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Khajuraho: A Complete Guide

At first glance, Khajuraho appears as an idyllic Indian village, surrounded by low-lying hills and lush agricultural fields. A closer inspection gradually raises the curtain and reveals the magic of Khajuraho. Khajuraho is the storehouse of magnificent temples built by the Chandelas in the 9th and 10th centuries. It went by the name of Kharjuravahaka (‘kharjura’ means date palm and ‘vahaka’ means one who carries). According to legends, the city used to have two gold date palm trees as its gate and hence the name.

Khajuraho Temple complex
The more popular Western Group of Temples of Khajuraho.

Khajuraho was the religious capital of the mighty Chandelas, who went on an extraordinary spree of constructing temples, seen never before or afterward in the entire Indian subcontinent. The Chandelas built as many as 85 temples in Khajuraho, an unmatched feat that has immortalized the name of the Chandelas in the annals of Indian history. However, Khajuraho went into oblivion from the 11th century and its history was revived by the eminent archaeologist Alexander Cunningham in the 19th century.

The temples in Khajuraho testify to the exceptional engineering skill of the Chandela architects. Incredibly sturdy and strikingly elegant at the same time, the temples of Khajuraho were built by assembling blocks and without using mortar or plaster of any kind. Added to these were the skillful rendition of various types of sculptural ornamentation. All in all, the Khajuraho temples manifest the zenith of India’s Nagara style of architecture, something which modern architects still try hard to replicate.

Temples in Khajuraho
Every temple in Khajuraho is a unique specimen of Chandela architecture.

Where is Khajuraho located:

Khajuraho is located in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. It lies 372 km away from Bhopal, 276 km from Gwalior, and 259 km from Jabalpur.

Makara Torana
The temples in Khajuraho will certainly take you back to the Chandela era.

How to reach Khajuraho:

  • By air: Khajuraho has a domestic airport. After remaining inoperative during the Covid years, the airport has recently started to function again. One Spicejet flight from New Delhi flies here daily in the afternoon.
  • By train: Khajuraho has a railway station, connected to different parts of Madhya Pradesh. If you are arriving from New Delhi, opt for the Gita Jayanti Express, which runs daily from Kurukshetra to Khajuraho. You will reach Khajuraho at around 8 in the morning after an overnight journey.

As for us, we flew into New Delhi from Kolkata and then boarded the Gita Jayanti Express to reach Khajuraho.

The sculptures on the outer walls of the Khajuraho temples are elegant in their proportions.

What is the best time to visit Khajuraho:

Like most of places in India, October to February is the best time to visit Khajuraho. We visited in the first week of October, right after the monsoons. Hence, the landscape of Khajuraho was lush while the temperature remained pleasant mostly.

Avoid the summer months (March to June) at all costs as the temperature soars to an average of 42 degrees Celsius and the heat is insufferable.

Every temple in Khajuraho is decorated with innumerable sculptures.

Where to stay in Khajuraho:

Being a popular tourist destination, Khajuraho has lots of options for accommodation suiting every pocket. There are high-end resorts like Ramada by Wyndham, The Lalit Temple View, and Radisson. However, most of them are located a bit far from the major attractions. The budget hotels such as Hotel Harmony are mostly situated around the Western Group of Temples.

We stayed at Hotel Harmony, which is just a stone’s throw away from the Western Group.

MPT Payal and MPT Jhankar are also good options for staying at Khajuraho. You can book rooms at these two places from here.

Western Group of Temples
The Western Group of Temples is also the best preserved.

Where to eat in Khajuraho:

If you are looking for delicious Indian vegetarian food, go to Badri Seth Marwari Bhoj lying just opposite Shiv Sagar Lake. From Kachoris to Dosas, you will get almost every Indian food in this ever-bustling eatery.

If you want Continental flavor, head to the iconic Raja Café facing the Western Group of Temples.

How to travel around Khajuraho:

The most convenient way to travel around Khajuraho is by renting an auto-rickshaw. It will cost you around 1400 for two days, including a trip to Raneh Waterfalls. Car and bicycle rentals are also available.

Ceiling sculptures
Not only the outer walls, but the ceilings of the temples are also adorned with complex carvings.

Who were the Chandelas:

Hailing from the Chandel clan of the Rajputs, the Chandelas ruled Jejakabhukti (erstwhile Bundelkhand) between the 9th and 13th centuries. According to legend, a union between Chandra, the Moon God, and a Brahmin girl, Hemavati led to the foundation of the Chandela dynasty. Historians, however, believe that the Chandelas had a tribal origin. In order to overcome the stigma attached to their alleged tribal origin as well as achieve social respectability, the Chandela rulers began commissioning countless temples in and around Khajuraho. The Chandela dynasty reached prominence during the reign of Rahila, Yashovarman, Dhanga, and Vidyadhara.

