Heritage temple circuit of Udhampur

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Heritage temples circuit of Udhampur

Arvind Kotwal, Heritage temples circuit of Udhampur "Daily Excelsior" 3/7/2016

Heritage Temples circuit

The Shivalik foothills of Jammu are dotted with innumerable heritage sites: forts, temples and bowlies some of which date back to over a thousand years. Udhampur, stands out in the Jammu region for having the largest concentration of ancient temples located in clusters or alone all over the district . These temples are fascinating for their antiquity and architecture. Of particular interest are the Temples of Manwal, Ladan Kotli and Kirmachi dating back to the 8th-11th century AD, which not only make for a compelling circuit but also a idyllic soujourn through the foothills.

Manwal is located at a distance of about 70 km from Jammu. A diversion from the Jammu–Udhampur national highway near Domail leads towards the undulating and scenic Jindrah-Dansal valley (similar to dun valleys in the Shivalik hills in Uttrakhand or Himachal Pradesh) and thereon to Manwal. Another approach to Manwal is via the Mansar lake which though a little shorter, is a bumpy drive. Manwal, in the ancient times went by the name Babbapura as mentioned in the Rajtarangini and was possibly during this time the capital of the Duggar(Jammu) region. The place is also linked with Babruvahan of the Mahabhartha on account of the name Babbapura and is believed to have been built by him. Later the name got distorted to Babour. The villages of Manwal and Thalora on the Udhampur-Dhar road have among themselves five ancient temples scattered over an area of one square kilometer viz. the Devi Bhagwati Temple, the Dera Temple, the Kala Dera-l Temple and the Kala Dera-ll Temple and the Nand Babour Temple. These temples dating to 10th-11th century AD were grand edifices but have considerably lost their original shape over time. Architecturally, these temples mark a high point in temple building in the Jammu region for the uniqueness of their form and features. The temples are generally positioned on high platforms with stairs leading up to the mandapa in front of the garbhagriha. Large pillared halls – mandapas in front of the sanctum sanctorum differentiate these temples from the earlier ones of the region making each temple appear much bigger in scale. The fluted columns around the mandapas which are reminiscent of the Hellinic columns and may perhaps suggest influence of the Greco-Roman architectural style are another interesting feature. The temples were devoted to Shiva, Shakti and Vishnu and are richly embellished with carvings of Gods and Goddesses. The Devi Bhagwati is the only living temple where local folk still offer prayers.

Coursing along the Dhar road from Manwal towards Udhampur one reaches the Jakheni chowk in the Udhampur city. Here, one takes a road towards the Ladan power house also popularly called the Chenani power house on the opposite bank of the Tawi. After crossing a bridge over the Tawi and a couple of kilometers short of the power house, the road forks off to the right taking a gentle upward incline. Vehicles have to be parked on the wayside and after a short climb uphill one comes upon one of the most remarkable temples in the region. Standing in solitary splendor in the hamlet of Ladan Kotli is the Jallandara Devi Temple. Dating back to the 11th century AD the temple is quite like the temples of Chamba and Bharmour. An example of the nagara style, the temple has a curvilinear shikhara and profuse carvings of dieties besides floral motifs and geometrical designs. The temple is said to have been made by king Jallandra of Trigarta, which in those times was the name for Kangra. A singularly stunning feature of this temple is the erotic carvings on one of the exterior walls quite like those found on the walls of Khajuraho temples!

Back on the Udhampur-Jammu national highway one has to take the Udhampur-Lander road from the Supply Morh in the army cantonment. At a distance of 10 km is the famous Kirmachi group of temples. Oddly enough, there is still no road right up to one of the most impressive heritage sites in Jammu region. However, a short walk from the village along the Biru Nallah leads one to the magnificent group of temples perched atop a small hillock. Dating back to possibly the 8th-9th century AD the complex consists of four temples which stand on an elevated platform with the fifth one standing on a lower level in a corner of the complex. Fine specimens of the nagara style, it is not difficult to miss the similarity of these temples with the Bhuvneshwar temples albeit on a smaller scale, and the alikeness to the temples of Chamba and Bharmour. Like the Manwal temples, fluted columns are found here at the entrances of the sanctum sanctorum of the temples. Legend has it that Kirmachi was founded by Raja Kichak of the Mahabharta. History, however, speaks of it as the capital of the Bhutiyals, the ruling clan of this region during this period. Excavations have revealed pottery and brickwork indicating that these temples stand on a site which dates to the Gupta period. Mostly facing east these temples are devoted to Lord Shiva.

As is the belief in the hills, these temples are associated with the agyatvas of the Pandavas and are locally called Pandu temples which further adds to their allure. The Archeological Survey of India is doing a great job in maintaining the Manwal and Kirmachi temples. It is significant that these temples are located along what was a thriving trade route in the ancient and medieval times. With good road links from Jammu to Udhampur and back, enthusiasts can embark on this circuit and visit these temples in one day. This circuit holds tremendous potential of becoming a popular tourist destination. Tourists and heritage aficionados can have an entirely satisfying day in exploring the priceless heritage of our region. Even yatris from Katra can be brought on this circuit in a reverse direction on their way back from Mata Vaishno Devi via Tikri. Our past has laid out this interesting circuit; all it requires at present is good promotion and marketing.

( The author is Deputy Commissioner Commercial Taxes)

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