The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, June 3, 2001

Shiva in Khajuraho
Suparna Saraswati Puri

IT is said that all that is true, all that is good and all that is beautiful is God (Satyam Shivam Sundaram). In ancient India, art went hand in hand with religion. In one sense, we may say, art turned inward is religion and religion turned outward is art.

Temples have been repositories of all arts; they have enshrined not only idols of deities but art treasures as well. India holds a place of pride in this respect with thousands of brilliant architectural specimens, spread throughout the length and breadth of the country, devoted to the popular notion of the Supreme Trinity as manifestation of Divinity i.e. Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva. Amongst these three, it is Shiva who is supposed to be the absolute one, emerging from the cosmic union that is represented in the lingam. Shiva is referred to as the ‘good one’ or the auspicious one. He is both static and dynamic and is both creator and destroyer. He is the oldest and the youngest, he is the eternal youth as well as the infant. He is the source of fertility in all living beings. He has gentle as well as fierce forms. Shiva is the greatest of renouncers as well as the ideal lover. He destroys evil and protects good. He bestows prosperity on worshippers although he is austere. He is omnipresent and resides in everyone as pure consciousness.
Highest Shivalinga in India at Khajuraho
Highest Shivalinga in India at Khajuraho

For men and women alike, Shiva is the finality and is hence venerated with utmost religious passion and conviction. Which is also one of the reasons that in the temples of India, Shiva’s personification knows no limit. It is in this context that a famous tourist destination like Khajuraho finds yet another perspective to its already globally acknowledged identity.

Kandariya Mahadeo Temple at Khajuraho
Kandariya Mahadeo Temple at Khajuraho

Virtually located in the middle of nowhere in a huge state like Madhya Pradesh, Khajuraho derives its name from the khajoor grove that enveloped the region prior to the accidental discovery (by a certain British officer named Burt) of the magnificent temples that got categorised as the ‘erotica temples of Khajuraho’. Being the historic capital of the Chandellas, who ruled from the 9th to the 13th centuries, it was better known then as Kharjurahaka. These temples display tremendous skill and artistic emancipation of the ancient artists in the Indo-Aryan Nagara style of architecture. The shrines are embellished with a profusion of exquisite sculptural carvings. What has more than often been misunderstood and misrepresented as only erotic art, the finely worked bands going around the temples depict several aspects of life over a 1000 years ago, portraying gods, goddesses, musicians, animals, etc. If there appears to be domination of erotic sculptures featuring apsaras and mithunas (couples) then that has a cultural basis to it and does not necessarily imply that the ancient people were obsessed with the concept of erotic art and its human manifestations. A brief summary of the Khajuraho temple complex might be helpful in comprehending the unique character of the place.

There are three groups of shrines at Khajuraho. The oldest temple dates back to 900 CE called the Chaunsath Yogini in the western group near the Shibsagar Lake. The earlier society existing in the region conducted the panchyatna puja — involving the worship of five deities — Shiva, Vishnu, Shakti, Surya and Ganesha — hence the panchyatna temples. Each has a main shrine and four subsidiary shrines.

The Kandariya Mahadeo temple, the largest amongst the Khajuraho shrines, is considered to be the best representation of the architectural style (Indo-Aryan Nagara). It consists of a sanctum-garbhagriha; a circumambulatory path-pradakshinapath; an Antarala, ardhmandapa, Mandapa and a mahamandapa. The sanctum enshrines a marble Shiva lingam. This structure is a sheer marvel in yellow sandstone, which is anytime harder to sculpt and carve as compared to marble.

Adjacent to the complex is another shrine that has the highest Shiva lingam in the country, measuring an astounding 27 feet with the visible 9 feet above the ground. It is here that on every Mahashivaratri, the villagers in and around Khajuraho congregate to enact the entire ritual of Shiva-Parvati’s celestial union with great religious fervour. Several yards of sacred thread is tied to the lingam by the devotees and gallons of milk is showered on it. According to popular belief, there is no greater a proof Shiva’s being than the presence of this massive lingam, which has been there even before the panchayatna shrines.

As a native of the village appropriately stated, "Yahan hi to Shiva purna roop se baste hain, Khajuraho Shiva-Shakti ka niwas sthan hai!"

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