Located far from the prying eyes and on top of a plateau with stunning views lies the Martand Sun Temple - one of the most stunning architectural marvels in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. Dedicated to Sun god, it is one of the three large temples dedicated to Sun god, the other being Konark in Odisha and Modhera in Gujarat. None of the temples are in use now.
"You see, I used to be a terrorist before this."
Yasin (name changed) said it with so much ease that I was shocked for a few seconds and couldn't say a word. I was unsure if he was pulling my leg or telling me a genuine tale.
Only moments ago I had gotten down from the ST bus from Islamabad (Anantnag) to the small town of Matan (derived from Martand). It was my first (and possibly the last) trip to the town, and I was not quite sure who to ask about the temple. The town looked deserted but soon an auto-rickshaw guy (Yasin) saw me and came by. I clearly looked like a traveller with my huge backpack, even though many in the state often took me to be a Kashmiri.
Forever apprehensive, I told him that I wanted to go to Martand Sun Temple and if he could show me the way. He smiled and said it would be difficult to go walking. It was only a few kilometres away but the sun was already strong and my bag looked big. Curiously I don't quite remember how much he charged me, but it sounded like a good deal, and I readily agreed.
Coming back to his deceleration about being an ex-terrorist, I wasn't at all sure if it was alright to probe deeper and ask him for more details. I really wanted to, but caution was also important. Only a few days back on another temple exploration at Ladhoo temple near Srinagar, I was apprehended by the army and scolded rather badly. I decided to be less ambitious with my questions and moved on to ask about the ruins.
In about ten minutes or so we reached the top of the small hill. I was already happy that I had decided not hike but took an auto instead. The ASI board outside the temple complex was in a bad state and clearly needed replacement. There was simply no one around except a few guards. They saw my camera and told me it was strictly prohibited to take pictures here. However, once inside I had no one stopping me from clicking the pictures. I even made a few short videos, though both the pictures and the videos are lost now.
The temple is majestic even in ruins. As you stand right in the front, there main temple perfectly aligns with a mountain rising right behind it. I was lucky to be all by myself there though I do wish I had someone with me who knew the place well. Something similar to how I got to explore Sirpur (insert link) with the man who actually excavated the place and discovered the old town.
To understand the current state of these temples better, let's do a quick recap about Kashmir when it was a Hindu and then a Buddhist state. Kashmir is lucky to have had a great man, Kalhana, who wrote the entire history of Kashmir in his renowned magnum opus - Rajtarangini.
The temple is believed to have been built by the liberal king Lalitaditya-Muktapida in the 8th century AD. The architecture is distinctly Kashmiri which is different from temples built in the rest of India at that time (for instance Kailasa Temple built around the same time). The temple has distinct Roman-Bazantine features and it's believed that they came to Kashmir from Gandhara.
It received patronage under different kings and continued to flourish. This, however, changed when Sikandar became the Sultan and quickly earned the title of Butshikan (idol-breaker). Under his reign every single Hindu and a Buddhist temple in Kashmir was broken down and idols destroyed. It is believed that piles of timber were heaped inside the temple and then they were set on fire. The annihilation was so complete that only one temple from that era exists today with a roof. It was a much smaller temple and maybe that's why escaped the fury of Sultan Sikandar.
Being one of the largest temple complex in the state, it met the same fate and was forever abandoned after that. However, distance from the capital city, Srinagar, helped in the preservation of ruins.