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The radiant ruins of Martand

The Mughals called Kashmir ‘paradise on earth’. Quite true, one might say. The majestic Himalayas, pristine lakes, and alpine forests draw tourists from across the globe all year round. While vacationers gravitate towards the more scenic destinations like Gulmarg and Sonamarg, there is more to Kashmir than just that. The region also has a rich history. Being a big history buff myself, I decided to pay a visit to Martand temple (called Pandu Koru by the locals), which came highly recommended. This temple is located in Mattan and is on the way to Pahalgam.

Mattan, a quaint village, is located near Anantnag district. A local legend has it that Aditi, the primal goddess and celestial mother, gave birth to Surya (the Sun god) in the form of a lifeless egg or martanda in this village. Marta means lifeless and anda means an egg. This village is hence famous for the Martand Sun Temple, built by the Karkota Dynasty in the 8th Century CE.

It is said that Martand was the first temple ever to be built in India for the Sun god. This belief gives the temple a rich cultural significance. But today, despite its legacy, the temple is in a sorry state. Deserted and lifeless, it has lost its sheen due to lack of maintenance.

Naturally, I was quite disappointed upon arriving there. The intricate carvings on the walls had been weathered by time and neglect. But the more I looked at them, the more I was able to appreciate the striking majesty of the solid walls and the imposing edifices. As I entered the courtyard of the temple, I couldn’t help but look around in awe. The colonnaded pillars bore the grandeur of Kashmiri architecture, which had elements of the architectural styles of the Chinese, Romans, Syrian-Byzantines and the Greeks.

No matter how battered and bruised we may be by the world, we have within us the strength to remain undeterred.

The west-facing temple is built upon an elevated plateau. I later learned that this site was specifically chosen by the Karkotas so that sunlight would fall on the idol of the Sun god throughout the day. Sadly, I couldn’t find any idol inside. But as if to compensate for it, the real sun came into play, shining brightly upon the temple’s limestone walls, lighting up the whole place.

The Martand Sun Temple of today is merely a remnant of what it once was. Historians say that the fall of the Solar Dynasty in the early 15th century was soon followed by the destruction of the temple. In fact, it is believed that it took the invading army a whole year to destroy this magnificent structure. And despite it all, the resilient temple stands tall to this day, 40 feet in height, its limestone walls exuding radiance.

Enraptured, I wondered: Had the invaders really succeeded in destroying the place? Of course, literally, the physical structure of the temple stands destroyed. But, in spirit, the sanctum of the Sun god built by the Karkotas still remains, magnificent as ever. And for this reason, the temple made me think of human spirit itself. No matter how battered and bruised we may be by the world, we have within us the strength to remain undeterred. I realised that even if we are broken, we can still shine through our scars just like the resilient Martand Sun Temple.


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