Ancient Temples of Kashmir
By Verender Bangroo
is bestowed with nature's bounties and the mystical environment has fascinated
people irrespective of caste, creed and language. Scholars coming from far and
wide have carried away with them, its immense spiritual wealth shedding the
shackles of this materialistic work and merging with the ultimate.
The Kashmir valley, blessed with the natural
bounties, is rightly celebrated as the Valley of Gods. Apart from its natural
beauty, an added attraction is the ancient stone temples of Kashmir, noteworthy
for unique architectural elements and fine stone carvings.
The Hindu temple represents the cosmological
symbolism in an aesthetic garb. The Hindu temple is a symbol or rather an
aggregate of various symbols. It is ritually invested with human personality (Vastupursha)
and conceived in terms of human organism, which is the most evolved form. The
scriptures say that the temple should be worshipped as Pursa. The names of the
various limbs of the human body from the foot to the crown of the head are
applied in Indian architectural texts to different parts of the temple
The door of the temple is its mouth, the
platform terminating the trunk to the superstructure, represents the shoulder of
the Pursa; the projection, the arms and down to the wall, the leg and to the
very bottom, to the lower most molding-the feet.
The temple is Pursa and conceived by means of
Prakriti the feminine form.
We talked about the perfect body-the Vastupursha,
but it is lifeless without the resident soul. The image in the temple, the
Pratima is the very life of the temple. The sanctum called Garbhagriha
is the house of the womb, it is here the regeneration is effected and the higher
self of the devotee is reborn.
A similar purpose is served by the
superstructure, which is frequently designed as the mystical, Meru, Mandara or
Kailasa - the function of which is to lead from a broad base to a point where
all lines converge the ultimate one.
The conceptualisation and development of Hindu
temple architecture was the result of the churning of cosmic ideas in the
microcosm of natural setting. The temple was not a four walled enclosure but an
embodiment of the cosmos and the energy, which propels it. The main sanctum
sanctorum, which houses the Garbagriha, the womb, is the personification of
Pursha so as to define the relationship of cosmos and man. The image placed in
the Garba Griha is the atman-the soul. The temples were laid according to a
well-defined plan. The temple building was a ritual and every stone laid was
consecrated to God by the holy chant of the Brahmins.
Buddhism was introduced in Kashmir soon after
the Buddha's demise and king Ashoka is said to have built stupas in the 3rd CBC.
The Buddhist remains at Harwan, Hoinar and Hutamer have revealed unique tiles,
depicting the fine workmanship.
With the background of Buddhist artistic
tradition, Kashmiri artisans evolved a style of Hindu temple architecture with a
distinct characteristic of its own. Kashmir temple exhibits a unique blend of
foreign sytle and indigenous creativity that resulted in a distinctive
architecture which was more suited to their geographic and climatic conditions.
The temple builders of Kashmir were way ahead of
their contemporaries of the plains and peninsular India. The 8th cent. Temples
of Kashmir were constructed of evenly dressed ashlar masonry. Built of mammoth
boulders, the joints were put together with lime mortar which is seen at Wangat
and also using steel dowels, used in the Martand temple. These engineering
developments were in vague in the neighbouring Western region of Kashmir.
These refined techniques could not stand up the
rigorous climate of the region and human vandalism and only a few of the vast
number of temples described eloquently by Pandit Kalhana in Rajatarangni have
Kashmir lies in the heart of Asian continent,
its geographic location has been of decisive importance for trade and cultural
exchange. All the main trade routes connecting eastern and central Asia with
Eastern Europe countries of near-east lay across the territory. There was
exchange on the cultural and religious fronts as it was meeting place of the
cultural waves. The caraven routes from China, Central Asia and Tibet met and
this led to the great impact on their political, social and cultural structure.
The temple at Lodhu situated 20 kms from
Srinagar is in midst of a spring. The springs are considered to be sacred sites.
This temple is said to be the earliest remaining stone structure.
The next stage in the temple architecture
development may be studied in the Sankaracharya temple. In the Temple at
Narastan in district Pulwama, the pediment and arch motif are a further step in
the process of development. Triangular canopies, sunken Trefoin niches and the
enclosure wall around with prominent gateway is an approach to the final form of
Hindu temple architecture of Kashmir.
7th and 8th century marked the culmination of
art during the reign of Karakota rulers. Laltaditya Muktapida 724-71 AD) ushered
in an era of glory and prosperity in the kingdom. After gaining victories over
Punjab, Kananuj and Bihar, he turned his attention to the bordering territories
of Kashmir. He led the victorious army to Dardistan, Ladakh and Tibet. During
the Karakota rule there was a cris cross which brought an improvised style into
being. We see a profound influence of Chinese, apparent from faces and dresses,
which are typically Mongoloid. Building art was a product of influences from
diferent classical schools viz. Greeko-Roman, Gandharan, while as the sculpture
iconography reflects the tremendous central Asian impact.
Laltaditya built the famous and elegant Sun
temple at Martand and Parihaskesva at his capital Parihasspura.
The Sun temple of Martand stands in the middle
of a large courtyard having 86 fluted columns. The temple proper contains
garbhagraha, antarala and mandapa, approached by a grand flight of steps. The
pliant supporting the central shrine has two tiers, both with niches having 37
The second golden age of temple building was
brought into being by the patronage of King Avantivarman the founder of Utpla
dynasty. The king built two temples one dedicated to Shiva and other dedicated
The final refinement of form and a more polished
look may be seen in a group of temples erected by Sankaravarman who succeeded
During subsequent years due to constant wars
between the weak kings and kingdoms, temple activity gradually started receding.
By the beginning of the 10th century the growth of style had come to an end but
small shrines continued to be raised without any notable architectural
The off shoot of the Kashmir style of
architecture is found in Northern Punjab and North West frontier. The temples at
Amb, Malot, Bilot, Kafirkot (sites presently in Pakistan) exhibit some of the
architectural elements like enclosed courtyard, pyramidal roof, and trefoil
arches, fluted columns showing strong affinity with that of Kashmir. The
influences are also found in the Western Himalayan architecture from Ladakh to
The tradition never die. The elements of ancient
Hindu architecture of Kashmir which were buried a millennium ago resurfaced in
the form of Muslim shrines and residential houses in succeeding periods. The
traditions together with the geographical conditions have played vital role in
shaping the Kashmir character.