Did Chandravarman, the first king of Chandela dynasty and the creator of the first of Khajuraho temples, visualize his creation something like this? A grand tribute to his celestial father – none other than the moon god himself.
The legend of Khajuraho is based on the account of the medieval court poet, Chandbardai, in the Mahoba-khand of his Prithviraj Raso. It goes like this:
Hemavati was the beautiful daughter of Hemraj, the royal priest of Kashi (Varanasi). Hemavati was, unfortunately, a child widow.
One summer night she was bathing naked in the sparkling waters of Rati-Talab, a lotus-filled pond. The Moon god was so awestruck by her beauty that he descended to earth in human form and ravished her.
The distressed Hemavati threatened to curse the god for ruining her life and reputation. To make amends for his folly, the Moon god promised that she would become the mother of a valiant son. He is believed to have told her, ‘Take him to Khajjurpura. He will be a great king and build numerous temples surrounded by lakes and gardens. He will also perform a yagya (religious ceremony) through which your sin will be washed away.”
Following his instructions, Hemavati left her home to give birth to her son in a tiny village. The child, Chandravarman, was as lustrous as his father, brave and strong. By the time he was 16 years old he could kill tigers or lions with his bare hands. Delighted by his feats, Hemavati invoked the Moon god, who presented their son with a touchstone which could turn iron into gold, and installed him as king at Khajuraho.
Chandravarman achieved a series of brilliant victories and built a mighty fortress at Kalinjar. At his mother’s request he began the building of 85 glorious temples with lakes and gardens at Khajuraho and performed the bhandya-yagya which expunged her of her guilt.
Thus began 200 year long dream-project of Chandela dynasty that resulted in 85 temples, of which only 22 survive now.