Chandela emblem
The royal emblem of the Chandela dynasty is seen near the Kandariya Mahadeva Temple.

What to see in Khajuraho:

Khajuraho is renowned for the temples built by the Chandela rulers. The massive temples are living specimens of the excellent skill of Chandela architects and sculptors and prove their mastery. The mere mention of Khajuraho evokes images of erotic sculptures of couples engaged in copulation. In fact, Khajuraho has become synonymous with erotic temple sculptures, which depict various forms of ‘mithuna’. Funnily enough, only 10% of Khajuraho’s temple carvings are erotic in nature. The enormous volume of carvings on the walls of Khajuraho temples belongs to Hindu deities, Dikpalas, demi-gods like Ganas and Gandharvas, Celestial Women such as Apsaras and Surasunadaris, amorous couples, animals, secular scenes like war and hunting, and geometric and floral designs.

Erotic sculptures of Khajuraho
Erotic sculptures comprise only 10% of the total sculptures of the temples in Khajuraho.

How many days are enough for Khajuraho:

Ideally, 2 days will be sufficient for exploring the temples of Khajuraho. One of the fascinating features of the Khajuraho temples is that their glow changes during sunrise and sunset. Hence, if time permits, you may need to visit them twice.

We spent 2 days in Khajuraho and took our sweet time exploring the temples to our hearts’ content.

Proportions of Chandella Temples
The temples of Khajuraho are regarded as pioneers of the Nagara style of Hindu temple architecture.

In this blog, we will share our very own itinerary. We will also chalk out itineraries for half-day and 1 day. You can modify them at your own convenience.

Day 1:

We started exploring Khajuraho with the Western Group of Temples. The temples in this area are the most well-preserved and perhaps the most beautiful ones in Khajuraho.

Lakshmana Temple:

As you enter the manicured lawn of Western Group, the first temple that will steal your sight is the opulent Lakshmana Temple. It was built by Yasovarmana to celebrate his victory against the Pratiharas and was dedicated to Vaikuntha Vishnu. It is also one of the best-preserved monuments of Khajuraho.

Lakshmana Temple of Khajuraho
The Lakshmana Temple.

Interestingly, its present name is a misnomer as it has nothing to do with Lakshmana, the younger brother of Ramchandra.

Inside the Lakshmana Temple
Inside the Lakshmana Temple.

The temple has countless brilliant sculptures of Hindu deities, ‘apsaras’, amorous couples engaged in lovemaking as well as animal and floral motifs.

Carvings on the outer walls of Lakshmana Temple
The outer carvings of the Lakshmana Temples are eye-catching.

Devi Shrine:

Standing right opposite Lakshmana Temple, it is austere as compared to its more intricately decorated neighbor. However, it has a delicately carved ceiling and offers a gorgeous view of the Lakshmana Temple. Inside, there sits an idol of Brahmani.

Devi Shrine
The modestly built Devi Shrine.

Varaha Mandapa:

Located just beside the Devi Shrine, this Mandapa houses India’s most elaborately carved specimen of Varaha, the third incarnation of Vishnu. There are 674 miniature statues in 12 rows carved on the body of the Varaha. Actually, it represents Vishwarupa, the cosmic form of Vishnu embodying all means. The Varaha was once accompanied by a statue of Bhudevi. Sadly, only her feet have survived the test of time.

Varaha Shrine
The elaborately carved Varaha.

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple:

Regarded as the magnum opus of the Chandelas, it is undoubtedly the most famous among the Khajuraho temples. With its ‘shikhara’ soaring as high as 30.7 meters, it represents the pinnacle of the Nagara style of architecture.

Kandariya Mahadeva Temple
The magnificent Kandariya Mahadeva Temple.

The enormity of this temple along with an overflow of exceptional carvings will leave you speechless. It is estimated that as many as 872 statues decorate both the inside and outside of this lofty temple. The statues here are more refined and livelier, especially those of the apsaras engaged in various activities. Check out the three sculptures of Shiva, first as the slayer of Andhaka, second as Nataraja, and third as Tripurantaka – all placed inside the niches of the sanctum. Outside, admire the manifestations of Saptamatrikas led by a headless Ganesha and Virabhadra, Dikpalas like Indra and Kubera, and the Holy Trinity of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva under their various forms and incarnations.

