Day nine dawns at Khajuraho.
We want to see the temples "at the first ray of dawn”, says Jones. So, we start early today at 5.30 am. We first arrive at a small but beautiful pond by the side of the Lakshman and Khandariya Shiva temple complex.
The water in the pond is beginning to get ready to bathe in the morning sun rays. The reflection of the temple spires and the other buildings form a ‘waterscape’ worthy of a morning meditation. But, the ghat is filled with filth. All kinds of rubbish are left in small piles along the steps. If kept neat and clean, this is the place where people can perform their morning oblations to their deities.
Sadhus can sit in meditation and bless visitors. In fact, a sadhu greets me with his hand raised in a commanding gesture of blessing as I enter. He should really be having total control of his senses and all forms of likes and dislikes to sit, here, amidst all the garbage. It is a sad sight.
We enter the temple complex. It is overwhelming and magnificent. I stand at the Varaha Temple which was built in the early tenth century. It can be considered as the beginning of Chandela temple building legacy.
In the subsequent years, Yasovarman of Chandela dynasty would build right before the Varaha Temple the very famous ‘Lakshmana’ Temple (unrelated to Lakshmana of the Ramayana) which is dedicated to Vishnu as Lord of Vaikunda.
Here, Vishnu is depicted in a three-headed form. The central head is the divine conventional Vishnu head. It is flanked on the both sides by Narasimha and Varaha.
The gods and goddesses look at us with love and benediction. Through the centuries, they stand with their abounding blessings. A sculpture of Saraswati, here, holds the sacred texts... and the Tamil in me evokes these lines of Saraswathi Anthathi ascribed to Kamban: “...She who is armed with Upanishads... and here She stands!”
The Varaha incarnation of Vishnu is traditionally the third incarnation. When the Earth was getting submerged into the waters of chaos and dissolution, Varaha destroyed Hiranyaksha, the asura who was responsible for the chaos. He then plunged into chaos and steadied the Earth between the tusks of the boar. This puranic incident is filled with symbolism. The Varaha sculpture in a way expresses it, taking it to a new height.
There are two forms of Varaha namely Pralaya Varaha and Yajna Varaha. Pralaya Varaha is the Varaha form who lifts the Earth out of the chaos into which it had plunged – it is the usual form we often see. As Yajna Varaha, the lord, here, as the Varaha is Yajna itself. In vedic worldview, it is Yajna that upholds the Earth and its existence.
Yajna is the realisation and expression of Rta, the cosmic order. So, the Varaha who holds and steadies the Earth can be none other than Yajna itself. Yajna is not merely a ritual. It is the re-enactment of the cosmic process and reinforcement of the Rta. Vishnu Purana gives quite a detailed symbolic description of the Varaha with various functional and structural aspects of the Vedic sacrifice.
So, the legs of the boar are the vedas. His thundering voice is the Sama Veda. His tusk like teeth with which he lifts the Earth and balances it are the yupa or the sacrificial poles erected in the Yajna. The mouth is the sacrificial pit. The tongue is, of course, the agni. The entire body is the sacrificial altar.
Now let us look at how Varaha is represented here. This impressive monolith sculpture carries on its body 674 divine forms. The guardian deities of the eight directions, the Nagas, the Kinnaras, the Gandharvas, the Seven Mother Goddesses and so on. At the snout near the mouth one can see the goddess of speech, Saraswati.
In his own way, the sculptor has given us a way to recognise the continuity between the vedic and puranic worldviews. The puranic deities are more crystallised entities representing various aspects of the vedic universe.
Just as Varaha provides a quick identification and experience of the vedic sacrifice that in turn symbolises cosmic existence, both as a presence and a process, the puranic deities represent various aspects of the vedic realm.
A Hindu intuitively understands this continuity — something which is missed by the one ‘educated’ to view it through the Western Indological lens. The sculpture then reminds the alienated ‘educated’ component in us of the continuity.
This is a sculpture worthy of meditation for hours though usually visitors move quickly after a few exclamations and a few more selfies with Varaha.
