The resplendent Hindu temples of KHAJURAHO, immaculately restored after almost a millennium of abandonment and neglect, and now a UNESCO World Heritage site, are an essential stop on any itinerary of India’s historic monuments. Famed for the delicate sensuality – and forthright eroticism – of their sculpture, they were built between the tenth and twelfth centuries AD and remain the greatest architectural achievement of the Chandella dynasty.
Waves of Afghan invaders soon hastened the decline of the Chandellas, however, who abandoned the temples shortly after they were built for more secure ground. The temples gradually fell out of use and by the sixteenth century had been swallowed by the surrounding jungle. It took “rediscovery” by the British in 1838 before these masterpieces were fully appreciated in India, let alone internationally. It is still not known exactly why the temples were built and there are a number of competing theories (see The erotic art of Khajuraho); some say they are a “how to” guide for Brahmin boys while others claim they symbolize the wedding party of Shiva and Parvati.
Some 400km southeast of Agra and the same distance west of Varanasi, Khajuraho might look central on maps of the Subcontinent, but remains almost as remote from the Indian mainstream as it was when the temples were built – which is presumably what spared them the depredations of the marauders, invaders and zealots who devastated so many early Hindu sites. However, a train route now crosses this extended flood plain, making Khajuraho much easier to visit today.