Exterior carvings
The Kandariya Mahadeva temple possesses the maximum number of sculptures in Khajuraho.
Erotic carvings at Kandariya Mahadeva Temple
Carvings of amorous couples.

Mahadeva Shrine:

Standing between Kandariya Mahadeva and Devi Jagadambi Temples, nothing significant is left of this shrine except the royal Chandela emblem showing a man fighting a lion.

Devi Jagadambi Temple:

This active temple was originally a Vishnu temple as evident from numerous Vaishnavite icons carved across its walls. At present, the sanctum houses an idol of Parvati and hence the name of this temple.

Devi Jagadambi Temple
The exquisite Devi Jagadambi Temple.

Interestingly, in Devi Jagadambi Temple, you will notice a profusion of amorous couples engaged in vigorous lovemaking. Even the figures of divine couples such as Shiva-Parvati, Vishnu-Lakshmi, and Brahma-Brahmani depict moods of love.

Carvings of Devi Jagadambi Temple
Devi Jagadambi Temple is known for its profusion of erotic carvings.

Chitragupta Temple:

The style of construction of Chitragupta Temple is similar to that of Devi Jagadambi. However, it is more ornate as compared to its neighbor.

Chitragupta Temple
The Chitragupta Temple.

It is the only Sun temple of Khajuraho. Inside the sanctum, an impressive statue of Surya, accompanied by Usha and Pratyusha, stands. Like Devi Jagadambi, you will see a plentitude of happy couples in erotic postures. Also, there are as many as 10 sculptures of Shiva and 14 of Dikpalas.

Vishwanatha Temple:

This temple is another riveting creation of the Chandelas. According to a detailed inscription inside the temple, Dhangadeva commissioned this temple while Sutradhara Chichchha was the chief architect. During its heyday, Vishwanatha Temple housed two Shiva lingams, one made of stone while the other of emerald.

Vishwanatha Temple
The Vishwanatha Temple.

Like Kandariya Mahadeva, you will be lost in the plentitude of captivating sculptures of Hindu Gods and Goddesses, ‘Apsaras’ and ‘Devanganas’ in graceful postures and couples in erotic poses. In total, there are 602 statues here.

Dancing Ganesha
A dancing Ganesha.

Chausath Yogini Temple:

Oldest among all the Khajuraho monuments, it is located near the Shiv Sagar tank and outside the perimeter of the Western Group of Temples. Following the tradition of the ‘yogini’ cult, it is built in a hypaethral manner, which is open to the sky. The temple is comprised of 67 stone cellars. While one main cellar was devoted to Durga, the rest of the cellars were meant for yoginis and matrikas.

Exploring the Western Group of Temples took the entire morning. It was time for lunch when we finished. Post lunch, we visited the new ASI museum near Hotel Lalit. The museum is vast and has well-stacked galleries.

Afterward, we set out for the Southern Group of Temples.

Duladeva Temple:

Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the original name of this temple is lost in the pages of history. The new name of ‘Duladeva’ literally translates into Bridegroom God. Owing to its refined styling and ornamentation, it is believed that this temple is an excellent specimen of the late Chandela temple architecture.

Duladeva Temple
The Duladeva Temple.

We were amazed to find that the Duladeva Temple follows a star-shaped pattern a la the Hoysala temples of Belur and Halebidu. While observing the sculptures on the exterior, focus primarily on the outer walls of ‘garbha-griha’ which accommodate the best sculptures. You will find a superb carving of Shiva with three heads and ten hands as also a composite image of Hari, Hara, Brahma, and Surya with four heads and eight arms.

Carvings of Duladeva Temple
Delicate sculptures adorn the outer walls of the Duladeva Temple.

Chaturbhuja Temple:

Curiously, this Vishnu Temple faces west in stark contrast with other Hindu temples which face east or north. Inside the sanctum, a charming statue of Vishnu with four hands stands in a poised ‘tribhanga’ stance. Try visiting this temple during sunset, as the light of the setting sun illuminates the Vishnu inside the sanctum.

Chaturbhuja Temple
The Chaturbhuja Temple.

The ornamentation of Chaturbhuja Temple is much inferior as compared to other temples in Khajuraho. Also, erotic sculptures are absent here. Some of the intriguing sculptures here are those of Narasimhi (female Narasimha), Ardhanarishvara, Vishnu on ‘lalatabimba’, and Shiva-Parvati in ‘lalitasana’.

