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Emperor Lalitaditya: One Among India’s Greatest Soldier-Statesmen
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Issue Vol. 33.3 Jul-Sep 2018 | Date : 18 Nov , 2018

The ruins of Martand Temple as these exist today-2

Lalitaditya’s Achievements

Later, he seems to have added more territories to his already vast empire. Kucha, Turfan and Assam (including the present-day Bengal), which were under the suzerainty of Tibet Kings, now became part of Lalitaditya’s Eastern frontiers.

Lalitaditya, however, was not satisfied with his victories, breathtaking as these were by any standards. Like Alexander, his exploits of conquests had filled this tireless warrior with an ambitious desire to capture the whole world; what with a vast army at his disposal. Kalhan quotes Lalitaditya’s speech to his own ministers in Rajtarangani: “For rivers which have set out from their own region, the ocean is the limit, but nowhere is there a limit for those who are frankly aspiring to be conquerors.”

Lalitaditya’s greatest legacy was the construction of Sun Temple at Martand in South Kashmir…

Though his prolonged campaigns in distant lands would at times dampen the enthusiasm of his soldiers, Lalitaditya had a unique way of rekindling the dampened spirits of his tired soldiers. Writes Kalhan again: “Though disliked by the Generals who were uneasy at the prolonged duration of the war, the King is thought of highly for his demand of strict observance of form!” Lalitaditya’s magnanimous treatment of his subjugated kings and the peoples of the captured territories also helped his war effort in many ways. He now began assembling a modern army of huge proportions, well-equipped with advanced weapons and armoured cavalry. His campaigns, thereafter, saw him taking on the territory of modern-day Maharashtra (Konkan) in the South West, Pallavas and Kalinga in the South and parts of China in the North. At its zenith, his empire stretched from Iran in the West, Tibet and parts of China in the North, Turkestan in the North West, Cauvery and Dwarka in the South and South West and Assam in the North East. Kashmir justifiably came to be recognised as the centre of a vast military power of Asia that was both powerful and prosperous.

Lalitaditya must certainly rate among the world’s greatest warriors of all time. Through his mind-boggling conquests, his territories extended to as far as River Cauvery in the South, Afghanistan to the West, Gaud (North Bengal) in the East, Ladakh and portions of Tibet in the North. Some historians credit him with the conquest of Iran and Badhakshan too. Lalitaditya’s victories ensured that Kashmir’s power and prestige reached its zenith during his rule.

Lalitaditya’s achievements were not restricted to his military conquests alone, though these were of immense proportions by every standard. His administration was efficient and people–friendly. One of the greatest welfare measures he adopted was to rid the Valley of constant flooding, which had prevented huge tracts of land from being cultivated. Through his engineers, he learnt that the flooding was mainly due to silting-up of the river-bed at Baramulla. He was the first king to realise that by cleaning the bed of rocks and silt, the flow of water could be hastened and as a consequence, the water level would fall. This would permit large submerged tracts of land becoming available to the people for cultivation. He put the process into motion. This resulted in the drying up of numerous swamps, which then became available for sowing crops. He also got bunds constructed around low lying areas, thereby reclaiming these for cultivation. He got numerous canals constructed to ensure that water-starved areas too were brought under cultivation. Kalhana mentions that he got water-wheels constructed for taking water to Chakradara and many other Karewas10 to reclaim the land for cultivation. These measures brought many uncultivated stretches of land under cultivation. Consequently, production of crops increased, adding greatly to the prosperity and well-being of the people.

To commemorate some of his outstanding victories, he founded many new towns such as Suniscatapur and Darpitapur. Unfortunately, today there are no signs of these towns. Lalitaditya also built the town of Phalapura and Parontsa. The former today is a village a near Shadipur, and the latter is now known as the town of Poonch. Lalitaditya is also credited with having built the town of Lalitapura (modern-day Letapura) where he built a large temple and Lokpunya (modern day Lukhbhavan) on the Anantnag-Verinag road. During the later period, this town became famous for serving as the centre of Damara rebellion. At Hushkapura (the present-day Ushkur, the site of many archeological excavations), he is said to have constructed a big Vihara and a Buddhist temple. It may be mentioned that the Chinese traveler, Ou’ Kong used Vihara as his resting place during his travels to these parts.

