On her last visit to the Kangra Valley in Himachal Pradesh, Syeda Farida stumbled upon an unknown and mysterious temple with history dating to the Mahabharata.
Ever since I chanced upon the photograph of this rock-cut temple in a Himachal Pradesh tourism booklet, I fell in love with its Angkor Wat–meets–Ellora architecture. So when I visited the Masroor Temple Complex near Kangra, I spent a major part of the day perched in front of the monolithic structure carved out of a single sandstone ridge. You can’t help but admire its reflection, which locals say, resembles a herd of elephants when sun rays fall on the structure at daybreak.
According to folklore, the Masroor Temple Complex was built by the Pandavas during their exile. Today, the temple is known as Thakurdwara or the abode of Vishnu. Built in the traditional east-facing manner, the temple is constructed in the Nagara style. It reportedly dates back to the eighth century. Across the temple one can find intricately carved motifs such as three-faced Shiva, Vishnu in varaha avatar, Surya on a horse-drawn chariot, Buddha seated on a simhasana, flying gandharvas, celestial musicians and mithuna figures.
“It was discovered in as recent as 1913. There is no other such temple in the region,” says Rajinder Kumar of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). Owing to its significant heritage value, the Masroor Temple has been declared a protected monument of national importance by ASI. It is suggested that the temple was built by a Katoch ruler under the supremacy of King Yashovarman of Kanau, but a significant part of it was destroyed during the massive earthquake that rocked Kangra in 1905.
The construction of this temple was abandoned midway. In one corner, a few paragraphs in an unknown script catch my attention. “Till date, this inscription has not been deciphered,” says Kumar. Many questions came to mind as I went home but I plan my return. Next time, I’ll come armed with a lunch basket, picnic chairs, and a straw hat, so I can sit across the pond under the old banyan tree, simply taking in the view.