Saturday, August 17, 2002
S I T E S   A N D  S C E N E S

A lesser-known sun temple at Katarmal
Venita Sajwan

The sun temple at Katarmal is surrounded by a cluster of 44 exquisitely designed shrines
The sun temple at Katarmal is surrounded by a cluster of 44 exquisitely designed shrines

THE Kumaon region of Uttaranchal, bordering China in the north and Nepal in the west showcases a rich variety of nature's bounty dense tropical and alpine forests, rivers and lakes and high mountain ranges with temples depicting exquisite craftsmanship and brilliant architectural styles. Much of the region still does not feature on the world's 'tourist map', making it an ideal destination for those who wish to explore lesser-known sites. The name Kumaon is derived from Kurmanchal, which refers to the Land of the Kurmavtar (the tortoise incarnation of Lord Vishnu). It is also known, according to Hindu legends, as Devbhoomi or the "Abode of Gods".

Nestled among the thick deodars of these Kumaon hills is the imposing Surya temple. Located at Katarmal at an altitude of 2116 mt, this quaint temple, built in the 9th century, is relatively unknown as compared to the world-famous sun temple of Konark. Besides these two, there are three other sun temples in the country - Modhera sun temple in Gujarat, Martand temple in Kashmir and Osia in Rajasthan.


This sun temple is situated in a remote village called Katarmal, which is not linked with road. Bus/taxi service is available till Kosi, which is 1.5 km away from the temple. Accommodation is available at Almora, which is 12 km from Kosi. Restaurant facilities can be found at Kosi too.

This sun temple is one of the most important temples dedicated to the Sun God. It was built by Katarmalla, a Katyuri raja, in the 9th century. In the early medieval period, Kumaon was ruled by the Katyuri dynasty. They ruled from the 7th to the 11th century and controlled large parts of Kumaon, Garhwal and western Nepal. Bajinath, near the present-day Almora, was the capital of the Katyuri kings and a centre of art. A number of temples were built during the reign of the Katyuri kings. They used stones instead of bricks in these temples. Large stones were quarried and transported over the hilly terrain, and iron clamps were used to hold the stones together. The Katyuri Dynasty constructed about 400 temples in Almora district alone. The majestic and tranquil Himalayas in the background lend an air of purity and serenity to these temples.

The deity of the sun temple in Katarmal is known as Burhadita or Vraddhaditya (the old Sun God). The temple, noted for its magnificent architecture, artistically made stone and metallic sculptures and beautifully carved pillars and wooden doors, has a cluster of 44 small, exquisitely carved temples surrounding it. The present mandapa of the temple as well as many of the shrines within the enclosure have been constructed much later. The image of Surya in the temple dates back to 12th century. The idols of Shiva-Parvati and Lakshmi-Narayana are also found in the temple. However, the intricately carved doors and panels have been removed to the National Museum in Delhi after the 10th-century idol of the presiding deity was stolen.

Though this temple has been declared a monument of national importance under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act, 1958, this temple is in a state of neglect. The temple, which has intricately carved images on its walls, is bound to attract tourists if some efforts are made to conserve it. At present, mainly foreigners visit this temple in great numbers.