As a builder, two of his greatest creations among many, were the Sun Temple at Martand and his new capital city, Parihaspura. Auriel Stein11 writes: “It is no longer possible to trace with certainty the sites and remains of all the temples and structures which owed their existence to Lalitaditya. But those among them which can be identified, justify by their extant ruins, the great fame which Lalitaditya enjoyed as a builder. The ruins of the splendid temple at Martand, which the King had constructed near the Tiratha of the same name, are still the most striking objects of ancient Hindu architecture in the valley. Even in their present state of decay, they command admiration, both by their imposing dimensions and by the beauty of their architectural design and decoration.”

Lalitaditya’s greatness lay in his being highly tolerant of other faiths and his generosity towards subjugated kings…

To preside over his vast empire, he built a magnificent capital, Parihaspura, (City of Pleasures), just opposite the junction of Sindh and Jhelum Rivers in Ganderbal District of Kashmir, well away from the flood plains and marshes. Its site was carefully chosen right in the centre of the Valley from where all higher peaks and the complete circle of snowy mountain ranges are visible. In 1892, when Stein discovered these ruins, he commented on Kalhana’s description of the ruins in Rajtarangani, thus12: “Kalhana describes at length the series of great temples built by the King in this town. The extensive, though much injured ruins with which I was able to identify these structures at the site of Parihaspura, the present Paraspur, show sufficiently that Kalhana’s account of their magnificence was not exaggerated.”

Unfortunately, Parihaspura soon lost its importance, as Lalitaditya’s son, Vajraditiya, removed the royal residence from there. And later, Suyya’s re-laid drainage system during Avantivarman’s rule (855-883) brought the confluence of Vitasta and Sindhu from Parihasapura to Shadipur, which naturally affected the importance of the town.13 Later, Shankaravarman (883-901) used the materials of Parihaspura for building his new town at Pattan and still later Harsa (1089-1101) seized some of the gold and silver images of the temple, which existed there till then and had these melted. In the subsequent unrest, the whole town was burnt down.

Lalitaditya’s Legacies

Lalitaditya’s greatest legacy was the construction of Sun Temple at Martand in South Kashmir. The Temple was built over Mattan Karewa which provided a magnificent view of Kashmir valley, as far as the Pir Panjal Ranges. The Temple, popularly known as the Cyclops of the East, appeared to be bowing to the first rays of the rising sun. Auriel Stein writes about Martand: “Built on the most sublime site occupied by any building in the world, finer than the site of the Parthenon or of the Taj or of St Peters or of the Escorial- we may take it as the representative or the culmination of all the rest and by it we must judge the Kashmir people at their best.”

Younghusband too adds to the description of the splendor of the temple thus14: “On a perfectly open and even plain, gently sloping away from a background of snowy-mountains, looking directly out on the entire length, both of smiling Kashmir Valley and of the snowy ranges which bound it, so situated in fact to be encircled by, yet not overwhelmed by, snowy mountains; stand the ruins of a temple second only to the Egyptians in massiveness and strength and to the Greeks in elegance and grace. It is built of immense rectilinear blocks of limestone, betraying strength and durability……No one without an eye for natural beauty would have chosen that special site for the construction of a temple and no one with an inclination to the ephemeral and transient, would have built it on so massive and enduring a scale.”

Being a symbol of the zenith of Hindu rulers of Kashmir, the temple received special treatment from Sultan Sikandar (1389-1413 CE) who is known to the history as Sikander Butshikan (Sikander, the iconoclast). “Sultan Sikander was a religious fanatic, who would put even the worst bigot to shame. Muslim historian Hassan says that Sikander let loose a reign of terror, an orgy of violence and cruelty on Hindus, with the sole aim of converting them to Islam. All their temples in the cities, towns and villages were desecrated and the idols within those temples, creation of unparalleled workmanship, vandalised and destroyed. The material collected from these temples was used to construct ‘Khankahs’.”15

But it was the magnificent and imposing Sun Temple at Martand, constructed by the great Lalitaditya, in the eighth century, which received Sultan Sikandar’s special treatment. All his efforts to demolish the temple, which lasted for over a year, failed to achieve the desired result. Consequently, he devised an ingenious method to destroy it. He dug out stones from its base and burnt wood in the gaps thus created. Even though this hideous treatment failed to destroy the temple completely, it did inflict irreversible damage to one of world’s greatest heritage sites, destroying its outer walls and the gold-gilded paintings. Even today, the ruins of the Martand temple fill a lay visitor with awe and wonderment. Its ruins speak of the magnificence of the structure and the great effort that must have gone into making it.

