About 1200 years ago, a great king built a great temple, dedicated to Martand, the Sun god. The temple had mighty walls of gray stone, its courtyard was filled with river water that glistened and shimmered in the sun, and it had “something of the rigidity and strength of the Egyptian temple and something of the grace of Greece”.
The Martand Temple is believed to have been demolished by Sultan Sikandar Shah Miri, who ruled Kashmir from 1389 to 1413, although many historians hold a different opinion.
The temple partially survives today in the Anantnag of Jammu and Kashmir and lends its name to the adjacent city, Mattan. It still makes for an impressive sight with the formidable gray walls towering against the blue sky, broken gray fragments strewn around the green grass. Some of the walls bear clear carvings of deities, and the beauty and symmetry of the temple are still amply evident. The temple is surrounded by a row of pillars – the common peristyle in Kashmir temple architecture.
Why is this ancient temple in the news today? Who built the Martand temple and how was it destroyed? How did it come to have influences ranging from Greece to North India? As the Martand Temple has witnessed over a thousand years of history, the answers to the questions contain lessons about India’s past and present.
In May this year, some pilgrims offered prayers inside the Martand Temple, a monument protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Shortly after, Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha participated in a ‘Navgrah Ashtamangalam Puja’ at the scene. The ASI opposed it., saying that no permission had been granted for the ceremony. Two months later, in July, another group of people entered the temple and held an hour-long prayer session.
Before that, in 2014, a song from the Bollywood film Haider was shot here. Some Hindus were offendedclaiming the song, Bismildepicts the temple as the “den of the devil”.
History of the temple of Martand
The Martand temple was built by the king of the Karkota dynasty, Lalitaditya Muktapida, who ruled Kashmir from 725 to 753 AD. Although some historians believe that an earlier temple existed here and was incorporated into the larger structure of Lalitaditya, others give full credit to Lalitaditya. Lalitaditya built his capital at Parihaspora, the ruins of which also survive to this day.
Talk to The Indian ExpressDr. Aijaz Banday, a retired professor from the University of Kashmir and former director of its Center for Central Asian Studies, says: “Dedicated to Vishnu-Surya, the Martand Temple comprises three distinct chambers: the mandapathe garbhagrihaand the antralaya-probably the only three-chambered temple in Kashmir. This indicates the position he enjoyed. The temple is built in a unique Kashmiri style, although it has definite Gandhar influences.
A major historical source for the history of Kashmir remains Rajataranginiwritten in the 12th century by Kalhana, and various translations of the work contain descriptions of Martand’s greatness.
The Hungarian-British archaeologist Sir Marc Aurel Stein, in his The Rajatarangini of Kalhanawriting from the Temple of Martand, “The ruins of the splendid temple of Martanda, which the king [Lalitaditya] had built near the Tirtha of the same name, are still the most striking object of ancient Hindu architecture in the valley.
Another tale of Kalhana Rajatarangini is of Ranjit Sitaram Pandit – by the way, the brother-in-law of Jawahar Lal Nehru – who writes: “The magnificent king built the marvelous temple of Märtanda with massive stone walls within the encircling ramparts and a common who rejoiced in the vineyards.”
This description matches that of Stein, who says that the temple of Martand had “massive stone walls in a lofty enclosure and its city swollen with grapes”.
Sufi historian GMD, in his book To hide, writes: “The famous temple of Martanda possesses dimensions far more imposing than any other extant temple, being 63 feet long. The size of the stone is really very fine. GT Vigne, the traveler, says: “As an isolated ruin, it deserves, on account of its solitary and massive grandeur, to be classed, not only as the first ruin of its kind in Kashmir, but as one of the most noble among the architectural relics of antiquity. that can be seen in any country. Another view is that there is something of the rigidity and strength of the Egyptian temple and something of the grace of Greece.
The Sufi then adds: “Although Hindu, it differs from the usual Hindu types, and is known distinctly as Kashmiri and owes much to the influence of Gandhara…the carvings show…a close connection with typical Hindu work of the late the Gupta period.”
A confluence of architectural style
Dr. Syed Gazanfar Farooq, who holds a doctorate in Kashmir architecture from Aligarh Muslim University and now works in J&K’s education department, says The Indian Express“From the ruins of the temple it is evident that the complex originally consisted of a main shrine in the center of a quadrangular courtyard, flanked to the north and south by two smaller structures… it seems that the The central courtyard was initially filled with water supplied by a channel from the Lidar River to a level that submerged nearly a foot from the base of the columns.
