The Vishvanatha Temple is a Hindu temple in Madhya Pradesh, India. It is located among the western group of Khajuraho Monuments, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The temple is dedicated to Shiva, who is also known as "Vishvanatha" , meaning "Lord of the Universe".
A dedicatory inscription, now affixed to the porch of the Vishvanatha temple, provides information about the construction of a Shiva temple by the Chandela king Dhanga. The original date of the inscription is read variously as 1056 VS or 1059 VS . The inscription mentions that Dhanga's descendant Jayavarman had it re-written in clear letters in 1173 VS. It states that Dhanga constructed a magnificent Shiva temple with two lingas . One linga – Marakateshvara – was made of emerald. The other linga – Pramathanatha – was made of stone.
The inscription appears to have been issued after Dhanga's death: it states that after living for more than a hundred years, Dhanga attained moksha by abandoning his body in the waters of Ganga and Yamuna. Unlike some other Chandela temple inscriptions, it does not mention the Pratihara overlords of the Chandelas. This suggests that the Chandelas were no longer vassals of the Pratiharas by this time. The bit about the emerald linga also supports this theory. According to the Puranas, a jewel-studded linga is an appropriate donation to be made upon the fulfilment of a desire. This suggests that Dhanga built the temple after attaining a high political status as a sovereign. Based on this inscription, scholars believe that the temple was completed in 999 CE or 1002 CE.
However, according to art historian Shobita Punja, the temple referred to in this record may or may not be the Vishvanatha temple. According to her, there is a possibility that Dhanga built two temples, one with a stone linga and another with an emerald linga. The inscription names Chhichha as the architect of the temple. It states that the temple's torana was designed by Vishvakarma , who had entered the architect's body
The base of the temple has several niches with sculptures of the Saptamatrikas , Shiva's consort Parvati and a dancing Ganesha.The exterior portion above the base has three bands featuring sculptures of various deities, surasundaris such as apsaras, and mythical creatures. The surasandaris are shown performing various day-to-day activities, such as applying sindoor to their foreheads and kohl to their eyes, wringing their hair after bathing, playing flute, plucking a thorn from their feet, dancing, admiring themselves in a mirror, dressing or simply posing provocatively. Their hairstyles, patterned garments, ornaments and expressive faces are noticeable in these sculptures. The parikrama passage in the sanctum features what Ali Javid and Tabassum Javeed call the "most striking carvings of females in Khajuraho".
One figure shows a surasundari playing the flute, with her body slightly bent sideways, exhibiting the contemporary ideal of the female body. Another figure, which is partially damaged, shows a damsel in a dancing pose. One sculpture shows a mother holding her baby: she is slightly bending sideways to let her baby sit on her hip. Another one shows a female lifting her left foot behind her, and applying dye on it. Yet another one shows a maiden trying to tie her bra behind her back, as the twisted body accentuates her curves.The north and south walls of the temple feature erotic reliefs. The junction of the vestibule and the sanctum features a variation of the famous "acrobatic sex" sculpture at the newer Kandariya Mahadeva temple. Like the Kandariya sculpture, this one also features a couple supported by two women, but in this sculpture, the man is on the top. The woman at the bottom fingers the woman on the left with one hand, while her other hand rests on the ground for support. Some sculptures feature men indulging in bestiality, as women cover their eyes.The interior features faceted pillars in all the rooms.
The ceiling and the brackets supporting it are intricately carved.However, the bracket figures in the large hall are now badly worn.Interpretations of erotic sculptures Various interpretations of the erotic sculptures have been proposed. Colonial arts administrator Ernest B. Havell considered these as a product of a decadent phase in the Hindu society. A contrasting view is that these are Kamashastra-inspired artistic tradition of a broad-minded society. Vidya Dehejia, a professor of South Asian Art at Columbia University, states that these sculptures depict the rites of the Kaula and Kapalika sects. These sects believed that only those who can resist the sensual temptations can achieve salvation. To realise whether one can rise above such temptations, one had to experience them while remaining unaffected. Thus, these sects provided a theological excuse for the over-indulgent Chandela rulers to engage in "the most debased practices". According to the Indian art historian Devangana Desai, the erotic sculptures at Vishvanatha and Kandariya Mahadeva Temples served the following functions: These sculptures have a deeper, hidden meaning: they represent a "yogic-philosophic concept", using sandhya-bhasha. The tantrikas used such language to avoid exposing their practices to the general public. These figures conceal a yantra used for worship. The figures of couples having sex are present at the juncture walls that connect the sanctum to the hall. These were believed to magically protect the monument at its most vulnerable part.
The erotic sculptures can give pleasure to the non-initiatied visitors to the temple. Fred Kleiner, a professor of art and architecture at Columbia University, believes these sculptures symbolise "fertility and propagation of life and serve as auspicious protectors" of the sacred temple. Margaret Prosser Allen, a University of Delaware academic, mentions that the erotic sculptures depict the aim of human life: the union with the universal being. This depiction is based on the belief that the universe is a result of the "cosmic union of male and female elements".