Khajuraho (26 – 27 December 2013)
I reached the little airport at Khajuraho on an Indigo Jet flight. I had flown with them to Varanasi from Delhi before this. They were really quite good. The landing was excited me a little as I was able to get a good view of some temples of Khajuraho from my window. I was going to see them up close soon!
The Khajuraho Temples were built a thousand years ago by the Chandella kings. Eighty-five temples were built during that time but only twenty-two remain. The Chandella kingdom, along with the rest of Central India, was invaded by the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century and remained under Muslim rule in the next few hundred years. The Muslims destroyed most of the temples but their remoteness ensured that they were not all destroyed. They were eventually swallowed up by vegetation until the British came along and introduced them to the world.
My Khajuraho guide introduced himself as Mr Singh. He was quite a playful old man and I thought that he was the most knowledgable and eloquent of all my guides in India. I think it was for a better quality of life that he had chosen to guide in a more backwater town like Khajuraho since I am sure he could have more than handled the more historically varied and important cities in India.
Broadly speaking the temples of Khajuraho are divided into the eastern, western and southern groups. That afternoon we visited the temples in the east, which are mainly Jain, and south.
It was quite an experience for me that afternoon since I had never encountered a Jain temple before. There are three that can be visited here in the eastern group and one of them looks very different architecturally from the rest of the Khajuraho temples.
The Jains seem to be even more hardcore than the Buddhists when it comes to respecting life. It bears noting that life to all these religions with Indian origin is not restricted to human life. The Jains are so concerned about not killing any living thing that some of them even use a special broom to sweep the ground before they step on it to make sure that no insect gets squashed.
Mr Singh told me that there were many Jain doctors. A question therefore arose as to what to make of these Jain doctors who would in the course of their practice prescribe medicines like antibiotics that destroy microbes. Although they cannot be seen, microbes are living organisms too. Perhaps this can be justified if the microbe is life threatening and the patient has to be saved. But what if it is possible for the patient to heal naturally without the use of medicines although this will take much longer?
There also seems something really hippie about the Jains besides the love for non-violence. Certain Jain monks actually go about their lives naked, or sky clad, carrying only a water gourd and a small broom. Mr Singh was telling me about how one such sky clad monk had attracted the attention of the women in the area with his huge appendage.
There were no Jain monks in the temples during my visit so I could concentrate on the temples. They were real masterpieces with their exquisite carvings and, may I say sexy, statues.
The next morning was supposed to be a good day and yet I wished I could have stayed in bed. I had woken up with a sore throat and a stomachache. But I was prepared for this trip to India. I brought Imodium. That stopped the runs but did nothing for the waves of pain that attacked me throughout much of the rest of the day.
The western group of temples is the most important collection of temples in Khajuraho and really quite spectacular. But what really took the limelight away from the architecture were the erotic statues on these temples. They depicted sex in all its fantastic positions, some of which looked a little too hard to accomplish for non-acrobats. Mr Singh was especially funny when describing these erotic statues.
I was a little amazed that sex could be portrayed so openly in Asia and on religious buildings at that. Mr Singh said however that the statues were meant to depict life in its multitude of facets and sex was undeniably an important part of life. I have to say that this view of life makes the more modern perspectives on sex and its visibility so very hypocritical. Surely sex is only dirty because people make it out to be so. It seems that people in the past were more capable of frankness.
I enjoyed listening to Mr Singh but his tour only covered the temples. That left the afternoon free for me to explore the town on my own.
The town of Khajuraho is really quite pleasant. To get to the town centre I had to walk down this wide tree-lined road which was enjoyable.
Unfortunately I could not walk 5 minutes without being approached by locals who were either just plain curious or hoping to earn some money from me. There were a few who actually stopped their bikes just to talk to me. I was in a terrible state to be approached then. My stomach was still experiencing waves of pain and I was starting to have a fever. I really needed to be left alone and I only wanted to see the town. Some of them looked quite hurt and asked if I did not want to talk. I had to put it to them quite clearly that I did not.
The fever got worse and I had to return to bed. It seemed like I had something worse than Delhi Belly. There was a sound and light show that night however and since it was already booked for me I dragged myself out of bed and tried to enjoy it. The show involved lighting up each of the temples in the western group in turn with the story of Khajuraho being narrated by Amitabh Bachchan no less. Mr Singh described him as a demigod in India. I was too sick then to feel too impressed, demigod or otherwise. It did not help also that India was in the grips of an unusual cold wave at that time. In any case I do remember thinking that maybe I would have been more entertained if they had booked me on this classical dance performance they were also playing in town for tourists.
I definitely did not feel too sorry when the show ended and it was time to head back to my hotel.
I wish I was in better health to enjoy Khajuraho properly. Fortunately I was able to see all the major sights in town. But despite my being ill I would still say that my visit there was time and money very well spent.