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Notes on the Geography of Northern India: Khajuraho : Photo 8

world pictures Northern India: Khajuraho

This, finally, is the largest of the set: It's the Kandariya Mahadeva, built about 1050. As in European cathedrals, the horizontal axis runs east-west, but here the vestibule or ardhamandapa leads not to a spacious nave but to two small, pillared halls--the mandapa and the higher mahamandapa. All three can be discerned here by the line of three ascending roofs. Finally, under the spire or shikara, there is a dark, small sanctuary, the garbhagriha, literally the "womb house." Within the sanctuary and at the precise intersection of the temple's horizontal and main vertical axes, there's an image or symbol of a god.

The temple is understood to be a tirtha, literally a ford in a river but metaphorically a place where the divine and human worlds intersect. Such a place must be carefully designed by laying out a large square, a vastupurushamandala. The name suggests a divine chart (mandala) to stabilize or fix in space (vastu) the essence of existence (purusha). The main square is subdivided into a grid, usually of 64 or 81 cells. Each is associated with a particular god, but the central cell demarcates the sanctuary, the garbhagriha.

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