Stone cold glory of god

shining

Just as we headed off to explore the more accessible portions of the
Himalayas in July, an incessant drizzle decided to follow with chilly determination.

set in stone Katarmal Sun Temple. Photos by author

As a result of the drizzle’s persistence, every advertised view point in the course of our journey was covered with mist, offering us only a singular view of every place — an opaque sheet in white. However, as the day progressed, the light rain transformed Almora, our chosen destination, into a city one could only find in fairy-tales. It added a snowy edge to the wooden houses, brought out the large colourful umbrellas and turned the city into a freshly washed delight.

I had read about the sun temple at Katarmal, but I hadn’t included it as a part of my itinerary. But having found out that it was only 17 km from Almora, we wondered if it would be worth our while to visit this temple complex. The next morning brought with it some sun, albeit behind the lingering clouds. And so, with the promise of some light, we headed towards Katarmal, hoping to please the Sun God. Perhaps, he might grant us some extra sunshine.

About 30 minutes away from Almora, the road towards Katarmal ends. After this, there is a 2 km stretch that needs to be tackled by foot. This little trek on muddy slopes requires a steady pace and immense resolve. But, the view is enchanting — mountains, deodar trees and droplets from the previous shower were still clinging on to green leaves. My first sighting of this spectacular temple monument revealed a huge, beautifully crafted, historically significant, surprisingly welcoming complex that was brimming with peace. The temple appears to be untouched by crowds or sign-boards, a feature that would have otherwise highlighted such a presence.

Popularly known as Baraditya or the Katarmal Sun Temple, this cluster of temples is unique and is one of the biggest and tallest temples in the Kumaon region. It is considered to be the second most important sun temple in India, after the Konark Sun Temple in Orissa. It’s believed to have been built in the 9th century (but the inscriptions on the pillars point to 13th century), by King Katarmalla, who had once ruled the Kumaon regions.

This sun temple has been built in typical Katyuri style.

The architectural style uses massive pieces of stone. These pieces of stone were carried to the top of the mountains to create this marvel. Around the main temple of the Katarmal complex are 45 shrines made in the same pattern. The Katyuri style involves extensive carving on pillars and doors, intricate figurines of metal and stone and large pieces of stones held together by metal clamps.
Inside the main temple, along with the statue of Vraddhaditya( the Sun God), other deities are also present. A local temple priest offers prayers and completes the rituals every single day. The locals believe that this shrine is significant for two reasons. They believe that this is the only Sun temple in the hills and that in the months of February and November, the rays from the sun fall directly on the deity, making this an extraordinary place of worship.

As the light drizzle made its presence felt once again, the stone structures gained a glossy sheen due to the generous drops of water. I found myself enveloped within a cloud, as I watched other clouds move along at eye level. It was most magical to see it leave me behind and move on to wrapping itself around the main shrine of the temple. And then, within moments, it made its way towards the mountain range behind it.

Katarmal’s Sun Temple was my surprise encounter with history. At 2,116 metres above sea level, one doesn’t really expect a massive stone structure or a cluster of temples. This real structure had a touch of dream-like charm to it. It’s difficult to imagine what I might witness here in another season, or for that matter, on another day. The history is real and concrete, but the intangible forces of nature at that altitude can add dramatic effects to the place. I wait patiently for the day I get to visit the place again, and see what’s waiting to receive me.

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