The Old Capital Site
Pandrethan 5-km to the southeast of Srinagar , is now within the Municipal limits of Srinagar itself. The modern name is derived from the ancient appellation Puranadhishthana, which literally means the 'old capital'. Thus, Pandrethan represents the site of the ancient capital, Srinagari, believed to have been founded by the great Maurya emperor Ashoka (Circa 276-36 BC). With the shifting of the capital to the adjoining site of the present Srinagar, the ancient Srinagari came to be known as "Puranadhishthana".
The selection of the site of the capital at Pandrethan in olden days might have been due to its providing certain advantages against the menace of devastating floods which used to cause havoc in the valley till Suyya, the engineer of King Avantivarman (AD 855-83), devised means for the better drainage of the valley by the regulating the course of the Vitasta (Jhelum). The gentle slopes of the spurs of the high mountain on the northern and eastern sides of Pandrethan were above the level of the flood of meandering Vitasta, which flows now on the southern and western sides of the site.
The chief source for the history of Pandrethan and also for Kashmir as a whole up to the middle of the 12th century AD is the Rajatarangini by Kalhana. The account of this celebrated chronicler, remarkably well versed in historical methods, is fairly authentic so far as the later part of his chronicle is concerned. The earlier part, prior to the rise of Durlabha Vardhana of the Karkota dynasty, however, is shrouded in myths and legends, evidently for lack of reliable records at the disposal of Kalhana who had to grope through the mist of yore and tradition.
The order of kings and chronology of this part are rather confused. Kalhana meticulously mentioned various pious foundations, many of which, no doubt, were in existence in his time. He was very careful to note the names of the builders, mostly kings, queens and officials.
According To The Records
According to Kalhana, the town of Srinagari built by Ashoka had 'ninety-six lakhs of houses resplendent with wealth'. Making due allowance for the exaggerations, it may be conceded that the city was both populous and prosperous at that time. Curiously enough, the chronicler did not ascribe any Buddhist foundations at Srinagari to this Buddhist king. Ashoka's son Jalauka is credited with the installation of "Jyeshtharudra" at the capital.
Another sanctuary dedicated to Shiva, called "Mihireshvara", is said to have been established at Srinagari by Mihirakula who has generally been identified with 'Huna' king of that name.
Puranadhishthana, according to the Rajatarangim, witnessed considerable building activities during the reign of Pravarasena I, son of King Meghavahana of the restored Gonandiya dynasty, who was brought from Gandhara. The king constructed a temple of Pravaresvara together with a circle of the Matrikas and consecrated various holy shrines at the capital.
With the transfer of the capital to the site of the modern Srinagar during the reign of Pravarasena II, grandson of Pravarasena I, Puranadhishthana lost the glory of the premier city forever. However, being in close proximity to the new capital, its prosperity did not eclipse altogether, and it continued to receive the patronage of the aristocracy occasionally.
The Visit Of Hiuen Tsang
Hiuen Tsang, the great Chinese pilgrim, came to Kashmir in about AD 631 during the reign of Durlabha-Vardhana, the first king of the Karkota dynasty. On his arrival at the capital he halted for one night in the Jayendra Vihara established, according to the Raja Tarangim, by Jayendra, the maternal uncle of Pravarasena II, in the new capital. The king received him with great honours and invited him to his palace. He also provided his Chinese guest with twenty clerks to copy out the sacred books and Shastras and five men to wait upon him. That the pilgrim spent here as many as two years in the pursuit of the Buddhist scriptures proves beyond doubt that Kashmir was a renowned centre of Buddhist learning at that period.
The pilgrim referred to both the new and old capitals. He found a flourishing Buddhist establishment at a distance of above to the southeast of the new capital. The centre was located between a mountain on the north and the old capital on the south. In this establishment there was a monastery with more than three hundred monks, besides a sacred Stupa, believed to have been built over a tooth relic of Buddha.
Constructions Of A Vishnu Temple
The next reference to Puranadhishthana is in connection with the construction of a temple of Lord Vishnu. It is related by Kalhana that Meruvardhana, a minister of Partha of the Utpala dynasty, built a temple of Meruvardhanasvamin here.
The last notice of the pious foundations at Pandrethan from the pen of Kalhana relates to his own time in the reign of Jayasimha of the second Lohara dynasty. Referring to the meritorious works of Rilhana, the minister, Kalhana informs us that this virtuous minister embellished the cities of the two Pravarasenas with bridges and Mathas and erected at the first city of King Pravara a Shaiva temple after his name, Rilhaneshvara, which became pre eminent among his religious foundations.
