Environment as reflected in Chandella Art and Architecture

(with Special reference to Khajuraho and other sites)

S. K. Sullerey

The Chandellas of Jejakabhukti were the most important ruling dynasty of early medieval India. They were great rulers and builders of their times. They decorated their kingdom with the magnificent temples of Kahjuraho. These temples of Khajuraho are world famous for their magnificence, proportion, perfection of design and sculptural profusion which makes them masterpieces of architectural and sculptural art.

The Chandella artists did not rest with merely construction of temple but they added in them a new technique. Their temples are noble inspiring structures creating an impression of massive beauty. The Gods, Goddesses, apsaras, men and women standing or seeming to be in action, with their well  developed and voluptuous bodies, stand liberated from their stony frames to emerge in a living world. The Chandella art of Khajuraho is  a world of beauty as would appear from the sculptural depiction of apsaras in their different moods. It appears very beautiful from the sculpture of the letter writing woman. It surpassed many contemporary sculptural centres of art in portraying the different moods of men and women in stone and making even the pose of the figure a medium for expression of mood.

The apsaras of Khajuraho are gay. The reminiscent mood is expressed in one sculpture. Another  expresses the indolent mood, a third shows the anxiety to get ready, a fourth keenness to adorn herself and a fifth anxiety to do so. Still other figure describes tense attention in removing a thorn from the foot. The women with the mirror is lost in self-admiration. Their complacent smile and the intent eyes fixed on their reflection show them as the entinal womens they stand before a mirror. These beautiful structures which were carved by the Chandella artist on walls of Khajuraho temples reflected the contemporary social environmentwhich inspired the artists to create various moods of youthful apsaras.

Before evaluating the reflection of environment in Chandella art and architecture we have to consider the geographic position of Jejakabhukti region (Bundelkhand). The beautiful natural surroundings of this region greatly inspired the Chandella artists who were masters in the depiction of human and animal life in multifarious norms. When we compare the contemporary art of the other dynasties with the art that developed in central India, we notice the significant part played by nature in The Chandella art and architecture. The geographical configuration largely influenced the art and architecture  of Chandellas. The kingdom stood very close to the fertile region of north –western India, which lay to the north of the Yamuna and the Ganga, while the country itself divided by numerous ranges of hills, the spurs of the Vindhya mountains made it almost impregnable. The position of Chandellas was further strengthened by the possession of the important and almost inaccessible forts of Ajaigarh Mahoba and Kalanjara1. The  region is also known for its numerous rivers and lakes, formed by erecting embankments across the rivers. The region is very rich in natural resources and being traversed by many branches of the vindhyas and still more many rivers, rivulets and forest,it is famous for its natural surrounding and beauty which attracted the notice of Chandella sculptors who decorated it in their art and architectural creation.

Thus geographical environment influenced the physical and mental creativity of a concerned region. The mountains of the region reflected in the temples of Khajuraho. The architects of Khajuraho constructed their free standing temples just like the replicas of mountains. This also reflected in the Chandella inscriptions of Khajuraho which comparethe height of Khajuraho temples constructed during the time of Chandella rulers with snowy peaks of Himalayas2. Similarly one inscription from Ajaigarh compares the temples with mountain Kailash3. Thus we find the reflection of surrounding mountains in free standing Khajuraho temples. The temples of Khajuraho look like mountains. This is unique feature of Khajuraho temples .

The mountains rocks of the Jejakabhukti region provided the artist the material for the construction of caves, temples tanks, ponds and sculptures. The sculptors utilised the rocks of Kalanjara, Ajaigarh , Mahoba and Deogarh for carving their sculptures. The numerous sculptures carved by the sculptors at Ajaigarh and Kalanjar belong to rock art. At Kalanjara, Chandella artists carved several rare and unique images on the rocks4. Thus the Chandella artists utilized rocks for their beautiful artistic creations. In this way the artist saved valuable time and energy for carrying stone slabs from distant places. Thus geographical environment reflected in the rock cut sculptural and architectural remains of Ajaigarh, Kalanjara, Mahoba, Deogarh and other places.


