The temples at Khajuraho were built during the Chandella dynasty, which reached its apogee between 950 and 1050. Only about 20 temples remain; they fall into three distinct groups and belong to two different religions – Hinduism and Jainism. They strike a perfect balance between architecture and sculpture. The Temple of Kandariya is decorated with a profusion of sculptures that are among the greatest masterpieces of Indian art.
According to one legend, the builders of Khajuraho were the descendants of moon. The origin of the Chandela dynasty is also fascinating and this tale is unfolded through the various sculptures of the temples. The legend reveals how the Moon God seduced Hemvati, a beautiful young daughter of a Brahmin priest, when she was bathing one evening.
The complex of Khajuraho represents a unique artistic creation, as much for its highly original architecture as for the sculpted decor of a surprising quality made up of a mythological repertory of numerous scenes of amusements of which not the least known are the scenes, susceptible to various interpretations, sacred or profane.
Khajuraho is one of the capitals of the Chandella rulers, a dynasty of Rajput origin which came into power at the beginning of the 10th century, and reached its apogee between 950 and 1050. Of the 85 temples which were constructed at Khajuraho during the Chandella period (and which were still resplendent: when the great traveller Ibn Battuta noted them in 1335), 22 still exist, disseminated within an area of about 6 kms.
As, monuments of two distinct religions, Brahminism and Jainism, the temples of Khajuraho are nonetheless distinguished by a common typology: they comprise an elevated substructure, over which rises the body of the richly decorated building, the 'jangha', covered with several registers of sculpted panels on to which open-work galleries are opened. This is crowned by a series of bundled towers with curvilinear contours, the Sikharas.
The highest are found over the sanctuary of the divinity. Each of these towers, which is characteristic of the temples in the Nagera style, symbolizes the 'cosmic mountain', Mount Kailasha. The typical plan comprises an entrance, a large hypostyle hall (mandapa), a dark sanctuary and finally various annexes. The most important group of monuments is massed in the western zone, not far from the archaeological museum, including the temples of Varaha, Lakshmana, Matangeshwara, Kandariya, Mahadeva Chitragupta, Chopra Tank, Parvati, Vishwanatha and Nandi. But the east and south groups also comprise noteworthy complexes (the temples of Ghantai, Parshvanath, Adinath, Shantinath, Dulhadeo, Chaturbhuja).
Yasovarman (AD 954) built the temple of Vishnu, now famous as Lakshmana temple; this is an ornate and evolved example of its time proclaiming the prestige of the Chandellas. The Visvanatha, Parsvanatha and Vaidyanatha temples belong to the time of King Dhanga, the successor of Yasovarman. The Jagadambi, Chitragupta, are noteworthy among the western group of royal temples of Khajuraho. The largest and grandest temple of Khajuraho is the immortal Kandariya Mahadeva which is attributed to King Ganda (1017-29).
Greatly influenced by the Tantric school of thought, the Chandela kings promoted various Tantric doctrines through royal monuments, including temples. Sculptors of Khajuraho depicted all aspects of life. The society of the time believed in dealing frankly and openly with all aspects of life, including sex. Sex is important because Tantric cosmos is divided into the male and female principle. Male principle has the form and potential, female has the energy. According to Hindu and Tantric philosophy, one can not achieve anything without the other, as they manifest themselves in all aspects of the universe. Nothing can exist without their cooperation and coexistence. In accordance with ancient treaties on architecture, erotic depictions were reserved for specific parts of the temples only. The rest of the temple was profusely covered with other aspects of life, secular and spiritual.