Lalitaditya’s glorious reign served as a beacon to the Kashmiris of later generations, particularly during their subjugation by cruel and oppressive rulers…

Lalitaditya’s patronage of arts, crafts, literature, dance, drama and architecture was legendary.16 Despite the fact that his military campaigns took him away to far-off lands from Kashmir, he encouraged and patronised men of letters and great scholars of his time, like Manorath, Sakhdanta, Damodar Gupta and Udhata Bhata. He welcomed talented persons from all over and many learned people from India and far off countries paid a visit to his court, where they were treated with dignity and honour. He had succeeded in getting two famous poets, Bhavabhuti and Vaktapraja from Kannauj after the defeat of Yasovarman, to Kashmir and gave them the honour and prestige due to them, under an imperial order. He also liberally set up many Viharas, which became centres of learning. “Kashmir became the synagogue of foreign scholars and many cultural missions set out from the country,” writes one scholar.

Lalitaditya’s greatness lay in his being highly tolerant of other faiths and his generosity towards subjugated kings. Although a staunch Hindu, he showed equal respect to Buddhists and built a large number of Buddhist temples and monasteries. His own Commander-in-Chief Cankuniya, was a Buddhist and so were many of the high officials in his army. Lalitaditya’s unprecedented military victories had not turned him into an arrogant and dictatorial ruler. He was a compassionate king, whose people-centric administration, which focused on the welfare of his people, gained him much love and admiration from them. He was a wise ruler and an able administrator, who improved every aspect of his people’s lives. He ushered in an era of national glory, peace and prosperity in the country. The cultivators received special consideration by being provided with irrigation facilities and relief during calamities. A number of charitable institutions were set up where the poor were fed throughout the year and the needy were taken care of.

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His death is shrouded in mystery. There are two versions of his death, which were even much after own time. One thing common in both is that he died during an expedition to the North. Kalhana mentions that he “perished through heavy snow-storm in a country called, Aryanaka (modern Iran). According to another version, he, along with his small detachment, ended their lives by suicide in order to escape being captured by the enemy when they got separated from their main Army column and were blocked on a difficult mountain pass somewhere in Sinkiang”.17

Lalitaditya’s glorious reign served as a beacon to the Kashmiris of later generations, particularly during their subjugation by cruel and oppressive rulers. His rule served as a balm to soothe their wounds and served as a rock to fasten their moorings to in a sea of distress. Lalitaditya has not been studied in detail and historians have failed to give him a place of honour which he so richly deserves.


