Friday, April 9, 2021


                   (Parihasapura ruins )
              ( Martanda Sun Temple )
           ( Martanda Sun Temple)


Lalitaditya Muktapida (r.c. 724 CE–760 CE) was a powerful Kayastha ruler of the Karkota dynasty of Kashmir . Kalhana , the 12th century chronicler ,calls him universal monarch or the  conqueror of the world, crediting him with far-reaching conquests from Central Asia to shores of Arbian sea in India. According to Kalhana, Lalitaditya defeated  King Yashovarman of Kannauj, and then marched to eastern and southern parts of India. Art historian , Hermann Goetz writes that Lalitaditya’s kingdom stretched from the Hindu Kush mountains in modern day Afghanistan to Assam, Rajasthan, Gujarat, and parts of Central India  and even to some parts of southern India.  Lalitaditya went up to the shores of the Caspian sea and crossed  Pamirs. He marched to Tibet and China. Wherever he went, he proved victorious. 
The art historian , Hermann  Goetz writes:-

" Lalitaditya had to make use of artists from wherever he could find them, and in an empire extending from Bengal to the borders of Arab caliphate and from Central India to the borders of China proper,  these artists had needs to be of many nations and traditions. This possibly was the reason behind heterogeneous styles and elements in Kashmiri art assimilating elements of Gandharan, Gupta, Chinese, and even Syrian-Byzantine origin.”

Lalitaditya is now  accepted as the most powerful king of his dynasty. He built the largest empire after Ashoka. He is believed to have  driven  away the Arabs from north-western India and conquered  'Tokharistan (North Hindukush) to control  the international trade routes  from Tokharistan to China  by repeatedly defeating the then powerful Tibet. He checkmated China with his diplomacy A conqueror, builder , lover of fine arts ,  a tolerant king  who  commissioned a number of shrines in Kashmir, including the now-ruined Martand Sun Temple . He also established several towns, including a new capital at Parihasapura.   He constructed massive edifices which  have challenged  the vagaries of time and stand out even today.


 Lalitaditya built the Martand Sun Temple  in Kashmir on the plateau near Mattan town in South Kashmir. The location of the temple proves the skill and expertise of Kashmiri artisans of the period.  It is said that from this temple,  one could see the entire Lidder valley and the Shikhara of the demolished  Vijeyshawara Shrine  near the present-day  Bijbihara town.  The Martand Sun  Temple is enclosed in a courtyard of columns and arches forming the covered passage all round it.  The temple has 84 carved  pillars many of which lie broken. Exquisite images carved on stones were used in the construction of this imposing Sun Temple.  King  Lalitaditya was a sun worshipper and a follower of the  Vaishnava cult devoted to the worship of Keshva Vishnu. Accordingly, many three-faced Vishnu and some Chaturbhuja Vishnu figures were prominently carved on the walls of this temple.  Most of these images are disfigured due to neglect and weathering.  A central water tank with narrow water channels can be seen on the ground to this day. In the right panel of the eastern wall of the ante-chamber of this temple, an image of Aruna ( sun god) carved elegantly was faintly  visible when I saw it in 1998.  

Francis Younghusband in his Book  'KASHMIR' Writes:- 

“ Martand has a very high place in the world's great architectural designs. It is an example of not only the Kashmiri architectural skill but it has pride in having been set up at a fine spot which is prettier than the spots where Parthian, Taj Mahal, St. Peters have been built. It can be considered either a representative of all such great buildings and monuments or a combination and sum total of all the qualities. It gives an insight into the greatness of the people of Kashmir. In terms of beauty and strength and in grandeur it is next to Egypt and Greece. This temple has been built with strong and square limestones. The temple has received grandeur and beauty through the pillars of Greek pattern. It is now in ruins and there are many such ruins scattered in Kashmir. The very existence of this temple encourages man to carry out a study of the skill and art of Kashmiris. Anyone bereft of the love of nature could not select such a special spot for the construction of the temple.”

Subash Kak, the noted scholar writes this:-

 " The Martanda temple, built by Lalitaditya, is one of the earliest and yet largest stone temples to have been built in Kashmir. The temple is rectangular in plan, consisting of a Mandapa and a shrine. Two other shrines flank the Mandapa. It is enclosed by a vast courtyard by a peristyle wall with 84 secondary shrines in it. The columns of the peristyle are fluted. Each of the 84 niches originally contained an image of a form of Surya. The number 84, as 21x4, appears to have been derived from the numerical association of 21 with the sun."
 It is believed that the ‘Martand Sun Temple’ was adorned with high relief carvings of themes relating to the cult of sun worship. This temple is believed to be the result of the cross-currents flowing from Roman, Byzantine, Sasanian and late Gupta period. Unfortunately, like many temples, this 8th century marvel faced demolition during the rule of Sultan Sikander Butshikan (1394-1417 A.D. ) of Kashmir. The temple would have been as imposing as the Pyramids of Giza or the Acropolis of Athens had human hands not joined in its destruction. Lamenting on the destruction and demolition of the Martand Sun Temple,  the noted  Persian chronicler  ,Muhammad  Azam Dedamiri in his book  ‘Vaqaat i Kashmir’ writes, ‘The temple was destroyed during the reign of Sultan Sikander  Butshikan. It was packed with firewood and burnt down. It kept burning for a long time. Brahmins who lived there were thrown out. The remnants are extant to this day in the middle of the area. It is desolate now, its palaces all ruined and the whole place a sad reminder of  the glorious edifices of the ancient times.’  


