An 1100-year old ancient temple that lies in ruins

Discover Kashmir’s Avantiswami temple…

You’re driving southeast of Srinagar on the road to  Jammu, silently applauding the unmatched spectacle of nature. Towering mountains, frothy streams, leafy canopies, juicy apple orchards and golden haystack fields…paradise has a permanent home in this blessed valley. An hour and 30 kilometers later, you arrive at your destination on the right bank of Jhelum river. Here stands a huge pit, at least 20 feet deep. The skirting of a modest row of tin-roof houses against a wallpaper of the lofty Himalayas is incongruously striking. But its not a pit…its a 1913-dig of crumbling ruins. Fragments of a broken puzzle from the recesses of the past, which only an imaginative eye can piece together.

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Courtesy: Wikipedia

Renowned 12th-century Sanskrit scholar and Kashmiri poet, Kalhan would have vouched for the original grandeur of the site of the majestic Avantiswamin Temple. Apart from Avantivarman (855 – 883 AD) himself, the first king of the Utpala dynasty, who founded the city of Avantipura as a capital of Kashmir and built this massive temple in honour of Lord Vishnu. But the ancient, monumental architectural wonder was ill-fated. Battles against massive earthquakes, destruction by 14th-century Afghan crusader Sultan Sikandar Butshikan and repeated floods…one unanticipated disaster after another was on the cards.

Avantiswamin, Srinagar 1

Sweet incense once perfumed this air. Soul-stirring Vedic chants echoed in the holy atmosphere. A glorious deity graced the precious sanctum sanctorum. A venerable priest commanded over the proceedings. And throngs of ardent worshippers walked barefoot in search of solace on these solid stones. But what was once a holy, revered house of God is now a lonely, desolate archeological monument. Centuries later, artistic finesse still clings to the chipped sculpture and engineering marvel still clutches at the shaved-off masonry. Defying the cruel ravages of time.

Standing on the gravelly path that leads inside, instinct is enough to confirm how brilliant an example of Indian temple architecture this was, once upon a time. The imposing Praveshdwara (gateway) well justifies the impressive scale of the main shrine, which stands on a massive, raised platform…over 50 square feet wide and 10 feet high. Two sets of staircases, front and back and four small shrines at four corners complete the grace of the design. You try to imagine the central sanctum…it has almost disappeared over the centuries. All that left is an empty space, resounding with silence.

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Avantiswamin, Srinagar 2

Get microscopic and discover how Gandhara meets Greek in Avantiswami. Gandhara School of Art, which flourished in the Indian subcontinent during 1st to 5th century BC, was a result of the culmination of Greco-Roman, Chinese, Iranian and Indian art forms. Its main theme was Lord Buddha and Bodhisattvas. Apparently, Gandhara art influenced Kashmiri temple architecture too and the evidence is clearly laid out in Avantiswami. Observe the large stone-paved rectangular courtyard enclosing the main shrine…it has a colonnade of 69 cells. Each cell (resembling Buddhist Viharas) stand on a raised base and looks like a small temple in itself. There must have been small deities in each of these. A layout very typical of Gandharan-Buddhist monasteries. The columns in front of the cells are almost Doric in shape. The Greek touch is distinctive in the intricate geometrical, floral and bird motifs. What a fascinating interplay of cultures…their world was more probably more global than ours! They flew much higher, even without the wings of communication and technology.

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Avantiswamin, Srinagar 8

From your elevated position on top of the oversized flight of steps, visually recreate those broken pillars, using an imaginary dotted line to the skies. Mammoth slabs of stone lie scattered all over the courtyard, as if the construction team had fled in sudden haste. A fleeting glimpse of the ancient Delphi temple in Greece? A one-legged demi-god vainly flaunts his stature despite the odds. Mythical creatures peek from cracked reliefs. An elephant fights a giant horned bird with ferocity. A divine eagle proudly adorns an emblem. Pretty rosette motifs add elegance to the roughness of the stone slabs.

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And as you pan around for one last look, you notice the refined sculpture of six-armed Kamadeva (God of love) with two bejewelled consorts on the northern wall of the Adhisthana. Fine Kashmiri artistry reflects in his long garland, bow and floral-arrows. Your head inclines and you purse your lips in admiration. Avantiswami Temple may be broken in structure, but not in spirit. 1100 years later, its splendour has survived.

