Travel: Khajaraho Temples

image*Disclaimer: The photographs contained in this post may not be suited for younger eyes.

This morning, we bid adieu to the chaos and clamour of New Delhi, and hopped a quick domestic flight to Khajaraho for the night.

Khajaraho lies 385 miles southeast of New Delhi and is home to a mere population of 20,000 people. It was the seating ground of the Chandela Dynasty which ruled much of the Bundelkhand region of central India between the 10th and 13th centuries.

imageThe name Kharjuravāhaka is derived from ancient Sanskrit (kharjura, खर्जूर meaning date palm, and vāhaka, वाहक meaning “one who carries” or bearer). As the legend goes, there was once two golden date-palm trees at the gate of the temples. Kharjuravāhaka also has another meaning in Desai, scorpion bearer; this is a symbolic name for the deity Shiva, who bears snake and scorpion garlands upon his shoulders. This is fitting, as Khajuraho is one of four holy sites linked to Shiva. Hindu mythology recognizes the town as the location of his marriage.

imageIn its prime. Khajaraho had 85 temples spread over 20 square kilometers. Today, there are only 12 temples spread over 6 kilometers. As is typical with Hindu temples, they are clustered near a body of water and face east, towards the sunrise. Each temple integrates the interdependence between feminine and masculine deities and highlights the four goals of life – Dharma, Kama, Artha, and Moksha.

 

 

imageLike most Hindu temples, these temples follow a grid geometrical design called vastu-purusha-mandala, which has three important components. Mandala meaning circle, Purusha conveying universal essence, and Vastu meaning a dwelling structure.

 

This is displayed by the geometric use of squares and circles. A square, divided into 64 perfect sub-squares (padas) circumscribe the circle of mandala. The square is considered divine and represents the product of knowledge and human thought while the circle, considered earthly, symbolizes everyday life.

imageTo further illustrate the comprehensive design of the site, the Chandela’s laid out the territory in three triangles, which converge to forma a pentagon. The three triangles represent the three realms (trilokinatha) and the five-side pentagon, indicates the five cosmic substances (panchbuteshvara).

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For me, the most interesting thing about the temples, is that the sandstone blocks aren’t glued together with mortar. Rather, in a fashion similar to classic Chinese wood construction, each mortise and tenon was precision cut so that the male piece could interlock with his female counterpart, allowing gravity to keep them joined.

 

We decided to take this side trip primarily because the temples are best known for the erotic carvings that adorn the faces.

imageHowever, these sexual figures only account for about 10% of the detailing on the temples, and are not prominent nor emphasized compared to the others. It was a bit of a “Where’s Waldo” scavenger hunt, as we went searching for these. Other sculptures depict the numerous aspects of human life and the values vital within the Hindu Pantheon.

Some of the positions just didn’t seem humanly possible! Although, given that the art of Yoga was developed in Ancient Pre-Vedic India between 5th to 6th century BC, perhaps our ancestors possessed a depth of flexibility that current humans do not.

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Travel: Roman Ingenuity

I suppose I could have visited these vestiges of Roman Power earlier on during my stay in Rome, but those days were fraught with cloudy skies and doubtful rain. The scenery and the nobility of these shrewdly crafted sprawling complexes is best observed by admiring their height against the deep, blue sky, and pondering the shadows they leave behind. Still standing 2 Millenia later, the longevity of these structures are a testament to the Roman Empire‘s influence and power.

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The word awe-inspiring has certainly been used by me more times on this trip than I can count. In this case, I feel that it is well deserved, although my tender feet may not acknowledge this compliment since the square area that was traipsed across tested their limits.

As you can imagine, the lines to get into these archaeological ruins tend to be lengthy, I ventured there with a girl who was staying at the same hostel as me, unfortunately, it is at the lines that we split up. I had invested in the Roma Card, a visitor pass that allowed me to bypass the lines, and I was simply not eager to bide my time with her.

My first stop was the Roman Forum.

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This complex was located in the center of the city and houses the important government buildings of this ancient civilization. It was the main social environment for its citizens, a square for public speeches, criminal trials, triumphal processions and elections. The venue was used for gladiatorial matches and was the nucleus for the commercial affairs of the city.

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I literally lost more than half my day here! There are so many towering structures and secret little niches that are delicately foiled in bright green moss. It’s definitely not an area that you can rush through, because smelling the air, and envisioning the daily lives of Roman Citizens is a must.  Believe me, my feet were absolutely KILLING me by the end of it, but I just couldn’t bring myself to rush through the subtle nuances of heritage that are exuded with each step. (I think that is a grammatically correct sentence…)