A trip to Kashmir is usually with the objective of sight-seeing and going on a vacation. It is often heard people mention, "Why go to Switzerland when Kashmir is here?". This is only simplifying things. Switzerland has its own distinct place in the history and geography as well as a tourist destination. The same is true of Kashmir as well. A visit to Kashmir is something more; it is not merely sight-seeing or vacationing, but it is in realizing a link to the past. Time spent in Kashmir not only meets the routine interests of a tourist, but also brings in a realization that our history, culture or literature is incomplete without understanding Kashmir's contribution to them. As the highly respected scholar and teacher Prof Navjivan Rastogi mentions, "The Indian notion of Anadi (beginningless time) and Ananta (endless worldly cycle) happens to be a great deterrent of any historical activity in the modren sense of measurable time". The reality of this strikes us when we visit the Avantipura temple ruins.
Avantipura is in Pulwama district of Jammu and Kashmir. It is between Srinagar and Anantnag and 29 kilometers from Srinagar on the NH 1A. Avantipura was the capital of King Awanti Varma of Utpal dynasty, who ruled between 855 AD to 883 AD. History has recorded that he was a forward looking King and his rule was prosperous and people friendly. He is said to have got many temples constructed among which a Shiva temple (Awantiswar temple) and a Vishnu temple (Awantiswamin temple) stand out. Tourists are taken to the ruins of the temple on the highway during the drive to Pahalgam.
The temple site is maintained by Archeological Survey of India (ASI) which also maintains the ruins of other sites like temples built during King Lalitaditya's period. The temples have beautiful stone carvings and structures of that time. It is a reflection of the 9th century Kashmiri Shaivism. It may be noted that the period of Anandavardhana who is considered as the most brilliant critic in Sanskrit literature and writer of celebrated work "Dhwanyaloka" coincided ( 820 AD to 890 AD) with the rule of Awanti Varma. It was the golden period of Kashmir's contribution to Literature and culture.
The temple ruins have withstood the ravages of time and the intricate carvings on the stone slabs and decorations can be seen even now. ASI has maintained the sites very well and one can see many salient aspects of the construction of the temple by a detailed study of the temple site. Kashmir's history and literature can be understood better when one links the historical knowledge with the physical presence of the temple ruins. The pictures given alongside show some details of the remains of what once was a magnificent temple. The layout of the temple as well as attention to even minor details in the carvings stand out as a testimony to the capabilities of the artisans of that period.
Many of the present names used in Kashmir have their roots in its past history. Varaha-mula is now Baramulla and Rajapuram has become Rajouri. Panchals is now referred as Pir Panjals. Present Jammu was known as Jamboo then. Kashmir rulers were patrons of poets, philosophers and artists. They had control over large parts of India and their rule extended to as far as Punjab, Kalinga (Orissa-Andhra), Malwa (Madhya Bharat including Ujjain and Indore) and Gujarat. Doyens of literature like Acharya Abhinava Gupta have enriched our literature, art and culture.
A trip to kashmir is indeed a great sight-seeing opportunity. It is truly a place for enjoying one's vacation. It is also a time to remember its rich cultural heritage and pay our tributes to the contribution made to our generation and mankind at large.