 

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Discover Kashmir's 1100 year old Avantiswami temple

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69 thoughts on “An 1100-year old ancient temple that lies in ruins

  1. What a beautiful temple even if it is still in ruins. It’s fascinating that this temple has had so many architectural and design influences from many great countries and genres, I would have love to just picture what some of the key details would look like.

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  2. I can’t believe how much variety this town has. It would be worth the trip for the ruins alone, but the scenery is so beautiful. If only I could reach those apples…:)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. What an amazing place. When I first scanned through I did wonder if it was in Greece or was part of the Greek Empire – but no, in India – with an ancient architecture influenced by the Greeks. Fascinating stuff – I hope it is carefully maintained!

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  4. Great information you have here. To be honest, I associate Kashmir with only natural beauty and apple orchards and mountains and valleys. I have heard of impressive mosques and sites in and around Srinagar. But an ancient temple ruin is new information to me.

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  5. I love visiting ruins & archaeological sites like this, so we can get a glimpse of what it was like so many years ago. It is also fascinating to see how these magnificent temples fell – you can’t do much against the will of nature with earthquakes and floods!

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  6. Wow, the Avantiswamin Temple looks so interesting. I love the way you describe what it would have been like back in its hey-day – breathing life back into the ruins so-to-speak. 1100 years on, and it is actually in amazing shape – still being able to see the floral and bird motifs amongst the ruins, now that is amazing!

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  7. Wow- so beautiful. There is nothing better than being able to walk through an ancient space where so many have walked centuries before. Your description brings it all back to life for me and your photos are breathtaking.

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  8. This post is just so beautiful. Those majestic lonely ruins sound as though they were really something spectacular in their glory. The meaning these ruins had and what love was among their walls is truly magnificent and even though it’s in ruins it really is still quite beautiful. I really hope to get there to witness it myself one day

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  9. I absolutely love visiting dilapidated ruins like these and try to piece together what they looked like once upon a time. It is awe-inspiring to walk in the places where the ancients walked and think about what their lives were like so many years ago. It seems like a puzzle that you are trying to put together or a mystery that you are trying to solve. What a great experience for you that you were able to recreate here with words and pictures.

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  10. I visited Kashmir and this temple a few years ago. At that time not many people know about this temple. It was a surreal experience to walk through the ruins. I can only imagine how spectacular it would have been in its hay days.

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  11. I love learning about ruins like these- there is a story behind every side. It is so important to preserve them. India is full of cultural sites and it always touches my heart to think of all those who suffered there

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  12. While backpacking across Kashmir, I learned about the existence of this temple along with Martand sun temple, but till then I was already low on time and had to skip it sadly. Will do it on my next visit.

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  13. Avantivarman Temple ruins sounds and looks so intriguing to me. I can’t believe it was created as far back as 855 – 883 AD that is just amazing, I can only imagine what it looked like in its grand form. I definitely adding to my bucketlist when I am back that way

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  14. 1100 that is really old. There are not that many things in the world that preserved so well up to our days. Now, because of you I know one more sot like this.

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  15. Ruins are always so interesting to explore – while walking through some of them, there’s almost a palpable feeling of being in the presence of the past, and it sounds like that’s the experience you had here. Beautiful ruins, and lovely writeup 🙂

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  16. Last year, I saw same type of ruins in Athens and all over Greece. But as you say this 1100 year old temple has connection with Greek and Gandhara confluence, I can see the similarity in structure. I loved the ruins with spectacular surroundings. Preservation of these ancient structures and presenting them to world to know about our roots is very great thing to do.

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  17. I love ruins and we have quite a lot of them here in Ireland. You really make me feel like like I’m right there walking around the ruin. It’s wonderful that there are still remnants of the temple to see.

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      1. It most certainly would Punita 😊 Is there an organization that cares for historical buildings and archaeological sites in India?

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  18. What a rich history and those are the remains after much already happened. Disaster after disaster. It’s amazing that the ruins are still preserved and that much was still left after centuries.

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  19. Woah.. This is so near to Srinagar and I never knew of it. Avantiswamin temple seems to have such a rich history and I am amazed it is maintained so well. I loved the way you have collected so much of information and have wrote such a beautiful detailed write up. Great architecture and superb clicks. Thanks for sharing this.

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