The sculptures at Khajuraho are divisible into six broad
Sculptures of Divine Deities
The second category of sculptures comprises familial, attendant and enclosing divinities, besides numerous categories of gods and goddesses. These occur in the niches or are figured against the wall of the temple and are executed either in the round or in high or medium relief. Those occurring in the niches are more formal and partake of the iconographic qualities of the cult-images of the first category.
The remaining figures of gods and goddesses, which include those of the 'dikpalas', are less formal and freer. These usually stand in a lively 'tribhanga' and are distinguishable from human figures only by their peculiar headdress.
In most cases, the gods wear the same dress and ornaments as human figures and are to be distinguished from the latter by a sign of diamond on the chest. It is the same as the 'Kaustubha-Mani' on the chest of Vishnu and the 'Srivatsa' on the chest of Jain figures and by a long garland, resembling the ' Vaijayanti -Mala' of Vishnu, which constitutes the cognizance of gods at Khajuraho.
The first category comprises cult-images executed almost completely in the round. These are formal and generally stand erect and have a large nimbus and a back-slab decorated with figures of attendant gods and goddesses. As these are images fashioned in strict conformity with orthodox formulae, postures and attributes, they reveal a thin aesthetic vision.
There are a few exceptions, of which the colossal image, enshrined as the principal deity of the Chaturbhuja Temple, is noteworthy. This image is less formal and, unlike other enshrined deities, stands in an elegant 'tribhanga' and has a dignified expression of transcendental calm and bliss.
The third category consists of the 'sura-sundaris', (celestial beauties) or 'apsaras' (celestial dancers) who account for the finest and most common sculptures at Khajuraho.
The 'sura-sundaris' are invariably depicted as youthful beauties, wearing the choicest gems and garment and full of winsome grace and charm. As celestial dancers (apsaras), they are shown dancing in various postures. As attendants of the higher divinities, they are represented with hands in 'anjali' (adoration) or in some other 'mudra', or as carrying the lotus flower, mirror, garland, water-jar, dress, ornaments, etc., as offerings for the deities.
But more often, the 'sura-sundaris' are depicted to express common human moods, sentiments and fancies and are often difficult to distinguish from conventional 'nayikas' or heroines. Such 'apsaras' are shown as disrobing, yawning, scratching the back, looking into the mirror, rinsing water from the wet plaits of hair, plucking thorn, fondling a baby, playing with a pet like the parrot or monkey, writing a letter, playing a flute or veena, painting designs on the wall or adorning themselves in various ways by painting the feet, applying collyrium or vermilion, etc.
The fourth category comprises of demi-gods other than the celestial beauties and includes 'Pramathas' or ' Ganas' (cherubs), 'Kumaras' or 'bhara-putrakas' (Atlantean figures), 'Gandharvas' (celestial musicians) and 'Vidyadharas' angels, who are also depicted on the Khajuraho temples in large number and with great effect. They are all divine attendants, with specific functions and assignments and their positions in the architectural scheme are largely fixed in the art-conversions.
Thus, the top row of the 'jangha' representing the celestial world, was reserved for the 'Vidyadharas' and 'Gandharvas', shown alone or with couples, on almost all the local temples erected after circa 1050. The Vidyadharas attend on the gods (who may be present physically or symbolically) and invariably fly or hover round them, carrying flowers or garlands or sporting sword or staff, while the 'Gandharvas' are shown likewise, playing on musical instruments.
The fifth category consists of secular sculptures, which comprise miscellaneous themes including domestic scenes, teacher and disciples, dancers and musicians and erotic couples or groups. The last have yielded some of the finest sculptural compositions of Khajuraho, vibrating with a rare sensitiveness and warmth of human emotion. Some of the erotic couples like those of the Jagadambi Temple are distinguished by an expression of intense absorption and rapture, which transcend from the physical to the spiritual plane.
The sixth or the last category consists of sculptures of animals including the 'vyala', which is a heraldic and fabulous beast, primarily represented as a rampant horned lion with an armed human rider on the back and a warrior counter-player attacking it from behind. Numerous varieties of this basic type are known with heads of elephant, man, parrot, boar, etc. the 'vyala' is normally figured in the recesses of the 'jangha' but also appears on the 'sukanasika' and in the interior. Like the 'aspires', this is a most typical and popular sculptural theme of Khajuraho and is invested with a deep symbolism.