This group consists of the most significant and also the most magnificent of temples at Khajuraho. Built by the royalty themselves, they are now within an enclosure and a garden maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The temples are open to
the public from sunrise to sunset and tickets cost a nominal amount. They are briefly described below, as they appear, in clock-wise order.
This small structure faces the Lakshmana temple. It now contains an image of the goddess Brahmani, but originally it housed Vishnu`s mount Garuda, the solar bird.
Facing west and in front of the Lakshmana temple, the Varaha sanctuary is an open pavilion with a pointed roof. It enshrines the icon of Varaha, the third incarnation of Vishnu. The massive Boar, measuring 2.66 m. by 1.75 m., is carved out of a single piece of solid yellow sandstone. It is canopied by an exquisite lotus ceiling. This magnificent sculpture in the round is positioned in the centre of the shrine with space for devotees to circumambulate.
The divine animal carries on its body more than 675 miniature figures in twelve neatly carved rows. These figures depict all the important divinities of the Hindu pantheon, including Ganesha, the seven Mothers, the seven sages, the eight Guardians of Space, the nine planetary divinities, the river goddesses, the seas, the Rudras, and the different forms of Vishnu. In fact, the Boar represents the cosmic form, Vishvarupa, embodying all beings. There was also an image of the Earth Goddess, which is now missing. Today, only her feet can be seen attached to the pedestal. In 1838, Captain T. S. Burt, the first Englishman to see and write on this fabulous Boar, tried hard to look for the lost image of the Goddess, but in vain.
The Varaha image dates to about AD 950 and was possibly installed by the Chandella king Yashovarman as a celebration of victory over his Pratihara overlord. There is a political metaphor implied in the installation of the Boar. Just as the Boar rescued the Earth goddess on the celestial level, the king saved her from the enemy on a more terrestrial level.
One of the most refined and well-planned temples, not only in Khajuraho but in the whole of India, it enshrines an mystic form of Vishnu called Vaikuntha. Major Cunningham, on his first visit to the temple in 1864, reported seeing this majestic image 1.3 m. (4 ft.) high with three faces of the Lion, Man, and Boar. The temple was affiliated to the Vaishnavite Pancharatra sect of the Kashmir school, which worshipped Vishnu in this composite form. The temple`s inscription states that King Yashovarman built this splendid temple to house the Vaikuntha image that he acquired from his overlord, the Pratihara king, who in turn had got it from the ruler of Chamba region. The temple was consecrated by his son Dhangadeva in AD 954.
The Lakshmana temple is a five-shrined or panchayatana complex and stands in the centre of a high platform along with its four subsidiary shrines in the corners. All along the platform, a continuous sculptural pathway depicts scenes of everyday life: a royal hunt, battle, traders, dancers and musicians, dancer conversing with a religious teacher and elixir preparation amidst an orgy. This is the only temple of Khajuraho which preserves sculptural panels on the platform.
The exterior wall of the main temple is divided into two zones of sculptures depicting graceful apsaras, snake goddesses, griffins, and couples in the recesses. The upper zone, carries the images of the different forms of Vishnu while Shiva occupies a significant position on the lower zone. One of the more noteworthy sculptures on the south-east side is that of two males ecstatically dancing with castanets in their hands. Some argue that they are homosexuals, while some say they are in the supreme ecstasy of Bhakti. The front faηade of the temple has an image of the Sun god holding two lotuses.
The architect of this temple was the first to place erotic groups on the juncture wall of the mahamandapa and the sanctum. This is the only temple in Khajuraho that depicts the avataras of Vishnu on its jambs, pairing Matsya (Fish), Varaha, and Vamana on the left jamb with Kurma (Tortoise), Narasimha, and Parashurama on the right jamb. The centre of the header is presided over by the goddess Lakshmi.
The images of Vishnu`s incarnations are present in the three cardinal niches of the walls: Varaha in the south, Narasimha in the west, and Hayagriva (Horse` necked one) in the north. In the upper western niche Vishnu-Narayana can be seen amidst his devotees at Svetadvipa, a mythic island mentioned in the Mahabharata .The three placid scenes of Vishnu-Narayana discoursing with the sages are interspersed with twelve panels depicting Krishna slaying or subduing demons .Goddesses are also represented in this temple. Sculptures of Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Mahishasuramardini, Durga-Kshemankari with two lions, Tripura in meditation posture, and others are found in the niches of the sanctum and the mahamandapa.
The planetary divinities (Grahas) play an important part in the iconography of the Vaikuntha temple. In the interior of the temple they are represented on the door lintel of the sanctum, while on the exterior, their figures are placed around the temple in all niches of the plinth. The architect has presented the temple as Mount Meru, the centre of the universe, around which the planetary divinities revolve.
