One of the innermost yearnings for people throughout the ages has been to leave behind a legacy of themselves. While the human body cannot be immortal, humans across ages have dreamt of immortalizing themselves through one means or the other. Be it the ancient Egyptians Pharaohs who mummified their bodies after death in the belief that they will live on, or the modern day research on countering aging- across ages, we have chased immortality. Even the act of giving birth to one’s progeny is but an attempt to pass on your genes to the future- in a way, to live through your children. Kings built empires, provided patronage to sculptors and architects, poets and writers, singers and minstrels, to ensure their greatness was not forgotten in the tides of time. And yet, over the years, history has remembered only a few. Some have been lost forever and have been lost only to be found again.
One such re-discovered place is Khajuraho, a small town in the state of Madhya Pradesh. It is home to some of the oldest temples in India, built during the rule of Chandela dynasty.
Growing up on a steady diet of historical fiction, I have always been fascinated by the architectural presence of the bygone eras. While this fellowship has been largely about pushing my bounds, I gathered enough courage to finally go on a solo trip recently to Khajuraho and Panna. While there I gathered the stories around Khajuraho, the land of date palms.
According to bard lore, Chandela’s are Chandravangshi or descendants of Moon. Chandra, the moon-god saw Hemvati, the daughter of Hemaraja, a priest bathing in moonlight one night. Captivated with her beauty, he came down to Earth and they spent the night together making love. However, with the breaking of dawn, Chandra told Hemvati that he had to leave for his heavenly abode. Seeing Hemvati scared of the disgrace that she would bring to her family, Chandra assured her that their son would go on to become a great King and would build magnificent temples to atone for the sins of his parents. This child is believed to be Chandravarma, the progenitor of the dynasty.
History however, would have us know the story a bit differently. It is believed that the Chandelas were vassals of the Gurjara- Pratiharas. Nannuka (831-845 A.D.), the founder of the dynasty was the ruler of a small kingdom centered on Khajuraho. Yashovarman (935- 950 A.D.), was assumed to be the first ruler who started acquiring power and influence in the region. It was during his reign that the Lakshmana Temple was commissioned, the first of the temples built at Khajuraho. It is believed that Yashovarman’s successor Dhanga established the Chandela sovereignty, establishing his capital at Kalinjar. During Dhanga’s rule, the Vishwanatha Temple was commissioned. His grandson Vidhyadhara faced Mahmud of Ghazni, the invader from Central Asia. It is believed that flushed with the success of defending his kingdom from Mahmud, Vidhyadhara commissioned the Kandariya Mahadev Temple. It is also during his reign that the architectural marvels of the Chandela dynasty reached its zenith. Post this, the dynasty saw a steady decline and marred with constant wars, the focus of the later kings shifted from Khajuraho to Kalinjar. Hammira Varman (1288-1311 A.D.) is considered to be the last known ruler of the once illustrious Chandelas.
With time, the temples became obscure, the dense forests reclaiming the land as their own. In 1838, T.S. Burt, a British officer of the Bengal Engineers, chanced upon the temple premises while on duty in the area. Slowly, Khajuraho started attracting people from across the world for it’s architectural marvel. Today, Khajuraho is recognized as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. While these once hallowed halls may nerve again gain back the splendor of their heyday, they have withstood the sands of time, singing the songs of a time long past.