of dates, as it was known then – as the site for their stupendous creations? Even in those days it was no more than a small village. It is possible given the eclectic patronage of the Chandelas and the wide variety of beliefs represented in the temples, that they had the concept of forming a seat of religion and learning at Khajuraho. It is possible that the Chandelas were also believers in the powers of Tantrism which believes that the gratification of earthly desires is a step closer to the attainment of the infinite. It is certain however, that the temples represent the expression of a highly matured civilization. 

Yet another theory is that the erotica of Khajuraho, and indeed of other temples, had a specific purpose. In those days when boys lived in hermitages, following the Hindu law of being “Brahmacharis” until they attained manhood, the only way they could prepare themselves for the worldly role of ‘householder’ was through the study of these sculptures and the earthly passions they depicted. Based on their geographical location, the temples are categorized into three groups: The Eastern, Western and Southern temples. Beautiful, intricate and expressive, the sculptures of the Khajuraho temples will leave you in awe and wonder.



The area that Khajuraho occupies has played a crucial role in the cultural history of the subcontinent since 200 BCE, when there was an efflorescence of sculptural and architectural arts during the Sunga period. During the Gupta period as well, between the 4th and 6th centuries CE, there was a resurgence of the arts in this region.The first recorded mention of the temples of Khajuraho comes from the accounts of Abu Rihan al-Biruni in 1022 CE and the Arab traveler Ibn Batuta(1335 CE). This magnificent complex of 25 temples was built by the Chandela dynasty of kings between 900 and 1130 CE.

In fact, Khajuraho was the first capital of the Chandelas, who rose to rule the region in the 9th century CE, and by the 10th-14th centuries were the most powerful regents of this area. They were part of a Rajput bribe that claimed descent from the moon – through the legendary sage Chandrateya. Tradition ascribes their origin to Maniyagadh a hill fort located 20 kmaway. The earlier Chandela chiefs were local feudatories under the Pratiharas, who were the paramount power in northern India after the breakup of Harshvardhana`s empire in the mid- 7th century.The Chandels gradually grew to become a stable kingdom. 

They did, however, lose the prized fortress of Kalinjar to Mahmud Ghazni in the 11th century, but managed to recover it soon after. In the latter half of the 12th century, Muhannad of Ghur invaded the area and many northern royalties were crippled. However, the Chandelas managed to hold firm against them. The kings of this dynasty are considered to have been great patrons of sculpture, arts and the letters. Under their rule, there was a flurry of architectural activity throughout the kingdom. They dotted their empire with forts, palaces, tanks as well as temples. But from the very beginning, Khajuraho was their prized capital. In addition, there was a sudden growth in temple-building from the 10th century onwards, a natural result of the resurgence of Brahmanism that swept the subcontinent, and the complex at Khajuraho came into being in the wake of these developments.The spread of the ruins here indicate that this site could have originally spread over approximately 21 sq km. 

Local legends claim that there were a total of 85 temples in Khajuraho, but only 25 of those have survived in various stages of preservation. From the onset, Khajuraho was probably envisaged as a temple town, since there are no surviving secular buildings here. Interestingly, by the decline of the Chandela dynasty in the 13th century, Khajuraho was no longer an important city, eventually vanishing into forested oblivion. There is not a single mention of the site in the many Mughal administrative records that cover much of the subcontinent under their control.In 1838, TS Burt, a British engineer, heard about a mythical land of temples in the forest from locals and ventured to search for it.The Khajuraho group of temples was designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.The temples have been divided into the Western, Eastern and Southern groups, with the most important and impressive shrines belonging to the Western group.Since the latter is located next to the bustling tourist areas of the village/town, it is best to start your trip with this group, which is located near the Shiv Sagar tank.

To understand Khajuraho, it is highly advisable to hire a guide or rent an audio headset from the ASI.

The architectural style of Khajuraho Temples

Most temples in Khajuraho conform to a basic temple structure, adhering to the nogara school. The nogara style of architecture reached its peak during this period. This northern style focused on the square sanctum, which would be in a cruciform shape because of the transepts on either side. This sanctum was topped by a curvilinear spire or shikhara. Except for Chausathyogini, Brahma and Lalguan-Mahadeva temples, which were con-structed either completely or mostly of granite, the rest of the Khajuraho temples were made of sandstone, in varying shades. It is believed that these were sourced from the quarries of Panna on the eastern bank of the River Ken. 

