The ruins of Avantipur in Kashmir
A holiday in Kashmir is always filled with sunrises. You feast your eyes on pristine landscapes, on bright and cheerful flowers rivalling the colours of a rainbow, meandering streams, never ending stretches of meadows and snow kissed peaks bordered by alpine forests. The tall bare trees stand like sentinels watching over the region as we drive past. I am on the road drinking in every bit of scenery, intoxicated by its sheer beauty. Birds sing, the breeze brings with it the far away notes of their songs. I stop at almost curve and admire the view. Just when you think that it is an uninterrupted view of loveliness with orchards and fields and meadows, you see various aspects to this state. And one of them is a piece of history.
Our car comes to a standstill, somewhere in the middle of the highway. It has been raining quite a bit from morning and the skies are grey. But that does not deter us from stepping out to explore a bit .
We are in an ancient part of Kashmir, an erstwhile capital which is today in ruins. The highway is filled with dusty shops and all that remains of the old town are a couple of temples. The rains have taken a beating and the rays of the sun streams out from the clouds. I learn that I am in Awontipura or Avantipur, a town founded by Avantivarman, who founded the Utpala Dynasty in the 9th century. The settlement was once known as Viswasara.
Lying in ruins are a couple of temples – Avantishwar dedicated to Shiva and Avantiswami, dedicated to Vishnu, built within a kilometer of each other. Partially restored, these temples have lost a bit of their sheen, their erstwhile glory simply summarised on a simple ASI board. The kings often stopped by at these temples and in times of war with neighbouring rulers, the temples had been besieged several times.
The Avantishwar tempe is smaller, built by the king before he was crowned the king on the banks of the River Jhelum or Vatista as it was known then. The Avantiswami temple, a much bigger and a magnificent monument was apparently built when he ascended the throne. It is believed that the form of deity as Vaikunta Vishnu was found in this temple. The prakara had 69 cells dedicated to various deities. Local lore however says that the Vishnu temple came first and the Shiva temple was built after the king was persuaded to build one at the behest of his minister, a devotee.
The guide here tells us that the temple was inspired by the Gandharva style and while a central shrine was built in a spacious courtyard, four smaller shrines were built in the corners. A pillared mandapa stood in front of the shrine in the centre. Built in sandstone, the temple has been eroded over the period of time. A group of tourists stop by as the guide explains some of the elaborate carvings that decorate the walls. He adds that excavations made in both these temples have yielded several coins , some made of copper minted by various rulers of different dynasties.
I walk around the temples, taking in the sculptures. There is a sculpture representing the king himself. Several carvings representing demi gods and mythical creatures stand on the pillars.A small boy plays hide and seek with his father, standing behind a pillar. I lose myself in the beauty of the ruins and wonder how these temples were destroyed. The guide explains that they met their end when the Afghan ruler, Sultan Sikandar Butshikan invaded these parts of India in the 14th century and pulled the monuments down.
The skies starts greying as I leave the premises of both the temples. In our country which had several dynasties holding sway at different points of time, monuments like these are the only souvenirs left behind by the kings. While they speak of a glorious past, some of them today are ignored, and dilapidated lying in crumbles, waiting to tell their story, if somebody is willing to hear them. The rains come down as I wonder how much of history lies lost in these rubbles.
More stories on Kashmir