From the literary references it is abundantly clear that the present site of Pandrethan in olden days nourished, apart from secular buildings, Brahmanical and Buddhist establishments. Among the Brahmanical sects, Shaivism was particularly patronized. However, Vaishnavism and Shaktism were also not neglected altogether.
Coming to the actual remains, one is, however, confronted with the utter scarcity of the materials "In Situ". The only visible monument at the site is a temple of modest dimensions, which will be described later on. The proximity of the old capital to the new capital, which in earlier days was responsible for its prolonged prosperity, was eventually proved fatal in the later period. The monuments at the site suffered irremediably due to the ruthless vandalism of man.
Demolition Of The Place
The process of destruction and denudation started in the later part of the reign of sultan Sikandar who earned the epithet "Butshikan" by virtue of his breaking the images and demolishing the temples. Almost all the temples of the country are stated to have been desecrated and pulled down and the images were broken, mutilated or thrown away from the temples.
The destruction of the temples is believed to have been effected by piling heaps of timber in the temples and setting fire to these heaps. The chief agent of the sultan in this planned destruction was his minister Suhabhatta, a Brahmin converted to Islam. A vivid picture of the persecution of the Brahmins and wholesale destruction of temples and images has been presented by Jonaraja who in his Rajatarangim continued the narrative of Kalhana down to his days in the reign of sultan Zainu'l-'Abidin, the illustrious son of sultan Sikandar.
Destruction of the temples was followed by the denudation of the sites. Proximity of Pandrethan to Srinagar made it a favourite quarry for building materials, particularly the limestone slabs, and these operations continued for centuries till recent times. Whatever little structural remains lay buried deep below the debris and accumulation of earth have practically been swept away by the building activities of the authorities of the Cantonment established in the area.
Ruins Near Pandrethan
Judging by the large masses of stones on the slopes at the foot of the spur, pieces of sculptures and some enormous Lingas, Vigne felt the existence here once of a city and a vast Hindu temple complex. Worth noticing ancient remains, consist of numerous carved stones, architectural fragments, old walls and pottery, extending for a long stretch of 5-km from the foot of the Takht-i-Sulaiman (Shankracharya Hill) on the northwest to Panthchhok on the southeast of Pandrethan.
There was also a lofty colossal Linga (now reduced to fragments) relieved with four busts found on the top of a flat spur opposite the village of Lajan between Pandrethan and Panthchhok and at a distance of about 700 yards (640m) from the existing Pandrethan temple.
Buddhist Relics Housed In Sri Pratap Museum
The Buddhist sculptures found at the site are now housed in the Sri Pratap Singh Museum, Srinagar. Among them particularly noteworthy are two standing images of Buddha, a seated image of Buddha, a standing image of Lokeshvara and the upper portion of a sculpture representing the birth of Siddhartha.
Also on display in the museum are nearly twenty large Brahmanical images encountered in course of the digging for foundations of the military barracks at Pandrethan some time between 1923 and 1933. Most of these sculptures are more than life-size and display forceful execution. Not less than life size and display forceful execution.
The Deities On Display
Not less than eight of these images represent Shiva, both standing and seated. Three of them, again, are three-headed; one of the two-side faces being fierce looking and the other female. Such type of images of Mahadeva when fashioned in the round presents usually four heads and when in relief three heads as in the present images. Ganesha is represented by a single four-armed seated image.
Among the eight images depicting the female divinities are identifiable figures of Ganga and five of the "Matrikas" - Kaumari, Vaishnavi, Indrani, Varahi and Chamunda, the first four four-armed and the last six-armed and terrible-looking. These Matrika-images have been assigned by some scholars to the middle of the 8th century, i.e. the later part of the reign of Lalitaditya-Muktapida.
The drapery of most of these Goddesses displays Hellenistic influence as found in Gandhara: these images seem to be earlier in date. The find of this cognate group of the Matrika-images lends credence to the statement of Kalhana about the existence of a temple of Siva in the company of Matrikas at Puranddhisthana. Whether the images were installed by Pravarasena I or not will depend on the correct assessment of the age of not only these images but also Pravarasena I himself. The number of the images of Shiva and also the Lingas noticed by Vigne and Cunningham proves the existence of a good number of Shaiva sanctuaries at Pandrethan before it fell a prey to the depredations of man.