Himachal Pradesh has not only temples sacred to the Hindus but it is a land where there is a confluence of the Hindu, Sikh and Buddhist faiths. At Rewalsar in Mandi district there is a large natural lake with a floating island. This lake is equally sacred for devotees of all the three religions and thus, temples, a gurdwara and a gompa (Buddhist monastery) are located around it. The Buddhist monastery is of particular significance as it is reputed to have been founded by Guru Padmasambhava who carried the message of Buddhism into Tibet. It is said that the devout can see Padmasambhava sitting on a lotus on the floating island. Devotees of all religions congregate on the banks of Rewalsar in pilgrimage. Rewalsar is connected by a motorable road to Mandl, the district headquarters.
While Himachal Pradesh has an ancient connection with Buddhism, no account of the state would be complete without mentioning the new equation Buddhism has established here now. And this, though only about four decades old, is nontheless a vital link as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has made his headquarters at Mcleodganj, a small hill-station near Dharamshala. As the name Mcleodganj suggests, it is hangover from the British colonial period. Tibetans have settlod here, built the Namgyal Monastery and they have established an arts and crafts centre where Tibetan handicrafts, including hand-made carpets can be found.
Temples, forts and palaces are the main architectural features of Himachal Pradesh. As this land has a history receding into the distant past, many of these monuments are only partially visible. For example, archaeologists have recently uncovered the debris of a thousand year old temple dedicated to Bhima Devi. It is situated a few kilometres beyond the Pinjore Gardens on the road from Chandigarh to Shimla. Some art critics have equated this temple with the ones at Konark and Khajuraho as there are erotic sculptures of the same genre “executed in the niches of the pillars as well as on the friezes of the exterior walls of the temple.” Male and female figures in the nude in amorous postures have been sculpted extensively in this temple built in grey sandstone. However, there is a difference in that icons of Shiva, Vishnu, Brahma, Surya, Ganesh, Ram and Parvati, etc., are also to be found here.
The people of Himachal Pradesh were not only great builders of temples but excelled in stone and wood sculpture. The temples were built mainly of stone and timber, both materials being available locally. A fine example of this is the Hadimba Devi temple in Manali, Kullu. It is unique in that its architectural form is different to other temples with their “shikaras” (spires). The Hadimba Devi temple is built in the pagoda style with “three tiers of square roofs covered with timber tiles, the conical root (the fourth one) is clad in metal.” The walls are of simple mud-covered stone Work that is in sharp contrast to the elaborately carved wooden door, with a beam overhead decorated with miscellaneous carvings of the Navagrahas, dancers, etc.
The people of Himachal not only surpassed in stone and wood carvings but they also adorned their temples and palace walls with paintings and frescoes. Most famous of these is the town of Kangra which is the birth-place of the Kangra School of Painting. The small town of Kangrajust 17 kilometres from Dharamshala, was at one time the capital of the hill state.
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