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Monday, October 8, 2012

Avantipur (Kashmir)

We were actually heading to Pahalgam but as we had instructed, our driver stopped the vehicle in front of the Avantipur temple ruins which were on the way. In one of my earlier posts, I had mentioned about a visit to this place which is around 30 kilometres South East of Srinagar and the attraction being the ruins of a 9th century temple. My friends were intrigued for they had known about one Avanti in central India, sometimes misunderstood as being the ancient name of Ujjain. On the lines of the Greek city states, India during its classical age had 16 republics known as Mahajanapadas known to us through ancient literature and religious texts. Avanti or Avantika was one such region. One of its capitals was Ujjain or Ujjaini.  Avantipur on the other hand was once a capital of Kashmir.

The imposing ruined structure was before us. A watchman posted there advised to procure tickets from the counter at the left. We obeyed the instructions and found a Sardarji (Sikh gentleman) sitting there. There was a notice board which contained the entry fee payable. Additional levies were prescribed for  still cameras and video cameras. Before I could tender the cash, Sardarji enquired “yes sir, where are you from”. We told them that we are tourists and are interested in taking some photographs. His next anxiety was to learn about me as to my vocation and if I am employed. I said I am no more in service and casually (or may be to establish my credibility) told him that I am an amateur archaeologist. Perhaps my words were music to him as he instantly said Sir, you need not buy any tickets. For you it is free. I apprised him that we are in all 10 to which he countered, so what?. My next query was what about the cameras we are carrying. He said in a typical Punjabi tone “who prevents you”. Thereafter I called in all the people who were still tied to their seats in the vehicles.

During the 12th century there lived a highly learned sanskrit scholar and poet in Kashmir whose name was Kalhan. He was the author of a work known as Rajatarangini (a history of ruling dynasties). He states that Raja Avantivarman (855 – 883 AD) of the Utpala dynasty founded the city of Avantipura in an area known as Vishwaiksara  where Hindus performed religious rites for the salvation of their dead. The jhelam river (ancient name Vitasta)  was also nearby. Such a presence of a water body is not only ideal, is also necessary for the religious rites. We could infer that the place was considered to be a holy one much before the establishment of a City named Avantipura. Avantivarman, the King, was a follower of Vaishnava cult ( a Vaishnavite – worshippers of Lord Vishnu) and he continued to be so till his death. It was he who got a grand temple constructed for his Lord  during the 9th century. The central deity installed in the Sanctum Sanctorum was christened as Avantiswamin. The King had a minister named Sura who was very dear to him but Sura was a worshipper of Lord Shiva. Therefore Avantivarman got another equally grand temple constructed for Lord Shiva just a kilometre away. The temple is known as Avanteeswara which is also in ruins. Unfortunately we were not aware of its existence at such a short distance and we missed it.

Sultan Sikandar Butshikan, the 14th century ruler of Kashmir hailed from Afghanistan. To appease a spiritual leader Syed Ali Hamadani in that country, Sultan Sikandar engaged himself in a crusade and ended up in the massacre of Kashmiri people and destroying their holy places ruthlessly. All kinds of stage plays including music and folk songs, folk dances etc. were banned. Consumption of wine/liquor was made an offence. People were compelled to embrace Islam for fear of life. It is said that in the entire Kashmir only some 11 Hindu families escaped. We could perhaps draw a parallel with the Talibans of Afghanistan. Along with other temples, the Avantipur Vishnu temple was also not spared. However, it is said that the construction was so strong that it took over a year to have it demolished,  part of which still remains to tell us its past glory. Sultan Sikandar’s title “Butshikan” itself means a destroyer of Idols. Incidentally his second son Jain-ul-Abidin (1423 – 1474) was tolerant and considerate towards Hindus. He came to power after his brother proceeded to Mecca for a pilgrimage. However by the time Jain-ul-Abidin came to the scene, none of the Hindu temple structures had survived.

