Travel to Himachal Pradesh - 3


Old gabled houses at Kais village



The whole belt along the road along the Beas River upstream to the Rohtang Pass at an altitude of close to 4,000 m is called the Kullu Valley based on its central town. Starting for the north out of my regular hotel in Kullu, Hotel Sarvari, the road soon diverges into the right and left banks of the river. This time I took the left bank, stopping in at the temples of Bijli, Kais, Naggar, Gazan and Shuru before reaching the town of Manali, which had recently developed greatly as a summer resort.
After refueling there in preparation for crossing over the Rohtan Pass, our jeep first went toward Goshal.

Wading across the Beas River after going northward about 6km from Manali, one can reach the village of Goshal, which consists of old orderly houses on its sloping land. In spite of being attracted by these houses, as the dusk was gathering, I hastened through the village to find the small-scale but excellent gabled wooden temple, the Gautam Rishi Temple, accompanied by some small shrines at the foot of the mountain.

Gautam Rishi Temple at Gosha

It is a simple single-room type temple based on a rectangular plan. Its thick ridgepole with crests on the top of the roof and the large protruding eaves remind us of Japanese Shinto shrines.

Among the classified temple types in the Himachal region, the Gable Roof type can be considered as the simplest and most primeval. Although the form of gable or gambrel roofed single floor building is broadly found in folk houses, there is a difference, in that the entrance is at the lower roof side in the folk houses, while it is on the gable side in the temples.
The roof of the Gautam Rishi Temple has recently been changed from timber to slate.

When looking at its façade, whose atmosphere is all the more solemn for its simplicity, I noticed it was the same one as the sketch in Hermann Goetz’s book "The Early Wooden Temples of Chamba" (1955), in which the name of the temple is not given. Goetz picked this temple as an example of the Himalayan wooden façade that conveyed the architectural style of the later Gupta Dynasty. Certainly the carvings of humans, deities, and foliage on manifold frames around the portal are always seen in Indian stone temples, which started in the 5th century of the Gupta age.

Hermann Goetz's sketch from "The Early Wooden Temples of Chamba" (1955)

Hindu temples in the lower land in India usually have carvings of Ganga and Yamuna (personified goddesses of the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers) on both sides of the portal as the sources of life in the Indian plain, but the temples in the Himachal region do not have them because of little relation with those rivers, and often have carvings of Nagas (snakes) instead. Though that of the Gautama Rishi Temple is a small relief, a neighboring small shrine exclusively has large carvings of Nagas on both sides of the portal.

Wood carvings of Gautam Rishi Temple, Goshal.

What does it indicate? In the Kashmir and Himachal regions, the worship of the Naga Devta (snake god) has been performed since ancient times, before the advent of Hinduism. Naga was thought to be a formidable king of the underground world, controlling indispensable water for agriculture (e.g. rivers, lakes, rain and cloud).
As Hinduism gradually became dominant, indigenous faiths like this were incorporated into Hindu legends. Naga Devta was personified and turned into a Rishi (sage) in the “Veda” literature. Gautam Rishi (Sage Gautam) enshrined in the temple at Goshal was also originally a Naga, hence carvings of Naga on the portals. Many temples of this sort are to be found in this region, such as the Parashal Rishi Temple at Lake Parashal.

The Gautam Rishi Temple has heavy wooden pillars as thick as 60 to 70cm at four corners with equally heavy beams above. Though the walls are a ‘Kath-kuni’ structure consisting of alternate stone and timber, the general method in the Himachal region, this whole temple is fundamentally made in the ‘post and beam structure,’ which was indiscernible in Goetz’s sketch, and all the more so due to the fact that the temple is covered with ocherous mud plaster. Moreover, the roof of this temple is not curved but rectilinear. All these facts show the clear distinction from gabled buildings in southern Himachal Pradesh.


I crossed over the Rohtang Pass that evening and stayed in the town of Keylang. The next day I planned a day trip to the Pangi region in the north of the Chamba district, departing early in the morning, but this plan was too optimistic. After visiting the temples at Trilokinath and Udaypur, the road became fiercely rough and the jeep was obliged to run quite slowly. When we arrived at the destination, Mindal village, night had almost fallen.

Although I could just about take photographs of the Chamunda Devi Temple, on the hill at an altitude of 2,750m, at a long exposure, it was impossible to get enough time to research in detail.
Since an inscription tells us that King Pritivi Singh endowed the land of Mindal in 1641, the temple seems to have been first built at that age too.

Chamunda Devi Temple at Mindal village

In the Pangi region, the sloping roofs of Hindu temples have become extremely steep owing to heavy snowfall, making the shape of gables a near equilateral triangle. Their eaves protrude so little because the stone Garbhagriha (sanctuary) is surrounded with a wooden ambulatory and all of them are covered by the large gable roof. The façade generally has two columns supporting the bottom beam of the gable.

While the aforementioned temples in the Kull district resemble Japanese Shinto shrines, the temples in this region recall Greek temples. The early Greek temples are assumed to have been built of wood, the facade of the Megalon style had two columns between two end walls, and the Peripteral style of temples had colonnades surrounding a Naos (sanctuary) made of sun-dried brick; with this there are many similarities to the gabled temples in the Pangi region.

left : Conjectural elevation of an early Greek temple (Samos)
right : The Treasury at Delphi (Greece)

It is also common to insert carved panels in the tympanum (gable). Are they perhaps truly the vestiges of the fusion of Greek and Indian architecture in ancient times in the Himalayas? It is deeply interesting.

It is greatly regrettable that the three tiers of carved panels at the gable of the Chamunda Devi Temple were recently painted in full color. The gable panels are so vulnerable to the elements, due to the lack of deep eaves, that they are often replaced by new ones. Therefore, the current panels of this temple may be new. Among those carved panels, some large figures wearing a costume of the Naga tribe of Nagaland state in eastern India attracted my attention. Although it is not clear if the worships of Naga in the two remote regions have the same roots, these figures were probably carved under the consciousness of it.

Restored elevation of the Artemis Temple (Corfu, Greece)
(From "A HISTORY OF ARCHITECTURE" by Spiro Kostof, 1985)

This temple is dedicated to a goddess called Chamuda Devi. The worship of a Devi (goddess) is also a characteristic of the Himachal region. In contrast to that, most Hindu temples in the Indian plain enshrine either the god Shiva or the god Vishnu, the majority of Himachal temples are dedicated to goddesses. It is the worship of the ‘earth goddess’ also performed since ancient times, and later incorporated into Hinduism, which identified those goddesses with Durga (Parvati), wife of Shiva.

Parvati Temple, Killal

Leaving Mindar in complete darkness after sunset, we drove back on the terribly rough road in a jeep for five and half hours and arrived at the hotel in Keylang at one o’clock in the morning.


© Takeo Kamiya
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