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STORY OF STONES FROM UTTRAKHAND #Temples of Uttarakhand#architectural gems

Updated: Jan 15

As I born and brought up in the land of gods "Uttrakhand" I am always inquisitive about the heritage of this land. But I always got sad whenever I can't find any satisfying results on the internet. Whenever I searched for any temple or heritage I can't find any other temple than the famous and magnificent Chardham. I respect their religious importance, significance, and traditions but they don't have much historic importance. The So-called lack of architectural heritage (which is wrong as there is no lack) has might have been due to very heavy rainfall and snowfall along with humidity which might have damaged the archeological monuments and sites. But as adaptability is human instinct and architecture is also human invention, it is very unlikely that the architecture of the region hasn't been adapted as per the climate of the region, after a short research, I found some satisfying results.

I also visited the Dehradun circle of Archeological Survey of India to know more about the topic during 2013-14. Afterward, in 2015 on a trip to the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, I visited many ancient historic temples which mainly are built by the mighty katuyris. After gathering enough information, I am writing this blog to make aware of travelers of what they have missed or what they might miss. This is a small initiative to bring the magnificent architecture of this hill state in limelight. I would like to thank the Archeological Survey of India for their precious time and information. As there are three distinct ethnocultural regions-Jaunsar-Bawar, Kumaon, and Garhwal due to which I also categorized them into three groups. So let's get started!!!!!!!


1.Land of mystics and wooden spectacles- Jaunsar-Bawar

The spectacular Mahasu temple

First of all, I would like to talk about Jaunsar because it is most underrated and misunderstood, there are many stories related to ghosts and black magic in this region. It a region situated in the western part of the state bordering Kinnaur region of Himachal Pradesh due to which it is culturally distinct from Uttrakhand and more similar to Kinnaur. It was also part of the sirmaur kingdom of Kinnaur due to which the architecture of the region is similar to wooden temples of Kinnaur roofed up by granite slabs. The main deity of the region is Lord Mahashu or Shiva due to which the region is full of temples dedicated to Lord Mahasu. There is also one and the only temple dedicated to Duryodhana the antagonist of Mahabharta situated at Mori built of carved wood beam and canopies. But two main temple of the region is Mahasu and Lakhamandal temples.


The temple is dedicated to Lord Mahasu the local form of lord shiva. It is the most sacred god of the region. The temple is made of wood and stone. It was built in the 9th century but further additions are made up in centuries. The temple was constructed in the Kath-Kuni Koti-Banal style of architecture. Architecturally Mahasu Devta Temple at Hanol is one of the rarest examples of a perfect and harmonious blend of stone and wooden structure to form one composite grand edifice. The sanctum proper is a pure stone shikhara in the classical nagara style. The whole wooden structure is covered with a high pitched slated pent roof surmounted by a two-tiered conical canopy over it on which a gracefully tapered Kalash pinnacle stands. The temple is noted for its colorful ornamentation and is the best example of a wood temple in the whole of Uttarakhand.


This NAGARA style temple of Lord Shiva was built in circa 12th - 13th century CE. A large number of sculptures and architectural members are spread in the vicinity suggest the remains of more shrines of the same cult in the past but presently only this temple is survived. It has several sculptural masterpieces including MANAV, DANAV, AND A GRAPHITE LINGAM. It is a mixture of jaunsari wooden and nagara stone temple architecture.

The Lakhamandal Temple

A village temple in jaunsar note the fine wood carvings on ceiling and beams.

2.Abode of Chardham -Garhwal

The Garhwal region is home to sacred Chardham which is the center of worship for thousands of centuries. During 8 the century, the great philosopher Shankaracharya established four centers of worship at cardinal directions at all over India. Simultaneously he also established Chota char Dham that are -Gangotri, Yamunotri, Kedarnath, and Badrinath. But except for the last two, none of them have much historical and architectural importance. The Yamnotri temple is built in the 20th century with tin and concrete. The Gangotri temple is made up of marble in the traditional 18th century by a Gurkha general Amar Singh Thapa. Most of the temples built in the Garhwal region belong to Lord Vishnu or Lord Shiva. Most of the temples are built in traditional Nagara architecture with some local adaption due to climates such as wooden canopies and beams. But most of these temples are managed and built by local villagers and chiefdoms due to which there are no commonalities, also there were no strong kingdoms in this region except panwar dynasty during 12 th century due to which there are no significant architectural gems. This might have been due to the rugged terrain of Garhwal Himalayas, excessive rainfall and snowfall, and invasions by Mughal and Gurkhas. I want to make some honorable mentions-Kashivishwanath temple, Joshimath temple,ukhimath temple, and pandukeshwar temples.


