India has a plethora of rock-cut architecture, which is essentially creating a structure by carving it out of solid rock. Most of the rock-cut structures are exquisitely carved temples and many have been recognised as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
According to estimates, there are over 1500 rock-cut structures in India that are marvels of ancient engineering and craftsmanship.
The most ancient rock-cut temples are found in the Barabar caves in Bihar that date back to the 3rd century BCE. Some of the other well-known rock-cut temples are the Ajanta and Ellora caves in Maharasthra, Kanheri caves in Maharashtra, Varaha cave temples in Tamil Nadu, Badami Cave temples in Karnataka, Udayagiri cave temples in Madhya Pradesh, Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves in Odisha and the Pancha Rathas in Mahabalipuram.
Perhaps lesser-known but just as exquisite are the Masroor or Masrur rock-cut temples in Kangra valley of Himachal Pradesh.
The Masrur temple complex, also known as the Himalayan pyramid, is a group of 13 rock-cut monuments carved out of a single rock.
The temple complex was sighted by a British official, Henry Shuttleworth, in 1913 who brought it to the notice of other British officials in the Archaeological Survey of India.
It is not known who built the temples but locals believe that the Pandavas built them while they were in exile.
However, archaeologists estimate that the temples were built between the 8th and 10th centuries.
The temples are located beside a large, rectangular pond and they face northeast, towards the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas.
The temples face northeast, towards the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas. Pic: Wikipedia/Manish Pathak
The main shrine of the temple complex – Thakurdwara -- stands in the centre and has elaborate carvings. It contains three stone images of Lord Ram, Lord Lakshman and Devi Sita. The mandapa or pillared hall opposite the main shrine has collapsed. Several smaller temples are surrounding the main shrine dedicated to Brahma, Vishnu, Surya, Durga and other deities. The carvings on the temple walls depict Vedic and Puranic gods and goddesses and narrate stories from Hindu texts.
Archaeological findings suggest that the architects had planned a grander temple complex than the one that exists but it remained incomplete. The temple complex has been ravaged over the centuries and much of its sculptures and reliefs have been lost. The temple has three entrances on its northeast, southeast and northwest sides, two of which are incomplete.
The temple is built in the Nagara style of architecture that was predominant in North India.
The carvings depict Vedic and Puranic gods and goddesses and narrate stories from Hindu texts. Pic: Flickr
Some characteristic elements of the Nagara style are that the temple complex is built on a stone platform and does not have boundary walls or elaborate gateways. The garbhagriha is located directly under the tallest tower, the Shikhara, above the sanctum. The Amalaka and Kalash are installed on the Shikhara, there is a sacred pool and some mandapas. Sanctum and tower plans are predominantly square in shape.
The Masroor complex follows the basic features of the Nagara style as it is laid out in a square grid and the main temple is surrounded by smaller temples. The sanctum and mandapas of the temples have a square plan. More pictures here:
The Masroor temple has three entrances, two of which are incomplete. Pic: Flickr
A 1915 sketch of the Masroor temple's ground plan. Pic: H Hargreaves/Wikipedia
The Masroor temple complex has been ravaged over the centuries and much of its sculptures and reliefs have been lost. Pic: Flickr
Masroor temples are believed to have been built between the 8th and 10th centuries. Pic: Flickr
Damaged right-hand section with reflection in the pool. Pic: Wikipedia/Timothy Gonsalves
(Lead pic through Wikipedia/Akashdeep83)
(Urvashi Dev Rawal is a Jaipur-based journalist specialising in development, gender, and political reporting)