The Kandariya Mahadeva Temple was built in the eleventh century by Vidyadhara (r.c. 1003-1035 CE). The king foiled the attempts by Mahmud Ghazni not once but twice. The second time he not only repulsed the siege but also extracted wealth from the rapacious raider which was euphemistically called ‘exchange of gifts’ and one-sided tributes by the historians who accompanied the raider.
We will know clearly who the victor and the vanquished were despite the euphemism and vain glory indulged in by the ‘historians’ of Mahmud Ghazni. Unlike the chroniclers, the evidence stands tall as Kandariya Mahadeva Temple built lavishly by Vidyadhara. So, here, we know who lost and who gained wealth from the encounter.
It is quite sad that in our textbooks we learn and let our children learn that Mahmud of Ghazni, the raider, plundered our temples and that he beautified his city with that wealth — subliminally hinting that he was somehow justified.
But one has to travel all the way to Khajuraho to learn that at last the plunderer was stopped by a Hindu king, who forced him to return quite a vast sum of his plunder and utilised it for building temples in Hindustan.
Thanks to our trip partner, Savaari Car Rentals: You can now hire an affordable and dependable taxi almost anywhere in India.
Temples, of course, came along with nurturing of arts and sciences not to mention the series of water bodies that the Chandela kings built, which are now being excavated by Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
Unfortunately, our generation has moved away from our own heritage, spoiling the remaining water bodies and demeaning the history and beauty of Khajuraho, and reducing it to a mere erotic temple is another thing.
Repeatedly using the word "overwhelmed" may be a cliche. However, it can only be an understatement when uttered in the context of Khajuraho temples.
Around the temple we identify the Sapta Matrikas or the seven mothers — though some have been vandalised by the invaders, they can still be identified. But there are several others which we could not.
For example, the navagrahas or the nine celestial abodes representing the planets and so on. We need a guide. Finding a good guide is not always possible. ASI would do well to create an audio guide for the visitors in both English and Hindi initially, and all major Indian languages eventually.
Looking at the temple again and again does not exhaust you. A temple is not only an abode of the deity but is also the body of the deity. Our sacred tradition holds that a temple is the presentation of Vedic Yajna in the form of stone. It may look like a stationary object — but it is a process in sculpture.
The fractal design of the temple, here, is perhaps one of the greatest conceptualisations humanity ever dared to immortalise in sculptures. Here, fractal designs in stone have reached a zenith that is almost supra-human.
Just consider the following concluding observations from a paper titled "Fractal geometry as the synthesis of Hindu cosmology in Kandariya Mahadev temple, Khajuraho":
Modern architecture lacks fractalness and complexity, and carries the ‘simple and brute forms’. ... In this paper Hindu temples evidence the deep relationship between the fractal geometry and the deepest truth, which is being rediscovered in the contemporary architecture. Thus, the ‘past’ present in the future and ‘future’ contained in the ‘past’. ... After coining the term ‘fractal’ and setting up some mathematical formulas, now it has a great possibility to experiment about the refining of conventional temple-form or searching for new form of complexity related with Hindu cosmology with the consideration of ritual guides.
The challenge ultimately is to convey to the visitor this holistic vision of Khajuraho liberating the visitors as well as residents of the obsession for presenting it in a single dimensional manner. We need to integrate the elements of this temple not just in our architecture but also in our worldview.
Fritjof Capra in his Web of life quite elaborately describes how mathematics associated with fractal geometry is related to some basic fundamental aspects of life itself.
In a way, this temple with such fractal designs at their most elaborate and intricate forms in varying degrees can convey to students of art, science and humanities refreshing visions into their own domains. What we need for all these is a fundamental paradigm shift in the way we position our temples.
Evening draws to a close. In a living temple, a saffron flag flutters against the sun that is painting the sky golden. We have survived as a civilisation, the flag says. But that does not happen automatically. Generations have to strive with a vision so grand as these very temples and a mission to make the visions materialise.
We are heirs of those who built these temples. These temples are the collective heritage of every Hindu. If our ancestors could realise on Earth such glorious heavenly visions built solidly in stone, then what is that we cannot do and achieve as individuals and as a nation!
You can read the other Kashipath articles here.
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