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More to Khajurao than popular belief - Times Of India

Vidyadhar Date ()


Title : More to Khajuraho than popular belief
Author : Vidyadhar Date
Publication : Times Of India
Date : 30\6\96

Khajuraho has become a major international tourist
attraction, but partly for the wrong reasons. So argues
noted scholar of art history Devangana Desai, who says
Khajuraho is not synonymous with erotic sculpture.
"When I say I am working on Khajuraho, many people think
I am researching erotic sculpture. But erotic figures do
not represent even one-tenth of Khajuraho's sculptures,"
he says.
Nearly 84 figures of jogis (ascetics) are portrayed on
the exterior wall of the Surya and Vishnu temples and can
be seen at eye level. The Arab traveller, Ibn Batuta, has
described these ascetics in his writings about Khajuraho.
In her new book, The Religious Imagery of Khajuraho, Ms
Desai dwells on the other, more profound side of
Khajuraho. There are hundreds of images of divinities in
the interior halls and exterior walls of its temples, she
says. There are images of Vishnu in his various
incarnations, the childhood sports of Krishna, notably
without any reference to Radha, Shiva in his various lila
murtis, the goddes Parvati and Surya inhis different
The 10th and 11th centuries witnessed the culmination of
Indian temple development at Khajuraho, Bhubaneshwar,
Modhera and Thanjavur. Khajuraho temples represent a
combination of artistic talent and religious aspirations,
she says. The beauty of Khajuraho is still being
Excavations conducted since 1980 by the Archaeological
Survey of India in the north-eastern area of Khajuraho
have revealed a complex of brick structures. Two
exquisite images of Vamana have been recently excavated
from the site and a subsidiary shrine with an imageof
Mahishasuramardini has been found.
In the south-eastern area, Jain (Digambar) temples were
erected by merchants and images of the Tirthankaras
installed by several individual donors. Khajuraho is now
listed among the World Heritage sites by UNESCO.
In Ms Desai's profusely illustrated book which has
numerous rare pictures, there is a particularly striking
one of a boar, nine feet in length and with 700 figures
carvedon it of important divinities of the Hindu
pantheon. These are in 12 neatly carved rows including
different forms of Vishnu, Ganesha, river goddesses,
snake deities, water divinities, the four oceans, Varuna,
Vayu and Kubera.
The Varaha (boar), noted for its strength, became
associated with the Creator god Brahma and later with
Vishnu, who in the Puranic myth enters the primeval
waters and saves the Earth Goddess from the nether world.
In the tribal belt of central India, the boar was
originally a totemic deity of a powerful non-Aryan tribe
undergoing Brahminisation. Ms Desai says that scholar
Alberuni, who accompanied Mahmud of Ghazni, mentions
Khajuraho, but a more vivid description is given by the
Arab traveller Ibn Batuta who visited it in 1335
specially to see the Jogis and their magic.
Subsequently, the temples of Khajuraho were practically
unknown to scholars until 1838 when Capt T.S.Burt, a
British engineer, visited the area and gave an
interesting account. Devangana Desai first visited
Khajuraho in 1963 and hasbeen going there regularly since
1985. "What I like about it apart from its architectural
and sculptural beauty is that Khajuraho still has the
ambience of a nice village," she says. She is also happy

that the Archaeological Survey of India has looked after
the heritage site well.
"People blush at the verymention of Khajuraho and hence I
have attempted to clear the misunderstanding as much as I
can. I have attempted to sho how the Khajuraho artist had
tried to express the essence of Indian philosophy in the
vocabulary of his time," she observed.

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