Fact is none can rival the Katoch royal family of Kangra for antiquity, for one of its ancestors, Susharma Chandra, fought in the Great War Mahabharata on the side of the Kauravas. And Susharma was only the 234th king of this line. Most people go to Kangra valley to visit McLeodgunj unaware of this jewel, the Nagarkot, Himachal’s most famous and impregnable ancient fort, about which it used to be said: “He who holds the fort holds the hills.”
The proof of its antiquity lies just outside the fort. Here you find a rock with some unfamiliar inscriptions. Experts believe it dates from the third to the first century BCE and commemorates the construction of a pond in two languages; Sanskrit written in the Brahmi script in the upper line, and Pali written in the Kharoshti script in the lower. And it proves that besides Kangra or Nagarkot, the surrounding country was also inhabited by a Sanskrit speaking people all those years ago.
Solanki dynasty is famous for their beautiful temple architecture and Modhera Sun Temple is one of their exquisite display. From Skanda and Brahma Puranas we get to know that the surrounding was known as Dharmaranya and Modhera was a village here, called as Modherak. Puranas also tell of a yagna done here by Lord Rama to purge himself from sin of killing a Brahmin, Ravana. According to Saura Purana this temple was originally made by Samba, Lord Krishna’s grandson and later rebuilt by King Bhimdeva of Solanki dynasty in 1026
I already gave the engineering part of the temple. [CLICK] Here’s the architecture and sculpture part. The Temple consists of three parts – First you have the Surya/Rama Kund, next the Sabha mandapa or the assembly hall and finally the Garbagriha with an attached Guda Mandapa.
Image Courtesy – Google
Kund consists of the diagonally intersecting steps placed symmetrically on all four sides. Another unique feature is the presence of 108 shrines surrounding the Kund. 108 has always been sacred number for Hindus. Of them there are four major shrines dedicated to Vishnu, Shiva, Shitala Mata & Ganesha. The Sabha Mandapa is an example of stone craft at is best! It consists of 52 pillars symbolizing the no. of weeks in a solar year. Each pillar is a masterpiece depicting episodes from Ramayana, Mahabharata, war scenes, nritikas, musicians etc. Every surface of the Sabha Mandapa is intricately carved and you can watch it for hours yet feel like getting more! The Guda Mandap has sculptures of 12 Adityas or forms of Surya Dev symbolizing the 12 months in a solar year. Each Aditya has 7 horses as his vahana, representing the 7 colors that form white light. The entire structure of Guda Mandapa and Sabha Mandapa appears to float on an upturned lotus. Just above the lotus are 365 elephant sculptures representing 365 days of a year.
Every corner, every niche of the temple is painstakingly transformed into a canvas of beauty. The ornately carved columns, the intricately carved sculptures, everything unbelievably enthralling. It was wealth that was reason for attack by Mohamad Ghazni and later by Khilji. With such devastating attacks we find ruins inside the temple yet what remains is extremely beautiful and glorifies love of art of Solankis.
Modhera Sun Temple is a gem gifted to us by our ancestors. This is the oldest Sun Temple in India, built around 1026-1027 AD. The temple showcases not just beautiful sculptures but also tells us about advanced engineering knowledge of our ancestors. I would share the beauty & history of this temple in my next article and stick to the engineering part of ancient India here especially the earthquake Resistant Engineering.
This temple is situated at Mehsana district of Gujarat and the area falls under seismic zone IV. It has faced many historic earthquakes. But even though it got destroyed by plunderers, earthquake did no damage to the structure. Around 70s this temple restoration work was done by Government but all those new restoration parts got destroyed during 2001 severe Gujarat earthquake. The Old structure remained intact.
The temple has been built using locking system to make it earthquake resistant. The whole temple has been built without the use of any lime, cement, mud or any such thing as adhesive. Each stone slab has been interlocked with the adjoining ones in appropriate grooves and sealed with seasoned wood. The Temple was plundered by Ghazni & Khilji and those destroyed pieces shows the proof of this locking system. Here’s one from a broken wall.
The temple made with lime stone slabs, were joined in a unique way. Groves were made in the stone slabs as given below. Each stone slab has been interlocked with the adjoining ones in appropriate grooves and then sealed with seasoned wood.
Too many columns (pillars) and their unique construction is another earthquake resistant feature of the temple. The temple has three parts, the kund, the hall and the main temple sanctum and the latter two have many columns. Let’s take the Assembly Hall (Sabha mandap) first. The assembly hall of the temple has in total beautifully carved 58 columns. Each column represent each week of a year. This high number of columns helps to transfer load to the foundation. Top of it these columns are all well connected with the slabs. Connections well spread out so as make maximum load transfer.
