Kandaria Mahadev Temple in World Heritage Khajuraho

The Kandaria Mahadev Temple in Khajuraho is the epitome of the North Indian style of temple architecture. It’s 10-11th CE gem left to us by the then ruling Chandela dynasty. The Chandela kingdom was called Jejahuti with its capital Khajuraho or Kharjuravahaka.

Kandarya Mahadev Mandir
Landscape view of Mandir, Image – Shutterstock

10-11:th AD India has seen the best examples of Indian temple architecture across geography and styles. This includes Brihdeeshwara Temple in Thanjavur, Hoysala Temples in Karnataka, Sun Temple in Modera and Lingaraja Temple in Bhubaneshwar.

History of Mahadev Temple in Kandaria

According to an inscription found on the mandapa of the temple, it was built during the reign of King Vidyadhara who reigned in AD. At the beginning of the 11th. He is best known for fighting the First Ghazni invasion. Ghazni returned a few years later and fought another endless battle. According to some sources, this temple was built to celebrate the defeat of Ghazni.

The temple was built in in the years 1025-50.

Kandaria Mahadev Temple in Khajuraho
Take a closer look at the famous Khajuraho temple

It is also possible that it was indeed conceptualized by Visvanatha, the predecessor of Vidyahara. It was dedicated to Shiva, the family deity of the Chandelas. However, the temple belongs to a period that can easily be called the golden age of Indian temple architecture.

Since 1986, the temples of Khajuraho have been included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.


Kandaria is derived from the word Kandara, which refers to caves on mountain tops. So Kandariya Mahadev can simply mean the cave of Mahadev or the lord of caves.

Along with the Matangeswar and Vishwanath temples, the Kandaria Mahadev temple is said to complete the trinity of the 3 main Shiva temples in Khajuraho. The three Devi temples belonging to Chausath Yogin, Chhatri Devi and Jagadambi form the other intersecting triangle. Together these 6 temples form a Yantra or sacred diagram as defined in this article.

Visit to Kandaria Mahadev temple

I remember standing in front of the temple early one winter morning. The rays of the sun played with the contours of the temple. You could almost hear them talking in the morning.

The radiant Kandaria Mahadev Temple
Shining temple in the morning

The temple was sparkling with the first rays of the sun falling on it. It seems that it was not carved in stone. It appeared to be made of sandalwood with subtle shades of pale pink that appeared and disappeared in the sunlight.

I sensed a rhythm in the structure of the temple. If it was the perfect proportions of the Jagati, Mandapa and Shikhara or did the builders use the perfect formula to recreate the Mahadev Kailash Parvath? I do not know. I only remember having tears in my eyes when something resonated between me and the temple.

It changed my relationship with temples forever. I mentioned this in my book Lotus In The Stone – Sacred Journeys in Eternal India.

The previous evening I had seen this temple come alive in a light and sound show. I could see her outward beauty then, but in the morning it was the rhythm of her form that lay beneath.


This temple, like other temples in Khajuraho, is made of sandstone. The stone, in various shades of pink and yellow, came from the nearby Panna quarry on the banks of the Ken River.

Architecture of Kandaria Mahadev Temple
Architecture of Kandaria Mahadev Temple, Image – Wikimedia and Tangopaso

It is part of the western group of temples at Khajuraho and stands freely on a raised platform. There is no prakara or wall of any kind. It allows for a good 360 degree view of the temple as you walk around. It shares a Jagath or platform with two other temples, a smaller one dedicated to Shiva and the other larger one dedicated to Devi Jagadambi.

The largest temple in Khajuraho

It appears to be quite a compact temple even though it is the largest temple on campus. It is built on an East-West axis, has a length of 30.5 meters and a width of 20 meters. It is 31 meters high and stands on a 4 meter high Jagati. It has all the elements of a typical Hindu temple.

