The Kashmir region became a very important center of Hindu Dharma since pre-historic times. Construction of beautiful temples dedicated to the different Hindu deities started during the reign of many Hindu Kings until the 13th century. Most of these ancient temples are dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Since the 9th Century, Shaivism has become one of the widely followed and practiced sects in Kashmir. Islamic rulers invaded and ruled Kashmir from the 13th to the 15th century, which led to the eventual decline of Shaivism in Kashmir.
Ancient Hindu Temples in Kashmir
The architectural achievements of the previous civilizations were not completely lost. While some of those temples can be witnessed as ruins, few are functional.
1. Shankaracharya temple
Shankaracharya temple is located on the Shankaracharya hill in Srinagar, at an altitude of 1100 ft. above the surface level of the main city. As written the books of Kalhana, it was built by Raja Gopadatya in 371 B.C.E; during those times, the temple was known as Gopadri.
The great saint Adiguru Shankaracharya stayed here when he visited Kashmir to revive Sanatan Dharma early in the 8th century. This perhaps led to the renaming of the temple as Shankaracharya Temple. Shankaracharya was also instrumental in popularizing the worship of Lord Shiva in Jammu and Kashmir.
It is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is the oldest shrine in Kashmir. After constructing stairs to the temple by the Dogra ruler, Maharaja Gulab Singh, the accessibility has become quite feasible.
Besides being a prominent religious place for Hindus, the temple is also of great archaeological importance. The temple offers a magnificent panoramic view of the Srinagar city. The temple is easily accessible from the city by regular buses from Srinagar. To ensure a comfortable journey, one can opt for taxis that are readily available throughout the city.
2. Martand Temple
Martand (Sun God) Temple was built by the third ruler of the Karkota Dynasty, Lalitaditya Muktapida, in the 8th century CE. It is said to have been built during 725-756 CE., dedicated to Sun God (the chief solar deity in Hinduism). The temple’s foundation is said to have been around since 370-500 CE, with some attributing the construction of the temple to have begun with Ranaditya.
The temple was destroyed on the orders of Muslim ruler Sikandar Butshikan in the early 15th century, with demolition lasting a year. Now in ruins, the temple is located five miles from Anantnag in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir.
3. Pandrethan temple
Pandrethan temple, locally known as ‘Paani Mandir,’ is about 5 km from Srinagar. This ancient temple was said to be built around 921 AD and is a great example of Kashmiri temple architecture. Pandrethan Temple was built by Meru Vardhana (minister to King Partha, who ruled Kashmir from 921-931 AD) and is dedicated to Lord Vishnu. The temple is surrounded by a pond and is known for the geometry and symmetry used in the temple’s construction.
4. Payar temple
Payar temple (dedicated to Lord Shiva), dated 11th century CE, is located 12 km west of Avantipur in the village of Payar. The village in the Pulwama district lies some 45 km (28 miles) from Srinagar.
The temple comprises ten stones that are well preserved with great architectural and sculptural glory. However, the shrine is open all along the four sides and consists of a double pyramidal roof with triangular pediments on all the four sides enclosing a trefoil arch. The eastern trefoil niche is engraved with an image of Lakulisa, who is seated Cross-legged on a wicker seat.
5. Sankara Guruvaram (Sugandesha) temple
Sankara Guruvaram (Sugandesha) temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is located in Patan near Baramulla. The temple was built by Shankaravarman of Kashmir, who ruled between 883 and 902 AD. His father, Avantivarman had established the Utpala dynasty, and after his death in 883, his son succeeded him. He built the temple in his capital city, then known as Shankarapattana, the present-day Patan, 27 kilometers (17 mi) away from Srinagar city, the capital of Jammu and Kashmir. The temple is in a dilapidated condition, and worship is no longer conducted.
It is built in style similar to the Shankaracharya Temple. It is listed as one of the more than 15 important temples to promote tourism in the state of Jammu and Kashmir.
6. Naranag Temple
Naranag Temple is one of the important archaeological sites in the country. Naranag, a group of temples, is situated in the lap of Harmukh Mountain about 50 kilometers (31 mi) from Srinagar city and 6 km upstream from the Sindh river. The site consists of a cluster of temples facing each other at about 100 meters (330 ft).
