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Engaging with Khajuraho

R. Mahalakshmi

By R. Nath
Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2004, pp. 96, Rs. 195.00


This slim monograph on the temples of Khajuraho is a handy reference for the serious academic and the curious tourist alike. The author belongs to the traditional school of history writing, where facts are not compromised, no matter the academic or publishing compulsions. Second, the style is descriptive, and eschews flowery prose as well as convoluted explanations. There are six chapters, an appendix and a glossary of technical terms.   The ‘Introduction’ locates the rise of the ancient site of Khajuraho or Kharjuravahaka in Madhyadesa with the Chandellas of Jejakabhukti (Bundelkhand), between c. 950 AD and 1050 AD. The temple as a symbol of bhakti is seen in chapter 2 as the representation of the temporal spiritual urge, housing the anthropomorphic image of the divine. The vertical axis of the temple is its essence, deriving from the early Buddhist shrines, while the horizontal expanse was a later development, governed by ritualistic, architectural and aesthetic concerns. While locating the evolution of the Khajuraho style in the third chapter, Nath outlines the curvilinear plan of these temples, with their multiple compartments, planes and zones, leading to their description as a Madhya Nagara style. The interesting feature is that while larger temples have separate roofs for their compartments, the Sikhara or tower surmounts the whole. Of the legendary 84 temples, the twenty that are extant are studied in chapter 4. They are broadly divided into four clusters: the western brahmanical, the eastern Jaina, the eastern brahmanical and the southern brahmanical. Detailed descriptions of temples, broadly identified as Saiva, Vaisnava, Saura (of Sûrya, the Sun God) and Jaina, are provided.   The tantalizing dimension of erotic art forms the subject of chapters 5 and 6. Nath first discusses the three forms of iconographic description in the Khajuraho temples: of divinities, divine female figures (devangana) and couples in erotic postures (mithunas). The author demonstrates that the architectonic of the temples itself is such that the sculptures seem to grow out of the structure, chiselled as they are from the same blocks of stone. The representations varied but the form and style were the same, especially in the case of the devangana-mithuna sculptures, irrespective of sectarian considerations. This leads the author to speculate on the raison d’etre of the erotic depictions, unique in their canvas of concep-tualization at this particular site, uniform in their application across the site. The author rejects the notion that this was to educate people, or to ward off ...

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