Sharing a common platform with other temples in the western corner of the enclosure, the majestic Kandariya Mahadeva temple, built between 1025 and 1050 AD, is the largest and most imposing of the western group. A perfect consummation of the five-part design instigated in Lakshmana and Vishvanatha, this Shiva temple represents the pinnacle of Chandellan art, its ornate roofs soaring dramatically to culminate 31m above the base in a shikhara consisting of 84 smaller replicas.

Kandariya Mahadeva is especially popular with visitors for the extraordinarily energetic and provocative erotica that ornaments its three tiers, covering almost every facet of the exterior. Admiring crowds can always be found in front of a particularly fine image of a couple locked in mithuna (sexual intercourse) with a maiden assisting on either side. One of Khajuraho’s most familiar motifs, it seems to defy nature, with the male figure suspended upside down on his head; only when considered as if from above do the sinuous intertwined limbs begin to make sense.

The torana and the seven mothers

An elaborate garland at the entrance to the temple, carved from a single stone, acts as a torana, the ritual gateway of a marriage procession. Both inside and out, lavish and intricate images of gods, goddesses, musicians and nymphs celebrate the occasion; within the sanctuary a dark passage leads to its central shivalingam. Niches along the exterior contain images of GaneshVirabhadra and the Sapta Matrikas, the Seven Mothers responsible for dressing the bridegroom, Shiva. Wrathful deities and fearsome protectors, the seven consist of Brahmi, a female counterpart of Shiva, seated on the swan of Brahma; a three-eyed Maheshvari on Shiva’s bull Nandi; Kumari; Vaishnavi, seated on the bird Garuda; Varahi, the female form of Vishnu as the boar; Narasimhi, the female form of Vishnu as man-lion; and the terrifying Chamunda, the slayer of the asuras or “demons” Chanda and Munda, and the only one of the Sapta Matrikas who is not a female representation of a major male god.

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