The Vyala of Khajuraho

Note: This article is now a part of You can read this along with many more interesting stories from Khajuraho here:

Khajuraho! I can understand the surprise of Capt. T S Burt and the tough criticism by Sir Alexander Cunnigham, when they saw the erotic sculptures that adorn the walls of Khajuraho temples. Scandalized would be an understatement. But i do not understand why most articles and blogs talk only about the sculptures which are much less than 10% of all the art work, placed away from ones casual glance unless pointed out or searched for. Why is that we do not talk about the most prominent sculpture with the most relevant message? What are you? Vyala or Yali or Shardul?   This is probably the most recurring piece of work in the temples of Khajuraho. Every alternate sculpture on the lower row (pic below) is a Vyala. The guard at Javari temple told me that he is Shardul, a mythological character with the body of lion & head of parrot, horse or elephant, representing strength. While the audio guide of Western temple group tells me that this is Vyala, the representation of our ambitions or wish. Irrespective of what we call this beautiful yet fearsome creature, the story it says is much more relevant. There are two men seen fighting it in every sculpture, one at its foot an another near its head. Yet victory is its virtue. Both interpreters agree that the one who reach till the head is swallowed by the creature and thus asserting the fact that we are all slaves to our ambitions or dreams or wishes. This beautiful piece of sculpture is a story by itself, the artist repeating it on every walls, scattered between the beautiful sculptures on day-to-day life (from war scenes to music to dance and even next to the depiction of lust or eroticism). It’s like a constant reminder, lest we not forget the inner demon which we constantly fight and submit to.


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