Friday, 27 January 2012

Khajuraho & Varanasi

After leaving Agra we travelled by car to Khajuraho. We made a stop en route at Orchha where we had lunch.

Jehangir Mahal (palace), Orchha

Khajuraho is a small town famous for its temples which were built between the 9th and 12th centuries.

shrine, Khajuraho

Their temple art is considered to be amongst the finest in the world, and they are a UNESCO-listed world heritage site.

temple, Khajuraho

The temples were built by a dynasty called the Chandela, of which Khajuraho was the ancient capital.

temple, Khajuraho

There were originally 85 temples, but they fell into ruin and now only 22 remain. They were discovered by the outside world when a British army officer was shown them by locals in 1838.

Chitragupta temple

The temples are in three groups - Western, Eastern and Southern. The Western group is fenced-off and is the only group that you have to pay to enter.

Visvanatha & Pratapesvara temples

Lakshmana temple

Before entering the complex we paid a visit to Matangesvara temple which is the only western group temple still in daily use.

lingam in Matangesvara temple

Matangesvara temple

In the Varaha shrine, built 900-925, is a depiction of the Hindu god Vishnu as a boar. It is covered with 664 divinities and the serpent Seshanaga is between its legs.

Vishnu as boar, Varaha shrine

sculptures adorning the temples

Khajuraho's temples are famous for their erotic sculptures.

It's worth noting however that these represent only 5-10% of all the temple sculptures.

note the person hiding one eye and looking with the other!

The erotic sculptures are never inside the temples, or near the deities.

Nobody is exactly sure of their significance, although different theories exist.

handstand posture!


Some sculptures show scenes of daily life, such as this woman drying her back:

The nymphs are known as surasundaris.

Sardulas are mythical beasts, part-lion and part-human.

this sardula is fighting a human

lady in a sari

hanging around

Sadashiv idol in sanctum,
Kandariya Mahadev temple

Opposite the Vishwanatha temple is a pavilion with a sculpture of Nandi, Shiva's mount.

Nandi the bull

The following day we visited the Eastern group of temples, which are near the old village of Khajuraho.

one of the Eastern group of temples

There are three Hindu temples in this group, and four Jain temples.

4.5m statue, Shanti Nath Jain temple 

Jainism is an Indian religion which teaches non-violence.

Parsvanath temple, Jain enclosure

woman with goats

Some teenage boys showed us around the old village, including the school.

classroom, old village school

Although Khajuraho is a relatively small town of about 20 000 people, it has its own airport, and we able to fly to our final destination in India 400 km away: Varanasi.

welcome to Varanasi!

Varanasi is a holy city for Hinduism (one of seven), and one of the oldest continuously inhabited cities in the world - since at least 1000 BC.

Hindus come to bathe in the River Ganges or cremate loved ones, or to die.

most ghats are used for bathing

If you die at Varanasi it means you have finished (moksha) with the cycle of reincarnation (samsara).

If you come to die and don't die it's not a good sign as it means the gods don't want you!

Every year Varanasi receives more than 3 or 4 million pilgrims, that's more than 60 000 per day.

One of the particularities of Varanasi are its numerous ghats, which are the steps leading down to the river's western bank.

Several are used to cremate bodies, and there is always a smoky haze hanging over the river ghats.

Dasaswamedh is one of the liveliest and most central and colourful ghats, but there are many others.

Dasawamedh ghat

Every evening a ganga aarti river worship ceremony is held.

Although Varanasi has a certain number of temples and other sites, its main attraction is the ghats.

drying laundry

As Varanasi is such a holy city there are a higher than normal number of sacred cows - they're everywhere.

holy cow!

After our stay in Varanasi, it was time for us to head back to Reunion via Delhi, Mumbai and Mauritius after almost three weeks in India.

Suggested reading:

Sister India by Peggy Payne. "A poetic mosaic of sights, smells, sounds, and tastes about a square mile of Varanasi. The haze from continuously burning funeral pyres, the pleas of impoverished children, the smells of the perfume market, and the droning rhythms of holy men chanting by the sacred Ganges overtake the senses and both disgust and enthrall the Western travelers staying at the Saraswati Guest House. Situated in the middle of Varanasi's frighteningly tangled maze of claustrophobic lanes barely wide enough for two small wheeled carts, the establishment's manager is the sari-clad Madame Natraja, a reclusive, surly white woman weighing more than 300 pounds, a mysterious and fascinating blend of East and West. When religious murders leads to a curfew, the travelers become captives of Madame, her house, and the violent city where death becomes everyone's familiar".

See also here.


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