Above is an artists drawing of the ancient Martand temple, built over a thousand years ago as an offering to the Sun God Surya. Martand is a name for Surya, the great personality behind the Sun. This “Marta” we find in words such as “mortal” and “mortuary” and which means “death” the “Anda” means “darkness” its name expressing Surya as he sinks below the horizon ushering in the night.
The temple was built upon a hill with a view of the entire valley. Kashmir is well known for its beauty and originally the temple was surrounded by a crystal clear lake. Generations of Kashmiris worshipped Martand upon this alter, the temple was the heart of the Kashmiri civilisation and their spiritual and material prosperity was seen as intimately connected to the worship of this deity.
The pandits of Kashmir also called the temple the “Kaurau Pandau” which was dedicated to the Kauravas and Pandavas of the Mahabharata. Sir Francis Younghusband commented “Martand has a very high place in the worlds great archetectural designs, it is an example of not only the Kashmiri architectural skill but it has the pride of being built at a fine spot which is prettier than the places where the “Taj Mahal” and “St Peters” were built. It gives an insight into the greatness of the people of Kashmir”.
The architect was a great Ksatriya warrior known as King Lalitaditya, a powerful ruler of the Karkota empire which flourished throughout Kasmir for some 400 years, between 625 and 1003 AD. Renown as a great builder he constructed many temples to Lord Siva and Lord Visnu, his yearnings to create a monument of lasting beauty produced a vision, a temple complex of unparalelled excellence and so he began the construction of the great Martand temple in Kashmir.
Kashmirian architecture flourished during his reign. In the words of British architect and scholar, Sir Alexander Cunningham “The architectural remains of Kashmir are perhaps the most remarkable of the existing monuments of India.” The design also reflected Greek architecture, and is sculpted from blue limestone. The lofty pyramidal roofs, trefoiled doorways and the great width of the intervening columns all show a unique architectural style, quite distinct from rest of the Indian architecture of that period.
The Martand temple is an amazing example of the great craftsmanship of the Kashmiris. The 6 – 8 feet limestone blocks were brought manually to the temple area after being delivered ashore on boats. Bereft of any modern tools and technological know how, the architects built this magnificent structure. The temple was designed in a unique way so that the sunlight would fall upon the Sun God Surya throughout the day and the various wall carvings leading to the temple depict “Visnu” “Gangadevi” and “Yamunadevi”. At present, only the plinth and few pillars survive but the beautiful facade, rich panellings and intricate stone carvings describe the expertise of the craftsmen of a bygone era.
The temple resides in Anantnag, an ancient city of Kashmir which has been inhabited for at least 5000 years. A Sanskrit name, the “Ananta” meaning “endless” “boundless” and the “Naga” meaning “snake” “serpent”, its name is immortalised in the tenth chapter of the Bhagavad Gita
“Of the celestial naga snakes i am Ananta, of the aquatic deities i am Varuna, of departed ancestors i am Ayama and amongst dispensors of law i am Yama the Lord of death” Gita 10.29
Throughout the region of Anantnag are names which express the ancient Vedic culture which once flourished “Nagabal” “Maliknag” “Kadipora” “Sarnal Bala” “Janglatmandi” “Khanabal” “Anchidora” “Harnag” “Hutmara” “Ruhu” “Ashajipora”.
Nearby is the famous Sheshnag lake, its name is “Shesha” which means “remains” and “Naga” which means “snake” the meaning is that “Sesa” is the celestial snake which “remains” after the universe has been annihilated. There is also the famous Amarnath cave, seen as a holy shrine which houses a Siva lingam formed by a stalagmite. One stalagmite represents Lord Siva, another Parvatti and the other is Ganesh. The name “Amarnath” means “the immortal lord” the “Amara” meaning “immortal” and the “Natha” which we see in “Jagganatha” and “Somanath” means “lord” “master”.
The name of Kashmir comes from the great Vedic sage Kashyapa Muni. His wife was Aditi and in the tenth chapter of the Rig Veda the God Martand is mentioned as the child of Aditi
“Eight are the sons of Aditi from whom their bodies sprang to life. With seven she went to meet the Gods casting Martanda far away. So with her seven sons Aditi went forth to meet an earlier age. She brought Martanda towards that place to spring to life and to die again”
The temple was completely destroyed on the orders of the Muslim ruler Sikandar Butshikan in the early 15th century, it took them over a year to destroy what had been lovingly created as a glorification to the life giving Sun, without which, all life would cease to exist.