The stone quarries of Panna provided  fine sandstone for constructions of temples and sculptures at Khajuraho. A panel kept in the archaeological Museum depicts a large number of labourers for carrying stones with the help of long wooden poles5. At Khajuraho, most of the temples and sculptures were constructed from the sandstone of Panna quarries. For such a large construction of temples, the Chandellas must have also utilized some other mode for transporting the stones. Thus the Chandellas used the natural resources for construction of temples at Khajuraho6. The diamond mines of panna and the adjoining regions are equally added to the rulers richness to construct the high profile temples at Khajuraho and other art centres. Thus the natural resources of the region provided economic support for the construction of magnificent temples at Khajuraho. The geographical environment factor played an important role in the study of art and architecture of any region. The same is true for Chandella art and architecture.


In the Chandella art and architecture; animals, bird and aquatic animals find a significant place. The animals were associated with men form the earliest times. The animals were also associated with great qualities, rare even in men. They have been mentioned as full of wit capable of appreciation and resentment and sometimes sacrificing, heroic and noble. All these qualities in birds and animals are the embodiment of strength and majesty, lions, tigers and elephants represent this category. This includes the Vyala, a fabulous creature with lion body and head of different creatures such as an elephant, a boar, a parrot and others. 

The Vyala is a typical art motif of medieval temple and is very popular decorative motif at Khajuraho.  Elephants are carved in the basement of Lakshman temple and as large figures in the ground at the entrance of Vishvanath temple. The depiction of elephants in large number in Chandella temples reflect that during the time of Chandellas elephants were found in large numbers in the forest of the region. The Chandella inscriptions also refer to elephants invariably. The Chandella army was strong, gallant and well equipped7 with elephants. 

One of the most significant animal representation is Nandi, Siva’s  bull carved from a single stone and installed in Nandi mandapa, in front of the Vishvanath temple constructed by Chandella king Dhangadeva. Similarly, Varaha finds a prominent place in Chandella art. The most magnificent image of Varaha is installed in  a separate temple facing the famous Lakshman temple. The Varaha image is carved on a single piece of solid sandstone. The Varaha Image carries on its body more than six hundred seventy five miniature figures in twelve carved rows. This huge Varaha image was installed by Chandella king Yasovarman as a mark of victory. Thus the Varaha image reflects the contemporary political environment prevailing during the time of Chandellas.


The Chandella artists also depicted various hunting scenesin the temples of Khajuraho. They reflect the thick forests and wildlife existing at that time. We find depiction of various wild animals in the hunting scenes. During the Chandella period hunting became a very important feature of the life of ruling class as well as the aristocrat members of the society.


The art of Chandellas, like that of other regions, reflects the environmental and socioeconomic condition in their changing context and the people’s behaviour. The art of Chandellas exhibits common upsurge of the people at large, including kings, aristocrats, priestly class, traders and the common peasantry, who strived hard and offered their best to lay down norms and develop various forms of sculpture, which were first experimented in Jejakabhukti  region profusely.

The art of Chandellas was based on native tradition which suited the socio-religious needs of an aristocratic feudal society. It reflects the contemporary trends and concepts prevailing during the time of Chandellas. The art acts here as  a vehicle to carry all walks of life. The sculptures are depicted in such a simple manner that onlookers can understand, enjoyand drive inspirations from them. The human figures, their dresses, ornaments and physical features etc. are drawn from the living groups of people of the region. The background of the entire artistic panorama moves around the divine environment of Khajuraho. The popular beliefs and concepts of contemporary society reflected beautifully in the sculptural art of Khajuraho. The unique identification of self with the divine  life probably made the Chandella art alive and brought it nearer to the common men. It was this intrinsic and inherent quality of Chandella art  which successfully attracted and inspired all the sections of society and common folk. 

