Temples of Kashmir


By editor - 14.2 2020

Sun Temple, Martand, Jammu and Kashmir, India

The ancient sites of Ushkar, built by the Kushan king Huvishka approximately in the 3rd century A.D., and Harwan, a typical Buddhist settlement of the type that flourished in Gandhara kingdom, provide the earliest glimpse of the building-art in Kashmir. During the reign of the great king Lalitaditya, who ascended to the throne in 724 A.D.,  temples constructed using stone masonry sprang up in large numbers all over Kashmir. This building activity continued with the wave of religious emotion which swept over India about the same time, and resulted in a fever of temple building – Lalitaditya's triumphs in the realm of territorial expansion created a cultural climate, of which grandeur was an important ideal. The monumental Buddhist shrine at Parihasapura, now a mass of sculptured stones, and the temple of the Sun at Martand show this quality, not only in their stupendous size but also by the bold confidence with which they were built.

The Martand temple has been often called "the materialized-spirit of a transcendent vision". Built on a plateau encircled by a range of eternal stones this temple represents an architectural expressiveness of the highest order, and forms the supreme model of a style to which a great number of later temples are subscribed. Instead of the Buddhist assembly hall, where congregational worship was held, the central structure here is a sanctuary for the divine symbol. This perhaps signifies a departure from the Buddhist influence and the acceptance of the Brahmanical creed by the people.   The shrine stands within a big courtyard surrounded by a pillared arcade and a series of cells. Certain features in the surface decoration of the Martand temple are of unique interest. The regularly spaced medallions, the frequent use of pilasters (cantilevers), and the pediment motif, all recall the architecture of the antique classical west (see also: the parts of a temple). The capitals of the pillars that support cornices have something Doric about them, and their molded bases are of attic type. The encircling colonnade is also reminiscent of the Greek style. However, experts are of the view that these influences are not deep-rooted and that the main composition is of indigenous inspiration, the product of the genius of Kashmir.

The mural sculpture on the walls displays unmistakably the influence of the art movement fostered by the Pala rulers of Bengal, which was apparently of such intensity that it made itself felt in regions far beyond its geographical boundaries. As further evidence of the source of this influence, Percy Brown points out that the copper gilt image of the Sun-God installed in the cellar of the Martand temple must have been wrought in the very same foundry where expert Pala metal-workers shaped that of the famous copper image of the Buddha discovered at Sultanganj in Bengal (presently housed in the Birmingharn Art Gallery).

Avantivarman, who ascended to the throne of Kashmir in the latter half of the 9th century ushered in another memorable era of architecture. He built a group of temples at Avantipur, a township eighteen miles from Srinagar, among which that of Avantiswami, dedicated to Vishnu, still survives in part. It has been said that whereas the Martand temple is the expression of a "sudden glory", the Avantiswami temple shows greater maturity of experience and has therefore more sophistication and elegance. Graceful colonnades of pillars form an arcaded portico around the shrine and a monolithic pillar before the entrance bears a metal figure of Garuda, the king of birds and vehicle of Lord Vishnu.


Motifs borrowed from many sources, both foreign and indigenous, appear in the decorative carving, but these have been tastefully integrated into an ordered system with a recognizable unity. Designs reminiscent of Buddhist stone carvers of the Ashokan age and of the craftsmen of the Pala school are frequent, and symbols traceable to Byzantium, ancient Persia and Syria are also found. The conspicuously angular aspect of this temple is derived from the wooden houses of the valley where accumulation of heavy snow on roofs is prevented by their sloping character.

Two Shiva temples built at Pattan in the 10th century A.D., during the reign of Shankaravarman reveal that although the traditional mode established at Martand was still being followed two centuries later, the masonry tended to become more monolithic. The precision and skill with which the moldings are chiseled out of a huge stone is truly amazing.

Built in the 12th century A.D., the small , well preserved temple at Pandrethan, near Srinagar, gives a clear idea of the general plan of the temples in Kashmir at this time. The pyramidal structure of the roof, which is still intact, is a prominent characteristic of this style.

The ceiling consists of beams laid on the angles, a technique obviously derived from wooden constructions. Wherever a tank is provided  for ablutions, materials such as rock, brick, or stone are used for the construction of the tank. Two temples at Kiragrama or Baijnath in the Kangra valley, one dedicated. to Shiva and the other to Jamadagni, are notable examples of Himalayan architecture of the early 13th century. Chamba, Kumaon and Kulu also have numerous temples of the same type. The famous Doongri temple, dedicated to Hirimba in Manali in the Kulu valley, is constructed of wood, and is a striking example.

First published as Temples of North India, Dept. Information and Broadcasting, Government of India 1975.