Martand Sun Temple in Kashmir - lost in the sands of time...

Located far from the prying eyes and on top of a plateau with stunning views lies the Martand Sun Temple - one of the most stunning architectural marvels in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Dedicated to Sun god, it is one of the three large temples dedicated to Sun god, the other being Konark in Odisha and Modhera in Gujarat. None of the temples are in use now.

martand sun temple kashmir
Martand Sun temple (Image credit: Flickr)

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"You see, I used to be a terrorist before this."

Yasin (name changed) said it with so much ease that I was shocked for a few seconds and couldn't say a word. I was unsure if he was pulling my leg or telling me a genuine tale.

Only moments ago I had gotten down from the ST bus from Islamabad (Anantnag) to the small town of Matan (derived from Martand). It was my first (and possibly the last) trip to the town, and I was not quite sure who to ask about the temple. The town looked deserted but soon an auto-rickshaw guy (Yasin) saw me and came by. I clearly looked like a traveller with my huge backpack, even though many in the state often took me to be a Kashmiri.

matan village kashmir
Matan Village (Image credit: Flickr)

Read more: What? You are not a Kashmiri?

Forever apprehensive, I told him that I wanted to go to Martand Sun Temple and if he could show me the way. He smiled and said it would be difficult to go walking. It was only a few kilometres away but the sun was already strong and my bag looked big. Curiously I don't quite remember how much he charged me, but it sounded like a good deal, and I readily agreed.

Coming back to his deceleration about being an ex-terrorist, I wasn't at all sure if it was alright to probe deeper and ask him for more details. I really wanted to, but caution was also important. Only a few days back on another temple exploration at Ladhoo temple near Srinagar, I was apprehended by the army and scolded rather badly. I decided to be less ambitious with my questions and moved on to ask about the ruins.

In about ten minutes or so we reached the top of the small hill. I was already happy that I had decided not hike but took an auto instead. The ASI board outside the temple complex was in a bad state and clearly needed replacement. There was simply no one around except a few guards. They saw my camera and told me it was strictly prohibited to take pictures here. However, once inside I had no one stopping me from clicking the pictures. I even made a few short videos, though both the pictures and the videos are lost now.

martand sun temple kashmir
Some remaining columns at Martand Temple (Image credit: Flickr)

The temple is majestic even in ruins. As you stand right in the front, there main temple perfectly aligns with a mountain rising right behind it. I was lucky to be all by myself there though I do wish I had someone with me who knew the place well. Something similar to how I got to explore Sirpur (insert link) with the man who actually excavated the place and discovered the old town.

After spending about two hours, it was time to go. I came back with Yasin and he saw me off in a bus to Pehalgam. (Read more: river rafting in Pehalgam).


History of Martand Sun Temple

To understand the current state of these temples better, let's do a quick recap about Kashmir when it was a Hindu and then a Buddhist state. Kashmir is lucky to have had a great man, Kalhana, who wrote the entire history of Kashmir in his renowned magnum opus - Rajtarangini.

The temple is believed to have been built by the liberal king Lalitaditya-Muktapida in the 8th century AD. The architecture is distinctly Kashmiri which is different from temples built in the rest of India at that time (for instance Kailasa Temple built around the same time). The temple has distinct Roman-Bazantine features and it's believed that they came to Kashmir from Gandhara.

martand sun temple kashmir
Martand Temple in winters (Image credit: Wikipedia)

It received patronage under different kings and continued to flourish. This, however, changed when Sikandar became the Sultan and quickly earned the title of Butshikan (idol-breaker). Under his reign every single Hindu and a Buddhist temple in Kashmir was broken down and idols destroyed. It is believed that piles of timber were heaped inside the temple and then they were set on fire. The annihilation was so complete that only one temple from that era exists today with a roof.  It was a much smaller temple and maybe that's why escaped the fury of Sultan Sikandar.

Being one of the largest temple complex in the state, it met the same fate and was forever abandoned after that. However, distance from the capital city, Srinagar, helped in the preservation of ruins.

Present day Martand Sun Temple

The ruins are now protected by ASI, but the lack of focus on preservation in the state means that they are slowing dying out.

Not many people visited a place when I went there, but it seems it's now on the tourist map, especially after the movie Haider which a song shot at the temple itself - so much for the photography ban! Have a look at the video :)




Reference: Pandrethan, Avantipur and Martand by Debala Mitra

Planning a visit to Kashmir soon? Read these stories to get some more inspiration :)
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This is a part of a new series called 'Lost temples of Jammu and Kashmir'. Long forgotten in history, I feel it's our responsibility to bring out stories of these architectural and cultural marvels, and keep them alive.

Here are the other stories in the series:

Comments

  1. Lot of information!! Great photos!! Your post took my memories to the visit made to this place few years ago.

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  2. Wonderful read. Glad to know about this temple.

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  3. Wonderful
    Amazing
    Beautiful
    👍👍👍👍👍

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  4. This place is so beautiful! It's always a great experience to be able to explore such kind of places ��

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  5. This temple, despite looking like is in ruins, is so beautiful. Would love to explore this place. :)

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  6. मैंने मार्तण्ड ऋषि मंदिर व अन्य स्थल सपरिवार यात्रा के दौरान देखे थे, इस लेख को देख, अपनी वो यात्रा याद आ गयी।

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  7. This place looks so beautiful! Especially in the snow! Thanks for sharing!

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  8. That is some valuable info. I never thought the song was shot there.

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  9. You had my attention riveted from the first sentence itself! And the attention was held by the ruins of the magnificent Martand Sun temple. The Roman influence is so visible in the surviving columns, can only imagine what it would have looked like when it stood in all its majesty. I have seen the other two sun temples, the ones in Konark and the the one in Modhera. Hope to see this one some day too.

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  10. I have never been to India in my life. I dream about this destination. I would love to see Taj Mahal, try real indian food and to admire beautiful views. Martand Sun Temple looks like a wonderful place and if I ever visit Kashmir it is a place where I have to go!

    Best,
    Kasia
    www.lifeisahotel.com

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  11. I loved your first quote! It makes the readers pay attention more to your story, which by the way it's impressive, as well as the pictures.

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  12. Hi Sidd,

    Everything looks so well preserved. Rare for such old ruins. Thanks for sharing :)

    Ryan

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  13. The temple really is majestic even in ruins. It's fascinating to read between the ruins and imagine what it would have been like in the height of it's days - I'm developing a massive obsession with Ancient India at the moment - there's so much history and heritage throughout the country - probably more so than anywhere else on earth!

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  14. I've never been to India but it reminds of the places I visited in Asia recently. So much history and beauty all around. Thanks for sharing!

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  15. Look simple but stunning ruins of a temple. Remind me so much of my trip in Cambodia. Hope to see this too in person.

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  16. There were quite a few local tourists (more like young local guys, just chilling) there when we visited - a few months before Haider was released. The ruins and snow peaks in the background was what caught our attention. This was the only place in the Kashmir valley where we saw many Sikhs living around. Dis you go a little further down to Mattan where there's a temple? The security there was more than what we saw at the LOC! Seeing the remains of the houses of the Kashmiri Pandits who once lived there was heart wrenching, though.

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  17. Wow this looks incredible temple . Loved this comprehensive post.

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  18. This temple seems like an awesome place to visit and you guide is truly practical. Is one day enough for exploring this place?

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