There was a well laid out pathway leading to the main entrance. The huge door,  made of lime stone blocks approachable through a flight of stairs stood majestically. The upper portions were in a broken condition together with the tall massive columns with ornamentation. The intricately carved main entrance would have been a sight to behold. Apart from the destruction it was subjected to, weathering has also played its due role. Many of the sculptures are now difficult to be recognised. The temple is rectangular with a huge courtyard measuring 170.6 x 147.6 feet. After entering through the main entrance we need to go down for being in the courtyard. There is yet another elevated structure at the middle with stairs leading to the sanctum sanctorum. There is an array of cells arranged around the periphery of the paved courtyard similar to Buddhist Viharas. We are not certain as to the purpose of those small rooms/cells. Could only presume that either they were used for meditation facing the central shrine or for placing large sculptures.There are remains of four smaller shrines at the four corners of the courtyard. 

During the  early part of twentieth century excavations were carried out by a team headed by D.R. Sahni resulting in the reclamation of the temple ruins up to the floor level. The excavation yielded a rich crop of antiquities including 121 coins issued by Toramana, Sultans of the Shah Miri dynasty, Durrani Afghan rulers etc. Sahni also excavated the quadrangle of the Avantisvara temple and brought to light a small earthen jar having 108 copper coins issued by various rulers, fragments of birch manuscripts containing accounts of articles of worship, inscribed earthen jar etc. The sculptures from this site are presently displayed at Srinagar Museum.

Temple architecture is supposed to have reached its zenith during that period with some sprinklings of Gandhara and Greek styles.

The Avanteeswara temple, a kilometre away and the Martand Sun Temple 8 kilometres away from Anantanag (Islamabad) built by Lalitaditya in the 8th century, though in ruins, are similar in style and construction. However, we were not fortunate enough to visit them.


  1. can imagine how beautiful this temple wud have looked in its best days! sad to see it in ruins....

  2. well written and interesting points to note sir..

  3. The ruins always have a story to tell..You have captured the important information very well, it awakens interest about the place in me.

  4. Very informative post! I relished the pictures. Hope I too will be able to visit.

  5. Never knew existence of such temple. It would have been magnificent structure in the hey days.


  6. its such a nice blog to provides info
    hope more people discover your blog because you really know what you’re talking about. Can’t wait to read more from you!
    for more plz visit
    Local listing lucknow

  7. To be able to visit these places in person would be a dream come true but as this isn't likely I'm so grateful for what I call my armchair vacations.

  8. Our glorious days are only in history now. I have never heard of this temple and so missed it on our tour to Kashmir.

    Felt sorry looking at the remnants of the temple. It must have been beautiful.

    Thanks for the details.

  9. Thanks for the wonderful pictures and for sharing this great chunk of history. It is a pity that the Muslim rulers completely demolished so many Hindu temples and erased many beautiful structures.

  10. enjoyed the little trip to avantipur with you :)


  11. Fascinating post! The images are wonderful too!!

  12. Such a historic and beautiful place with so many stories buried in its stones and remains. The stories are particularly interesting to read which make the place what it is today and of course, the pictures have a beauty of their own. Thank you for yet another wonderful post from the city of Kashmir.

  13. Wow.. never knew Kashmir had such a wonderful heritage site!!


  14. Beautifull post on avantipur. Nice narration and beautiful photos esp temple photos...

    thanks for sharing

  15. Awesome post. Great narration and photos.


  16. What a discovery...and I rally like that you got such a good access from the sardarji!!....

    the images speak of a wonderful place..now sadly destroyed!!


  17. Quite a place to see as a bonus for free, thanks to Sardarji!

  18. Great and interesting post!
    Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing.

  19. Enchanted and delighted.
    Your post is so interesting
    and informative that I am
    experiencing great pleasure.

    Thanks a lot for this presentation.

    Please find time to visit my blog.

  20. So you're an amateur archeologist, how interesting!. One could guess that from your vast knowledge displayed in the detailed description of ruins, archeological findings,and their historical and political background.

  21. That is one nice post. Would want visit this place sometime!

  22. this great article makes me think of planning a trip to J&K soon. After seeing this and an NDTV clip on Rajasthan, my travel appetite has been awakened and I will do it soon.
    good one...

  23. This was beautiful! My wife spotted the second ruins and we made sure to stop on the way back. Now that you have done the research I request permission to link this to my post, when I do it.

    1. Thank you Sudhir. It would be my plkeasure to see a link in your post.

  24. Wow! That is one beautiful place.Hope to visit some time. Sad to see another fine example of senseless destruction!