The imagery of Khajuaraho is too vast for one post, so I have attempted to express the experience in four parts: the old village, the purpose of a Hindu temple, the cultural heritage behind that built the site, and the meaning and word play of the sculpture.
The bus stops in Khajuraho and the first thing you see are rickshaw wallahs. Tourism is the only game in town and Madhya Pradesh tourism wants it cut. Khajaraho s a sacred place. The dance festival is a 19th century addition, and the Kamasutra had no place in 11th century Khajaraho.
Still, Tantric gimmicks may satisfy snickering tourists but they miss the point.
As rickshaw drivers swarmed I put them off
“Nahi. Mai Bhatat mai teen sal rahta hun. I know what your like. I want a cup of chi.”
I persist, turn my back and order tea. The chai wallah points out they are still fighting over who will get my business. I chose a quiet unobtrusive man who discretely avoided he frey.
A local from the old village, Lalu, is a better read of character, and I will recommend him to any tourist.
There are two towns in Khajaraho: 6000 live in the modern town of tourist operators, and the Old City, divided into four sections by caste, seems oblivious to Khajaroho’s erotic reputation.
It is of the tourist town I have heard web complaints “Do you want a woman?” or upsetting respectable Indian ladies by hawking crudely made kamasutra figurines. Except for a meal of paneer, I avoided it, I cannot agree or disagree.
The opening of the Khajuraho Motel in the 70’s spawned a hotel, an express way and now 5 star hotels have changed a 200 year old village from farmers and businessman to tour guides. The tourist town never sleeps.
I knew to visit the Old City, fitting it in after temples of the East and South, and before the massive Western Complex. My bus arrived 90 minutes late, so I ran out of time.
My auto-rickshaw driver, Lalu, is from the old village. He needs the tourism. 500 rupee to tour the temples is the government price. He charges 800 for the entire day. He even stayed with me until I had boarded my 7PM bus, negotiated a difficult passenger using my lack of good Hindi when swiping my seat, and was worth the extra.
Madhya Pradesh notoriously poor roads may have smoothed as I bused toward Kaharaho, but between the villages the rickshaw bounced sickeningly across crumbling cement roads. I began my day first with the South then Eastern temple groups
The sculptures exude sensuality with deep tantric symbolism beyond beyond Kama sutra.
I had wanted to know of the spiritual significance and was asked at the southern temple complex why the temples were built. I replied lyrically about the legend that the moon, Chandrama, seduced Hemvati, the beautiful widowed daughter of minister to a Banares king. Their son, Chandravarnan, after years being hidden in the forest, founded the Chadrella dynasty, compensated for his mothers lapse with temples of the union of Purush and Prakriti, man and nature as source of life and creation.
“No”, assured the first guide, a war ravaged people meditating in deep religious piety, needed to be taught the art of love. War weary men were outnumbered by women 60 to one.
About 10% of the sculptures are sexual.
Refusing a tip, he offered to take me – for a price – to the nearby cobra Village that “no one will take you. This is my village.”
It is not that the Old City had forgotten the temples of Khajaraho. I had read, that for centuries they did their best to preserve them before the British revealed the overgrown buildings to the Empire. But if these these towns folk trace back two centuries…..?
Regardless, the old town seemed oblivious to Khajaraho’s erotic reputation. I was offered chai in the home of the towns four mayors and shown the school run without government funds.
Children stood as I entered refusing to sit until I, as honoured guest, bid them sit down.
In a world of their own, I found the streets remarkably clean – a fresh contrast to rubbish stewn by in Indian cities. I had wondered if this town, has realized the importance of cleanliness for tourism. Lalu told me tourism is the only job in town, although my young tour guide spoke of some working on farms. The town was quiet because people were at work.
They were genuinely polite.
“If you want to take photographs, that’s OK. People are friendly here. If you want to photo a lady please ask.”
They have learned good manners and a friendly smile funds projects like the school or a newly built well. Guide and the teacher spoke if foreign aid behind the towns progress. They were clear none came from the Indian government.
As I passed a worker of brass worker quietly in front his door. Some children asked I photograph them, I did, which was immediately followed with “Money please”.
“Don’t give them money” said my guide, unofficially since like every other boy is learning to be a guide when he is older and wants practice. He added solemnly. “It is bad for their education.”
“If tourists give them money they will learn not to go to school.”
The 300 students are run in split shifts with 65% attendance. I could not adequately find words to ask politely whether most students could write beyond their own name. Many teachers are volunteers, and the students motivated. The two class school goes to 9th standard.
I am also ware that professors Esther Duflo and Abhijit Banerjee write of India’s ineffective education of the rural poor. It is not always an issue of resources or teacher incentives. When poor parents need labour, you hear parents label their kids “This is the genius” and “this is the stupid one”. They love their children, but I feel they must justify the hard choice of deciding who is educated. Sometimes it spills into how educators teach to the top end of the class and let the rest fall behind.
Has tourism changed parental expectations?
“At school all are equal. Caste is not an issue,” claimed
I fell in love with the town
When after lunch I was asked by whether I wanted to see his village, I told my budding tour guide I visited hoping to see it. Still, I was suspicious; in Jaipur two years previous, a guide admitted he was paid 50 rupees when he sent tourists to a weaver whether they bought or not. We went to help him respecting his honesty. Was this the same?
“There are only Hindu’s here” he said, unlike the new city. The town is clearly divided by caste, marked by different wall decor, and road makings, like speed bumps, between city sections. We begin in the , or untouchable part of town and it is as clean as the rest, then, the farmers, then the warrior caste. Perhaps Brahmins avoid the tourists.
Over the years items specific to each castes trade and worship, and are placed in a temple, near the caste dividing line.
“We do not need police here. Problems are solved by a magistrate and four mayor’s. There is a mayor for each caste. We do not use police. Police take money. Indian police are corrupt.”
I then was invited by one of the mayors, Jagdith Khare, to chai. I declined, explaining I had just had lunch, but was a little cautious aware of my natural weakness to allowing indebtedness to suck me in to a hard sell.
I need not have worried. Mayor Jagdish Khare rightly promotes his obvious talents, but there was no hard sell, just polite insistence.
I genuinely liked his traditional engraving and 2000 rupee lighter. I have learned to prefer the traditional craftwork over cheap tourist gimmicks.
However, I was a little put off when, after my purchase he took me to his attic explaining all thee brass work there – for sale – had been found by villagers. Although probably not archeological treasures, was this ethical?
As it was I rushed to spend several hours at the Western Complex, the lateness of the hour and a storm prevented me from seeing the Cobra Village.
Other Images Can be found here.