  1. Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their Exodus, Lancer Publishers and Distributers, New Delhi
  2. Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their Exodus, Lancer Publishers and Distributers, New Delhi
  3. “Auriel Stein in his translation of verse 42 in Book IV of Rajatarangini says: “Subsequently, Queen Narendraprabha, wife of King Durlabhaka Pratipaditikya bore the King a second son. Muktapida might be interpreted to mean ‘he whom diadem is taken off.’ Kalhana, bearing in mind the greatness of the ruler (Muktapida) says ‘his name ought to have been Avimukhtapida. However, the proper translation of Muktapida is, ‘he whose diadem contains pearls’ (See Bughler). Muktapida is an adjectival suffix to the name of the King Lalitaditya Muktapida. Mukta could also be the Prakritized version of Ou-Kong’s (Chinese traveler) Moung-ti from which Kashmirian ‘Muttoo’ is derived.” Dr K.N. Pandita.
  4. Feudal Chieftains, living on the outskirts of Kashmir Valley, who later seized power in Kashmir briefly 1286 and 1301 CE living on the outskirts of Kashmir Valley.
  5. One of the most renowned and oft quoted historians of India, Kalhan Pandit wrote the celebrated ‘Rajtarangini’ (River of Kings), between 1147 and 1149 CE. Rajtarangini is one of the most authentic works of history anywhere in the world and an invaluable source of the events of medieval Indian history. He is considered to be the first among the many historians of Kashmir. Jonaraja, Srivara and Suka were other great historians of Kashmir who added to Kalhan’s Rajtarangini and updated from where Kalhan had finised it to the time Mughals annexed Kashmir in the middle of 16th century.
  6. Rajatarangini (lit. “River of Kings”) is a historical chronicle of early India, written in Sanskrit verse by Kalhana (a Kashmiri Pandit) in 1148-1149 CE. It covers the entire span of history in Kashmir from the earliest times to the date of its composition and is considered to be the best and most authentic work of its kind.
  7. Keys to Kashmir, (Gandhi Memorial College, Lala Rookh Publications, Srinagar, 1957). p. 40.
  8. Keys to Kashmir, (Gandhi Memorial College, Lala Rookh Publicaions, Srinagar, 1957). p. 43.
  9. Ibid.
  10. Plateau like formation (locally called wudar) are mostly found to the west of River Jhelum and are protruding towards the east. These are flat-topped, with height rising to 366 meters from the surrounding ground level, with sides slopping and separated from each other by ravines.
  11. Sir Marc Auriel Stein was a Hungarian Jew, born at Budapest on November 26, 1862. He was baptised as a Christian by his parents and later took British citizenship. He was an archaeologist, primarily known for his explorations and archaeological discoveries in Central Asia. He was knighted for his discovery of rare Buddhist manuscripts at Magao caves near Danhuang in China in 1907. Whenever he returned from his tiring expeditions to Central Asia, he made a tent in Gulmarg as his home, where he would stay all alone, except for his dog, called Dash. He was also a Professor at some Indian university. He died in Kabul on October 26, 1943 and is buried there.
  12. Keys to Kashmir, (Gandhi Memorial College, Lala Rookh Publications, Srinagar, 1957). p. 46.
  13. Avantivarman (855-883 CE) brought back normalcy and restored stability to the chaotic conditions prevailing in Kashmir at the time. He carried out great engineering works through his chief engineer, Suyya, reclaiming large tracts of land from Wullar Lake, by redirecting the course of Vitasta River(later renamed Jhelum). Many villages were created on this reclaimed land, chief among them being Suyapur, present day Sopore. He put into place numerous anti-flood measures and dug out many canals that increased food production.
  14. Sir Francis Younghusband was a reputed traveler of Kashmir in the early part of 20th Century. Above quote is taken from his book Kashmir(Black, London).
  15. Kashmir: Its Aborigines and their Exodus, Lancer Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi. Hasan, History of Kashmir. Hasan, whose actual name was Pir Ghulam Hasan Khuihami (Khuihami, because he belonged to Khuihom—Khuihom is a combination of Sanskrit words, Khrish+Ashrama, which is present-day Bandipore). Hasan wrote Tarikh-i-Kashmir in Farsi in three volumes in circa 1889. After being edited by Moulvi Ibrahim of Khanyar, Srinagar, it was published by Jammu and Kashmir Cultural Academy in Farsi in three volumes. The book, whose Volume II is political history and is considered most authentic, has not been translated into Urdu or English.
  16. Kalhana in his Rajtarangini narrates a story about King Lalitaditya. While exercising his horse, the King noticed two beautiful girls dancing and singing at the same spot every day. On further query he was informed by the girls that they did so on the instructions of their mother. The king had the spot dug in and found the remnants of two decayed temples with two doors, with the images of Rama and Lakshmana inside these. He got a new temple constructed at the spot. This clearly established that the tradition of temple dancing existed in the ancient times. In fact, the Indian classical dance in various forms originated from this tradition of dancing before the temple deities.
  17. Keys to Kashmir, (Gandhi Memorial College, Lala Rookh Publications, Srinagar, 1957). p. 44.
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3 thoughts on “Emperor Lalitaditya: One Among India’s Greatest Soldier-Statesmen

  1. Thanks a million to Col ( Dr ) Tej Kumar Tikoo for this article on Emperor Lalitaditya. Very interesting . Write a book on Emperor Lalitaditya, his life and his exploits. People in India need to know more about him and warrior Kings like Bappa Rawal , who defeated the invading Arabs and chased them all the way to Iran. Thank you Sir. Best Wishes.

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