After Dwarkadheesh temple beautiful architecture (Click Here) lets come to Dwarkadhish ji himself, who is equally cute and beautiful. Time stops while you watch the Supreme Lord, such is his power. It is said the original Dwarkadheesh temple was built around 400BC, way before Christ was born by Krishna’s grandson. The idol installed then was a different one. There’s an interesting legend about the idol in the Dwarkadheesh temple. Once a girl named Badana was a regular visitor to the temple. Pleased by her devotion, the Dwarkadheesh one day walked out with her. But the priests suspected that Badana had stolen the idol and pursued her to get it back to the temple. Badana wanted to keep Lord with her so pleaded that she would give gold in proportion the weight of the idol and the priests accepted. The idol was placed in one side of the scale and to the surprise of all the priests, one single nose stud of Badana could equal the weight of the statue. Lord knew she had nothing so played the miracle. Just then an ethereal voice said the priests could dig in a particular place the next day to find a similar statue. When they hurriedly dug the place without waiting for the next day, they found only an incomplete statue which was installed in Dwarkadhish temple and seen to this day.
Dwarkadheesh ji is dressed in different colour clothes on different days. Monday Pink, Tuesday yellow, Wednesday green, Thursday Saffron, Friday White, Saturday Blue and Sunday Red. On special days some special colour is worn by Lord and routine is not followed. Since body of Lord Krishna is meghshyam & glittering like rainbow, maybe reason why the colour of he wears is “Saptarangi” like rainbow. Here’s Dwarkadheesh ji in all seven colour atires.
Monday – Pink
Tuesday – Yellow
The splendid Dwarkadhish temple, in Dwarka is situated the on bank of river Gomti. The temple is one among the Chaar Dhaam and very auspicious place of worship especially for Vaishnavites. Not just spiritually but even the architecture of the temple leaves you in awe. The five storey temple, 50+mtrs tall is based on 72 exquisitely carved pillars. The roof of the main hall itself is supported on 60 pillars. The temple is spread 90 feet in the east-west direction and 70 feet in the north-south direction. There is no arch in the temple while the pillars are built from one stone. The spire of the temple is 78.3 m high (that would be 260 feet). That is like having a twenty-five storey building. I can imagine in the years gone by, with a flat coastline and no other buildings that are tall, this temple would have been a very prominent and visible beacon to travelers from miles away, both onshore and offshore. The inner temple supposedly was always there and the subsequent enlargement in the form of an assembly hall known, as Ladwa mandap and the awe-inspiring Shikhara are dated back to the 15th century. Whole construction is done by limestone and sand. The original temple is said to have been built by Krishna’s grandson Vajranabha around 400 BC. It was destroyed by Mohmud Begada in 1473 AD and the present temple was constructed by enlarging the older structure (the main hall).
Pandrethan is few miles from Srinagar at Badambagh. It was originally an old capital of Kashmir, founded by King Pravarsena in the 6th century AD as mentioned by Kalhana in his work Rajatarangini. The word Pandrethan is formed of “Purana” meaning “old” and “adhishthan” meaning “capital”. At Pandrethan is a beautiful stone temple, located not far from the road in a very low spring fed tank though its plinth is now submerged.
The Pandrethan temple was built by Meru, minister to King Partha who ruled Kashmir from 921-931. The temple was dedicated to Lord Vishnu and was named Meru Vardhana Swami. The design and evidences illustrate that the temple must have been a popular seat of pilgrimage in ancient times. Pandrethan finds proud mention in the Amar Nath Mahatmva, but now has lost its sacred associations. Continue reading
J&K has many religious places for pilgrimage. The state at one time was the main centre of Shaivism sadhana and you get to see innumerable Shiva temple spread all around J&K. We know about Amarnath caves, what many are not aware of is the Shivkhori caves in Raesi district. Reasi is an ancient town of Jammu that was established by Raja Bhim Dev during the 8th Century and was also the erstwhile capital of Bhimgarh Estate. The caves are naturally formed where you see naturally formed deities like Shiva, Parvati, Kamdhenu, Trishul and so many. Though Shivkhori is not a very popular pilgrimage place to visit but it has its own importance. And a visit to the place takes our faith to another level.
