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Khajuraho temples languish in neglect as Madhya Pradesh govt adopts step-motherly attitude towards region

This is the year of elections in Madhya Pradesh. The bypolls results of Mungaoli and Kolaras Assembly seats declared on Wednesday have gone in favour of the Congress and three-time Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan’s governance is under the scanner in the upcoming Assembly elections.

Nearly 400 kilometres from the Guna Lok Sabha constituency, where the bypolls were held, is the quaint town of Khajuraho. But as tourism wastes away in this historic land, it appears that the economic distress of the area has a precarious cultural undertone to it.

In the 25 temples of Khajuraho, one will find a Ganesha idol with a broken snout and a Parvati figurine which is bloodlessly injured on her fingers, apart from some empty panels whose sculptures crumbled away sometime between the ninth century and the modern day.

Temples as old as the 9th centuary languish in state neglect in Khajuraho. Poor roads, lack of direct trians and flights impact tourism in the area. Firstpost/ Pallavi Rebbapragada

Temples as old as the 9th centuary languish in state neglect in Khajuraho. Poor roads, lack of direct trains and flights impact tourism in the area. Firstpost/ Pallavi Rebbapragada

"Hindu dharam mein khandit murtiyon ki jagah nahi hai (There’s no space for a broken idol within the realms of Hindu sanctity),” Karan Singh, a tour guide registered with the Ministry of Tourism and Culture, repeats the same sentence in front of various set of strangers who come to visit these temples, which should be of great cultural and historical significance today. The tour guide traps sunlight in a pocket mirror and throws it on figurines of apsaras reading, writing, or playing sport and on statues of elephants and horses playfully competing in the battlefield.

Since centuries, the attention of humans has sat put on the union of man and woman, and the emotions that arise from it are delicately portrayed on the walls of Khajuraho, convincing people that there’s more to the temples than what meets the Freudian eye.

"The temples signify dharma, artha, kama and moksha then why highlight only the kama and make the temples any less Hindu? This image of Khajuraho as a symbol of erotica is impacting our livelihood," said Karan, sharing government data on the decline in footfall of Indian adults from 3,07,377 in 2015-16 to 2,63,880 in 2016-17.

Last year, the Bajrang Sena, a group of right-wing activists, wanted a ban on the sale of copies of Kamasutra outside the Khajuraho temples. But the books are still being sold here. Amit Gupta, national president of the group, told Firstpost that an attempt is being made to eroticise the temples through the sale of such literature to attract foreign tourists. That leads to a decline in the number of Indians coming to Khajuraho for a family holiday.

The guides agree that the forced link between Khajuraho temples and the Kamasutra, written by Vātsyāyana in the 3rd century (the two are 600 years apart) has reduced the several tales densely told in sandstone to the traces of erotica in them. But the broader and ultimate question is, has the government too internalised the idea that Khajuraho is any less Hindu in its ways?

From a distance, the sandstone temples look like they were erected out of wood, such is the architectural marvel. A closer look uncovers all kinds of material truths densely told in turrets and panels of sandstone. Firstpost/ Pallavi Rebbapragada

From a distance, the temples look like they were chiseled out of sandalwood, such is the architectural marvel. But a closer look uncovers all kinds of material truths told in turrets and intricately carved out panels of sandstone. Firstpost/ Pallavi Rebbapragada

There’s a pattern to the lack of interest in Khajuraho. It starts by making it difficult to access, both by rail and road. The Bhopal Habibganj Shatabdi (train connecting Bhopal to Delhi via Agra Cantt) doesn’t halt at Khajuraho. Jhansi is the closest stop and it is 180 kilometers away; it's a single-lane road from there on. Agra and Varanasi are both 400 kilometres away from Khajuraho and had there been an express highway on the route, tourists could have completed the journey in less than three hours. The Bhopal-Khajuraho Mahamana Superfast Express that was started six months ago should be, the guides say, extended to Indore. Indore shares a border with Maharashtra and on the Indore-Khajuraho route, there are places of religious significance like the Omkareshwar and Maheshwar jyotirlingas.

Even Mandu, where a fort famous for the love story of Queen of Malwa Roopmati and Sultan Baz Bahadur stands, is close to Indore. "If that leg isn’t covered by the superfast express, then it doesn’t benefit us as much as it could have," says Awdhesh Kaushik, a Madhya Pradesh Tourism guide. It is unlikely for tourists to venture to Khajuraho alone, but connecting similar places of interest in the circle, could boost tourism opportunities in the region

Moreover, two other popular long route trains, the Chambal Express — which runs between Howrah Junction & Gwalior Junction — and Tulsi Express — connecting Mumbai’s Lokmanya Tilak Junction and Allahabad Junction — don’t cross Khajuraho. Situation can only be dismal when it comes to flights. As stated on cleartrip.com: "In a week, three Air India flights operate on this route. The ticket price for an Air India flight between Varanasi and Khajuraho ranges anywhere between Rs 1,756 and Rs 20,269."

