These ancient monuments in Kashmir present a reflection of the rich history of heritage & culture lost in the sands of time. Although, most of the relics & monuments had to suffer destruction by the hands of rulers of the likes of ‘Sikandar Butshikan’ (the destroyer of sculptures), yet it was the embalming effect of mother nature & the efforts by other monarchs before and during the British era and later by the authorities Post Independence that these relics still exist as an evidence of the glorious past. Having said that, let us explore these monuments as we try and tread the lane into the history of Kashmir. The history of Kashmir is resplendent with beautiful & breath taking monuments constituted by rulers that date back to as late as 4th Century BC. The valley of Kashmir has the unique distinction of sporting various tourist sites and destinations plush with natural beauty complimented by splendid man made monuments that lay resting elegantly in the very lap of nature.
The earliest accounts on monuments constructed in Kashmir date back to the 4th Century BC during the reign of King Gopaditya. King Gopaditya constructed a temple in Srinagar dedicated to Lord Shiva. During his reign the temple was known as ‘Gopadri’ which in the 8th Century, during the religious journey of Adiguru Shankaracharya to Kashmir, came to be known as ‘Shankaracharya’ temple. This is perhaps the oldest shrine in Kashmir which somehow survived the abuse by the later rulers and was revived under the reign of the Dogra ruler Maharaja Gulab Singh. Perched on a hill top magnificently overlooking the town of Srinagar, the temple offers a panoramic view of the complete city and is an important place of tourist attraction and religious faith.
The Martand Sun Temple was constructed by King Lalitaditya Muktapida in the present city of Anantnag dedicated to the ‘Sun God’ in the 8th Century AD. The temple was built on top of a plateau from where the whole of Kashmir Valley is visible. It was an excellent blend of Gandharan, Gupta and Chinese forms of architecture. The temple had a colonnaded courtyard with the primary shrine in the center surrounded by 84 smaller shrines, stretching to almost 220 feet by 140 feet in expanse. Lime mortar was used with huge blocks of grey limestone which suggests that immigrant Byzantine architects might have been employed for the construction of the monument.
The Muktakeshwara temple, dedicated to Lord Vishnu was yet another architectural marvel built by King Lalitaditya in the present city of Parihaspora. The Muktakeshwara temple is said to have been the seat of a grand Mural of Lord Vishnu made out of 84000 tolas of Gold. It is said that the king developed the city as his capital & built four temples and his palace in the the city.
The Narang temples situated in the lap of Harmukh Mountain about 50 Kms from Srinagar is a cluster of temples located in an expanse of 300 feet (approx) and dedicated to Lord Shiva. The temples were built by King Lalitaditya during his reign. The temples are believed to be dedicated to the ancient Nagas. They were built by Naga Karkotas, a hindu Kashmiri kayasth clan of Naga Sect known for their reverence towards serpents.
The Avantiswami temple or Avantipura temple was constructed by King Avantivarman of Utpala dynasty in 9th Century AD. The temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu and located in the present day town of Avantipur in Pulwama district. He is also credited to have constructed another temple Avantisvara dedicated to Lord Shiva at Avantipura. Both the temples are a reflection of Greek architecture of the era and although in ruins still present a grand evidence of their glorious past.
The Sughandhesha and Shankargaurishvara temple were built in the 9th century AD by King Shankaravarman the successor of King Avantivarman in his capital city ‘Shankarapattana’ or the present day town of Pattan. Both the temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati. The Sugandhesha temple is said to have been named after the king’s wife ‘Sugandha’. Although the temples were built in a similar fashion with intricate carvings , the Sugandhesha temple was built smaller in expanse to the Shankargaurishvara temple . These and many other temples were destroyed by Sikandar Shah Miri in 14th Century AD in a zeal to Islamise the society under the influence of Sufi Preacher Mir Muhammad Hamadani.
The Mamaleshwar temple in Pahalgam was built by King Jayasinha in 12th Century AD on the banks of river Lidder. The temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva. The beautiful story behind the naming of the temple ‘Mam Mal’ (meaning ‘Don’t go’) stipulates that a beautiful mural of Lord Ganesha was placed at the doors of the main sanctum as a mark of his authority for granting right of passage to the devotees. The temple is built at a height of approx. 8,800 ft above sea level and constructed in stone blocks.
The Pandrethan temple also known as ‘Paani Mandir’ was built in Srinagar by Meruvardhana, a minister of King Partha, the ruler of Kashmir in 10th Century AD. The temple was built in the honour of Lord Vishnu and is an excellent example of architectural geometry and symmetry. The temple is constructed in the middle of a pond which further accentuates its appeal.
All these ancient structures are a treasure of the rich history which need care and preservation to ensure that they stand as testament of the glorious past for generations to come. Although steps have been taken by the Archaeological survey of India and the state government to preserve these sites but it is in nascent stages and a lot needs to be done. These beautiful relics can be incorporated in the scheme of things in a planned manner to be projected as tourist destinations for those with a flavor for history. One needs to comprehend the fact that the true reason for the exquisite magic of Kashmir is not only because of its magnificent woods, the scenic beauty of its lakes, the grandeur of its snow clad peaks or the happy sounds of its myriad of brooks sounding in the cool soft air. It is not only because of the grace of these ancient monuments, but coming together of these varied beauties in the the midst of a nature still animated with mysterious life which knows how to appeal to our very souls.