The Shiva temple is popularly known as the Gopinath temple. It is one of the biggest and tallest temples all over Uttarakhand. It stands on a shikhara built in Nagara style during the 9-10th century. The temple stands out in its architectural proficiency; it is topped by a magnificent dome and the 30 sq ft (2.8 m2) sanctum sanctorum, which is accessible by 24 doors. The remains of broken idols found around the temple testify the existence of several more temples in ancient times. There is a trident, in the courtyard of the temple, about 5 m high, made of eight different metals, which dates back to the 12th century. It is one of few temples in the whole of Uttrakhand which is fully developed as it stands on a center of the compound having garbhagriha with shikhara, while the mandapa(assembly hall) and antarala added later by panwar kings. The main temple was probably built by the Katyuri kings.



Some say Raja Bhoj of Malwa, who ruled between 1076 to 1099 AD, built the temple while another theory is that the temple was built in the eighth century by Adi Shankracharya. There is also a legend that Pandavas built a temple behind the Kedarnath shrine in the Hindu Dwapar era. The historic origins of this temple are blurred but according to architectural features it is built in Nagara style with additional mandapa.



WHENEVER YOU THINK ABOUT AN HIMALAYAN STATE THE FIRST THING which COMES in your mind is BEAUTIFUL AND COLOURFUL TIBETAN BUDDHIST MONASTERY BE IT LADAKH, HIMACHAL PRADESH, SIKKIM OR ARUNACHAL PRADESH.But whenever you think about Uttrakhand you can't even imagine about Buddha.....but why?? Because it is home to most sacred Hindu sites......... there is not a single Buddhist monastery here......but what if I will tell Badrinath temple was originally an ancient Buddhist temple?? Yes....it is true..it was a Buddhist monastery in ancient times after the propagation of dhamma by king Ashoka. The architecture resembles a Buddhist vihara (temple), with the brightly painted facade also more typical of Tibetan Buddhist temples. It is obvious to have Tibetan influence in this region due to its proximity to mainland Tibet. The facade is built of stone, with arched windows. A broad stairway leads up to a tall arched gateway, which is the main entrance.inside is the mandapa, a large pillared hall that leads to the Garba Graha, or the main shrine area. The walls and pillars of the mandapa are covered with an intricate carving. According to some accounts, the temple was a Buddhist shrine till the 8th century and Adi Shankara converted it to a Hindu temple.

Note the colourful carvings on facade which is typical Tibetan features...


It will be not wrong to say Kumaon, the Rome of Uttarakhand due to numerous ancient magnificent remains from its Golden age. The magnificent architectural gems are scattered all over the mountains and valleys of Kumaon. The main factor behind it was the emergence of powerful kingdoms of Katyuri (7-13 th centuries) and the Chand dynasty(14th-18th centuries). The fertile valleys and sloping hills along with the trade route with Tibet sustained the mighty Himalayan empires. While katyuri kings extended their influence from Afghanistan, Jammu, and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh in the west to Nepal and Sikkim in the east, but their core area remained limited to Chamoli, Almora, and Bageshwar region of Uttarakhand with their capital at dwarahat. At the same time, chand kings remain limited to Pithoragarh and champawat region and remained dominant over Uttarakhand till the arrival of Gurkhas in the late 18th century from Nepal. Uttrakhand reached its golden age under katyuri because The Katyuri Kings were known for constructing several temples in present-day Uttarakhand and they followed Brahminical practices. Most of the ancient temples in the present-day Uttarakhand are the result of an architectural contribution by the Katyuri dynasty. In its peak, the Katyuri dynasty of Kumaon extended from Sikkim in the east to Kabul, Afghanistan in the west, before fragmenting into numerous principalities by the 12th century.




Jageshwar group of temples which consist of over 125 temples is the largest cluster of temples, most famous monuments, and best architectural specimens of the mighty katyuris all over Uttrakhand. It is located in a very beautiful narrow forested valley of oaks, deodars, rhododendrons, and pines. They predominantly illustrate North Indian Nagara style of architecture with a few exceptions that show South and Central Indian style designs, many are dedicated to god shiva, while others in the immediate vicinity are dedicated to god Vishnu, Shakti goddesses and Surya traditions of Hinduism. These temples are built over a period of 700 AD to 1400 AD. The Jageshwara, Mritinjya, and Dandeshwara temple are the largest and best in the whole cluster. the Jageshwar group of temples is similar to some large historic cluster of Hindu temples found on the Indian subcontinent. For example, a similar cluster is seen near Bhubaneswar, Odisha at the Lingaraja group of temples. Another large group of stone temples is illustrated at the Batesvar complex in the Chambal valley of Madhya Pradesh. Almost all the small and large temples in the Jageshwar valley, states Chanchani, have a "simple square plan sanctums bounded by plain walls and tiered superstructures"

This place is my personal favorite...........due to the beautiful pine forests..


