As part of our ‘Backpacking through History’ series - an initiative to encourage young students to travel, research and write about India’s lesser known monuments, here is an article by Abhimanyu Kalsotra from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi.
In a land as culturally rich as India, the melding of elements of different communities and faiths is par for the course. But what if we told you that there’s a temple complex with distinctly Hellenistic or Greek features?
These unusual temples lie hidden in the lap of the Pir Panjal mountain range in Udhampur district in Jammu & Kashmir. Called the Krimchi temple complex and located in a remote village 70 km from Jammu city, they celebrate the cultural confluence of the Hellenistic world and local faith.
The complex houses seven temples, of which only five are in good condition. All the temples exhibit striking Hellenistic features in their architectural style, a trend common in the region from the 2nd century BCE to the 2nd century CE, with the coming of the Indo-Greeks, Parthians and other Central Asian tribes, all of whom settled in the upper parts of J&K. This influence might have continued over centuries , as these temples are believed to have been built around 8th century CE. The lack of historical research, makes it very difficult to pinpoint the exact dates when these temples might have been constructed.
The Krimchi temple complex follows the classical style, with a garbhgriha or main sanctum at the centre, a shikhara on the top of the sanctum, an amalaka or a crowning ornament on top of the shikhara, a mandapa or hallway in front of the sanctum, an antarala or a gap between the hallway and the sanctum etc.
Other than these indigenous features, interestingly, there aren’t many inscriptions on the temples, or the common sculptures of dwarapalas, or other divine or semi-divine figures on the walls or on the shikhara. In fact, unlike local temples, regular motifs have been replaced by those with a clear Hellenistic influence. For example, the sculpture outside the main temple represents a lion with a curly mane, a common motif in the Gandhara school of art.
Also, the main temple does not have any deity in its sanctums, except for Shivalingas in two of them.
The temple authorities have kept a few sculptures inside a closed area, including a stone-sculpted Ganesha, a lion, a goddess sitting on a lotus, perhaps Goddess Lakshmi.
There are also the ruins of stone pillars – their bases and capitals – and what remains of a sculpture of a male torso. Other than this, a footprint on a stone slab was also excavated near the Devika river, which flows near the temple.
The intricate patterns carved on the temple walls reveal lots of geometric designs. There are also doors carved on the sides of the main sanctum wall. These ‘doors’ have six circular motifs. Various floral motifs are also carved. Criss-cross jalli patterns are common.
Even more interesting are the semi-divine figures carved on the walls. These don’t look like Indian sculptures; they have enlarged eyes, a large nose, a round face and curved hands, all of which are closer to the Hellenistic world.
While we don't have clear dates for when the temple was built, historians reckon that the complex was probably constructed during the same time as the mysterious horsemen of the Pir Panjal in Resai district, the many human faces excavated from Akhnoor district which resemble Greek artistic forms. In fact, the entire Pir Panjal region is rich in specimens of the Gandhara school of art.
While there has been no detailed study of the temple complex, locals have their own take on these shrines, where worship continues to this day. The general belief is that these temples were built by the Mahabharata heroes, the Pandavas, during their exile, when they took shelter at Krimchi. King Kichak, who ruled the region then, gave shelter to the Pandavas, according to the locals, who gather here twice every year to celebrate the Kul Devta Diwas (Clan gods or kul devtas are worshipped by communities across Jammu).
The general belief is that these temples were built by the Mahabharata heroes, the Pandavas, during their exile
Historically, it is believed that the complex was built in the 8th CE, which is a few centuries after the rule of the Indo-Greek kings in the region. The village of Krimchi remained without a ruler for centuries after the death of King Kichak. However, it is difficult to arrive at a date and pinpoint who built these temples due to the lack of excavations and literary sources.
History and faith still draw people to this breathtaking site, which is urgently in need of attention and restoration. The shikhara of one of the shrines is on the verge of collapsing and there is only basic infrastructure around the complex, making it very difficult to get there.