Lost Glory : The Sun temple in Kashmir is in a dilapidated condition. But the wreck shows the engineering excellence achieved in ancient times.

Most return from Kashmir overwhelmed by the snow-capped mountain, lush green valleys, lakes and gardens. What’s more, tourists also bring back the intricate work of the Kashmiri artisans on wood and shawl.
Few tourists who visit Kashmir stop to see the majestic ruins of the 1,000-year-old, westfacing Sun temple at Martand. On the way to Pahelgaon and just 10 km from the Anantanag town stands the ancient Martand temple that tells us about some of the forgotten pages of Kashmir’s history.

The massive ruins of the temple, also known as Pandu Kuru, are an outstanding example of civil engineering and craftsmanship of the ancient times. Standing on a hilltop with debris all over the place, the temple gives an eerie feeling of the otherwise paradise on earth.

For several years, Kashmir was ruled by two Hindu dynasties Karkota and Gonanadya. An ancient book, recorded by a contemporary author named Kalhana in his book Rajtarangini, tells us that Lalitaditya Muktapida, the warrior emperor of Karkota dynasty of Kashmir who ruled from 693 AD to 729 AD over area spreading from Kashmir to Bengal to Karnataka and many parts of central Asia, supposedly built this temple.

But scholars differ. The legendary British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham said that the Sun temple of Martand was built by King Aryaraja of Gonandya dynasty while King Ratnaditya and his queen Amriraprabha later added the two annexure on the north and south of the main platform.

However, the most famous king of Karkota dynasty, Lalitaditya Muktapida, who is believed to have constructed the colonnade, renovated the temple. In spite of the debate, quite a few scholars opine that Lalitaditya Muktapida constructed this temple. Scholars say the name Martand came from Mach Bhavan, meaning the fish mansion, probably named after fishermen.

The temple is built with blocks of blue limestone held together by iron bolts. Each block is nearly 7 ft in length. It is interesting that this temple is West-facing which is in sharp contrast to the Sun temple of Konark, whose garva griha is East-facing for welcoming the rays of dawn. At Martand, it appears it is not the dawn but the twilight that is invoked.

Dedicated to the Sun God, the grand structure was originally known as Martandeveshwar Temple. However, since no stone or tablet is there to tell its history, it is difficult to ascertain the time and the founder of this marvellous piece of architecture.

Situated on the top of a plateau known as Martan Wadur, overlooking vast green field with the majestic snow-capped Himalayas in the background, the spot takes the breath away. The temple in early days was considered a ‘Surya tirth’ and a visit to this temple was must on the way to Amarnath.

The central edifice of the temple stands 63 ft above the surface and since the temple is roofless, it’s actual height and pinnacle cannot be measured. Many believe the pyramid-shaped pinnacle was perhaps 73 ft from the ground and a group of pyramidal towers surrounded the temple.

The temple has 84 pillars, which is peculiar to a Sun temple. The number 84 is sacred for Hindus as signifies the seven days of a week, 12 months of a year and 24 hours of a day.

The design of this temple can be classified into three parts. The first part is the entrance through a flight of stairs, which is called aradha mandapa or half temple, and the next chamber, which is little bigger, is known as antarala or middle temple. The last part where once the deity was placed is called the garva griha or sanctum santorium. The temple has a reservoir that is connected by channels from all the four sides. The outer sidewall runs 220 ft while the inner is limited to 142 yards.

Images of Ganga and Yamuna are etched in the first chamber along with various Hindu motifs. Divine figures of flying Gandarvas are also found here. Inside the garva griha we find the three-headed statue of Vishu with eight hands. As Islamist invaders have defaced the figures, it is difficult to recognise them. One can however guess that one head is that of Narhasima while the other one is of Varaha. Some Hindu rulers like Kalasa (1063-89) also robbed the temple’s wealth.

After being in oblivion and in a dilapidated state for many years, the ruins were rediscovered by the British in 1869. The place was mentioned by British archaeologist John Burke as one of India’s lost gems in the ASI report, with the heading of ‘Illustration of Ancient Buildings in Kashmir’.

Editor of the report, Henry Hardy Cole, described it as “the most impressive and grandest ruins in Kashmir”. Since then, the temple has been drawing foreign and Indian travellers.

This article was published on 5th January 2014 in The Hindustan Times

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