Khajuraho: Exploring Thousand Year Old Temples via Bicycle In Search Of My Celestial Nymph (Apsara)

Nov 30th – Dec 4th, 2013

Ever been to a temple in search of enlightenment? Bet you don’t expect to find a couple 69-ing each other (NSFW) on the wall outside. Or perhaps a “Celestial Nymph” enticing you while applying kohl (eyeliner) on her eyes. Now that we got the smut out of the way, we can chat about the deeper significance of these incredibly beautiful, deeply spiritual and amazingly well preserved temples that are over a thousand years old.

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Day 1 and Day 2: The Sound and Light show explaining the Chandela dynasty (Wikipedia) and the Western Group of temples.

Legend has it that one night near the river bank in Khajuraho, a beautiful woman was bathing in the river under the moonlight. The moon god (Chandra) saw her bathing and could not resist her. He descended to earth and they made passionate love all night. As the morning sun approached Chandra had to return to the sky. The maiden implored him to stay as she was unwed and had indulged in passionate love and would be disgraced. Chandra said to her that she would give birth to a son who would bring about a reign of glorious kings and would build beautiful temples. This is how this dynasty got its name The Chandelas.

The Chandelas built in all 85 temples, of which only 25 remain today. The rest deteriorated, were destroyed by invaders or looted by villagers. Once a bustling metropolis and the center of activity during the reign of the Chandelas (950 CE – 1050 CE), Khajuraho is now just a small sleepy tourist town. On the night we arrived it was already too late to go out and see the temples. The western group of temples, which houses about five or six of the best preserved temples inside a beautifully manicured gated lawn puts on a nightly “Sound and Light Show”. The show is an hour long and happens at night when the whole compound is covered in darkness. As the history of each temple is explained along with the history of the Chandelas, each temple lights up in various pastel colors using bright strobes. Very psychedelic! The story of the Chandelas is narrated by famed Bollywood actor Amitabh Bachhan. Anjli, her parents and I watched the show together. Though the piece was well researched, it was made in a very dramatic Bollywood style. The flamboyance kind of took away from the experience. Afterwards, we enjoyed a wonderful dinner with Anjli’s parents at a restaurant across from the western group. We laughed at and discussed the show and chatted about plans for mom and dad to come and meet us in Cambodia. We enjoyed dinner with mom and dad as this would be the last we would see of them for a few months. We enjoyed the evening over drinks and even brought a couple beers back to the hotel for good measure. 😊

The next morning Anjli and her folks explored the Western Group of temples for a few hours while I booked trains for Anjli and I to Varanasi and then on to Kolkata. The western group of temples is a group of six or seven of the best preserved temples at Khajuraho. After a morning of exploring, it was time to say good bye to Anj’s parents as they headed back to Kanpur. We said our goodbyes and planned to hook back up in Cambodia or Vietnam in a couple months.

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After Anj’s folks left for Kanpur, Anjli and I had planned to check out the western group together. Instead we walked back to our hotel for a quick power nap. Five hours later we awoke to find that the sun had already set and the temples already closed. 😛 I guess we were just exhausted from the long drive from Kanpur to Khajuraho. We had a lovely dinner together and retired for the night.

Day 3: The Western Group of Temples

We woke bright and early the next day and headed on over to the Western Group, which houses four of about six or seven of the best preserved temples:

  • Lakshman Temple
  • Kandariya Mahadev Temple
  • Vishwanath Temple
  • Chitragupta Temple

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Anjli and I sprung for the very informative and very entertaining audio guide (Highly Recommended). We meandered from temple to temple looking at the beautiful sandstone sculptures and admiring the craftsmanship, spiritual depth and marveling at the how well these temples have been preserved. How can something so old survive for such a long time? A millennium is a time frame that is incomprehensible to most of us.

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As an Indian American really exploring India for the first time, you can’t help but feel somehow connected to this past. You start to ask and wonder what these people from a thousand years ago were like. Who was the individual sculptor that was inspired to create each of these beautiful pieces? You feel connected to them. A deep sense of privilege and gratitude takes a hold of you. You look at each sculpture and imagine yourself looking over the shoulder of the sculptor that chiseled away at this piece of sandstone and created this masterpiece by hand. It’s like travelling back in time and feeling his/her presence. Imagining their hands next to the sculpture. Imagining their inspiration. Being at Khajuraho was truly a magical experience.

We took lots of pictures and stood for hours in front of sculptures admiring, imagining, contemplating and reflecting. We finished about 5 hours later and still felt like we could spend days there. Alas, time was short and we had to move on. We had another amazing dinner on the rooftop of our hotel looking up at the sky, talking about our favorite sculptures and how beautifully they were carved.

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Day 4: Exploring the other temples via bicycle and finally finding my Apsara

You may be wondering exactly what is an Apsara? In Hindu mythology, an Apsara is a beautiful, supernatural female beings. They are youthful and elegant, and superb in the art of dancing. They are often the wives of Gandharvas, who are the court musicians of the rain god Indra. They are often depicted taking flight and in service to gods. Apsaras are found depicted in temples and dance across India, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia (Source: Wikipedia) One could compare them to angels. Anjli liked to think of them as fairies. 🙂

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Anjli and I left that morning on the back of bicycles to explore the other temples around the neighboring villages. We cycled from temple to temple, dodging touts, stray dogs, stray cows (yes, that’s a thing!), and village goats. We explored beautiful temple after beautiful temple. And after another day of exploring, I had dinner with my Apsara. Here’s a picture of her posing in front of one of the temples. 🙂

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