The walk from the moment you enter the cave and reach the inner sanctum is sheer thrill. It is nothing short of a divine heavenly experience filled with adventure at every step. The pathway is too narrow at places and even low. You need to stoop low, crawl or bend sideways to move ahead. They have lights placed yet it is quite low and at many points it’s almost dark. Oxygen level also gets low as you enter deep into the cave. All factors together makes things bit suffocating inside. The cave is supposed to be protected by Naagraj Vasuki. Some say its protected by Sheshnaag. But one interesting thing to see is the walls of the cave. It looks exactly like a snake skin! Continue reading
Beautiful scenery at the temple
On the banks of river Liddar in Pahalgam, Kashmir, is situated the ancient Mamalaka Shiva Temple. Liddar river divides into two branches at this point in Pahalgam and the temple lies on the bank of right branch. It is known as Mamaleshwar and was a popular destination for all pilgrims going to Amarnath. Now the temple is a protected one under ASI as its the oldest temple of Kashmir dating back to AD 400 and they have taken some steps to preserve this ancient temple of historical importance. This ancient temple finds itself in Kalhanas Rajatharangini.
Come 21st December, and the harsh winters of Kashmir get started. With snow at every nook and corner, Kashmir do looks beautiful. But the life of locals gets really tough especially with regards to warming the houses. They have found some unique methods to keep themselves warm. There’s Kangri that they use. It’s a basket with an earthen pot inside carrying burning coal/wood. It keeps an individual warm. But they also have ways to keep the rooms warm especially those which have been constructed of concrete.
With each passing day, we move forward leaving the old behind. Newer ways of life have affected even the architecture of our houses; many old architecture practices suited to weather have given way to newer fancy architectures. But somehow in Kashmir, age old hamaam seem to have made its entry in households, more because of the scarcity of electricity during winters. In a place like Kashmir, where round the clock electricity is a distant dream, this is reason enough to make Hamaam popular. The common man of the old times could only enjoy the benefits of the community Hamaams, and till recently only in the mosques, it was a unique aspect of the Kashmiri mosque-going culture. People, most of them poor, would wait outside mosque bathrooms at dawn since this was the only place that offered affordable hot-water baths. It still is where community members gather to discuss politics and local mohalla issues. Continue reading
Kashmir is known as the Paradise of Earth for no other reason than the mesmerising beauty it casts in all four seasons of the year. Spring comes in the floral blossoms of charm, while summers flourish in lush green colour charm, breath taking snow fall in winter prime, the autumn comes in an essence of brazen charm that no one in love with life can ignore. The harud (autumn) is when the hustle and bustle in Kashmir villages begin with the season of harvest. The green turns to gold and then to russet and red; leaves fall to melodious cracking sounds under the feet of passers-by beneath the shades of the Chinar (maple) trees. In autumn the crimson red-carpeted gardens in Kashmir are a feast for the eyes.
Harud (Autumn) is also connected to history of Kashmir. Kashmir during the reign of King Yusuf Shah Chak, lost its freedom to Emperor Akbar after defeating him twice earlier. And this happened during the season of harud in the year 1856. (P.S: Kashmiris never accepted the rule of Mughals and indulged in stone pelting on them.)
‘Harud’ in its literal sense stands for ‘melancholy’. In Kashmir, it’s a time when whole nature is at its glory. The poetic nuances over Kashmir’s Harud are indeed beautiful in poetic sense.
‘Harud’ is the harbinger of the long winter of freeze – Yes the “Freeze” that has set over Kashmir over years!
Kashmir has pristine natural beauty to offer us. Even people here are really loving and warm by heart. They truly believe in Atithi Devo Bhava. They go extra mile to see their guests are happy. I had my booking at a hotel in Lal Chowk and within two days got very friendly with the guy who was entrusted to look after to my needs. And after that he simply refused to allow me to stay in the hotel and took me to his house as an honoured guest. Faisal his name, he stays with his younger brother while his family is in some remote village in Pampore. He guided me to locales where no usual tourists visit, treating me to some great food and visiting different temples & mosques while updating me with the local history behind them.
This article is all about Kashmir’s enticing offering, its food especially Wazwan! Faisal told me that he cannot let me leave Kashmir without treating me to authentic wazwan. It’s usually cooked during some special occasion like marriages. One served in restaurants are really not authentic ones, Faisal said. And I did get the chance!