Deity inside Chaturbhuja Temple
The resplendent deity inside the sanctum of the Chaturbhuja Temple.

Day 2:

We kicked off our second day in Khajuraho with the Eastern Group of Temples. This cluster of temples is located around the Khajura Sagar, also known as the Ninora Tal.

Vamana Temple:

This temple, devoted to Vishnu’s 5th incarnation of Vamana, confirms that Khajuraho was an important center for the worship of Vamana. The sanctum has a sandstone idol of Vamana, with all its hands broken. The deity is flanked by smaller images of Shiva and Brahma.

Vamana Temple
The Vamana Temple.

Outside, there are around 300 sculptures portraying mythical animal ‘Vyala’ and ‘apsaras’ in coquettish postures along with divine figures such as Varaha rescuing Bhudevi, Brahama, and Shiva-Parvati.

Javari Temple:

Like most of the Khajuraho Temples, the original name of this temple can hardly be fathomed now. This slender, Vaishnavite temple is one of the most beautiful temples of Khajuraho. The entrance has a richly carved ‘makara torana’, while the ceiling is elegantly carved with cusped flowers and ‘Kirttimukhas’. The sanctum houses a four-armed Vishnu with a shattered head.

Javari Temple
The Javari Temple.

The temple exterior has exuberant carvings of ‘apsaras’, Dikpalas, amorous couples as also various incarnations of Vishnu.

Carvings of Javari Temple
Voluptuous ‘apsaras’ on the exterior walls of the Javari Temple.

Brahma Temple:

This crumbling temple is named after Brahma although it has a Shiva linga inside. There are four faces on the linga, facing the four cardinal directions. The icon resembled that of Brahma and hence named so.

Brahma Temple
The Brahma Temple.

Ghantai Temple:

This unusual structure is barely the skeletal remains of a once glorious Jain temple. Detached from the regular tourist trail of Khajuraho, only the meticulously carved pillars have survived the ordeal of time.

Ghantai Temple
The Ghantai Temple.

The pillars mostly have motifs of a bell (‘Ghanta’ in Hindi) and hence the ruined structure is called Ghantai. The most stunning piece of sculpture is the door jamb with a central image of Chakreshvari and various symbols of the Digambara Jain tradition.

Ghantai Temple
The intricately carved door jamb of the Ghantai Temple.

Parshvanatha Temple:

Grandest of all the surviving Jain temples of Khajuraho, this temple was originally consecrated to Adinatha, the 1st Jain Tirthankara. This wonderful temple was built during the reign of Dhanga.

Parshwanatha Temple
The Parshvanatha Temple.

As you enter the temple, look up and be amazed by the most intricately carved ceiling among all the Khajuraho temples. A human figure is precariously perched on the ceiling, holding a garland, as if welcoming the visitors. Inside the sanctum, there is a modern seated idol of Parshvanatha placed over a ruined statue base that once held a statue of Adinatha.

Sculptures of Parshwanatha Temple
The sculptures of Parshvanatha Temple are outstanding.

The sculptures beautifying the outer walls of Parshvanatha Temple are classy with elegant proportions. Despite being a Jain monument, you will find a plethora of religious imagery from Hinduism. There are images of Vishnu-Lakshmi, Shiva-Parvati, and Brahma-Brahmani in affectionate postures, Valarama with his consort, Saraswati playing Veena, and so on. You will also notice voluptuous ‘apsaras’ applying Kajal, tying hair, or simply standing in a suggestive stance.

Temple deity
A modern statue of Parshvanatha inside the sanctum.

Adinatha Temple:

Located just beside the Parshvanatha Temple, the temple has lost most of its front section. The door jamb leading to the inner sanctum is strikingly carved with images of Chakreshvari, Ambika, and Padmavati.

Adinatha Temple
The Adinatha Temple.

The ‘apsaras’ on the outer walls of Adinatha Temple are adorned with elaborate hairstyles, patterned costumes as well as heavy jewelry. You will also find images of Hindu deities, Dikpalas, and so on.

Outer decorations of Adinatha Temple
Decorations on the outer walls of the Adinatha Temple.

Shantinatha Temple:

The Chandela-era temple is now covered with modern renovations. This is an active temple, where the 16th Tirthankara Shantinatha is worshipped.

Shantinatha Temple
The Shantinatha Temple.

It was time for lunch as we rounded up our tour of the Eastern Group of Temples. Post lunch, we decided to visit the Raneh Waterfalls. It lies some 20 km away from Khajuraho and can be reached within 30 minutes.

