Essential Guide to India's Khajuraho Erotic Temples

Erotic sculptures at Khajuraho.
••• Bhaskar Krishnamurthy/Getty Images.

If you want proof that the Kama Sutra originated in India, Khajuraho is the place to see. Erotica abounds here with around 20 temples, many featuring sexuality and sex. These sandstone temples date back to the 10th century and are a UNESCO World Heritage site. They're the only ones remaining out of the 85 temples constructed during the time that Khajuraho was the capital of the Chandella dynasty. However, in reality, the temples are not nearly as limited to erotica as you may expect (it actually only makes up approximately 10% of the multitude of carvings on them).

There are 3 groups of temples—Western, Eastern, and Southern. The main temples are in the Western group, which features the magnificent Kandariya Mahadeo Temple. The Eastern Group contains a number of exquisitely sculptured Jain temples. There are only two temples in the Southern group.

Location

Khajuraho is in northern Madhya Pradesh, approximately 620 kilometers (385 miles) southeast of Delhi.

Getting There

Khajuraho is most easily reached by flight, or overnight long-distance train from Delhi via Agra (the 12448/UP Sampark Kranti Express) or Udaipur via Jaipur and Agra (the 19666/Udaipur City Khajuraho Express).

There's also a daily unreserved local passenger train from Jhansi to Khajuraho. However, it takes about 8 hours and 24 stops to cover the distance. The train, 51818, leaves Jhansi at 6.50 a.m. and arrives in Khajuraho at 3 p.m.

The road from Jhansi to Khajuraho has improved. The journey now takes approximately 5 hours, and costs from about 3,500 rupees for a taxi.

The bus can be particularly arduous, so hiring a taxi is a better option.

When to Go

During the cooler months from November to March.

Temple Opening Times

From sunrise until just before sunset, daily.

Entry Fees and Charges

Foreigners are charged 500 rupees each to enter the Western group of temples, while Indians pay 30 rupees.

The other temples are free. Children younger than 15 years are also free.

Sound and Light Show

There's a sound and light show, narrated by the Bollywood icon Amitabh Bachchan, every evening at the Western group of temples. Tickets can be purchased an hour or two in advance from the counter there. Shows are in Hindi and English, with tickets for the English show priced higher.

Getting Around

While the Western group of temples (the main group) is situated near many hotels, the Eastern group is a few kilometers away in another village. Hiring a bicycle is a popular way of traveling between the two and there are stalls near the main temple complex.

Festivals

A week-long classical dance festival is held in Khajuraho each year, in late February. The festival, which has entertained audiences since 1975, showcases classical dance style from all over India. It offers a captivating way of seeing the various classical styles of Indian dance, including Kathak, Bharat Natyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri, and Kathakali. The dances are performed in the Western group of temples, mainly at the Chitragupta Temple (dedicated to Surya the Sun God) and the Vishwanatha Temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva).  A large arts and crafts fair is also held during the festival.

Where to Stay

There are plenty of places to stay in Khajuraho from cheap to luxury.

Travel Tips

Although Khajuraho is a little out of the way, don’t decide to give it a miss on this basis. Nowhere else will you find such unique temples with meticulously detailed carvings. The temples are best known for their erotic sculptures. However, more than that, they show a celebration of love, life, and worship. They also provide an uninhibited peek into ancient Hindu faith and Tantric practices.

If you need another reason to visit, only half an hour away is the added attraction of the dense, wildlife-filled jungle of Panna National Park.

Why All the Erotica?

Of course, it's natural to wonder why the hundreds of erotic sculptures were made. They're rather explicit, and even portray beastiality and group activities.

What's interesting is that although the Khajuraho temples have the largest number of these sculptures, there are other temples in India (such as the Konark Sun Temple in Odisha) that have similar ones dating back to the 9th-12th centuries.

However, there's no one generally accepted reason as to why they exist! Some believe it to be auspicious, as there are also carvings of mythical creatures on the temple walls. Others interpret it to be sex education, directed at rekindling passion in the minds of people who may have been influenced by Buddhism at the time. Another explanation is derived from Hinduism, and the need to leave lust and desire outside before entering the temple. Most likely there is an association with the esoteric cult of Tantra. The oldest temple in Khajuraho, the 64 Yogini temple, is a Tantric temple dedicated to 64 goddesses who drink the blood of demons. There are only four temples of this kind in India. Another is located near Bhubaneshwar in Odisha.

Other Attractions in Khajuraho

Without a doubt, the temples capture everyone's attention. However, if you're looking for other things to see and do, there's an Archeological Museum (entry is free with a valid ticket to the Western group of temples), and Adivart Tribal and Folk Art Museum within the Chandela Cultural Complex.

Also worth seeing in the Panna district of Madhya Pradesh (ahout an hour from Khajuraho) are ruins of 9th century Ajaigarh Fort. Not many people know about this Fort, and it's relatively deserted. Do note that you'll need to do quite a bit of climbing and it's worth taking a local guide.

Dangers and Annoyances

Unfortunately, many tourists complain about the number of touts in Khajuraho. They are prevalent and persistent. Ignore anyone who approaches you in the street, especially anyone who wants to take you to their shop or hotel (or offers to sell you anything). Don't be afraid to be assertive and forceful in responding, otherwise they'll take advantage of your politeness and not leave you alone. This includes children, who will pester you relentlessly for pens and other items.