Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Martand as described by Sir Alexander Cunningham

 I  mentioned writings of Alexander Cunningham in a previous post about Pandav lar'rey (House of Pandas, as Martand temple was common known among Pandits).

British archaeologist Alexander Cunningham (1814-93), as a young British Army Engineer officer was stationed in Kashmir after the first Sikh War of 1845-1846. In November 1847, he measured and studied most of the ancient structures that existed in Kashmir. Because of his pioneering work he came to be known as the father of Indian Archaeology.

I recently came across some more extracts from his work 'An Essay on the Arian Order of Architecture, as exhibited in the Temples of Kashmir (1848) ' while reading 'Letters from India and Kashmir' by J. Duguid, 1870. Here are the extracts describing Martand temple and its illustrations from the book:

From Shadipore by water, passing through Srinuggur, a three days' journey brings you to Islamabad, near which are the ruins of Marttand. A series of steppes, called karayas, are a feature in the conformation of the valley, which is believed by competent judges to have once been a lake, and these table-lands its surrounding shores. The slow results of time, or a sudden convulsion of nature, forced a passage for the waters through the Baramula pass, and thus rapidly, or gradually, drained it of all but the eternal springs, sources of its existing lakes and rivers. In after periods of those remote ages when Kashmir flourished, these places became favourite sites for the erection of temples, the most celebrated of which, both in extent and splendour, was that of Marttand, dedicated to the sun. Instead of my incomplete description I now insert that of General (then Captain) Cunningham in his work on " The Arian Order of Architecture"  :-

" The temple consists of one lofty central edifice with a small detached wing on each side of the entrance, the whole standing in a large quadrangle surrounded by a colonnade of fluted pillars, with intervening trefoil-headed recesses. The central building is 63 feet in length, by 36 feet in width at the eastern end, and only 27 feet at the western or entrance end.

" It contains three distinct chambers, of which the outermost one, named Arddha Mandapa, or the half-temple, answering to the front porch of the classical fanes, is 18 feet square. The middle one, called Antarala, or mid-temple, corresponding to the pronaos of the Greek, is 18 feet by 4 1/2 ; and the innermost one, named Oorbha Griho, or " womb of the edifice," the naos of the Greeks, and the cella of the Romans, is 18 feet by 3 1/2.

" The first and middle chambers are decorated, bat the inner is perfectly plain and closed on three sides. The walls are 9 feet thick, and its entrance-chamber only 4 1/2 feet thick, being respectively one-half and one-fourth of the interior width of the building.

" On each side of the porch, flush with the entrance wall to the westward, and with the outer walls, the northward and southward, is a detached building or wing, 18 feet long by 13 1/2 broad, with a passage 4 1/2 feet wide, between it and the wall of the entrance chamber.

" The width of the passage between these wings being exactly one-third of that of the wing itself, the roof which covered the two would have been an exact square, the form required as the basis of the pyramidal roof of the Kashmerian architecture.


" Within, the chamber had a doorway at each side, covered by a pediment with a trefoil-headed niche, containing a bust of the Hindu triad.

" This representation was itself only another symbol of the Sun, who was Brahma, or the Creator, at morn, Vishnu, or the Preserver, at noon, Siva, or the Destroyer, at even.

" The chamber was lighted during the day by semicircular openings over the closed doorways on the three sides, but in the evening, as the entrance was to the westward, the image of the
glorious sun was illumined by his own setting beams.


" The temple is enclosed by a pillared quadrangle 220 feet in length by 142 feet in breadth, containing 84 fluted columns. This number the Chourasi (84) of the Hindus is especially emblematic of the sun, as it is the multiple of the twelve mansions of the ecliptic (typified by 12 spokes in his chariot -wheel) through which he is carried by his seven steeds in one year ; or it is the product of his seven rays multiplied by the twelve signs of the Zodiac. The 84 pillars are therefore most probably intended for that number of solar rays. Thus, even the colonnade is made typical of the deity to whom the temple is consecrated.

" It overlooks the finest view in Kashmir, and perhaps in the known world. Beneath it lies the Paradise of the East, with its sacred streams and cedarn glens, its brown orchards and green fields, surrounded on all sides by vast snowy mountains, whose lofty peaks seem to smile upon the beautiful valley below. The vast extent of the scene makes it sublime, for this magnificent view of Kashmir is no pretty peep into a half-mile glen ; but the full display of a valley 60 miles in breadth, and upwards of 100 miles in length, the whole of which lies beneath the ken of the wonderful Marttand."

A stream of water passed through the quadrangle, and is supposed to have been filled on ceremonial occasions. From General Cunningham's description, Mr. Sulmann, an artist who has given much attention to the study of Indian architecture, produced the accompanying drawing, which may very closely represent the temple in its former glory.
Martand, as it must have been
From Marttand a short walk leads to the sacred springs and grove of Barwun on the plain at the base of the karaya. Seated near the tank a group of Hindoos surrounded a calf, which a priest, grasping the tail, poured water over, and prayed. He was consecrating it, to become a sacred bull in after-life. This operation completed, the calf walked off, and the priest with the devotees knelt beside the water. Before them was a tin platter of roasted maize, and continuing to drone in a loud voice not unlike a presbyterian preacher, they threw handfuls of the corn into the water, at which the fish rose on all sides. But when the prayer was ended and the remainder of the corn was thrown in at once, a hill of fish rushed at it, many supported above the water by the shoal of their companions below.

" Angler, wouldst thou be guiltless ? then forbear, For these are sacred fishes that swim here."

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Read complete An Essay on the Arian Order of Architecture, as exhibited in the Temples of Kashmir (1848) here:

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