Discover unknown trails of Kashmir with our travel expert Reetwika Banerjee
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Paani Temple of Pandrethan near Srinagar.
Though we had initially planned for a high hill adventure for the next two days weekend getaway,but due to bad climatic conditions we were strictly advised to postpone our travel plan. So, we decided to utilize the day by visiting another excellence of ancient Hindu architecture in the Kashmir valley – the Meruvardhanaswami Temple of Pandrethan, commonly referred as Paani Temple. ‘Paani’ is Hindi or Kashmiri language means ‘water’. Though originally Pandrethan was all dry, but centuries of weathering have created a pool around it, submerging more than half of the construction inside water which sources its exciting forename. Pandrethan is one of the legacy temples of India known for its subtle symmetrical architecture.
Paani Temple of Pandrethan
Pandrethan is located pretty close to Srinagar, hardly five kilometres by road towards Sonawar. We hired a local tourist taxi (Maruti Suzuki Alto) for our weekend getaway for the half day trip. Surprisingly, cost was quite cheaper compared to other hot tourist destinations as not many people visit Pandrethan.
Scenic Road Drive to Pandrethan along Jhelum River
We started around ten o’ clock for Pandrethan. Packing a light breakfast (corn sandwich and boiled eggs) for our weekend getaway, all three of us voyaged along the Jhelum River. I must say here, a handful of striking visuals that repeatedly caught my attention throughout our Kashmir trip and today too it was not an exception. Among the tons of wall ads, one just cannot ignore the green coloured advertisements of Khyber Cement with an equally catchy tagline ‘Cement-e-Kashmir’.
On our way to Pandrethan.
On a lighter note, Dr. Bengali seems to be the one-stop solution to all your medical needs while in Kashmir. Your eyes just cannot miss those bright red graffiti. But one thing I should admit, wherever you glance, you spot a popular movie scene be it from ‘Kashmir Ki Kali’, ‘Aap Ki Kasam’, ‘Mission Kashmir’, ‘Betaab’, ‘Sikander’, ‘Lamhe’, ‘Hero The Spy’, ‘Haider’ or any of those recent blockbusters. The list will be countless.
The most remarkable of all was the risk of private talking in Bengali in entire Kashmir; because every second Kashmiri can speak Bengali and knows Kolkata better than a Bengali. Even there were few shops with Bengali hoardings. Over the years the Kashmiri shawl merchants often visit Bengal in winter months and personally hawk their items visiting houses in almost every dead lane of the state. They highly esteem Bengalis lucky for their businesses.
Bengali hoarding at a Pandrethan shop
Coming back to our Pandrethan trip, the riverside road offered us a scenic yet rustic drive and it took us exactly half an hour to reach the temple premises. There was a small parking area surrounded by lofty chinars just off the road from where an eye-level pyramidal dome was faintly visible, supposedly Meruvardhanaswami Temple’s antique cupola.
Parking off the main road at Pandrethan in Srinagar
Glimpse of the pyramidal cupola amidst green chinars in Pandrethan
The moment we reached there in Srinagar, an old man, dressed in traditional Kashmiri phiran and poots, welcomed us inside. He was not a formal guide, but must be a passionate warden for sure. It was great to see such a precious archaeological site being maintained so well. No signs of littering observed during our visit. The main shrine is dedicated to Lord Shiva. Surprisingly, the neither the temple nor the deity name was not mentioned anywhere around. There was only one blue board portraying it as ‘Ancient Temple’. Not sure why the original name was withheld.
‘Ancient Temple’ blue board outside the Paani Temple in Pandrethan
While taking a tour around the boundary of the temple in Pandrethan in Srinagar, with great devotion, the old gentleman narrated us many legends about this place. Some parts of which I found to have historical basis, but perhaps most of it was a thrilling mythical anecdote.
Paani Temple ruins at Pandrethan
Kashmiris say that the temple was originally founded by a royal minister named Meru Vardhan of the then Hindu King Pravarsena I during early 6th century A.D. from where it derives its original name – Meruvardhanaswami Temple. He also beautified the place raising various palatial buildings (often called as Viharas in local language). Pandrethan flourished as the royal capital until mid-10th century A.D., until shifted to Srinagar later. It also finds significant references in Kalhana’s epic account of Kashmir – Rajtarangini, where he mentioned about this place as Puranadishthana or ‘old city’. However, as per British accounts this temple was built by King Partha in somewhere between A.D. 913 to 921 A.D. An uncanny fire devastated entire Pandrethan in 960 A.D. but this surprisingly this temple survived the fire with no harm. Unfortunately, today nothing noteworthy exists at Pandrethan except the ruins of this classic temple.
In those days, Jhelum River (earlier name Vitasta) was hardly a mile away towards south-east. The groundwater level being shallow here, water percolates through the natural seepages and accumulates around the temple creating a freshwater pool. However, through ages people believe that it’s Lord Shiva, who through His divine charm locked Vitasta around Him; eventually the water is considered to be holy even today.
Holy spring water of Vitasta in Pandrethan
Whatever be its mythological origin, but the architecture of this temple is truly the finest of all Kashmiri edifices. An artistic stone temple of pyramidal structure, it has an ornate masonry ceiling divided into two segments – the upper one is surmounted on a carved pillar while the lower portion resembles a patterned lotus. Centuries ago when trigonometry and geometry were unknown theories, strength of materials a distant topic, cement and modern measurement tools were not invented, what led to the erection of such a perfect assembly is truly an epitome of architectural brilliance.
Paani Temple sunken in depths of time and water in Pandrethan
As per the old man, the inner wall reliefs depict many ancient mythological tales of Lord Shiva and the ceiling exhibits supreme scientific excellence made of nine stone blocks, four resting on a set of another four blocks supported by a couple of diagonal lintels, four intersecting tetragons and a pair of internally overhanging eaves – all coinciding to a central conical tower which from outside closely resembles an inverted lotus. Sadly, due to water clogged on all sides, we could not witness the Kashmiri masterpiece in its full exhibit through our own eyes.
Small relief on the frontal porch
Externally what we saw that the temple is built on a quadrangular podium surrounded by a natural spring-fed pool of increasing dimensions. The depth of water would be at least three feet, if not more. The cupola is multi-layered comprising of three bands supported one below the other, increasing the girth of pyramidal base to ensure increased strength. An array of semi-circular symmetric arches further embellishes the outer walls. But at present only the pyramidal roof and the main doorway are partially visible. A small relief on the frontal entry porch could be seen. Probably it had been left partly excavated by the archaeological department to prevent any damage to its brittle walls, which got wedged inside the ground over years.
Submerged inside the ground over years in Pandrethan, Srinagar.
Fishes playing in the pool in Pandrethan, Srinagar
The turquoise colour of the water in Pandrethan created a mystic milieu at the very first sight. There were many fishes playing in the shallow water of Pandrethan. The temple in Pandrethan is almost sunken in the depths of time and water now, jamming the door forever. Pandrethan is almost impossible for any visitor to enter inside without a professional shallow bottom diver.
Mystic turquoise waters of the pool in Pandrethan, Srinagar
The view of underwater temple In Pandrethan with a primeval stone crown left a more electrifying impact on us. Feeding balls of Atta to those lovely fishes, we proceeded towards our next stopover, Manasbal Lake for our weekend getaway.
Feeding the fishes in the pool in Pandrethan in Srinagar on our weekend getaway