Avantipur in Kashmir shows Lakshmi Sharath two temples in ruins with intriguing lore

A land of several kingdoms, there is a temple in ruins in almost every corner of our country. Built by kings and princes, they speak of a glorious past, when they were once the capital of a dynasty. Mostly ignored, dilapidated, they lie in crumbles, waiting to tell their story, if somebody is willing to hear them. I happen to stop by at one of them in Kashmir.

It has been raining non-stop ever since I left Srinagar. Steady sheets of rain hit the roads continuously, adding to the traffic. We slowly make our way to the outskirts of the city as I wait patiently for the rain to recede. A little while later, the driver brings the car to a halt and announces we are in the ancient capital town of Kashmir. And, all I see is a highway filled with dusty shops.

In a while, the rain stops and the rays of the sun stream out from the clouds. I am in Awontipura or Avantipur, a town founded by Avantivarman, who founded the Utpala Dynasty in the 9th Century. Lying in ruins are a couple of temples — Avantishwar (dedicated to Shiva) and Avantiswami (Vishnu), built within a km 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 Avantishwar Temple, the smaller of the two, was built by the king before he was crowned on the banks of river Jhelum or Vatista as it was known then. The Avantiswami Temple, a much bigger and magnificent monument was apparently built when he ascended the throne. It is believed that the deity here was Vaikunta Vishnu.

Which came first?

Local lore, however, says that the Vishnu temple came first and that 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 Vishnu temple was inspired by the Gandharva style, and while a central shrine was built on a spacious courtyard, four smaller shrines were built in the corners. A pillared mandapa too stood in front of the shrine. A group of tourists stops by as the guide explains 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. 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 Afghan ruler Sultan Sikandar Butshikan invaded these parts of India in the 14th Century and pulled the monuments down. The skies start greying as I leave. The rain down as I wonder how much of history lies lost in the rubble.

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