The Chandella though aristocratic and sophisticated also depicted the joys and sorrows of common people. It is not only royal personages but people at large i.e. Townsmen, ascetics, artisans, labourers, merchants, forest dwellers and common folks find its place in sculptural art of Chandellas. Similarly the construction of chandelle temples generally depends on the wishes of royalty and the local needs of the people. But we cannot assign the construction of temples and monuments to only one class of people. Krishna Deva7 assigned the temple construction of Khajuraho from Yasovarman to Vidhyadhara. From  inscriptional sources we know that queens, high officials, rich merchants, religious teachers and common men also played and important role the construction of temples and monuments8. The artisans and labourers also made a significant contribution to the construction of temples. The sculptors with their excellent skills and imagination created a world of unsurpassed sculptures. Similarly the common labourers also made their contribution by putting their labour. The royalty also made a significant contribution by patronizing and inspiring the artisans. Thus we can conclude that in art activities  all the sections of the society made their contribution according to their position. To sum up we may say that Chandella art is a composite effort of all the sections of society9.

The significance of Chandella art may be accounted for its reflection of contemporary environmentrelated to natural, political, socio-religious, economic traditions and beliefs of the common people. The Chandella sculptor who drew inscription from living models of the Chandella society has made a very realistic depiction of contemporary social customs manner dress and ornaments. The chandelle art represents and reflects the contemporary life and culture in its full form.

The Chandella artisans were conscious of their rich and variegated forestry, wildlife, flora and fauna of their region. The innate love of nature exuberated everywhere through the artistically carved lotus flowers, garlands, creepers plants, birds and animals which dominate the moving panorama of Chandella art. The birds, animals and human beings are entwined to flow continuously in the same stream of life. It is common vigour of life which flows through energy thing making them thrive and prosper. Not only the flower and creepers are beaming with tis eternal energy but the males and females with their mannerable bends in body are swaying in rhythm. The two (dvibhanga) or three bands (tribhanga) of the body of apsaras figure of Khajuraho like  the wandering creepers suggest the nature’s replication in the creativity of chandelle artisans. Women received an important place in Chandella sculptural art. She occupied a significant place in chandelle place in Chandella society as mother, wife and daughter. The Chandella queen played important role in various aspects of life during the Chandella period.

The inscriptions throw some light on the position of the queen during the reign of Chandellas. The Chandella inscriptions refer Kanchuka, Puppa, Satyabhama and Kalyandevi. They played an important role in different fields10. Similarly Kalanjar inscription refers to the name of Mahanachni Padmavati along with Mahapratihara Sangram Singh. This inscriptional refers her respectable position during the reignof Chandellas. The reference is significant from this  point that during the Chandella period dancing was closely associated with temple worship and indicates their hierarchical position. We find various depictions of musical and dance performance in the sculptural art of Kahjuraho.This indicates the popularity of dance and music during the reign of Chandellas which reflects in Chandella  art.

The sculptors filled the Chandella art form with resilient vigour and breadth of life. The Chandella art depicted all forms of life as one and its  art expressed the urge integration. We can conclude that the Chandella artist created a universe through its creation. This can be expressed in the words of Banabhatt as “Darsit Visvarupa” 




1. N.S. Bose, History of Chandellas, p.172

2. Epigraphia Indica, Vol.1, pp.122-135; 137-147; and 147-152

3.Ibid, Vol.XXX, pp.87-90

4.S.K.Sullerey, Ajaigarh aur Kalanjara Ke Devapratimayain, pp.193-194

5.H.D. Sankalia, "Socio Economic background of Khajuraho" Journal of Indian History, p.136

6.Ibid, pp. 129-142

7.Krishna Deva, Khajuraho pp. 5-7

8.Devangana Desai, Khajuraho,p.7

9.S.K.Sullerey, Chandella Art,p.31

10.S.K.Sullerey, "Dimensions of Indian Womanhood, Chandella Queens" pp.233-235