Beyond Varaha, adjacent to the Matangesvara temple across the boundary wall, the richly carved Lakshmana temple, dating from around 950 AD, is the oldest of the western group. It stands on a high plinth covered with processional friezes of horses, elephants and camels, as well as soldiers, domestic scenes, musicians and dancers. Among explicit sexual images is a man sodomizing a horse, flanked by shocked female onlookers. The sheer energy of the work gives the whole temple an astounding sense of movement and vitality.

While the plinth depicts the human world, the temple itself, the adhisthana, brings one into contact with the celestial realm. Two tiers of carved panels decorate its exterior, with gods and goddesses attended by apsaras, “celestial nymphs”, and figures in complicated sexual acts on the lower tier and in the recesses. Fine detail includes a magnificent dancing Ganesh on the south face, a master architect with his students on the east, and heavenly musicians and dancers.

The mandapa and inner sanctum

Successive pyramidal roofs over the mandapa and the porch rise to a clustered tower made of identical superimposed elements. Small porches with sloping eaves project from the mandapa and passageway, with exquisite columns, each with eight figures, at each corner of the platform supported by superb brackets in the form of apsaras. The inner sanctum, the garbha griha, is reached through a door whose lintel shows Vishnu’s consort Lakshmi, accompanied by Brahma and Shiva; a frieze depicts the Navagraha, the nine planets. Inside, the main image is of Vishnu as the triple-headed, four-armed Vaikuntha, attended by his incarnations as boar and man-lion.

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