Pandav Lari: Rediscovering the ancient architecture

Archaeologists have felt strong Greek and Roman influence on the ancient Kashmiri stone architecture
"This curious legend is based on this doctrine that since these are huge structures, formed of heavy and massive stones as such this could be the work of pandavas."
"This curious legend is based on this doctrine that since these are huge structures, formed of heavy and massive stones as such this could be the work of pandavas."Special arrangement

During the visit to few ancient architectural monuments of Kashmir, I was very much amazed to see the grand architectural remains of ancient stone built monuments at several places in Kashmir valley particularly at Martand and Avantipira.

Locally these grand remains are known as Pandave lari, the buildings of the Pandavas. The people in general have been attributing these monuments to the pandavas and in local dialect are known to them as pandav lari, means the buildings of pandavas.

This curious legend is based on this doctrine that since these are huge structures, formed of heavy and massive stones as such this could be the work of pandavas.

Pandavas are locally referred as the people belonging to a tall and physically strong race and since these structures are formed of massive blocks of stone, as such these are attributed to this race. But this is not historically a proven fact. It is only on the bases of massiveness of the materials used that general people have got this belief.

Otherwise most of the people knew, that these are the remains of historical buildings identified some as ancient temples, while other as monasteries and are dated to medieval and early medieval periods.

In fact I could also find something interesting about these ruins. I felt this architecture highly advanced and doubted that this could be the job of ancient Kashmiri architects.

To arrange the extraction of such massive lime stones from its quarries and then to lift those to the designated places of the plan required not only technology but also brave manpower. I keenly observed their plan, architectural styles, and softness adopted in these ancient constructions.

I was very much puzzled, although I could little bit understand the architecture design. But could not understand the techniques followed in raising of these wonderful structures.

Lifting of bold cuboids, rectangular, square and other geographical designed massive stones, and placing these on each other to farm large and heavy walls, that too in neat and clean form is quite surprising.

More curious is the formation of arched cells and erecting of long and heavy single stone columns. Indeed a man could not be master of all trades. Although I have got technical knowhow in archaeology, numismatic and epigraphic field, in architecture I am just a layman.

So I studied few books on architecture. I learnt that the master ruins of Martand, Awantipora and some other places, built of massive lime stone with heavy columns, were very much influenced by Grecian and Roman styles. I could understand that this tradition may have developed here during Indo-Greek occupation of this land.

Like Gracie-Bactrian arts, in dealing with these architectural wonders, I found it worthwhile to reproduce few such notes in this write up, which had very earlier been put forth by Alexander Cunningham the 19th century archaeologist.

Alexander Cunningham’s view

Most of the stone temples and monasteries built in ancient period in highly finished blue lime stones are almost in ruins. These are locally called the Pandav lari, means the houses of Pandavas.

Historically speaking these are basically the remains of the magnificent places, temples and monasteries built here during the historic period. Some of these buildings date as back as the end of eighth century AD and there are others that must undoubtedly be more ancient, perhaps even as old as the beginning of the christen era.

The archaeologists have felt strong Greek and Roman architectural influence on these ancient Kashmirian stone architectures. Alexander Cunningham, who made the first on the spot study of the ancient stone architectural remains of Kashmir, had also felt the strong Greek and Roman influences.

He wrote a detailed article on ancient temple architecture of Kashmir titled, ‘An essay on the Arian order of architecture as exhibited in temples of Kashmir’. At one place in his this masterpiece essay, he writes,

“The architectural remains are perhaps the most remarkable of the existing monuments of India and they exhibit undoubted traces of the influence of Grecian art. The Hindu temple is generally a sort of architectural pasty a huge collection of ornamental fritters huddled together, either with or without keeping, while the Jain temple is usually a vast forest of pillars, made to look as unlike one another as possible by some partly difference in their petty details.

On the other hand the Kashmirian fanes are distinguished by the graceful elegance of their outlines, by massive boldness of their parts and by the happy propriety of their decorations.

They cannot, indeed, view with the severe simplicity of the Parthenon nor with the luxuriant gracefulness of the monument of lysicrates, but they posses great beauty, different indeed, yet quite their own.”

In his this essay at another place, while describing the features of this classical architecture style, he writes:

“The characteristic features of the Kashmirian architecture are its lofty pyramidal roofs, its trefoiled doorways, covered by pyramidal pediments, and the great width of its inter-columniations. The Grecian pediment is very low and its roof exceeding flat, the Kashmerian pediment, on the contrary, is extremely lofty and its roof high.