Wazwan is the most mouthwatering Kashmiri full-course meal, which makes you believe that Gluttony is no sin. And yes, it’s more than just food. It’s the pride and culture, a symbol of hospitality and is treated with great respect. Its preparation is considered an art. The course has some 30 odd dishes and of those 15-20 are all lamb & chicken preparations. Continue reading
For most, Kashmir connotes violence, bombs and disturbance. But Kashmir is lot more. It’s a place that deserves the name Heaven on earth in true sense. Pristine serene nature, it’s like a fairy tale journey! Before visiting the state I had decided to not just visit the usual touristy places, I had made up my mind to visit the off-beat destinations too. And I was not disappointed. The pristine natural beauty, untouched by the evil effects of pollution, honks or population burst, the lesser known Kashmir portrays the real enigma of this heavenly charm on earth!!
And one such trip was to visit the backwaters of Dal Lake and see the waterborne rural life of Kashmiris there. It’s the whole stretch between Dal Lak and Nagin Lake, which is crisscrossed by small water lanes which can easily be called as the Venice of India. After my usual shikara ride on Dal, I decided to take the backwater tour. There do exist some security concerns, so I took along with me my local Kashmiri friend with whom I was staying. With continuous disturbance for years they have now learned to live with it. They know how and when or where to go if trouble arise. Continue reading
On my journey into learning about Shaivism, I knew once I’ll need to visit Kashmir, the home of Shaivism. And finally when I reached here, my first wish was to visit the Shankaracharya temple. The temple, situated atop the hill Takt-e-Suleiman, was built around 371BC by Raja Gopadatya. The works of Kalhana’s Ranjatarangini gives details about the history of this temple. Adi Shankaracharya stayed here when he visited Kashmir to revive Sanatan Dharma and hence the current name.
The Shankracharya Temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is thought to be the oldest shrine in the Kashmir valley. The temple, as it stands today, has undergone many repairs throughout its life. The temple is of great importance, not only from the point of view of religion, but also from architectural viewpoint. A high octagonal platform supports the temple, approached by a flight of approximately 250+ steps. The sidewalls of the steps once bore some valuable inscriptions which are now lost after repairs. There is also a Persian inscription inside the temple.
Though the stair’s inscription was not saved, in Kalhana’s work you do get to know the details of the inscriptions. The hill had different names time to time and finally got the current name after a person named Sulaiman (also called Solomon) invaded; he came along with his throne, hence the name Takt-e-Sulaiman. The Persian inscriptions on the stairs said about a visit of a person with the name Yuz Asaf during the reign of Raja Gopadri. He supposedly with his followers renovated the temple. The inscription mentions Yuz Asaf as a prophet from Israel. If you go through Persian literature, you do get to read about a saint named Yuz Asaf. The Jami – uf – Tamarik, Volume II mentions him, you get to read about him also in Agha Mustafa’s “Awhali Shahai-i-paras” that tell of Yuz Asaf’s travels and teachings all over Persia. Continue reading
Shimla always evokes a special feeling. Though, Shimla town itself was not where we lived, but all our activities were connected to this British era winter capital. On my last visit to this town, popularly called as Queen of Hills, I decided to take a nostalgic journey to all the points, mainly food joints, which were our favourite ones. Shimla now has all the new joints like Sol, CCD, but the old ones they are still busy ones. We all old “Shimlaites” still swear by those shops. They used to be affordable, fitting perfectly our pockets.
When I was a toddler my Baba used to take me to Indian Coffee House whenever we would visit the town. While others would sit on those old chairs, I was made to sit on the table. And then Baba would let me drink coffee with a spoon.
Mehar Chand sweet shop, popularly called as Mehru’s in Lower Bazaar. This is one of the oldest sweet shops in India, established in 1902. This was our favourite spot to have chhole bhature and Jalebi with lassi. Continue reading
Ajanta Caves consists of a total of 29 Buddhist monasteries and sanctuaries belonging to the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions dating from 2nd century BC to 6th century AD. These caves were hidden away for thousands of years until British soldiers led by John Smith stumbled upon them while on a hunting mission. They were astonished to see the architecture, stupas and the wall paintings and murals. Unfortunately Smith vandalized the caves by scratching his name on these priceless mural paintings.
Lot of the paintings has deteriorated beyond repair and significant damage had been done to the architecture as well. Several attempts have been made in the past to preserve this wonderful architecture but the unscientific methods adopted in the past were not very successful. To make things worse, certain conservationists coated the murals with shellac (kind of varnish) in a later stage which has become very hard to remove. Climate, Humidity, Ultra-violet radiation, Noise levels, Carbon Dioxide from the exhalation of humans, all such factors affect the conservation of wall paintings. ASI and USESCO have imposed very strict norms to the visitors now. Number of visitors at a time has been restricted; camera flashes and tripods are banned as well. The natural light and at places tiny LED lights is what you get to capture the mural paintings.