Khajuraho also known as 'Khajjurpura' in ancient times, evidently derives its name from the golden date palms (khajur) that adorned its city gates and, if the different legendary versions are to be believed, it owes its existence to an enchanting maiden named Hemvati.
The Ancient dynasties are often covered in a veil of mystery, largely because written records are rare and, as is often the case in India, myth and legend weave their way over time into the history of their origin and their reign. And when the dynasty leaves a legacy as contradictory as the Khajuraho temples, with their mix of the religious and the sensuous, the web is woven of brighter threads, the accompanying legends more colourful.
According to the account of the medieval court poet, Chandbardai, in the Mahoba-khand of his Prithviraj Raso, Hemvati was the beautiful daughter of Hemraj, the royal priest of Kashi.
One summer night, while she was bathing in the sparkling waters of 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 Hemvati, who was unfortunately a child widow, 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. 'Take him to Khajjurpura', he is believed to have said. '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, Hemvati 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.
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. A variation of the same legend introduces Hemvati as the widowed daughter of Mani Ram, the royal priest of Kalinjar.
As a result of a mistake in his calculations the priest informed his king that a particular night was Puranmasi and not the dark night that it actually turned out to be. In her concern for her father's reputation the beautiful Hemvati prayed to the Moon god, who was gracious enough to uphold the word of the priest but, inreturn for his favour, ravished the daughter. The grieving father was so shame-stricken that he cursed himself and turned into a stone, which was later worshipped by the Chandelas as Maniya Dev.