The temple located in the katarmal village is located on a lofty hill that can be reached by a 1 km easy trek with breathtaking views of Kosi river and mountain valley. The temple is dedicated to Lord Surya or "Bara Aditya" built-in the 9th century. Other deities like Shiva-Parvathi and Lakshmi-Narayana. are also established in this temple complex. The carved wooden doors and panels were transported to the National Museum, Delhi, after an idol from the 10th century was stolen. Katarmalla, a Katyuri king constructed this temple, which has 44 smaller temples around the main deity of Surya, which called Burhadita or Vraddhaditya. The main shine-facing east consist of garbhgriha and mandapa, the sanctum is made in tri-ratha plan.

The lofty sun temple...

C.Baijnath temple complex: Ancient Capital city

Baijnath Temple Complex is a cluster of 18 Hindu temples which are situated in the town of Baijnathin, Uttarakhand, India. The complex is located inBageshwar district along the banks of the gomuti river at an elevation of 1,125 m (3,691 ft) above the mean sea level. These temples are renowned for possibly being one of the very few temples in the world where Parvati is depicted with her husband Shiva. When the Katyuri kings shifted their capital from Joshimath to Kartikeyapura, a large number of followers of historic Shaiva sects like the Lakulisha, Nath (Kanphata), Jangam, Vairagi, Sanyasi also followed them.[In order to rehabilitate them, The katyuris built a large complex of temples in 10 th dedicated to Vaidyanath Shiva, the name later got corrupted to Baijnath.

The first Katyuri Temples....Baijnath


Katyuris was a great patron of art and architecture. During the reign of Mandel and Somdev, a number of temples were built in Dwarahat and in the vicinity. The main temples are Gujardev, Bandev,mritinjaya, and Badrinath temple. The mritiyanjaya temple is built in the Panchyatana style characterized by a square garbha griha and enclosed mandapa along with Mukha mandapa. The most notable temple is the Gurjara dev temple appears to be of a better layout and profusely carved and ornamented structure with device and elements borrowed from different sources i.e. central India, Rajasthan, and Gujrat. The whole city is established in 9-10 th century as the cultural capital of the katyuri empire, there are over 100 small and big temples in whole over the city. This city can be compared to the city of temples "Khajuraho".

The mritiyanjaya temple......




THE GROUP OF TEMPLES INCLUDE BALESHWAR, RATNESHWARA, AND CHAMPAWATI TEMPLE ARE ATTRIBUTED TO BUILT-IN 16 TH CENTURY DURING THE PEAK OF CHAND DYNASTY. Built by the rulers of the Chand dynasty, Baleshwar Temple is a marvelous symbol of stone carving. There are not any historical manuscripts that date the Baleshwar temple; however, it is believed to have been built between the 10th and 12th century AD. The exteriors of Ratneshwar and Champawati Durga temples are carved with the different posters of the local deities. The existing mandapa was crowned with a circular dome with a triangular projection at each corner which all collapsed except terrace. The terrace is adorned with moldings on all sides.

Baleshwar Temple.......known for its amazing stone carving...


Almora was founded in 1568 AD by Kalyan Chand during the rule of the Chand dynasty. At a distance of 500 m from Almora Bus Stand, Nanda Devi Temple is situated above the Mall Road in Almora. It is one of the most famous and sacred temples in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand. This temple is the heart of the cultural city of Almora. The temple is also adorned with famous wood carvings of Almora. The temple is dedicated to Goddess Nanda Devi, the patron goddess of the Chand Dynasty. She is believed to be the destroyer of evil. Nanda Devi temple dates back to the 11th century and is built in Nagara Kumaoni-style architecture within the premises of a Shiva temple. The temple of the goddess Nanda is a huge monument with a stone crown encircled by a wooden roof. The surrounding walls are graced by intricate stone carvings of several life-size statues.

Note the wood carvings on the top of Nanda Devi temple...

The 1,000 year old Shiva temple....

With this, I want to end this long journey which started from the Jaunsar-bawar, than proceeded to Garhwal and ended with an amazing tour of the temples of Kumaon. I hope you have enjoyed the tour and learned many new things about our loving Uttrakhand. you will be able to take another tour of lesser-known temples in the 2nd part of this series of Uttrakhand blogs soon. Sorry for such a long blog, but it is very hard to tell about such a rich architectural heritage in a few words. If you want a blog on Kinnaur or to know more about Almora, please contact me. If you liked my blogs then please like and subscribe....please......






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