Temple architecture

A mystic’s paradise in Pir Panjal


A small village is nestled in the foothills of the Pir Panjal mountain range along the banks of the Wangath River. Around it are picturesque meadows, lakes and peaks that envelop you in a loving embrace.

This lesser-known village is Naranag, an ancient Hindu shrine in the Ganderbal district of Jammu and Kashmir. At the foot of the mighty Buteshar Mountains (Bhuteshwar) lies one of the country’s most important archaeological sites, the Naranag Temple.

In his historical account of Rajatarangini, Kalhana mentions that Ashoka built the city of Srinagar in the 3rd century BC. Interestingly, the Wangath temples were built and expanded at three time intervals, roughly at the same time as the Shankaracharya temple in Srinagar and the Bumazuv temple near Mattan.

Around 220 BC, King Jaluka built the Shiva temples of Bhuteshwara, Jyestarudra and Muthas around the source site at Naranag. King Jayendra used the shrine to worship Shiva Bhutesha in 61 BC. After a victorious season, King Lalitaditya Muktipada (Naga Karakota dynasty) made a large donation to the shrine between 713 and 735 AD.

And finally, between 855 and 883 AD, King Avantivarman took on the task of building a stone pedestal with a silver conduit for the bathing of sacred idols at the shrine. The temple is said to have been built as a dedication to the ancient Nagas. The Naga Karakotas were the Hindu Kashmiri Kayasthas of the Naga cult who were known to worship snakes. According to his book, this shrine was plundered by King Sangramraja of Kashmir (1003-28 AD), during the reign of King Uccala (1101-1111 AD).

Later it was also looted by a Hayavadana rebel. A notable Western archaeologist, Sir Auriel Stein, revealed this information by translating Rajtarangani from Sanskrit to English. In June, Union Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture Meenakshi Lekhi visited the temple site to provide an update on the situation.

A plan for the restoration works of the complex is in place. Naranag represents the sacred architecture and cultural heritage of Kashmir. The influence of architecture through these periods is what makes Naranag an archaeological marvel. Kalhana mentions how he accompanied his father and uncle to the site and notes these details. The local Muslims in the village have many tales from the book of Kalhana to feed the curiosity of visitors.

An important factor which distinguishes this temple from others in the valley is that the temple complexes in Kashmir were either at the bottom of the valley (like Mattan) or at the top of a hill (like Shankaracharya), but the Naranag complex exceeds the Sindh Valley by the Naranag Nallah. Greco-Roman architecture has its roots in the kingdom of Gandhara, which is also evident in the Naranag temple; the fluted pillars and the decorations of acanthus leaves are some examples. The many temples of the complex face each other at a distance of about 200 meters.

Currently, only a few relics remain at the temple site – Shiva Linghams scattered in the open air, a large basin into which the spring flows, and temple pavilions. But the remains tell the story of how great this place was. Such ancient temples built with large blocks of granite were common in Aryan Kashmir. The remains were announced as a ‘protected monument of national significance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act 1958 years ago. When the insurgency took shape three decades ago, Naranag was abandoned.

As 2022 has become the golden year for trekking in Kashmir, more and more people have discovered and wondered about the great temple of Naranag. The village of Naranag perched at an altitude of 2,128 meters is the base camp for hikers leaving for Mount Harmukh and the lakes of Gangbal and Satsar. Kashmir’s most popular trekking corridor, the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek, or the Sonamarg-Vishansar-Naranag Trek, traverses the Harkmukh Pass (3,960 meters).

The path to Naranag crosses countless endless grasslands, snow-capped mountain passes, rocky arid lands, streams, glaciers and alpine lakes.

And with the seasons, the whole topography changes, providing a totally different experience for travelers. The National Monuments Authority (NMA) has organized a detailed survey of major Hindu and Buddhist monument sites in Kashmir, including the Naranag temple complex. This exercise is the first of its kind in the Kashmir Valley, to restore the former cultural glory of Jammu and Kashmir and foster the spirit of “Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat”.

The chairman of the authority said that Martand, Parihaspora, Naranag and Harwan deserve the status of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Although the three decades of conflict in Kashmir has overshadowed all that was good in the region, recently, thanks to the efforts of the administration of Jammu and Kashmir, people are remembering what Kashmir meant – a long heritage of fusion of various faiths and identities tied to the sacred thread of Kashmiryat.