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Lonely Planet review for Khajuraho
The Kamasutra carvings that swathe Khajuraho's three groups of temples are among the finest temple art in the world. The temples are superb examples of Indo-Aryan architecture, but it's their liberally embellished carvings that have made Khajuraho famous. Around the temples are bands of exceedingly artistic stonework showing a storyboard of life a millennium ago - gods, goddesses, warriors, musicians, real and mythological animals.
The temples are described here in a clockwise direction. Varaha, dedicated to Vishnu's boar incarnation, and the closed-up Lakshmi are two small shrines facing the large Lakshmana Temple. Inside Varaha is a 1.5m-high sandstone boar, dating to 900-25 and meticulously carved with a pantheon of gods. The large Lakshmana Temple took 20 years to build, completed in about 954 during the reign of Dhanga according to an inscribed slab in the mandapa (pillared pavilion in front of a temple). One of the temple's many anonymous sculptors has added himself to a subsidiary shrine at the southwest corner. One of the earliest and best-preserved monuments in this group, Lakshmana is dedicated to Vishnu, although in design it is similar to the Shiva temples Vishvanath and Kandariya-Mahadev. The 30.5m-long Kandariya-Mahadev, built between 1025 and 1050, is the largest temple in town and represents the highpoint of Chandelan architecture. There are 872 acrobatic statues (226 inside and 646 outside), most of them nearly 1m high - taller and more slender than on the other temples. The 31m-high sikhara is, like linga, a phallic Shiva symbol, worshipped by Hindus hoping to seek deliverance from the cycle of reincarnation. It's decorated with 84 subsidiary spires - replicas of itself. Mahadeva, a small, ruined temple on the same platform as Kandariya-Mahadev and Devi Jagadamba, is dedicated to Shiva, who's carved on the lintel of its doorway. Although small and insignificant compared with its mighty neighbours, it houses one of Khajuraho's finest sculptures - a sardula (mythical beast, part lion, part some other animal or even human) caressing a 1m-high lion. Devi Jagadamba was originally dedicated to Vishnu, but later to Parvati and then Kali. Some believe it's still a Parvati temple and that the Kali image is actually Parvati, painted black. The carvings include sardulas accompanied by Vishnu, sarasundaris, and mithunas frolicking in the third uppermost band. Its three-part design is simpler than Kandariya-Mahadev and Chitragupta (1000-25). It has more in common with Chitragupta, but is less embellished with carvings so is likely a little older. North of Devi Jagadamba, Chitragupta is unique in Khajuraho - and rare among north Indian temples - in being dedicated to the sun god Surya. In the inner sanctum, Surya drives his seven-horse chariot, while on the central niche in the south facade is an 11-headed statue of Vishnu, representing the god and 10 of his 22 incarnations. Continuing around the enclosure, the closed-up Parvati Temple is on your right. The name's probably incorrect, since this small temple was originally dedicated to Vishnu and now has an image of Gauri riding a godha (iguana). Believed to have been built in 1002, the Vishvanath Temple and Nandi Shrine are reached by steps flanked by lions on the northern side and elephants on the south. Vishvanath anticipates Kandariya-Mahadev, with which it shares saptamattrikas (seven mothers) flanked by Ganesh and Virabhandra, and is another superlative example of Chandelan architecture. At the other end of the platform, a 2.2m-long statue of Nandi, Shiva's bull vehicle, faces the temple. Matangesvara, outside the fenced enclosure, is the only temple in Khajuraho still in everyday use. It may be the plainest temple here (suggesting an early construction) but inside it sports a polished 2.5m-high lingam (phallic image of Shiva). The ruins of Chausath Yogini, beyond Shiv Sagar, date to the late 9th century and are probably the oldest at Khajuraho. Constructed entirely of granite and the only temple not aligned east to west, the temple's name means 64 - it once had 64 cells for the yoginis (female attendants) of Kali, while the 65th sheltered the goddess herself. It is possibly India's oldest yogini temple. A further 600m west is the sandstone-and-granite Lalguan Mahadev Temple (c 900), a small, ruined shrine to Shiva.