Three temples of Khajuraho on Jagati
Kandaria Mahadev, Shiva and Jagadambi Temple

You enter through the Ardha Mandapa or entrance which leads you to the Mandapa or hall. An antrala or vestibule connects the mandapa to the garbh-griha or sanctum. The parikrama trail or walking path goes around the shrine.

Shikhara rhythm

The Shikhara of this temple is what gives it rhythm. It is made up of 84 independent Shikhara, each repeating the other, but increasing in size as you go up. It creates a stack that leads to the top. In a way, it recreates Kailasha Parvat, Shiva’s favorite abode. Is it a way to make Shiva feel at home, perhaps?

The mandapa is actually called Mahamandapa because it has corridors with windows facing outside. Windows sit on projections projecting in three directions on either side and at the back of the cathedral. Inside you have platforms where you can sit. I wonder if they were used for meditation or rituals.

External walls

The moldings of the outer walls are full of ornate sculptures. They include processions of elephants, horses, musicians, dancers, everyday life and erotica.

Erotica on the walls of Kandaria Mahadev temple
Sculptures on outer walls at junction of Mandapa and Garbhagriha

Larger and more exposed sculptures can be seen on the three ribbons running at window level. It has sculptures of Devi Devatas, but being a Shiva temple, she dominates along with her consorts and even the Saptamatrikas. Other sculptures include Sur Sundaris or auspicious women, erotica mainly at the junction of the Garbhgriha and mandapa, and figures of Nagas and Vyalas.

Sur Sundaris on the outer walls
Sword Sundaris on the outer walls of the Temple

The female sculptures on the outer walls of this temple are the most elaborate with perfect body proportions. Curves are emphasized through Tribhangi Mudras or body postures that bend in three places. The jewelry and delicate clothes of these figurines will amaze you.

Inside the temple

At the entrance you are greeted by the magnificent Makar Toran or crocodile finial arch. The Torah is carved in one stone. Kandaria Mahadev is the only temple in Khajuraho with two Makar Torans.

A view of the temple's ornately carved ceiling
A view of the temple’s ornately carved ceiling

The ceilings of the mandapa are made of concentric circles carved in stone, all richly carved. To me, they are among the greatest engineering marvels, showing us the best blend of precision and aesthetics.

Here, floral scrolls are carved on the pillars.

According to George Michel, there are 646 sculptures on the outer walls and 226 on the inner walls of the temple.

Can we make it a practical temple?

Kandaria Mahadev Temple is dedicated to Shiva as the name itself suggests. It is not a functioning temple at the moment. I sincerely hope that Pran Pratishtthha can be realized and make this temple a living temple again.

Books can be written about its beauty, and photos and videos can amaze us. However, the important thing is to revive the divine energy of the temple so that every visitor can benefit from it.

As Stapati Ponni Selvanathan explains to us, the renovation of abandoned temples or Jernodhar is duly mentioned in our shastras.

This temple is important not only from an architectural point of view but also in terms of preserving the sacred geography of Khajuraho. It is the ultimate gem of the golden age of Indian temple architecture. The least we can do is keep it alive.

Travel tips

You can visit the Temple from sunrise to sunset on all days.

Khajuraho has an airport, rail connectivity and good road connectivity from Jhansi.

The temple is part of the western group of temples in Khajuraho. Once you reach Khajuraho, all roads will lead you to this place.

There are all types of hotels in Khajuraho. We stayed at the MP tourist property which is very close to the temples. From here, it is easy to walk to the temples early in the morning.

Being a popular destination with international travelers, global cuisine is easily available on the streets of Khajuraho.

You can spend 1-2 days seeing all the temples. I would suggest at least an hour to visit the temple.

As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, tour guides and audio guides are readily available. My suggestion is to pick up the ASI guide and walk around at your own pace.

Photography is allowed in most places.

We recommend the light and sound show in the evening.

You can visit Panna National Park, Orchha and Jhansi along with Khajuraho.

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