The architectural marvel from the foothills of the Himalayas – the monolithic temples at Masroor are sure capable of tickling fantasies of any history and art lover. Facing the majestic Dauldhar mountains, these rock cut temples stand gloriously defying time and nature. Discovered just a century ago, these ancient temples brought with them many questions to light that still remain fairly unanswered. There are only theories and legends. Visit them to take a ride back in time and unleash your imagination.

The rock cut temples, Masroor, Himachal Pradesh, India

This rock cut temple complex in the Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh, India was certainly envisioned to be a magnificent piece of architecture and sculpture however for some unknown reason was abandoned midway. Local legends say that these temples were built by the Pandavas during their exile. When their identity and location was compromised, they eloped leaving behind the temples unfinished. Some scholars believe that these were built in 8th century CE by some unknown rulers of ancient Jalandhar kindgdom. When they came to realize that the stone has some defect, they considered it as a bad omen and stopped the construction. However these are all theories. The exact period of construction, patronage, reason for abandonment still remains a puzzle to historians and archeologists. Nevertheless, the imposing size, their location on the highest point of the hill, a water tank to serve rituals and tasteful carvings indicate that these were constructed by some imperial ruler and held quite a social importance.

These monolithic temples are a unique combination of rock cut construction and Nagara style of temple architecture. Nagara style of temple architecture was originated in the northern parts of India identified by the presence of multiple shikhara (towers). As this style is different than the ancient mountain temple architecture and involves masonry work, these rock cut temples surely come across as a groundbreaking concept if we think about those times. Additionally, they are the only example of rock cut temples in the sub Himalayan region. As most of the rock cut temples discovered so far belong to the southern part of the Indian subcontinent, their presence in this part raises a lot of questions.

Multiple shikhara of the Masroor rock cut temples
There are nine shikharas in hierarchical scale, the largest shikhara resting over garbhgriha in the centre. The central shikhara is constructed into nine stages and embellished with a prominent amalaka on the top (detached in earthquake which now lies in the surroundings). The form of the temple with an ensemble of shikharas arranged in symmetry is unique to India and is similar to Angkor Wat temple, Combodia though on a smaller scale.
The temple rock is primarily sandstone with varying densities. Due to this the strength of the rock is not uniform. Additionally, the stratification of the rock is diagonal which impacts the structural strength of the temple. Due to this, portions with narrow sections fell during the earthquake of 1905.

This exceptional piece of architecture deserves more attention from scholars , visitors and the government. I wish more archeologists take interest in these temples. It’s like the truth is right in front of our eyes – we are just not able to decode it yet!

Nevertheless, don’t miss them if you happen to be around Dharamshala, Himachal Pradesh. It is a half day excursion. I recommend visiting when the sun is low in the sky – probably early morning or post 4 PM. The golden light adds an extra bit of magic to their magnificence.

Masroor rock cut temple shikhara in golden light

P.S: Don’t completely rely on the GPS to reach here like we did. There is a nicely marked diversion for Masroor which you need to take. The GPS location was messed up (not sure if it still is) because of which we ended up wasting an hour on a wrong road. So basically keep your eyes on the road. Just saying! 😀

Architecture info Reference : http://www.researchgate.net , Information provided by the archeological dept. at the site

Posted by:Madhura Doshi

An avid story lover, photographer and home chef. Loves cats , music, food and traveling.

3 replies on “Masroor Rock Cut temples – The glorious relics from ancient India

  1. Could the temples’ similarity with South Indian temples and the Angkor Wat temple be indicative that the Indian subcontinent as a whole, included a majority portion of South Asia? After all, when we read the Ramayana and Mahabharatha, we see kingdoms which are (today) located in other countries, still considered part of Bharathavarsh.

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