Historians say that the temple is dedicated to Lord Shiva by the 8th-century ruler Lalithdatiya Muktadiya of the Kayastha Naga Karkota dynasty. It is believed that King Awantivarman paid a visit and donated a pedestal for bathing at Bhutsher. Even today, one gets surprised by the art and skill of the builders of this temple. Its impressive architecture reveals the glorious past, the magnificent art of the 8th century.
The government has only recently constructed walls to protect it from encroachments, and nothing else has been done. It is now left in ruins of which only faint traces have survived. This temple has the typical Aryan structure as was present in Aryan Kashmir.
It is also believed to be dedicated to the ancient Nagas. Hence, the name “Naranag.” It was built by the Naga Karkotas, who are said to be Hindu Kashmiri Kayasthas of the Naga sect, known for their reverence of serpents. They used to stay here and do their sadhanas
7. Avantiswami (Avantipur) Temple
Avantiswami (Avantipur) Temple is in Pulwama district, and it’s from 30-km southeast of Srinagar. This Vaishnava temple was built by King Avantivarman (between 855 and 883 AD.). The king constructed two other temples near the main shrine.
At Avantipura itself, King Avantivarman erected two magnificent temples, one dedicated to Lord Vishnu called Avantisvamin and the other to Lord Siva called Avantisvara, the former built before his succession to the throne and the latter obtaining sovereignty. These temples witnessed mass destruction during medieval times and were reduced to ruins.
The smaller one is dedicated to Lord Shiva and is still in daily use. The other, Avantiswami Temple, now in ruins, was a famous Vishnu Temple. Both the temples show an outward appearance of Greek architecture.
8. Mamaleshwar Temple
Mamaleshwar Temple is one of the most ancient temples in Pahalgam, with its history dating back to the 12th century. Built by King Jayasimha on the right bank of River Lidder, this temple is devoted to Lord Shiva. The temple is elevated at the height of 8800 ft above sea level.
This was dedicated to Lord Shiva and was called Mamalishwara. It is said that Lord Ganesh was placed as a doorkeeper not to allow anyone to enter the temple without his permission. So it was called Mam Mal – Don’t go. There is a priest to look after the temple. In summer, the place is regularly visited by the populace of Pahalgam.
9. Loduv Temple
Loduv Temple is located on a hillock in the Loduv village. It’s an ancient temple dating back to the 8th century. It is about 4 miles away from Barus in Srinagar District, Jammu, and Kashmir. There is a water drain on the side used for temple services. In the past, a tank was placed in the center of the temple.
10. Narastan Mandir
Narastan Mandir, now in ruins, lies in the North-East of Avantipora, 16 km from Tral town towards the famous Aripal. The place of Narastan is famous for its ancient temple dedicated to Lord Sri Vishnu, standing against the backdrop of lofty mountains of the Brariaangan Range. The name Narastan is the deviation from the original Narayan Sthan (place of Narayan). Dating back to more than 1400 years.
The temple cell measured 8 feet 6 inches internally and contained a Shiv Linga. This ancient holy shrine was destroyed by the invader Sikander Butshi’kan, an Islamic fanatic who was a descendant of a Sufi named Shah Mir from Iran.
11. Sharda Temple
Sharda Temple is located in Neelam (Kishanganga) valley just beyond the line of control in Pakistan occupied Kashmir. The temple is located in a small village called Shardi near the confluence of the Kishanganga and Madhumati rivers. It is said that it is one of the three famous holy sites for Kashmiri Pandits; the others are Martand Sun Temple in Anantnag and the Amarnath Temple. Do you know about Sharada Peeth, when it was established, who established it, is Sharada Peeth was a university, etc.
Sharada temple is also regarded as a Shakti Peeth, a shrine built on places where body parts of Devi Sati had fallen while being carried by her husband, Lord Shiva. Therefore, it is one of 18 Maha Shakti Peethas or Grand Shakti Peethas, a highly revered temple throughout South Asia.