The Martand Sun Temple was a Kashmiri Hindu temple dedicated to Surya (the chief solar deity in Hinduism) and built during the 8th century CE. Martand is another Sanskrit name for the Hindu Sun-god. Now in ruins, the temple is located five miles from Anantnag in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
The Martand Sun Temple was built by the third ruler of the Karkota Dynasty, Lalitaditya Muktapida, in the 8th century CE. It is said to have been built during 725-756 CE. The foundation of the temple is said to have been around since 370-500 CE, with some attributing the construction of the temple to have begun with Ranaditya.
The temple was completely destroyed on the orders of Muslim ruler Sikandar Butshikan in the early 15th century, with demolition lasting a year.
The Martand Sun Temple
Of all the interesting sights in the vicinity of Anantnag, the ruins of Martand Sun Temple hold the first place and they are easy to access, being just 10 Kms from the main town Anantnag.
The Martand temple was built on top of a plateau from where one can view whole of the Kashmir Valley. From the ruins and related archaeological findings, it can be said it was an excellent specimen of Kashmiri architecture, which had blended the Gandharan, Gupta, Chinese, Roman, Syrian-Byzantine and Greek forms of architecture.
Martand Sun Temple lies on the krewa above Islamabad, and is easily reached from Anantnag (Islamabad), Bawan and Achabal. The ruins of the Hindu temple of Martand or, as it is commonly called, the Pandu-Koru, or the house of the Pandus and Korus — the Cyclopes of the east – are situated on the highest part of a krewa, where it commences to rise to its juncture with the mountains.
About 3 miles east of Islamabad, occupying, undoubtedly, the finest position in Kashmir, this noble ruins is the most striking in size and situation of all the existing remains of Kashmir grandeur. The temple itself is not now more than 40 feet in height, but its solid walls and bold outlines, towering over the fluted pillars of the surrounding colonnade, gives it the most imposing appearance.
There are no petty confused details, but all are distinct and massive, and most admirably suited to the general character of the building. Many vain speculations have been hazarded regarding the date of erection of this temple, and the worship to which it was appropriated, it is usually called the House of the Pandus by the Brahmins, and by the people “Martand”, or the sun, to which the temple was dedicated.
The true date of the erection of this temple — the wonder of Kashmir is a disputed point of chronology; but the period of its foundation can be determined within the limits of one century, or between A.D 370 and 500.
The mass of building now known by the name of Martand consists of one lofty central edifice, with a small detached wing on each side of the entrance, the whole standing in a large quadrangle surrounded by a colonnade of fluted pillars with intervening, trefoil headed recesses. The length of the outer side of the wall, which is blank, is about 90 yards; that of the front is about 56. There are in all eighty four columns — a singularly appropriate number in a temple of the sun, if as is supposed, the number eighty four is accounted sacred by the Hindus in consequence of its being the multiple of the number of days in the week with the number of signs in the zodiac.
The colonnade is recorded in the Rajatarangini as the work of the famous king Laltaditya, who reigned from A.D. 693 to 729. From the same authority we gather though the interruption of the verses is considerably disputed that the temple itself was built by Ranaditya and the side chapels, or at least one of them, by his queen, Amritaprakha.
The date of Ranaditya’s reign is involved in some obscurity, but it may safely be conjectured that he died in the first half of the fifth century after Christ. The remains of three gateways opening into the court are now standing. The principal of these fronts due west towards Islamabad. It is also rectangular in its details and built with enormous blocks of limestone, 6 or 8 feet in length, and one of 9, and of proportionate solidity, cemented with an excellent mortar. Fergusson gives the date of Martand as A.D. 750 and fixes the reign of Ranaditya as A.D. 578-594.
The central building is 63 feet in length by 36 in width and alone of all the temples of Kashmir possesses, in addition to the cella or sanctuary, a choir and nave, termed in Sanskrit the antarala and arddhamandapa; the nave is 18 feet square, the sanctuary alone is left entirely bare, the two other compartments being lined with rich panellings and sculptured niches.
As the main building is at present entirely uncovered the original form of the roof can only be determined by a reference to other temples and to the general form and character of the various parts of the Maratand temple itself. It has been conjectured that the roof was of pyramidal from, and that the iterance chamber and wings were similarly covered.
There would thus have been four distinct pyramids, of which that over the inner chamber must have been the loftiest, the height of its pinnacle above the ground being about 75 feet. The interior must have been as imposing as the exterior.
On ascending the flight of steps, now covered by ruins, the votary of the sun entered a highly decorated chamber, with a doorway on each side covered by a pediment with a trefoil headed niche containing a bust of the Hindu triad, and on the flanks of the main entrance, as well as on those of the side doorways, were pointed ad trefoil niches, each of which held a statue of a Hindu deity.
The interior decorations of the roof can only be conjecturally determined, as there do not appear to be nay ornamented stones that that could with certainty be assigned to it. Baron Hugel doubts that Martand Sun Temple ever had a roof, but as the walls of the temple are still standing the numerous heaps of large stones that are scattered about on all sides can only have belonged to the roof.
Cunningham thinks that the erections of Martand Sun Temple was suggested by the magnificent sunny prospect which its position commands. It overlooks the finest view in Kashmir, and perhaps in the known world.
Beneath it lies the paradise of the east, with its sacred streams and glens, its orchards and green fields, surrounded on all sides by vast snowy mountains, whose lofty peaks seem to smile upon the beautiful valley below. The vast extent of the scene makes it sublime; for this magnificent view of Kashmir is no petty peer in a half mile glen, but the full display of a valley 60 miles in breadth and upwards of 100 miles in length the whole of which lies beneath the “ken of the wonderful Martand”.
Site of National Importance
The Archaeological Survey of India has declared the Martand Sun Temple as a site of national importance in Jammu and Kashmir. The temple appears in the list of centrally protected monuments as Kartanda (Sun Temple).
The Government of India has developed the site as an important tourist site with facilities. Martand Sun Temple was selected as the background for the song Bismil, in the popular Bollywood movie Haider.
In the movie the temple was shown as a place of evil. This partially led to the controversy surrounding the movie. Anupam Kher criticised director Vishal Bhardwaj for shooting Devil’s Dance sequence in the temple, resulting humiliation to Kashmiri Pandits.