Mārtāṇḍa Sun Temple, Kashmir

Photographs of the ruins of the Martand (Sun) Temple, Kashmir, photographed by Francis Frith, c. 1865. Victoria and Albert Museum

The Mārtāṇḍa (or मार्ताण्ड; one of the Ādityas) Temple in Kashmir was one of the biggest Sun temples of ancient India, and a masterpiece of early-Kashmir temple style, built in 8th century by Lalitaditya (c.724–60), the most powerful monarch of the Karkota dynasty, and one of the greatest of Kashmir’s rulers, under whom both Buddhism and Hinduism flourished. It is situated on a high plateau and commands superb views over Kashmir’s central valley, with the Himalayas in the distance.

Ruins of the Martand Sun Temple, Kashmir. Published in ‘The Wonders of the World’, c. 1920

The temple, now in ruins, consists of a principal sanctuary, with a broad flight of steps leading to the main entrance on its western side, together with two minor shrines. The use of pilasters and trefoil arches display the influence of classical Indian architecture, whereas the gabled roofs are characteristic of the western Himalayas. There are sculptured figure panels set in niches on the walls of the sanctuary and antechamber, now badly eroded. “The temple is enclosed by a pillar to quadrangle 220 feet in length 142 feet in bed containing 84 fluted columns. This number Chaurasi or 84 of the Hindus is especially emblematic of the Sun, as it is the multiple of the 12 mansions of the ecliptic (typified by the 12 spokes of his chariot wheel) through which he is carried by his seven steeds in one year; or it is the product of his seven rays multiplied by the 12 signs of the zodiac.”

In Henry Hardy Cole’s Archaeological Survey of India Report ‘Illustrations of Ancient Buildings in Kashmir.’ (1869), he wrote, ‘ The most impressive and the grandest ruins in Kashmir, are at Marttand, which is about three miles east of Islamabad…’

The Āditya Temple of Martand, Kashmir William Simpson (1823–1899)

As per historical records, the temple was completely destroyed over the course of a year, by Sikandar Butshikan, or “Sikankar the iconoclast” (बुतशिकन meaning idol-breaker) in the early 15th century.

“Hindu temples were felled to the ground and for one year a large establishment was maintained for the demolition of the grand Martand temple. But when the massive masonry resisted all efforts, it was set on fire and the noble buildings cruelly defaced.”- Tarikh-i Firishta (by Muhammad Qãsim Hindû Shãh, a Persian historian; translated by John Briggs)

Surviving reliefs

In the Tarikh-i-Hassan, Hassan points out that:
“This country (Kashmir) possessed from the times of the Hindu kings many temples which were like the wonders of the world. their workmanship was so fine and delicate that one found himself bewildered at their sight. Sikandar, Goaded by feelings of bigotry destroyed them and levelled him with it and we did materials built many mosques ans Khanqahs. In the first instance, he turned his attention towards the Martanda temple built by Lalitaditya on Mattan Karewa. For one full year he tried to demolish it, but failed. At lost in sheer dismay hi dugout stones from its base and having stored in a food in their place, set fire to it. The gold gilt paintings on its walls Were totally destroyed and the wall surrounding its premises would demolished. It’s ruins even now strike wonder in men’s minds.”

‘The Temple of the Sun’, sketch by George Oliver Rybot 1852
Ruins of Martand, from ‘Letters from India and Kashmir: written 1870; illustrated and annotated 1873. By J. Duguid, digitised by the British Library
Restoration of Martand: Bird’s eye view — An artists reconstruction of the Martand Temple in its glory days. from ‘Letters from India and Kashmir: written 1870; illustrated and annotated 1873. By J. Duguid, digitised by the British Library
Description of the temple from “Letters from India and Kashmir: written 1870; illustrated and annotated 1873 [By J. Duguid. With plates.]”; British Library

references: Kashmir and It’s People: Studies in the Evolution of Kashmiri Society by M. K. Kaw

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