The Rock Cut Temples of Masrur
The Rock Cut Temples at Masroor or Masroor in the State of Himachal Pradesh in India are situated in the Kangra District on the way to Nagrota Surian. These are among one of the four rock-cut temples in India.
The place is about 38 km from the Kangra town at 2535 feet above sea level. On the way from Kangra, the nearest airport is Gaggal from where the place is around 28 Km.
These temples built between 7th and 8th century AD were carved out of a single rock and are called the pyramids of Himalayas. This richly ornamented monolithic structure on a small hillock is the only rock-cut temple complex in the whole of the Northern India and seems to be an alien structure in the entire sub-Himalayan region.
The Temple Complex
In the breathtaking and amazing backdrop of snow-clad Dhauladhar ranges, the temple structure has an elaborately carved altar amidst which stands the main temple.
These temples have been carved out a single rock which is about 161 feet long and 105 feet wide.
It houses 15 temples out of which only the temple situated in the center is carved from inside, while the rest of the seven temples each on the either side of the principal structure are incomplete and are just carved from outside.
The rock cut rectangular pond in front of the temples has an average depth of 10 feet. The whole structure is a part of a single rock.
At present just a few of the original and broken stone structures of rising peaks of the soaring towers above the sanctum sanctorum in the shape of beehives, which are known as shikhara, are found at the site while some of the most beautifully carved panels and shikhara, have been kept in the state museum at Shimla.
The Legend About the Place
The legend goes that these abundantly carved temples were built by the mighty Pandavas of Mahabharata fame during the period of their exile from Hastinapur. A dungeon adjacent to the main temple with a half built staircase is believed to be the stairway built by them to heaven.
The Art of Rock Cut Temples
The rich stone carving of these world famous temples is of exquisite and fine quality. It is of the Indo- Aryan style with Nagara style of architecture. The temples are presently in ruined condition.
The carving on the rock-cut style is much more difficult than the structural one as the material shapes the moves of the artist in the former, while in the latter the artist is free to chisel his way towards the formation of the icon.
This restriction makes it difficult to accomplish the work. This becomes evident from the incomplete structures of the Masrur temples which had just been carved from outside. The artists seem to have abandoned the work before its completion and could not reach the inner core to carve out a spacious room inside the rock.
Indeed it is surprising that how the artists in remote past with limited resources of chisels and hammers carved out the temples out of a single rock. The efforts of those unsung heroes are indeed superhuman.
It is the mammoth work and rocky efforts which protected the monument from the affronts of the Muslim invaders like Mahmud Ghazni or from the natural calamities like the severe earthquakes especially the one of 1905 which caused great devastation in the entire region.
The Technique of Rock- Cut Temples
It would be appropriate here to highlight the technique of rock-cut temples in India and the place of Masrur temple complex among such similar monuments in India.
It was during the in the reign of the Pallava king Narasimha Varman I Mahamalla (630-668 A.D.) and in the first half of the 7the century AD, that the style of rock-cut temples originated in South India.
This genre reached its climax at Ellora in the form of Kailasha temples the execution of which began in the reign of the Rashtrakuta King Dantidurga (753- 756 AD) and was finished in the times of Krishna I (758-773 AD).
The rock-cut caves are common in South India. But there are only four rock-cut temples in India which are almost similar and are carved out of rocks.
1.) The Rathas of Mamallapuram in Tamil Nadu.
2.) The Kailashnath Temples at Ellora in Maharashtra.
3.) The Dharmanatha temple at Dhamnar in Rajasthan.
4.) The temple-complex at Masrur in Kangra.
The first two are built in the Dravidian style, while the other ones are are in the Nagara style.
This affluently carved monument is protected by the Archaeological Survey of India and it is likely to be included in UNESCO's World Heritage Site.
Masrur surpasses its rivals in the situation, size, and execution as it has 15 temples, while Dhamnar has only 8 temples.
The Masrur temples are not separate from each other and are carved out from a single rock surrounding the central shrine, but at Dhamnar the smaller structures are separate from the main temple.
Carvings and ornamentations of Masrur temples are much more superior to those at Dhamnar. The total length of Masrur temples is three times more than the other.
The Dhamnar group has been built in a pit-like hollow, whereas the Masrur group is on top of a hill. The former one looks below while the latter goes upwards. The temples of Dharmar depress with their depth, while those at Masrur fill the beholder with elation. The temples of Masroor beat the other two in grandeur and aesthetics.
Indeed the temple of Ellora Kailasa is built in a pit of hundred feet, but it is supreme in the creation and is one of the wonders of the world.
An Ideal time to visit Masrur
The best time to visit the place is between March and October.
Deities and Architecture of Masrur Temple
The entrance of the central temple is towards the east and has four huge carved pillars. The sanctum sanctorum or the garb-griha is approachable through an ornate stone door which befits the grand threshold of the entrance.
Three stone idols of Rama, Laxman, and Janaki are kept in the main shrine. But it was originally a Shiva temple as an image of Lord Shiva has been carved out in the middle of the lintel and the size and execution of the entire carving in the temple represent the Lord who is the center of the Hindu pantheon and is worshiped as the God of Destruction. The present idols seem to be put inside the temple at some later stage.