Sculptures Of Khajuraho

The Khajuraho sculptures can be divided into five broad categories. The first category comprises formal cult-images executed almost completely in the round, and in strict conformity with canonical formulae and prescriptions.

By: Ganesh Dutt

Posted on: 21/9/2020 View : 71

Sculptures Of Khajuraho


The Khajuraho sculptures can be divided into five broad categories. The first category comprises formal cult-images executed almost completely in the round, and in strict conformity with canonical formulae and prescriptions.

The second category comprises parivara, parsva and avarana-devatas (family, attendant and enclosing divinities). They occur in the niches or are figured against the walls of the temple and are executed either in the round or in high or medium relief.


The sculpted figures occurring in the niches are more formal and partake of the iconographic qualities of the cult-images of the first category. The remaining figures of gods and goddesses, which include those of the dikpalas (eight guardians of the quarters), are less formal. These are distinguishable from human figures only by their peculiar head¬ dresses or mounts or special attributes, held usually in more than two hands. 

The third category consists of apsaras and sura-sundaris, and these account for the finest and most numerous sculptures at Khajuraho. They are executed either in the round, or in high or medium relief, on the outer or inner walls, pillars and ceilings. The sura-sundaris are invariably represented as graceful nymphs, attired in the choicest garments and bedecked in the finest jewellery. As apsaras, they are shown dancing in various postures. As attendants of the higher divinities, they are represented with hands folded or carrying the lotus-flower, mirror, water-jar, raiments, ornaments, etc., as offerings for the deities.

But, more frequently, the sura-sundaris are portrayed expressing common human moods, emotions and activities, and are often difficult to distinguish from conventional human nayikas. 

They are, thus, shown disrobing, yawning, scratching their backs, touching their breasts, rinsing water from wet plaits, removing thorns from their feet, fondling babies, playing with pets like parrots and monkeys, writing letters, playing on a flute or vina, painting designs on walls or bedecking themselves in various ways by painting their feet, or applying collyrium to their eyes.

The fourth category consists of secular sculptures that comprise miscellaneous themes including domestic scenes, teachers and disciples, dancers and musicians and erotic couples or groups.


Amorous and erotic couples include some of the finest sculptural compositions of Khajuraho, vibrating with a rare sensitiveness and warmth of human emotion. Most of these couples are distinguished by an expression of intense absorption and rapture, which transcends from the physical to the spiritual plane.

The fifth or the last category consists of sculptures of animals including the mythical vyala or sardula, the fabulous beast often represented as a rampant horned lion with an armed human rider on its back. spout Numerous varieties of this basic type are known with heads of elephant, man, parrot, boar, etc. Like the apsaras, this is a typical sculptural theme at Khajuraho and is invested with deep symbolism. 

According to art historian Krishna Deva, the sculptural art of Khajuraho surpasses the medieval school of Orissa in revealing the sensuous charms of the human body. Inspired by an ecstatic joy of living and a consuming passion for physical beauty, the artists of Khajuraho revelled in admiring the human  body, displaying it from the most fascinating angles -fine profiles, the unusual three-quarter profiles and back-views.

The classical flavour of the sculptures of Lakshmana and Parsvanatha temples is continued in Visvanatha Temple, which has proportionate figures, displaying admirable poise and balance. The sculptures ofJagadambi and Chitragupta are some of the most artistic in Khajuraho.

The sculpture of Khajuraho attains its maturity in KandariyaMahadeva Temple, which displays human figures with distinctive physiognomy.The scultures here are conspicuously slender and taller and show the richest variety of apsara figures. These sculptures represent the highest watermark of the characteristic art diction of Khajuraho. The Vamana and Adinatha temples carry on the sculptural tradition. The apsaras here are shown striking many difficult, almost tortuous poses.

The sculptural art is on a definite decline in Javari and Chaturbhuja temples. These contain largely conventionalised figures without much life or expression. Duladeo represents the last flicker of the dying lamp. It combines highly dynamic and romantic sculptures, such as those of dancing apsaras and flying vidyadharas, with degenerate, stereotyped and lavishlyornamented figures. According to Krishna Deva, plastically and iconographically, Duladeo marks the exhaustion of the remarkable vitality for which the Khajuraho sculptures are justly famous.

Erotic Sculptures of Khajuraho

Aword is necessary on the significance of the erotic sculptures of Khajuraho, which by their exuberant grace and character cannot fail to hold the viewer's attention. These sculptures have lent themselves to various interpretations. Some regard them as representations mirroring the lax moral standards of contemporary society. Others consider them illustrations of erotic postures mentioned in the ancient texts of Kamasastra.

It has also been suggested that these scenes represent the erotic practices of certain medieval Indian sects which invested the sexual act with a ritual symbolism and considered yoga (spiritual exercise) and bhoga (physical pleasure) to be alternate paths leading to the attainment of final deliverance. According to these sects, the controlled enjoyment of senses was an easier way to salvation.

Whatever the interpretation of the erotic scenes sculpted on the walls of the temples at Khajuraho, there is certainly nothing sordid or coarse about them. These representations have given us some of the finest sculptural compositions, which vibrate with a rare sensitivity and warmth of emotion.

As the sculptures mirror their times, it is evident that the age that produced them had few taboos or inhibitions about sex. The people of that age took a healthy integrated view of life and gave sex its due place in the scheme of things. Kama or pursuit of pleasure was deemed to be one of the four purusharthas or aims of life and was regarded as an essential and indispensable stepping stone to moksha or deliverance, the final aim of life.


According to ancient architectural texts, the depiction of the loving birds, animals and human couples was considered auspicious and was believed to bring good luck to the builder and, vicariously, to the devotee.

It is also well to remember here that a strong sensual element runs through early Indian art, literature and folk-tradition and expresses itself in various forms. The mithuna or loving couple is present in the terracotta and sculptural art of the Sunga period and enlivens all subsequent schools of art beginning with Amaravati and Mathura.

Ancient creation myths stress the polarity between the sexes as the source of creation. The physical union of man and woman is, indeed, portrayed as the human counterpart of the cosmic function of creation. The sculptures on the temples of Khajuraho perhaps aim to depict this.


















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