If you go 5 kilometres east of Anantnag in the Union Territory of Kashmir, there lies a sacred temple – now in ruins. The walls and stones of this temple tell the story of a long-forgotten past, the sacred mythology of the 13th son of sage Kashyap and Aditi, the illustrious history of the Kashmiri Hindu civilization, and the awesome chronicle of the Karkota civilization. The painful cries of local Kashmiris also reverberate within the ruins of this once great Martand Sun temple.
Martand Surya Temple: A Place Where Mythology Meets History
The existence of the worship of Martand – the Sun God – has been mentioned in mythological, historical and archaeological texts. The facts mentioned in these texts are intertwined, which gives the whole Martand Tirth a fascinating image.
The Mythological History of Martand Surya Temple
Kashmir, as we know it today, originated when sage Kashyap beseeched Lord Vishnu to empty the water of the Satisar lake – the abode and the source of the power of the Jalodbhava demon. Sage Kashyap was sick and tired of this demon and wanted to see the end to his tyranny towards people. Thus emerged the valley of Kashmir after the emptying of Satisar.
Sage Kashyap was married to Aditi and had 33 sons – 12 of whom were Adityas or the forms of sun. These 12 Adityas represent the sun in 12 months. However, Kashyap gained a 13th Aditya in the form of a lifeless egg which he found while roaming around the area. According to the famed traveller, G.T. Vigne, the mythology goes like this – Once the sage picked up the lifeless egg, “it broke in his hand, and from it flowed the springs of Bawun or Maha-Martund.” Aditi considered Martund as her 13th son. Local traditions reveal that Kashyap built the Martand temple (some distance away from the Bawun spring) and started the worship of Lord Vishnu in His Martand form.
As you can see, the value of Martand Surya temple lies in the fact that it is regarded as the first temple to be built in the valley of Kashmir.
Martand Sun Temple- The Temple Within a Temple
Some Hindu shrines are more sacred than others. The Martand Tirth, it seems, was regarded as a sacred temple, which is why historical and archaeological texts reveal that Martand Surya Temple had been built, remodelled and renovated at least three times in history.
Rajtarangini of Kalhan has two contradictory facts as to the actual builder of the temple. In one portion of his narrative, Kalhan claims that the temple in its modern form was built by Ranaditya sometime around the “first half of the fifth century A.D.” (Cunningham). In another part of the narrative, Kalhan mentions that Martand Surya Temple was built by Lalitaditya. Today, most historians believe that the temple in its modern form was built (or renovated) by Lalitaditya.
Notice the fact that both Ranaditya and Lalitaditya have the prefix – ‘Aditya’ in their names. This hints at the fact that there might be some connection between them and the mythology of Kashyap’s building of the Martand Temple to begin the worship of Lord Vishnu in His Martand form. Martand, as we said, was regarded as the 13th Aditya.
The Connection of the Temple With the Karkota Dynasty
Since Lalitaditya is regarded by modern historians as the one who built the Martand Sun Temple, there is a strong connection between the temple with the Karkota dynasty of Kashmir. The Karkota dynasty ruled from 625 to 855 BCE. The dynasty was known as the worshipper of Vishnu and had built several Vishnu temples – including the Martand Surya Temple.
The temple in its prime was something to behold! Made with blue limestones, the architecture of the temple would have given any modern architect a run for his money. A mix of Gandharan, Gupta and perhaps even Indo-Greek style, the temple gave Kashmir a grand stature. Located on a plateau, it is said the temple overlooked the whole of Kashmir. As the sun rose, its shadow could be seen from far and wide. The sun rays slipped through the gaps of the pillars would look enchanting and pure. The expansive colonnaded courtyard made the temple easily accessible to a lot of devotees at a single time. With a length of 220 feet and a breadth of 142 feet, the overall area of the temple yard housed smaller shrines, with the primary one in the middle.
The Destruction of Martand Sun Temple – An Identity Lost
To the local Kashmiris – the Kashmiri Pandits – the Martand Sun Temple was not just a religious structure. It was an intrinsic part of their tradition, their culture. It was a part of their identity. Once the sixth Sultan of the Shah Miri dynasty of Kashmir – Sultan Sikander Shah Miri ascended the throne, dark days came for the peace-loving, innocent local Kashmiris. Miri, an iconoclast, started destroying the temples in the valley and ravaging the icons of deities – even those that were in the private homes of people.
The Martand Sun Temple, too, did not escape the destructive forces of Sikander Miri. However, from the narratives of Mohibul Hassan, we learn that the Sultan took a year to destroy this temple. Such was the strength of the Martand Temple. The Sultan had to set the temple on fire.
As the persecution of Kashmiri Pandits continues, they have not been able to restore the temple to its proper glory. Despite being a structure legally protected by ASI, the ruins of the temple are in bad condition as well. Whatever is left of the temple is quickly vanishing because of the destructive forces of the weather. However, it is also true that repairing such a structure of mythological and historical significance would destroy its original glory.
The Good News
It’s easy to destroy a temple or two. However, it’s not easy to destroy the faith of the people, their ideology, and their trust in God. The Martand Sun Temple saw the resumption of worship and prayer last year when hundreds of devotees thronged the temple to celebrate the birth anniversary of Adi Shankaracharya. It was the first time since the ASI declared the temple a “site of national importance” that puja work was performed.
I hope that more such pujas are performed in the temple in the coming years. Yes, Martand Surya Temple might be in ruins now, but its light shines on. Legally, as per ASI, it is not permissible to offer prayers in a protected site. However, it is perfectly legal to perform customary rituals in the protected sites. Our sons and daughters deserve to know the illustrious history and the pious mythology of our culture.