The temples at Khajuraho are divided into three broad groups:
- The Western Group, which is the largest, compact and centrally located group in Khajuraho, includes some of the most prominent monuments, built by the Chandela rulers.
- The Eastern Group, which comprises of five detached sub-groups in and around the present village of Khajuraho
- The Southern Group, which is the most distant one comprising of two main monuments near and across the Khudarnala.
To the left of the entrance a path takes you up to the famous Lakshmana Temple, a grand edifice that stands on a high platform. It is dedicated to Lord Vishnu - the preserver of the Hindu Trinity of Gods. If you are one of those who realise after coming all the way here that you wont be able to walk so much, take heart - this temple alone will make your trip. Dating from 930-950 AD it is one of earliest temples going in Khajuraho. Considering its age, the Lakshmana Temple is remarkably well-preserved; in fact it is one of the best preserved temples of the whole lot.
According to the inscription on the Lakshmana Temple, it was built by a certain King Yasovarman to install a Vaikuntha-Vishnu image (which can still be seen here) gifted to him by his Pratihara overlord, Devapala. The image was brought originally from Tibet (or Bhosa as it was known then), where the cult of worshipping Vishnu in his Vaikuntha (the multi-headed Vishnu) avatar was popular.
The outer wall of the Lakshmana Temple is exquisitely carved - indeed every inch of space bears the mark of the sculptors artistic flight of fantasyr. In front of it are two open pavilions or mandapas. The one furthest to the south is the Varaha mandapa with a huge image of the standing Varaha (the boar incarnation of Vishnu), the preserver who rescued the earth from primeval floods (the ones that Noah sailed too, one presumes). The entire body of the divine creature is carved in low relief along with the figures of more than 600 gods and goddesses of the Hindu pantheon. Besides the Varaha mandapa is a reconstructed Devi mandapa which once contained an image.
The platform that the temple stands on has a charming sculptural frieze of elephants and horsemen in procession. On the southern side are a few of the more explicitly erotic panels. Climbing the stairs one reaches the broad platform of the temple meant for the ritual pradakshina or circumambulation. It is noteworthy in having a boundary railing and a subsidiary shrine in each corner.
The most delectable part of the temple scheme is the bands of sculptural decoration with exquisite figures of apsaras (celestial courtesans/nymphs), the guardians of the directions and other divine creatures. Erotic panels take a central position on the two balconies of the temple. On the western side are a few outstanding sculptures and the voluptuous, curvaceous forms of nude women with ornate jewellery.
The temple faces east and a steep flight of stairs leads up to the inner sanctum placed high above ground level. There is an entrance porch, a hall of pillars and interesting sculptural motifs on the sidewall. The inner ritual passage winds around the sanctum and is dressed with bands of sculpture in imitation of the temples external wall. The deitys alcove is raised above floor level and contains within its dark interiors a large image of the Vaikuntha Vishnu, bearing three heads representing his various incarnations.
Kandariya Mahadev Temple
Walking westwards from the Lakshmana Temple, along the garden path one comes to the largest and most handsome monument at Khajuraho, the Kandariya Mahadev Temple. Built in around 1025-1050 AD, this sandstone structure (like all the other temples built entirely without the use of cement and mortar) stands almost 30m above ground level and is as long as it is tall. The temple is dedicated to Shiva (the destroyer of the Hindu Trinity of Gods), with a linga (phallic representation of Lord Shiva) at the centre of the garbha griha (the womb or innermost chamber of the temple).
The temple stairs lead to a platform decorated with rich sculpted figures of women in a variety of poses. There are women playing with a ball, some engaged in writing a letter, others applying make-up and absorbed in a multitude of other activities. On the southern and northern sides, between the balconies are the large-scale erotic panels. In fact the mithuna (sensuously carved erotic figures) on the Kandariya Mahadev include some of the most energetic eroticism to be seen at Khajuraho.
Below the bands of the main body of the temple are smaller, narrower friezes depicting court life, the army, and processions of elephants and horses. The temple is approached by the eastern stairway that has the most fantastically ornate toran (frieze) of the entire group of temples. This floral toran is carved out of a single block of stone.
Chaunsath Yogini Temple
To the southwest of the Western Group is the Chaunsath Yogini shrine dedicated to the 64 (in hindi 64 is called chaunsath) yoginis or manifestations of the Mother Goddess. Raised on an immense platform is an open courtyard that is surrounded by miniature shrines for all the 64 manifestations of the goddess. This temple or cluster of temples, which has been dated to the 9th century AD, is considered the oldest monument at Khajuraho.
Moving back to the entrance gate, towards the northeastern corner of the Western Group complex, is the magnificent form of the Vishvanatha Temple (about 1000 AD). It is similar in plan to the Kandariya Mahadev temple and is approached from the southern side.
On top of a wide platform is the small and dainty Nandi mandapa with an elegant pyramidal roof - you must check this one out if you are an art and architecture freak. It has a large stone image of Nandi (Lord Shivas vehicle, a bull). He sits there with a sphinx-like expression that is hard to read - although it does seem, from certain angles, like hes staring longingly at the temple before him, the house of his master. The Vishwanatha Temple has some exquisite sculptural details and within the shrine is an exquisite marble Shivalinga (phallic representation of Shiva).
Devi Jagdambi Temple
The Devi Jagdambi Temple stands on the same platform as the Kandariya Mahadev Temple. It is a smaller and much more delicately proportioned temple and is decorated with some of the finest sculptures at Khajuraho. The garbha griha now houses a huge image of the goddess (Devi) of the Universe (Jagdambi), though it most probably started out as a Vishnu temple. It has the usual three bands of sculptures around it, but the third and most uppermost of these showcase some of the most erotic sculptures in Khajuraho.
The Kunwar Maha or the Duladeo Temple, constructed around 1130 A.D, on the bank of the Khudar stream, forms the last phase of building at Khajuraho for which the Chandella art and architecture are justly famous. According to several inscriptions, it was built during the time of King Madanavarman, who was the worshipper of Lord Shiva. There is an interesting story attached to it, that a bridal procession was passing by the temple when the groom died at its door and turned into a god.
The Duladeo is a small, five-chambered temple, having a large closed hall with the ceiling illustrated with 20 apsaras-brackets, which are further grouped in bunches. The wall of the ceiling is adorned with repitions of identical images of Shiva and Shiva-Parvati and figures, richly decorated with intricately carved jewellery, though somewhat 'wooden' in style and expression. Though, this temple is replete with some of the famous Khajuraho erotic carvings, but it is felt that it lacks the enchantment and magic of the Western Group of temples and is not as well constructed as its predecessors.
The Chitragupta Temple, dedicated to the Sun God - Surya,is a first and last here. Quite similar to the Devi Jagdambi Temple, it is not in very good repair, although attempts ,have been made to repair it.
About a mile away near the Khajur Sagar are the smaller shrines of this group. The Brahma Temple is one of smallest in Khajuraho and has only a single room with a Shivalinga in the centre protected by a huge pyramidal roof. The Vaman and Javari Temples are set against a rural landscape amidst fields and pastures and are miniature versions in plan and design of the larger Western group of temples.