Temples across town

Khajuraho, India.  Well, I did warn you that this was Temple Town. Yesterday was only the Western Group of temples. There are also the Eastern and the Southern Groups. The Western Group, however, is the site of the best of the best in a relatively small area. You can easily walk from one outstanding example to another until you are dizzy with countless spectacular – and startling – images

The other two groups are spread out and you need a driver to get you from one place to another. The government is trying to make these other temple groups as tourist-friendly as the Western Group by claiming lands around them and tearing down neighborhoods to create enclosed sections for which an admission charge can be made. At the moment, only the Western Group requires an admission charge. Our guide told us that when all the work is done, there would be separate charges for each of the three groups.

With our guide riding in the tuk-tuk with us, we careened over bumpy roads (keep your tongue away from your teeth when riding in a tuk-tuk) and around the typical Indian traffic of people, bikes, cars, motorbikes, cows, goats, boars, dogs and, of course, other tuk-tuks that do not always follow any organized traffic pattern.

The first stop was a compound of Jain temples. Like other Jain temples we’ve seen, these displayed an unusual degree of splendor. And like tours of other Jain properties, we were given the story about how wealthy the Jain followers are. In this complex, a few of the temples are controlled by the government while other temples are “living” temples controlled by the Jain sect itself. The government-controlled temples retain their original design and natural color. The Jain-controlled temples have all been painted a banal cream color, to the disgust of our guide.

The central figure in a Jain temple is of Rishabhdev, who sits on a cushion and looks remarkably like Buddha. Jainism and Buddhism emerged at about the same time and there seems to be some overlap in traditions and beliefs, although Jainism is more closely related to Hinduism. The temples had some incredible images, including one of a woman applying eye make-up and another removing a thorn from her foot. There is very few erotic images on these Jain temples – they seem more about the dating stage of relationships. Our guide told us that while the temples featuring all that erotic art in the Western Group were intended to display what not to do, the Jain followers have an attitude of “anything goes.” I don’t think our guide was a particular fan of Jainism.

We stopped at four other temples, but it was getting really hot so we didn’t see all of them.  These temples were later in date and you can see how the fine quality of the original Western Group temples deteriorated in quality. The carving isn’t as fine and when we got to the newest of the temples, you can see that the artists were starting to emphasize things like jewelry and costume on the statues over the human expressions so vivid in the earlier temples.

After touring the temples, we spent a short time in the new archaeological museum, which abuts the property of the hotel where we are staying. There are six galleries of objects in this museum, but only two were open. The objects were collected from the sites of the temples that did not survive intact. Some of the pieces were breathtakingly spectacular. Because they were presented as individual pieces they were actually easier to appreciate without so much visual competition from the hundreds of sculptures on the complete temples.

The guard showing and describing each piece implied that many other fine pieces found around Khajuraho had been scooted away by the British when they were in control of the area. When we get to London, we’re going to search out examples of that loot in museums, although much of it is probably in private collections.

2 thoughts on “Temples across town

  1. The painted temples are so awful looking. Why could they not have retained and differentiated the ownership in some other contextual way that resembles the original look. The decision makers mostly the trustees of the temples) have no regard for aesthetics. Sadly that’s the case at so many sites all over the country. Great example of powers in the wrong hands.

Leave a Comment

%d bloggers like this: