Masroor Rockcut Temple: The Ellora of Himachal Pradesh

The Masrur Temples, also known as the Masroor Temples or Rock-cut Temples, are situated in the scenic Kangra Valley alongside the Beas River in Himachal Pradesh, India. These temples are a remarkable example of rock-cut Hindu architecture from the early 8th century. The Masroor rock-cut cave temples are a well-preserved architectural wonder that attracts visitors, travelers, and history enthusiasts from all over.

The Masroor Rock Cut Temple is one of four rock cut temples in India. The other three are: 

  • Rathas of Mammalapuram
  • Kailasa at Ellora
  • Dharmanatha temple at Dhammar in Rajasthan

Often referred to as the Ellora of Himachal and the Himalayan pyramid, this site features 15 intricately carved temples from a single rock. Unfortunately, despite its mystery and uniqueness, it remains a less-explored destination in Himachal Pradesh.This article section delves into the intriguing features and historical significance of this archaeological gem.

“Monuments are the grappling-iron that bind one generation to another”

– Joseph Joubert.


Location Information
Distance from Dharamshala-McLeod Ganj:45 kilometres (28 mi) southwest
Distance from Kangra town:35 kilometres (22 mi) west
Distance from Shimla:225 kilometres (140 mi) northwest
Distance from Jalandhar:150 kilometres (93 mi) north
Distance from Pathankot:85 kilometres (53 mi) east
Nearest Railway Station:Nagrota Surian
Nearest Airport:Dharamshala (IATA: DHM)
Closest Major Airports:Amritsar and Jammu
Altitude of the Temple:Approximately 2,500 feet above sea level
Geographical Features:In the Beas River valley, in the foothills of the Himalayas, facing the snowy peaks of the Dhauladhar range

A Glimpse into the Past

Origins and Orientation

The Masrur Temples, dating back to the early 8th century, are an embodiment of the North Indian Nagara architectural style. Facing northeast, these temples are strategically oriented towards the majestic Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas. Dedicated to Shiva, Vishnu, Devi, and Saura traditions of Hinduism, the surviving iconography reflects a henotheistic framework.

Historical Narratives

In accordance with local lore, the illustrious Pandavas from the Mahabharata are believed to have sought refuge at this site during their discreet exile, contributing to the construction of the temple. Scholar Khan suggests that the exposure of the Pandavas' identity and location prompted their relocation, ultimately resulting in the incomplete state of the temple complex. In the 20th century, a significant addition occurred as three small blackstone statues were introduced inside the shrine, facing east, depicting the revered figures of Rama, Lakshmana, and Sita from the Ramayana.

One another popular theory suggests that the temple was constructed by Raja Yashoverdhan, an ardent follower of Lord Shiva. It is believed that the temple was initially dedicated to Mahadeva, as evidenced by the statue of Lord Shiva at the entrance. However, the exact date of its construction is unknown.

Dating back to Harold Hargreaves' visit in 1913, the central temple has been colloquially referred to as the Thakurdvara by the local community.

Architectural Marvels and Unfinished Ambitions

Monolithic Craftsmanship

The Masrur Temples are an architectural wonder, boasting intricately designed shikharas carved out of monolithic rock. The temples have a unique design, and their spiritual ambiance is enhanced by the incorporation of a sacred pool of water, as per the Hindu texts on temple architecture. Despite their grandeur, the Masrur Temples remain incomplete due to the loss of much of the original sculptures and reliefs, most likely due to seismic activities. Archaeological studies suggest that the temples were never finished.

Symmetrical Layout

The temple complex follows a symmetrically laid-out square grid. The main temple, with a square plan, is surrounded by smaller temples arranged in a mandala pattern. Three entrances adorn the temple, facing northeast, southeast, and northwest. Interestingly, evidence points towards a planned but unfinished fourth entrance, often overlooked in historical records.

-The Masrur temple site has a central shrine that faces Northeast towards the snowy Himalayan peaks of Dhauladhar range.

- It is an integrated monument with eight symmetrically placed subsidiary spires.

- The temple complex was carved out of natural sandstone rock.

- The complex includes a sacred pool on the east side, dating back to the early 8th century.

- The entrances lead towards the main sanctum through a series of mandapas with wall carvings and an antarala (vestibule).

- The Masrur temple has a square garbhagriha with each side measuring 13 feet (4.0 m). Inside the garbhagriha, there is a four-faced Shiva deity.

- The temple's sanctum and spire design follow the Kailasa style of Hindu temples.The Kailasa style has a central Shikhara (spire) in the middle, which is symmetrically surrounded by four smaller spires, situated between the four entrances to the temple from the four cardinal directions.

- The Masrur temple has all spires of the Nagara style. The Nagara style of architecture originated and flourished in central India before the 8th century. According to Meister, the Masrur temple plan fits the Kailasa design.

Divine Narratives in Stone

Vedic and Puranic Depictions

The Masrur Temples display elaborate reliefs portraying significant Vedic and Puranic deities. These reliefs are accompanied by captivating friezes that narrate ancient tales from Hindu texts. Visitors can embark on a visual journey through these legends. Despite the damages incurred over time, the surviving sculptures provide a glimpse into the artistic prowess of the era.

Rediscovery and Recognition

Structural Impact: Earthquake and Preservation

The right-hand section of the Masrur temple, captured along with its reflection in the sacred pool, shows signs of earthquake damage. By the late 19th century, the temple had already suffered some damage, but it was still in a good condition. According to Hargreaves, the remote location and inaccessibility of the temple played a dual role in its history – contributing to both its neglect and its fortunate preservation from the hands of various invaders in the valley. The devastating Kangra earthquake of 1905 caused widespread destruction across the Himachal valley region, leading to the collapse of numerous ancient monuments. Despite suffering cracks and portions collapsing, the Masrur temple survived the seismic event due to its monolithic construction, which was hewn from stone in-situ.

The combined impact of wars and the 1905 earthquake has posed challenges for comparative studies in the region. However, meticulous measurements and drawings conducted by an unidentified draftsman in 1887, focusing on the roof level and mandapa – elements that were obliterated in 1905 – have become invaluable resources for late 20th-century scholarly endeavors. These findings support Shuttleworth's early observations, emphasizing the "perfect symmetry of design" that defines the temple complex.

Archaeological Revelation

The Masrur Temples came to the attention of archaeologists in 1913 through Henry Shuttleworth's report. Harold Hargreaves from the Archaeological Survey of India independently surveyed the temples in 1915 and they were acknowledged as an example of surviving temple mountain-style Hindu architecture. The Archaeological Survey of India recognized the temple as a heritage site in 1913 for its unique architectural and aesthetic values.

Government key Intiatives

The Masroor Rockcut Temple stands as a testament to the rich cultural heritage of Himachal Pradesh. In a noteworthy initiative, the State Government has taken significant steps to ensure the conservation and accessibility of this historical marvel. Here, we delve into the efforts and developments that have been shaping the future of Masroor Rock Temple.

1. Illuminating Evenings: The Allure of Light Shows

One of the captivating features of Masroor Rockcut Temple is the mesmerizing light shows organized during evenings. Visitors are treated to a visual spectacle that brings the ancient rock carvings to life, creating an immersive experience that seamlessly blends the past with the present. These light shows not only enhance the aesthetic appeal but also serve as a means to engage and educate tourists about the historical significance of the site.

2. Governmental Support: A Commitment to Conservation

A significant indicator of the importance placed on Masroor Rock Temple is the active involvement of the Himachal Pradesh government. Current and  Ex CM's  along with other prominent figures, often  attend these light shows, showcasing the genuine interest and commitment of the state in conserving this cultural gem. Regular meetings with the Archaeological Survey of India reflect a collaborative effort to meticulously plan the growth of Masroor Rockcut Temple.

3. Strategic Location: Shielding Heritage from Ecological Threats

Situated in the sanctuary area of Pong Dam, Masroor Rock Temple is shielded from immediate ecological threats. However, the focus has now shifted towards developing a sustainable tourism and conservation mechanism. Striking a balance between welcoming tourists and preserving the pristine environment is a priority, ensuring that the temple remains untouched by the potential negative impacts of increased tourist inflow.

4. From Obscurity to Prominence: Himachal Pradesh Tourism's Success

Thanks to the strategic efforts of the Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department, Masroor Rockcut Temple has found its place on various travel maps of India. No longer hidden in obscurity, the temple has become a sought-after destination for those exploring the nearby regions of Mcleodganj, Dharmshala, Palampur, or Kangra. Tourists now include this historical marvel in their itineraries, contributing to the cultural enrichment of their travel experiences.

Best Time to Visit

It is recommended that you plan a visit to the Masroor Temple during Shivaratri to enjoy the festive celebrations with the locals. However, it is advisable to avoid visiting the temple during the monsoon season due to the high risk of landslides in Himachal Pradesh caused by heavy rainfall.

In conclusion, Masroor Rockcut Temple stands as a beacon of Himachal Pradesh's cultural legacy. Through thoughtful conservation, strategic planning, and the allure of captivating light shows, this ancient marvel continues to draw visitors from far and wide. The synergy between governmental support and tourism initiatives ensures that Masroor Rock Temple remains not just a relic of the past but a vibrant part of the present and future.

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