Lalitaditya founded the township of Parihasapura  on a plateau near Srinagar city . This township had many  temples with  images of  Vishnu, Shiva, and Buddha. According to the verses, 136 to 216  from  Taranga fourth of Kalhana’s Rajtarangini ( R. S. Pandit ‘s translation ),  the temples in this township complex had images of Parihaskeshwa, Mukta Keshwa, and Goverdhanadhara all done in shining silver and gold with a Garuda ( an emblem of Vishnu ).  Further,Verses 201 and 202  from the fourth Taranga of Kalhana’s Rajtaringini explicitly mention that 84000 Tolas of gold were used for the statue of Mukta Keshwa and an equal silver by weight was used for the statue of Parihaskeshwa. The statue of Goverdhandhara was also cast in pure silver. The flattened walls and ruins of the Raj Vihara and the Buddhist Chaitya can be still identified on the ground.  

Kalhana writes that apart from Parihasapura, Lalitaditya established many cities and towns . These could be listed as under:-

Phala-pura. M. A. Stein has identified this place with near present-day Shadipura town in Kashmir.
Parnotsa. M. A. Stein has identified this place as present-day Poonch town.
Lokapunya. M. A. Stein has identified this place as present-day Lokabhavana town in the Kashmir valley.
Apart from this, Lalitaditya also built the Muktasvamin shrine at Hushkapura ( present-day Ushkur ). The shrine had many idols of Vishnu made of gold and silver. He also built a large Vihara with Stupa at Hushkapura (present day Ushkur ) . The remains of this Stupa and Shiva shrine have also been discovered by archaeologists. 

 Lalitaditya's queen, Kamalavati established Kamalhatta where she built a shrine that had idols of Kamala-Keshava. Kalhana mentions that Lalitaditya also built the present temple structures at Wangath and made huge offerings at the shrine. In Kashmir, some more ancient shrines, temples and Viharas are  also believed to have  been built during the rule of  Lalitaditya Muktapida.


Chach-nama also known as the Fateh-nama Sindh (story of the conquest of Sindh), and in Arabic as Tareekh al-Hind wa a's-Sind (History of India and Sindh) is one of the main sources for the history of Sindh in the seventh to eighth centuries C.E. Written in Arabic and later translated into Persian, the Chach-nama takes its name from Raja Chach of Sindh, whose son Raja Dahir stood against the Arabs under Mohammad bin Qasim. Chach-nama narrates the Arab incursions into Sindh of the 7th -8th centuries A.D. It chronicles the Chacha Dynasty's period up to the Arab conquest of Sindh by Muhammad bin Qasim in 8th  century A.D. A letter written by Raja Dahir of Sindh finds a place in Chach-nama. There is a passage in this letter that makes mention of King Lalitaditya of Kashmir. The particular passage reads this:-

" If I had sent against you the King of Kashmir on whose royal threshold the other rulers of Hind had placed their heads, who sways the whole of Hind, even the countries of Makran and Turan, whose chains a great many noblemen and grandees have willingly placed on their knees."

The king of Kashmir referred to here is none other than Lalitaditya.

  In her book  ‘ The Penguin History of  Early India ‘,  Romila Thapar writes this :-

“ Kashmir had come into prominence with Lalitaditya of the Karkota dynasty in the eighth century , and through gradual expansion and conquest it had come to control part of north-western India and the Punjab.Lalitaditya , ruling Kashmir in the eighth century , took his armies briefly into the Ganges Plain, and also stopped Arabs  forces from overrunning the Punjab.” 

Unfortunately, history books have ignored Kashmir’s glorious emperor  Lalitaditya Muktapida. He does not find proper and much-deserved space in our history books. Lalitaditya brought many skilled artisans , artists  philosophers and  scholars to Kashmir wherever he could find them.   The ancestors of Abhinavgupta , a renowned philosopher and Shiaivacharya,  came to Kashmir at the invitation of this illustrious king. Al-Biruni mentions a Kashmiri King Muttai having defeated Momin, the governor of Bukhara.  Muttai is most probably Lalitaditya Muktapida. Muttai appears to be the Apabhramsha form of the word  "Muktapida". 

I end this brief write up on Lalitaditya with lines from  the  poem ‘ History ‘  composed by well known Bulgarian poet , Nikola Vaptsarov. I quote some lines from the poem:-

“History, will you mention us
in your faded scroll?
For the hardship and affliction
we do not seek rewards,
nor do we want our pictures
  in the calendar of years.
 Just tell our story simply
  to those we shall not see,
  tell those who will replace us –
  We fought courageously. “

( Avtar Mota )

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