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According to the Rajatarangini of Kalhana – an account of the history of Kashmir between 1148 and 1149 – the Martand Sun Temple was commissioned in the 8th century AD by Lalitaditya Muktapida. He was a powerful ruler of the Karkota dynasty of Kashmir and the eloquent Rajatarangini waxes over his conquests and the temples he commissioned. Dedicated to the worship of the Sun, the temple of Martand would have been an architectural marvel, built in limestone on top of a plateau. It is said to have huge interlocking stones and a gold-gilded roof.
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The location chosen by Muktapida was strategic. It was built on top of a plateau from which it is said that the whole valley of Kashmir could be seen. Archaeologists agree that it was an excellent specimen of Kashmiri architecture – a mixture of Gandharian, Gupta and Chinese styles.
With the main shrine in the center of a colonnaded courtyard, the temple has 84 smaller shrines surrounding the main one. It spans 220 feet long and 142 feet wide. It is the largest example of a peristyle in Kashmir – a continuous porch formed by a row of chambers surrounding the perimeter of the temple.
The main entrance to the temple is located on the western side of the quadrangle in accordance with ancient Hindu temple architecture. It is as wide as the temple itself, creating grandeur. Filled with elaborate decorations and allusions to the deities worshiped within, the print restored by J Duguid (1870-1873) in his book “Letters from India and Kashmir” reflects the majesty of the temple.
The sanctum sanctorum is believed to have had a pyramidal top and the antechamber depicts other deities including Vishnu, Ganga and Yamuna, as well as Surya.
The temple was destroyed by Sikandar Shah Miri, aka Sikandar Butshikan (1389-1413). Butshikan was the sixth sultan of the Shah Miri dynasty and is said to have destroyed the temple in an effort to assert state power over the Brahmins, who then wielded immense authority. The Martand Temple was said to be a shrine that housed immense wealth, and Miri attempted to gain political legitimacy by destroying the temple and gaining wealth.
However, according to Sanskrit poet and historian of Kashmir Jonaraja (died 1459 AD), the destruction of the Martand temple – one of the most important temples for Hindus at the time – was in Sikandar Butshikan’s zeal to Islamize the society. Jonaraja was the court poet of Sikandar’s successor, Zain-ul-Abidin, and was commissioned to continue Kalhana’s Rajatarangini. The parts of the exploits of Sikandar Butshikan form the last part of Rajatarangini.
There have been calls to restore the temple and start regular worship and rituals by the Kashmiri Pandit brotherhood. Along with the Martand Temple, they have also called for the Sharda Peeth Temple – another holy place for the community – located in Pakistani-occupied Kashmir to be made accessible to devotees, and have been calling for the opening of the Sharda Peeth Corridor for many years now. . .