I am one of the lucky ones to have made multiple trips to Kashmir in the last few years. With all the news of strife, terror and hostility; needless to say I have experienced the best of Kashmiri hospitality during my trips. We spent the buffer day during Amarnath Yatra to explore in and around Pahalgam. In between the trips to manicured Mughal Gardens and Apple Orchards we visited the lost Temples of Kashmir which stand testimony to the rich cultural and architectural heritage of the land which as per some accounts owes its name to Rishi Kashyapa.
Martand Sun Temple in Mattan
Our driver was very excited to take us to Mattan and I heard it as Mutton 🙂 leading to confusion. I was relieved once I reached the temple premises. The temple was majestic even in its ruined state, standing tall in the sprawling lawn taken care of by the Archaeological Survey of India. At first glance, the imposing structure struck a strong resemblance to Grecian Architecture. It was constructed by King Lalitaditya Muktapida of Karakota Dynasty in 8th Century CE and demolished sometime in the 15th century by Sikandar of Shah Miri dynasty. Infact most of the temples of Kashmir were completely or partially destroyed during this time period.The plan of the temple compound appeared to be symmetrical with a colonnaded courtyard. The primary shrine dedicated to Surya Dev (Sun God) was located on a raised platform surrounded by multiple smaller shrines. The once elaborately carved entrance portrayed reminiscences of a culturally rich society and carvings of the deities placed inside.
The walls of the temple have nearly destroyed carvings of Vishnu, Ganga, Yamuna and Surya (Martand Dev). Walking around, I tried to make the most of the defaced wall carvings. It was pretty apparent that the Kashmiri Architecture of those times evolved from a fusion of different genres right from the Guptas in India to Greek, Roman and Persian Architecture of the West.
The new temple located nearby dedicated to Sun is a peaceful abode, very calming but has little to offer architecturally. We spent some time by the temple tank feeding the fish and visiting the temple where Surya is riding his 7 horses signfying 7 days of the week or the 7 chakras (energy centres) of our body.
Awantipora Temples lie on the National Highway connecting Anantnag and Srinagar. The town is named after King Avantivarman who ruled the area in 9th century. There are two temples Avantishwar (dedicated to Shiva) and Avantiswami (dedicated to Vishnu) located close to each other. Both temples are similar in structure and appearance. As per our driver Avantiswami is in a better condition so we decided to stop at Avantiswami Temple and wave by Avantishwar.
At first appearance this temple too had colonnaded peristyle as seen in Mattan temple which seems to be the prevalent Kashmir Architecture of those times. There seems to have been 4 shrines at the 4 corners of the quadrangle and what remains now is just a flight of wobbly steps in one of the corners.
The sculptured relief work and ornamentation on the temple walls are almost non existent. But for the avid history and culture buff like my co-traveler aunt; she found something of interest on every wall.
I went in search of the Vaikuntha Vishnu sculpture which was found in this temple. I tried to make the most of what was there, thought I spotted the one not sure of the accuracy though.
Mamal Temple in Pehelgam
This temple is on the other side of Lidder in Pehelgam. Our helicopter to Amarnath was delayed by a couple of hours. We grabbed a few chairs and waited in anticipation; it was a true test of patience and resolve since clouds were playing truant. The locals at the registration counter suggested that we take a short hike upwards and visit Mamal temple. This small temple dedicated to Shiva was built in the 12th century and is a small representation of Kashmiri architecture – with pyramidal top resting on columns. The small tank in front of the temple was filled with water which apparently rises from a pure water spring below the temple. The blooming flowers and the fluttering butterflies made it all the more memorable. Nature thrives where there is positive energy and this place was no exception. As per some accounts; this temple might be Mameswara referred to in Kalhana’s Rajtarangini; the chronicle about the Kings who ruled Kashmir.
How to visit these Temples:
Visit Awantipora while traveling to Pahalgam from Srinagar. Mattan and Mamal can be done as a part of Pahalgam Sightseeing Tour. Speak to your agent/chauffeur and include these in your itinerary.
Note on Kashmir Shaivism
A few years ago, I came across the book 112 Meditations (Vigyan Bhairava Tantra) by Ranjit Chaudhri which was my first tryst with Kashmir Shaivism. The meditative techniques with tantric leanings were narrated by Shiva to Shakti (Devi Parvati) for self realization possibly in Amarnath Cave. These techniques intersect with the teachings of Vajrayana Buddhism predominantly found in Tibet. Many centuries ago Buddhism thrived in the Kashmir Valley and so did Shaivism which is evident from the visit of Shankaracharya. Kashmir has always been a blessed evolved land right from Buddhism, Shaivism to Sufism. My pilgrimage to Amarnath and subsequent visits to these temples broadened my perspective.