Architecture of the Khajuraho temples.

Khajuraho group of monuments are located in the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, in Chhatarpur District, about 620 kilometres (385 mi) southeast of New Delhi. The temples are in a small town also known as Khajuraho, with a population of about 20,000 people.

The name Khajuraho, or Kharjuravāhaka, is derived from ancient Sanskrit

The Khajuraho group of monuments were built during the rule of Rajput Chandela dynasty. The building activity started almost immediately after the rise of their power, throughout their kingdom to be later known as Bundelkhand.

Khajuraho Group of Monuments is located in India

Location of Khajuraho Group of Monuments in India.

Architecture of the temples

Khajuraho temples, like almost all Hindu temple designs, follow a grid geometrical design called vastu-purusha-mandala. This design plan has three important components – Mandala means circle, Purusha is universal essence at the core of Hindu tradition, while Vastu means the dwelling structure.

The layout plan of Kandriya Mahadeva Khajuraho temple. It uses the 64 pada grid design. Smaller Khajuraho temples use the 9, 16, 36 or 49 grid mandala plan

The design lays out a Hindu temple in a symmetrical, concentrically layered, self-repeating structure around the core of the temple called garbhagriya, where the abstract principle Purusha and the primary deity of the temple dwell. The sikhara, or spire, of the temple rises above the garbhagriya. This symmetry and structure in design is derived from central beliefs, myths, cardinality and mathematical principles.

The circle of mandala circumscribe the square. The square is considered divine for its perfection and as a symbolic product of knowledge and human thought, while circle is considered earthly, human and observed in everyday life (moon, sun, horizon, water drop, rainbow). Each supports the other. The square is divided into perfect 64 sub-squares called padas.

Most Khajuraho temples deploy the 8×8 (64) padas grid Manduka Vastupurushamandala, with pitha mandala the square grid incorporated in the design of the spires. The primary deity or lingas are located in the grid’s Brahma padas.

Khajuraho temples use the 8×8 (64) Vastupurusamandala Manduka grid layout plan (left) found in Hindu temples. Above the temple’s brahma padas is a Sikhara (Vimana or Spire) that rises symmetrically above the central core, typically in a circles and turning-squares concentric layering design (right) that flows from one to the other as it rises towards the sky.

The architecture is symbolic and reflects the central Hindu beliefs through its form, structure and arrangement of its parts. The mandapas as well as the arts are arranged in the Khajuraho temples in a symmetric repeating patterns, even though each image or sculpture is distinctive in its own way. The relative placement of the images are not random but together they express ideas, just like connected words form sentences and paragraphs to compose ideas. This fractal pattern that is common in Hindu temples. Various statues and panels have inscriptions. Many of the inscriptions on the temple walls are poems with double meanings, something that the complex structure of Sanskrit allows in creative compositions.

Khajuraho temples use the 8×8 (64) Vastupurusamandala Manduka grid layout plan (left) found in Hindu temples. Above the temple’s brahma padas is a Sikhara (Vimana or Spire) that rises symmetrically above the central core, typically in a circles and turning-squares concentric layering design (right) that flows from one to the other as it rises towards the sky.

All Khajuraho temples, except one, face sunrise, and the entrance for the devotee is this east side.

An illustration of Khajuraho temple Spires (Sikhara, Vimana) built using concentric circle and rotating-squares principle. Four spires (left) are shown above, while the inside view of one Shikara ceiling (right) shows the symmetric layout.

Above the vastu-purusha-mandala of each temple is a superstructure with a dome called Shikhara (or Vimana, Spire). Variations in spire design come from variation in degrees turned for the squares. The temple Sikhara, in some literature, is linked to mount Kailash or Meru, the mythical abode of the gods.

In each temple, the central space typically is surrounded by an ambulatory for the pilgrim to walk around and ritually circumambulate the Purusa and the main deity. The pillars, walls and ceilings around the space, as well as outside have highly ornate carvings or images of the four just and necessary pursuits of life – kama, artha, dharma and moksa. This clockwise walk around is called pradakshina.

An illustration of Khajuraho temple Spires (Sikhara, Vimana) built using concentric circle and rotating-squares principle. Four spires (left) are shown above, while the inside view of one Shikara ceiling (right) shows the symmetric layout.

Larger Khajuraho temples also have pillared halls called mandapa. One near the entrance, on the east side, serves as the waiting room for pilgrims and devotees. The mandapas are also arranged by principles of symmetry, grids and mathematical precision. This use of same underlying architectural principle is common in Hindu temples found all over India. Each Khajuraho temple is distinctly carved yet also repeating the central common principles in almost all Hindu temples, one which Susan Lewandowski refers to as “an organism of repeating cells”.

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