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India steps up campaign with UNESCO to list four historic Kashmir temples as World Heritage sites

Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen singing 'Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi Shikwa Tou Nahiin, Shikwa Nahiin' with sun temple Martand in the background

The Indian millennials are thrilled over the protagonist Haider choreographing a Shakespearean sequence in the super hit ‘Bismil’ on a dance floor in the foreground of an ancient temple. In the Bollywood adaptation of Hamlet created by Vishal Bhardwaj in 2014, Shahid Kapoor plays Prince Hamlet, Tabu is Gertrude and Kay Kay Menon Cladius. In the devil’s dance sequence, Haider unfolds his delusion to uncle Khurram Mir (Menon) and tells him how he got his father Dr Hilal Mir (Narendra Jha, King Hamlet) killed by army only to get his charming mother Ghazala Mir (Tabu) into a nuptial knot.

And parents of the millennials nourish indelible memories of Sanjeev Kumar and Suchitra Sen singing “Tere Bina Zindagi Se Koi Shikwa Tou Nahiin, Shikwa Nahiin” with the same temple in the background. That Kishore Kumar- Lata Mangeshkar duet was from ‘Aandhi’, directed by Gulzar, in 1975. Five years before, in 1970, Dharmendra and Waheeda Rehman performed ‘Chala Bhii Aa Aaja Rasiya’ in Raghunath Jhalani’s ‘Man ki Aankhen’ at exactly the same location.

All of the above iconic sequences have been shot at Kashmir’s famous sun temple Martand, not far from the township of Mattan in Anantnag district. Martand, like Parihaspur near Pattan in northern Kashmir’s Baramulla district lies in ruins. The good news is that the National Monuments Authority (NMA) of the Government of India has now taken upon itself the responsibility of getting four of Kashmir’s historic, monumental sites—including Martand and Parihaspur—incorporated in the list of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

Chairman of NMA Tarun Vijay, who is physically challenged and moves in a wheelchair, has lately conducted a detailed survey of important Hindu and Buddhist monument sites in Kashmir in collaboration with the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Directorate of Archives, Archaeology and Museums, Government of Jammu and Kashmir. He had an extensive tour of the Hindu and Buddhist temples and monument sites like Rainawari, Martand Temple, Awantipora, Harvan Buddhist site, Parihaspura Pattan, Naranag group of temples and other sites in Srinagar including Shri Pratap Singh Museum.

Tarun Vijay said this first of its kind exercise in the Kashmir valley was result of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision to revive and restore the cultural glory of J&K while promoting the spirit of ‘Ek Bharat, Shreshtha Bharat’. He said that NMA was preparing a well-crafted plan to achieve the UNESCO World Heritage Site status to some of the forlorn monuments in the Union Territory. His top priority is Martand, Parihaspur, Naranag and Harwan.

“Jammu and Kashmir are sitting on a treasure of world class heritage sites and the NMA will work hand in hand with J&K Government and ASI to ensure that these sites are taken up in tentative list of World Heritage sites and consequently into UNESCO list of the World Heritage sites,” the NMA chairman asserted. He complimented Deputy Commissioner, Srinagar, Aijaz Assad, for initiating the renovation process of Vicharnag Temple.

While acknowledging the work of ASI, Vijay said that more than 19 cases of encroachment and violation of law had been registered by the ASI against the encroachers in Naranag, Kangan, in Ganderbal district. During his survey of Rainawari’s ancient Vitaal Bhairav Temple, Vijay emphasised on incorporation of the temple sites in the ASI and UNESCO lists.

Martand Sun Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to Surya (the chief solar deity in Hinduism) and built during the 8th century CE. Martand is a Sanskrit synonym for Surya. It was built by the third ruler of the Karkota Dynasty, Lalitaditya Muktapida, during 725-756 CE. The temple was built on top of a plateau from where one could view the whole of the Kashmir Valley. For centuries it was an excellent specimen of Kashmiri architecture, which blended the Gandharan, Gupta and Chinese forms of architecture.

The temple has a colonnaded courtyard, with its primary shrine in its centre and surrounded by 84 smaller shrines, stretching to be 220 foot long and 142 foot broad. In accordance with the Hindu temple architecture, the primary entrance to the temple is situated in the western side of the quadrangle and is the same width as the temple itself, creating grandeur. The entrance is highly reflective of the temple as a whole due to its elaborate decoration and allusion to the deities worshiped inside.

The primary shrine is located in a centralised structure that is thought to have had a pyramidal top—a common feature of the temples in Kashmir. Various wall carvings in the antechamber of the temple properly depict other gods, such as Vishnu, and river goddesses, such as Ganga and Yamuna, in addition to the sun-god Surya.

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).

Parihaspur was a small town 22 kilometres northwest of Srinagar. It was raised by Lalitaditya Muktapida (695–731) of the Karkota dynasty as the capital of his Kashmir kingdom. The 12th century Kashmiri historian Kalhana mentions the construction of the city in the 4th volume of Rajatanrangini.

Lalitaditya, according to Kalhana, built his residence and four temples at Parihaspur, also known as Paraspore. The temples included one for Vishnu (Muktakeshi) where, according to Kalhana, the emperor used 84,000 tolas (840 kg) of gold to make the image of Vishnu. In another temple he used as many Palas of silver for the image of Parihaskesana. He also had made a statue of Buddha in copper that according to Kalhana "reached up to the sky." The main temple was larger than the famous temple that Lalitaditya built in Martand.

Parihaspur lost its status as a capital after Lalitaditya's death. His son abandoned it as the royal seat of power. The Jhelum River is to the northeast of Parihaspur as it meets the Sindh Nallah at Shadipur Sangham. In the past this confluence of the Jhelum and the Sindh occurred closer to Parihaspur. The change in the course of the river is not natural but was engineered by the legendary courtier Soya Pandit during Raja Avanti Varman's time (855–883 AD).

Parihaspur suffered damage when Avanti Varman's son Shankar Varman moved his capital to the new city of Shankarpur. Kalhana says he cannibalized all the good material from these temples and palaces to build his city of Shankarpur (Pattan). Parihaspur however survived the pillage because Kalhana mentions that during the war between King Harsha and Uccala (1089–1101 AD), Uccala took refuge in Parihaspur.

Believing that Uccala was hiding in one of the buildings,  King Harsha set the place on fire. He broke and melted down the statues of Parihaspur. Only ruins in the form of large boulders, some ornately carved, and in-situ carved footings are left of the old city now and the place is commonly known as "Kani Shahar" (City of Stones).

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