Raneh is a natural waterfall on the Ken River. The river’s erosional activity has led to the formation of 98 feet deep canyon made up of granite in varying shades of colors ranging from pink and red to black and grey. The place looks spectacular, especially in the monsoon and post-monsoon months.

Raneh Waterfalls
The Raneh Waterfalls near Khajuraho.

We finished exploring Khajuraho with the Light and Sound Program held at the Western Group.

1-day itinerary for Khajuraho:

If you have one day to explore Khajuraho, grab a quick breakfast and start with the Western Group of Temples. One by one, go through the Lakshmana Temple, Varaha Shrine, Kandariya Mahadeva Temple, Devi Jagadambi Temple, Chitragupta Temple, and Vishvanatha Temple. Finish exploring the magnificent temples by 12 noon.

Nandi at Vishvanatha Temple
The Nandi Shrine of Vishwanatha Temple.

After lunch, visit the Eastern Group of Temples. Start with Vamana and Javari Temples and then swiftly proceed right to the Parshvanatha and Adinatha Temples.

Lastly, visit the Chaturbhuja Temple of Southern Group during sunset. 

Panels of sculpture
Interestingly, the sexually suggestive sculptures are surrounded by divine figures.

Half day’s itinerary for Khajuraho:

In case you have barely half a day, head straightway to the Western Group of Temples. You have to give the Eastern and Southern Groups a miss.

Beautiful carvings
‘Apsaras’ or celestial maidens are also recurring themes of sculptures.

Other places to visit near Khajuraho:

There are a few interesting places near Khajuraho that you can visit depending on your time.

Kalinjar Fort: Located at around 100 km from Khajuraho, Kalinjar Fort was a stronghold of the Chandelas. It was also one of the most celebrated forts of Medieval India. The fort is laden with innumerable Chandela craftsmanship.

Ajaygarh Fort: It is situated 30 km from Kalinjar. Like the fort of Kalinjar, this too used to be one of the strategic bastions of the Chandelas.

Panna National Park: If you want a break after exploring historical ruins, head to the verdant Panna National Park. It is just 20 km from Khajuraho and its pristine landscape offers great wildlife sightings. Don’t miss the Pandav Falls, where the tributary of Ken forms a gorge and descends into a heart-shaped pool.

Dhubela: Situated 60 km from Khajuraho, Dhubela was the capital of the heroic Bundela warrior Chhatrasal. Chhatrasal was also the father of the legendary Mastani, who was married to Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao I. The Dhubela Palace has now been converted into a fantastic museum. Most of the monuments are located near Dhubela Lake, such as the Chhatris of Chhatrasal and his queen Kamlapati, and the Mastani Mahal.

Things to Remember:

1. The temples in Khajuraho remain open every day from sunrise to sunset.

2. Try visiting the Western Group of Temples as early as possible. The crowd thickens with the passage of time. The Eastern and Southern Groups remain less crowded throughout the day.

3. You need tickets for entering the Western Group of Temples. Entry ticket is INR 40 for Indian nationals and members of SAARC and BIMSTEC countries. For foreign visitors, the ticket is INR 400. Further, you have to pay INR 200 for the camera and INR 400 for the video camera. This ticket will also be valid for visiting the ASI Museum. No ticket is necessary for visiting the Eastern and Southern Groups of Temples.

4. Like other ASI-protected monuments, the tripod is not allowed inside Khajuraho temples. Even the small handheld tripod of GoPro is prohibited.

5. The ASI Museum remains open from 10 AM to 5 PM on all days, except Fridays.

6. The Light and Sound show occurs every evening at the Western Group of Temples. The show is available in English and Hindi languages. It kicks off from 6-30 PM with the English version, followed by the Hindi one from 7-30 PM. The entrance fee for Indian tourists is INR 250, while foreigners need to pay INR 750.

7. Although the majority of the temples in Khajuraho are not active, it is wise to dress modestly while visiting them.

8. Wear comfortable, easy-to-open shoes. Exploring Khajuraho needs a lot of walking. Further, you need to open your shoes before entering the temples.’

9. Carry an umbrella, wear sunglass, and slather sunscreen lotion on your skin as the sun is quite harsh even in October. Also, don’t forget to carry a bottle of water each while you are scouting the temples.

10. Guides are available at the gate of Western Group. Fees start from INR 1800 for a group of two people.

For Raneh waterfalls, you need to pay an entry fee and hire a guide from the entrance gate.

The Floating Pebbles