To draw the attention of the state and central governments towards their condition, guides and tour operators of Khajuraho run a Twitter movement called #VoiceofKhajuraho. Way back in 2016, Civil Aviation Minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju inaugurated a new terminal building at the Khajuraho Airport but, it isn’t functional yet.

There are a little over a hundred tour guides who hold licenses issued by the Ministry of Tourism and Culture and nearly 30 are registered with the Madhya Pradesh Tourism. Madhya Pradesh Tourism guides tell us that they receive Rs 750-800 for a half-a-day tour. They say that all they have is a license that grants them permission to work in five states, there is no other monetary benefit, insurance, or subsidy that comes along with the license.

"On the basis of our fluency in multiple languages (Spanish, Italian, French being the popular ones according to tourist profiles) we approach the government for licenses. After a rigorous exam, a viva and a five month training, these licenses are awarded," Pranay Karmokar, a Ministry of Tourism and Culture guide said. He also points to the unchecked menace of touts (more than 20 of them) who eat into the business of the certified guides. "The punditwaad and thakurwaad (dominance of the upper caste) in the area allows the touts to flourish. Vote bank politics is costing us our livelihood," added Karmokar.

The guides also say that the most enthusiastic variety of foreign tourists give them feedback that a bird sanctuary can be built around the neighboring Datla Pahad (teeth mountains), where rare bird species have been sighted, and the Beniganj Dam can have boating facilities.

Tourist Guide Association Khajuraho has raised the issue of touts who operate illegally and often present an excessively erotic take on the structures, hot-selling them to foreign tourists. Firstpost/ Pallavi Rebbapragada

Tourist Guide Association Khajuraho has raised the issue of touts who operate illegally and often present an excessively erotic take on the structures, hot-selling them to foreign tourists. Firstpost/ Pallavi Rebbapragada

Raj Rishi Tripathi, a Madhya Pradesh Tourism guide feels that Khajuraho suffers from the selective empathy of the state and central government as other nearby regions are being given preference over it. "The government is focusing more on developing Orchha (built by Bundela Rajput chief, Rudra Pratap Singh after 1501) and places like Maheshwar and Mandu. Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has taken a keen interest in promoting the Hanuwantiya Island through the Jal Mahotsav but our festivals, like the Khajuraho Dance Festival held last week, is dying," Tripathi said.

As mentioned on jalmahotsav.com: "In its efforts to make Madhya Pradesh known for its adventure tourism too, MP Tourism revamped the unexplored and untouched Hanuwantiya Island and turned it into a small city in itself. A tent city where people can rejoice and relax while at the same time be adventurous! In a small span of its inception, Jal Mahotsav has now become a very important part of Madhya Pradesh Tour packages with more and more people coming over to Madhya Pradesh to discover a completely new face of the state. So, lose your heart and soul to the beauty of state where 'The Heart of India' lies!!"

The Khajuraho dance festival that concluded earlier this week was in its 44th year. Veteran dance critique Padma Shri Dr Sunil Kothari, who has been associated with it since its inception, felt the charm of the festival which was once every dancer’s dream stage, has taken a beating. "This year, Mohini Attam, Sattriya; Kathakal forms did not find any representation. The selection by the jury was very erratic and poor. A festival which has built up international reputation turned out to be a free for all Kathak dancers of questionable quality. Even a fourteen year old girl was given this prestigious platform which was very upsetting. It raised questions about the discretion of the jury members," said the 85-year-old dance expert.

He added that the saving grace were three Kalidas awardees. The presentation of Kuchipudi by Raja Radha Reddy, Bharatanatyam by Lakshmi Vishwanathan, and Manipuri by Darshana Jhaveri were the only redeeming feature of the show. "Nalini-Kamalini, disciples of Guru Jitendra Maharaj awardee for Kathak presented routine Kathak. There was only one Bharatanatyam group from Chennai and two Bharatanatyam dancers were from Delhi," Kothari lamented.

The hundred and more tales densely told along its horizontal panels and those spires that rise up in different lengths, could have made a town self-sustaining. But underpaid young guides are a living proof of the failure of this land of nobody’s faith.


Updated Date: Feb 28, 2018 22:41 PM

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