The temples belong to either Shaiva, Vaishnava or Jaina sects, but despite these differing allegiances, they maintain similar dominant architectural and sculptural schemes, to the extent that, other than the main image of worship and a few other distinctive cult images, it would be hard to distinguish between groups of temples architecturally. The temples in this complex conform to the nogara style, while also managing to squeeze in some peculiarities, as it were, in terms of plan and elevation. These are mostly compact temples, but without any enclosure walls and built on high terraces that elevate them from the immediate environment and, more importantly, allow free space for ambulation around the temples. 

The basic elements of a temple plan – a ardhamandapa or entrance porch, a mandapa or hall, an antarala or vestibule and the garbhagriha or sanctum sontorum – are present in all the temples. In the larger temples, though, there are lateral transepts and balconied windows in the mandapa, thus making it a maha-mandapa. The larger temples also have an inner pradakshinapath or circumlocutory passage around the sanctum.


Art historians have studied Khajuraho for several decades and have divided the sculptures adoming the walls of the templesinto various groups.

The first category comprises fromal cult images that have been sculpted keeping to strict canonical norms.
The second includes family, attendant and enclosing divinities, called parivara, parsva and avaranadevatas respectively. These can be found in the niches or against the walls of temples and are either completely rounded or are in high relief.
The third category is that of apsaras and surasundaris, the most proliferate type of sculptures in Khajuraho. These are nymphs and dancers in various poses, represented with flowers, ornaments etc. the surasundaris are often shown expressing human emotions and activities, such as yawing, disrobing, removing thorns from their feet, playing with pets, etc.
The fourth category comprise non-religious figures, which include the infamous erotic couples or groups, as well as domestic scenes, teachers and disciples, and dancers and musicians.
The fifth group is of sculptures of animals, whether real or mythical including the sardula, a fantastic beast often represented as a horned lion with on armed human on its back. The amorous sculptures, it must be noted at this juncture, display not only some scenes unheard of in otherwise ‘traditional’ India, but display sculptural form at its best, with a rare sensitivity and humanness attributed to the figures.
Most of these figures have expressions of total rapture and intense absorption, which is said to transcend them from the physical plane to the spiritual. While some interpret these sculptures to be a reflection of the lack of ‘morality’ at the time, others consider them illustrations of erotic postures from the Kamasutra. Another theory holds that these represent the practices of certain sects in the medieval period which engaged in the sexual act as a form of ritual symbolism and considered yoga and bhoga to be alternate paths, both of which would lead to the attainment of ultimate deliverance.
Whichever interpretation of the erotic scenes you choose to believe in, it would be unfair to say that there is anything ‘lewd’ or ‘coarse’ about these depictions. These sculptural representations are among the richest in the subcontinent. The argument that they represent the ‘morals’ of their time hold true to the extent that they indicate that the people at that time, the royally and sculptors at any rate, had a considerably open idea about sex and pleasure. Kama or pursuit of pleasure was deemed to be one of the four purusharthas or aims of life and was a necessary step towards deliverance, the ultimate aim in a person`s life. Additionally, the statues only build on the already quite sensual traditions of sculpture in the subcontinent and take them to their natural conclusions.

Khajuraho’s connection with Kamasutra

The erotic sculptures of Khajuraho showcases a very intricate philosophy of life

Khajuraho Tourism

Climate & Best time to visit Khajuraho

Khajuraho, a UNESCO World Heritage site, can be visited for all the months of the year except May & June

How to reach Khajuraho

Khajuraho has a railway station as well as airport & is well connected to other destinations of Madhya Pradesh

Best Places to stay in Khajuraho

Khajuraho hosts the maximum no’s of premium hotels of Madhya Pradesh along with deluxe & budget properties

Best Places to visit in Khajuraho

Khajuraho, apart from being a UNESCO World Heritage site also hosts Panna National Park close by

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