This court was closed by a colonnade, which seems to have been composed of 84 pillars.
Dr Farooq says the temple walls are constructed of “huge blocks of uniformly pitched gray limestone using lime mortar”. This, he says, is notable, as the use of lime mortar “is encountered in northern India generally after the establishment of the Delhi Sultanate in the 13th century”, and indicates that Lalitaditya employed immigrant Byzantine architects .
The temple is influenced by Classical Greco-Roman, Buddhist-Gandharian and North Indian styles. Dr Farooq says this can be explained by Kashmir’s proximity to Gandhar, possible direct contact between Kashmir and Greece, and with architects from other empires visiting Kashmir. Lalitaditya is known to have subjugated the king of Kannuaj, which may be one of the reasons why workers from northern India build his temple.
Today, the roof of the temple has disappeared. Dr Farooq says: “Alexander Cunningham [also called the father of Indian archaeology] speculates that a two-tiered pyramidal roof must have covered not only the central sanctuary, but also the other two smaller stone sanctuaries.
Destruction of the Temple of Martand
Was the Martand temple destroyed by the forces of fanaticism, fanaticism or nature? Historians have pondered this issue for a long time, and while many believe that Sultan Sikandar ‘Butshikan’ (iconoclast) was behind it, others blame earthquakes, flaws in the stonework of the temple and the mere passage weather in an area prone to extreme weather.
For those who hold Sikandar responsible, one of the main sources is the poet-historian Jonaraj – who wrote the ‘Dvitiya’, or secondly, Rajatarangini while in the employ of Sikandar’s son, Sultan Zain -ul-Abidin (1420-1470) – although he is by no means the only one.
What historians agree on is that Sikandar, heavily influenced by the Sufi saint Sayyid Muhammad Hamadani, was on a mission of “Islamization”, and his reign saw the persecution of Hindus. The sultan had been crowned when he was still just a boy, and much of this persecution was carried out on the orders of his chief minister, Suhabhatta, who had converted to Islam, taking the name of Malik Saif-ud-Din. Jonaraja writes: “There was no city, no town, no village, no wood, where Suha the Turushka [Turk/Muslim] left the temples of the gods intact. Of the king, Jonaraja writes that he snapped images “at the instigation of the mlechchhas”.
Whether Sikandar specifically destroyed the Martand temple is less certain. GMD Sufi quote, ‘The late Mr. Brajendranath De’ (1852-1932), MA, Barat-Law, ICS, Boden Sanskrit Scholar at Oxford University in 1875, ex-Commissioner, Burdwan Division, Bengal, Translator avid Tabaqati-Akbari, wrote; – “There is a lot in Jonaraja about the destruction of images, but I could not find any mention of the demolition of temples.”
The Sufis explain that as more and more people converted to Islam, the character of the existing temples was changed by removing the idols and creating a niche towards the Ka’ba, but the temples did not have not necessarily been demolished.
Dr. Farooq says that historians who wrote after Jonaraja mentioned the Martand temple.
After Jonaraja’s death, three sequels to the Rajatarangini were written, with the fourth and last, Chaturtha Rajataranginiwritten by Suka.
Dr Farooq says: “We are informed by the Rajatarangini that a severe earthquake wreaked havoc in Kashmir in 1554. However, the people of Vijayesvara, Martanda and Varahakshetra were not afraid of the earthquake due to the sacredness of these tirthas, suggesting that these shrines could have been visited by devotees and their condition could have been fine at that time.
Dr Farooq concludes that the temple appears to have been destroyed by “earthquakes, the friable nature of the material used, frost and snow causing natural weathering and poor fit of the stones at their joints”.
Why Harsha broke the temples
Three centuries after Lalitaditya and two centuries before Sikandar existed a Hindu king known for destroying and desecrating temples: King Harsha (1089 AD to 1101 AD) of the First Lohara Dynasty.
Harsha’s actions against the temples had nothing to do with religion – he was simply a debauched king who ran out of money and started looting the temples for treasures and for the precious metals for idols. However, Harsha seems to have spared Temple Martand, where a few years earlier his father had breathed his last.
by Kalhana Rajatarangini by RS Pandit says, “In the village, town, or in Srinagara, there was not a temple that was not stripped of its images by the Turkish king Harsha. There were, however, two powerful gods who were not insulted by him; in Srinagara, Saints Ranasvämin and Martanda among the cities.