One of the greatest monuments in India this cave-like temple gets its name from the word kandara (cave). This is the tallest temple at Khajuraho, with a height of 30.5 m. It was possibly built by King Vidyadhara, in about AD 1030, after his successful combat with Mahmud of Ghazni.
The architect of the temple has presented a well-planned iconic scheme. In a niche of the large hall there is a unique four-footed (chatushpada) Sadashiva image. Sadashiva, is pivotal to the Shaivite religious system. His four feet refer to the four parts (padas) of the Shaiva system that the builders of the temple followed. In the three cardinal niches of the sanctum wall are depicted Shiva`s manifestations :
1) subduer of the blind demon Andhaka,
2) the cosmic dancer Natesha, and
3) Tripurantaka, destroying the three demon cities.
Alexander Cunningham counted 646 figures on the exterior of this temple and 226 figures on its interior. The famous erotic groups are placed on the juncture of the big hall and the sanctum, which corresponds to the wall portion between the two balconies.
There is a unique counter-circumambulatory arrangement of the images of the seven Matrikas (Mothers), along with Ganesha and Shiva-Virabhadra, in the principal niches of the basal storey .When circumambulating the temple, one first sees Ganesha, then the seventh Matrika Chamunda. The first Matrika, Brahmani,is seen only on completion of the round. This placement of the Matrikas could be explained on the grounds that the Matrikas themselves are circumambulating the abode of Shiva. Led by Virabhadra, followed by Ganesha, they encircle the temple forming a protective mandala (circle) around it.
The Kandariya Mahadeva has been highly appreciated by art historians for the superb harmony of the graded proportions of its various component units along with their
superstructures. The spire of the sanctum has a series of graded replicas of itself, which cluster around the central peak and create the effect of a mountain range. In the soft evening light one can experience the rhythm of the ascent and descent of its mini-spires,
leading the eye upwards to the summit. Exactly below the highest point of the spire is positioned the Shiva-linga. A Chandella inscription calls the linga the "Primordial Pillar of the Universe".
On the same platform as the Kandariya Mahadeva, towards its north, lies this partially preserved structure, now called Mahadeva.
A favourite theme in Chandella and other Rajput art, a sculpture of a Lion and Warrior, is housed here.
This temple, to the north of the Kandariya Mahadeva and on the same platform, was originally dedicated to Vishnu. This is deduced from the central image of this god on the door header of its sanctum.
However, the temple now enshrines an image of the Devi (Goddess),
who is worshipped by the local people on festive occasions. In the mid nineteenth century, the Maharaja of Chhatarpur added a Yajna Kunda, meant for performing rituals .
The temple is known for the graceful figure sculptures of mithunas, apsaras, vyalas, and images of deities on its exterior wall. Cunningham found the sculptures on the smaller row to be highly indecent. The temple was built between AD 1000-1025.
The only temple dedicated to the sun god on this site, the Chitragupta temple was built between AD 1000-1025. This temple is situated to the north of the Devi Jagadamba, and in the north-west corner of the enclosure of the western group of temples. The icon of Surya, 2.13 m. (7 ft.) tall,. He is shown wearing an armoured coat and boots in the style of a northerner. The statue of one time held two lotus flowers, which are now broken. Seven horses pull his chariot.
The exterior of the temple is adorned with sculptures of beautiful apsaras, mithunas, vyalas, and deities. The uppermost smaller row has erotic figures and teacher-disciple groups. More than seventy ascetic figures are carved on the balcony panels (kakshasana).A scene showing sculptors at work is carved on the plinth. There is an interesting iconographic form of the eleven-headed Vishnu in the niche of the south wall.
A little distance away from the Chitragupta temple, outside the fence of the western group of temples, is a small water tank, called the Chopra tank. It is a three-storeyed stepped tank. It is associated with the healing of diseases.
Situated towards the east of Chitragupta temple, the Parvati temple is a small shrine, now ready for visitors after undergoing heavy restoration. It now houses an image of the goddess Parvati standing on an iguana but the sanctum door has a Vishnu in the centre.
After the Lakshmana and the Kandariya Mahadeva, another prominent temple known for its grandeur is the Vishvanatha temple. The Vishvanatha temple was built by the powerful King Dhangadeva and was consecrated in AD 999. It has a long inscription stating that Dhangadeva installed an emerald linga, along with a stone one. The temple was then known as the Marakateshvara, the Lord of the Emerald Linga. This precious linga was already missing in 1864, when Cunningham visited the temple.