The former is adapted for a sunny and almost rainless climate, while the latter is equally well suited to rainy and snowy climate. But besides the difference of climate, there was another reason for the form of roofing peculiar to the two countries in the kind of material readily procurable for buildings.

In Greece it was stone, in Kashmir it was timber. The former imposed low flat roofs with small intercolumniations, the latter suggested lofty roofs and wide intercolumniations’.

Grecian style

In fact even at first site, one is immediately struck by the strong resemblance which Kashmerian colonnade bear to the classical peristyle of Greece. This first impression is undoubtedly due to the distant division of the pillars into three members – base, shaft, and capital, as well as the fluting of the shafts.

On further inspection the first impression is confirmed by the recognition, that some of the principal mouldings are also peculiar to the Grecian orders, but more especially to the Doric.

Thus the echinos, which is the leading feature of the Kashmirian capital, is also the chief member of the Doric capital. A still closer examination reveals the fact that the width of the capital is subject exactly to the same rules as that of all the classical orders excepting the Corinthian’.

Even when one enters these ruined complexes. These grand remains with their porches and pediments remained more of Greece than of India, and it is difficult to believe that a style of architecture which differs so much from all Indian examples and which has so much in common with those of Greece, could have been indebted to chance alone for this striking resemblance.

Of these specimens the first dates as early as 220 BC, at which time the Kabul valley and even the western Punjab were occupied by the Bactrain Greeks, under Euthydemous and Demetrous, (nowadays the evidences of Indo Greeks and Indo Scythians have been found in Jammu and Kashmir as well) .

If it is admitted that the Kashmirian architects have been indebted to those of Greece for their pediments, for their fluted columns, or even for any of their minor details, I think that they must certainly have borrowed them from the temples of their immediate neighbors the Bactrian Greeks and not from the buildings of distant Syrian Greeks.

I think also that had these pediments been imitated from the later Romanised examples the copyist would scarcely have overlooked the structural arches which occupy their pediments. In fact the forms of the principal Kashmirian mouldings could only have been borrowed from the pure Greek Style of an earlier period than the Roman innovation of circular segmental mouldings’.

‘Another striking resemblance between the Kashmerian architecture and that of the various Grecian orders is its stereotyped style, which during the long flourishing period of several centuries remained unchanged.

In this respect it is so widely different from the ever-varying forms and plastic vagaries farms and plastic vagaries of the Hindu architecture, that it is impossible to conceive their evolution from a common origin.

I feel convinced myself that several of the Kashmirian forms and many of the details were borrowed from the temples of the Kabulian Greeks’.

General view

Generally speaking, within the sub-continent this types of architecture looks quite different and has got little resemblances with other monuments found in the other parts of India and Pakistan. Although these most of the ancient stone built remains are in ruins, but the grace and splendor of these wonderful constructions is still visible.

In fact when one enters these ruined complexes, it feels as if you are walking through the lanes of ancient Grace and Rome. These wonderful ruins can be experienced in the lower and upper Jhelum valley of Kashmir from Bunyar in Uri up to Martand in Anantnag. The most remarkable includ the stone formed monuments at Bunyar, Rampur, Pattan, Prahaspura, Takhta -i-Suliman, Pandrathan, Avantipura and Martand.

One wonders how in ancient times, when no such building equipment and technology was available to the builders, the massive stones were lifted and laid in position with great precision.

The stones have been brilliantly carved and laid in tiers in a manner even joints of these stones are invisible. Although Kashmiri architect could have copied the same Greek and Roman styles as, Roman arches, or segmented arches, improved upon earlier arches to build strong bridges and buildings, evenly distributing weight throughout the structure.

But there have been very superb and gracious architectural wonders, not less than what one comes across at Athens and Italy, which to a very good extent looks the imitations of Greek and Roman styles.

Since the purpose and plan of these structures is to some extent understandable, I am still unable to understand the technology used in formation of the architectural wonders, I could not find any reply to my query even in the notes put forth by Alexander Cunningham, master archaeologist of early 20th century.

The other archaeological literatures available about these monuments deal with the history and architectural significances of these remains, but there is no mention of the technology and means followed in raising of these heavy structures anywhere in the written archaeology literatures.

The modern day archaeologists working on Jammu and Kashmir’s ancient and mediaeval archaeology and architecture shall focus on this aspect of archaeology and find out the evidences of that technology followed in lifting and raising of these heavy lime stones in formation of these glorious and magnificent structures.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK

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