Khajuraho Dance Festival: A Celebration of Love, Life & Dance

The dance festival takes place every year against the spectacular backdrop of Khajuraho’s ancient temples.

4 min read

If you read up on Khajuraho, you’ll mostly come across articles about the erotic sculptures that adorn the ancient temples situated in the Chhatarpur district of Madhya Pradesh. And to be fair, that’s one of the things that make it one of the most popular tourist destinations in the state. People from all over the world come to see the erotic art they’ve heard so much about, but they’re surprised to find that this majestic group of ancient temples is so much more than that.

These temples were built between 950-1050 AD by the Chandela dynasty that ruled this region. Many of these temples were destroyed over the years, and only 20 of the original 85 survive. In fact these temples have been rediscovered and restored only in the last century. What makes them truly marvellous are the intricate sculptures and designs that are carved on almost every part of these temples. Other than erotic art, 90% of the sculptures actually depict various other aspects of life, like meditation, spiritual teachings, kinship, wrestling, royalty.

Not only are these ancient temples stunning, they also demonstrate immense architectural skill for their time, and have even been recognized by UNESCO as one of their World Heritage Sites in India. Once every year though, the temples and sculptures are not the only beautiful forms of art that can be seen at Khajuraho. The Khajuraho Dance Festival, organised by the Department of Culture of the government of Madhya Pradesh, takes place every year against the spectacular backdrop of these ancient temples.

The dance festival takes place every year against the spectacular backdrop of Khajuraho’s ancient temples.
The Khajuraho Dance Festival takes place every year in February against the backdrop of the spectacular temples.
Photo: Madhya Pradesh Tourism

Dance has always been linked to the divine in Hindu mythology. Whether it’s Shiva's Tandava, Krishna's Raas Leela with the gopis, or the apsara dancers like Menaka, Urvashi and Rambha in Lord Indra’s celestial court - they were all well versed in the language of dance and music. This is reflected in the expressive nature of Indian classical dances. The Khajuraho Dance Festival began in 1975 to celebrate this art and since then has become one of the most anticipated cultural events in India. Every year dance lovers from across the nation and the world gather at Khajuraho to celebrate life through dance. Renowned dancers from all parts of the country come and showcase various Indian classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kathakali, Odissi, Manipuri, Kathak and Mohiniyattam. This year it took place between 20th and 26th February and was attended by many celebrated personalities from the dance world. Some of the artists who performed were Radha-Raja Reddy, Arushi Nishank and Kadambari Shivaya.

As each performer moved with the music, to the rapt audience it seemed as if the beautiful temple sculptures themselves had come to life. Just as classical dance hasn’t lost its ability to enthral the audience, neither have these magnificent ancient temples. They still inspire wonder in everyone who lays eyes on them and will continue to do so for centuries to come.

Mark your calendar and plan a visit for next year. Khajuraho is well connected, so you could fly down, take a train or even travel by road. Just make sure you visit in February, so that you can experience Khajuraho in its full glory during the dance festival.

Prepare to be fascinated by Khajuraho’s art and architecture

If you’re planning a trip to Madhya Pradesh, make sure to set aside a couple of days in your itinerary for Khajuraho. This town is one of the most popular tourist spots in the state and is globally renowned, thanks to its large cluster of medieval Hindu and Jain temples. These temples that date back to the tenth century will even today leave you spellbound with their architecture.

While you may have heard of the world famous erotic art in Khajuraho’s temples, they comprise just a small percentage of all sculptures. The rest of the temple art you see here depict a variety of other real-life situations. The sheer architectural brilliance and finesse of the art on display will leave you in awe of the artisans who made them. On the basis of the geographical location of the temples, they’re categorised into three groups: Eastern, Western and Southern.

An interesting bit of trivia about Khajuraho is that the town gets its name from the humble and commonly found date palm – khajur. The story goes that after being neglected for centuries, it was only in 1850 that the Khajuraho temples were discovered. Some of the prominent temples that have stood the test of time here are Kandariya Mahadeva, Chaunsath Yogini, Lakshmana, Devi Jagadamba, Chitragupta and Parsvanath. The Kandariya Mahadeva temple is the largest of them all and consists of 872 statues. The Chaunsath Yogini temple is the oldest one in Khajuraho and as the name suggests, it once had 64 cells dedicated to yoginis or female attendants.

The dance festival takes place every year against the spectacular backdrop of Khajuraho’s ancient temples.
The temples of Khajuraho were built between 950 and 1050 AD by the Chandela dynasty.
Photo: Madhya Pradesh Tourism

This town is well-connected by air, rail and road. Once here, you can also head to the ancient town of Orchha that’s about 173 kms away. Orchha will fascinate you with its temples and palaces and cenotaphs that are architectural masterpieces. If exploring wildlife is your thing, then Panna National Park is not too far from Khajuraho. It is home to the ghariyal – a crocodile-like reptile that’s only found in the Indian subcontinent - and other wild animals.

The best time to visit Khajuraho is between September and February. In fact, if you plan a visit during February, you’ll also be able to experience the Khajuraho Dance Festival. This week-long event is aimed at promoting Indian classical dance styles such as Kathak, Bharathanatyam, Odissi, Kuchipudi, Manipuri and Kathakali, and some of the best exponents of the dance fraternity perform here during the festival.

High on art, culture and architecture, Khajuraho is more than just another holiday spot. What are you waiting for then? Plan a trip right away!

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