The most significant feature of this temple is that an inscription has preserved the name of the architect of the temple. The architect, according to the inscription, was Sutradhara Chhichchha, who was well-versed in the architectural tradition of Vishvakarma.
It is also significant that this is the only temple at Khajuraho that has its Nandi-mandapa or pavilion for the bull mount of Shiva intact. A magnificent Nandi sits facing the temple.
Originally the Vishvanatha temple was five-shrined (panchayatana) like the Lakshmana, but now only two survive. It is a sandhara temple with an inner ambulatory. Graceful apsaras decorate the pilasters and the sanctum wall in the interior of the temple. The theme of the apsara with a scorpion can be found on the west wall of the sanctum.
Other beautiful figures, arranged in three rows, adorn the exterior walls As in the other sandhara temples of Khajuraho, erotic groups are placed on the juncture of the mahamandapa and the sanctum. There are several figures of religious teachers on the plinth as well as on the lintel of the sanctum door.
The architect of this temple, Chl-lichchha, seems to have been the first to place the seven Matrikas, in a peculiar counter circumambulatory manner on the exterior plinth. This placement was later adopted by the architect of the Kandariya Mahadeva.
Statue of Bhairava
Outside the fenced enclosure, on the way to the Matangeshvara temple and on one`s right, under a tree, is a colossal statue of Bhairava,1.98 m. (6.5 ft.) high. It is coated with red lead and is still worshipped today. The image belongs to the early-tenth century. In 1865, Cunningham wrote that the statue was found while digging for stones to build a cenotaph for Pratap Singh, Maharaja of Chhatarpur. This statue has been mentioned by Abul Fazal in his Akbar Nama, though the rest of Khajuraho seems to have gone into obscurity during the Moghul rule.
One of the very few temples in Khajuraho that is still used for worship, the Matangeshvara stands outside the fenced enclosure, on the south of the Lakshmana temple, and close to the bank of the Shivasagar tank. The Matangeshvara or the Mrityunjaya Mahadeva temple has one of the largest lingas in India 2.53 m. (8.3 ft.) high and more than one meter in diameter. The roof of the Matangeshvara temple is pyramidal in structure and there is no sculptural decoration. This temple is dated to c. AD 1000. During Shivaratri, a festival sacred to Shiva, devotees bathe in the Shivsagar tank and then proceed with a water pot to the Matangeshvara temple for worship.
Towards the southwest of the Shivsagar tank, is located this unique open-air sanctuary away from the main group of temples Walking along the Shivsagar tank and through the It was dedicated to the sixty-fourYoginis, believed to be manifestations of the Great Goddess. Unlike the other temples at Khajuraho, which are made of fine sandstone, this temple was constructed with granite blocks. It is considered by scholars to be one of the earliest shrines at Khajuraho, and has been dated to c. AD 900. This is the only shrine at the site that is aligned not east-west, but is oriented to the north-east.
The sanctuary, erected on a low rocky mount, consists of sixty-seven cells, of which one was larger than the rest. Each of the smaller cells used to house a Yogini, while the larger cell had an image of Durga-Mahishasuramardini, inscribed with the label `Hinghalaja`. When Major Cunningham visited this sanctuary in 1865, he only found three images, one of the goddess Hinghalaja in the principal cell and the two Matrikas Brahmani and Maheshvari in the cells besides. These three images are now at the Site Museum, and so is the dancing Ganesha who faced the Yogini sanctuary.
One gets a breathtaking view of the Kandariya Mahadeva temple, from the ChausatYogini shrine.
This small shrine, dedicated to Shiva, is situated on the bank of the Lalguansagar lake, about half a kilometre from the Chausath Yogini sanctuary. Facing west, it is based on a simple plan, comprising a sanctum and a porch which is now missing. The sanctum is covered with a pyramidal shikhara (partly preserved). The doorway is plain, with only a diamond design carved on the door-sill. This shrine belongs to a slightly later date than the Yogini temple. AD 900-925.
Called `Sevamsagara` in inscriptions, the Shivsagar tank is an important landmark in Khajuraho. The Shivsagar tank is possibly `the large lake surrounded by towering temples` described by lbn Battuta, the Arab traveller who visited Khajuraho in 1335. This water tank extended about three-quarters of a mile to the north, during the late 1800`s, along the area behind the Matangeshvara, Lakshmana, and theVishvanatha temples.
The Shivsagar plays an important part in the ritual life of Khajuraho village. During the Shivaratri festival, hundreds of pilgrims bathe in the tank and then head for the Matangeshvara temple for worship. In the month of November, women of the village come to the banks of the Shivsagar in the early hours to worship lord Krishna.