Chamba is one of the most gifted places in India – gifted with immense natural beauty and rich in arts and crafts. On the periphery of Shivalik hills and at the foothills of the Himalayan ranges, blessed with great weather and lush green cover, Chamba is a paradise for nature lovers.
Historically, Chamba in Himachal Pradesh has been a prosperous township. The kings were art lovers and the art and crafts, both paintings and handicrafts flourished here. A fine example of the past glory is the Laxmi Narayan Temple. This temple complex was started by the King Sahil Varman in 920 AD. He was a great lover of paintings and architecture and promoted Pahari style which was greatly influenced by the Mughal art.
The story goes that for making the idol of a temple, he wanted only the best marble from Vindhyachal Mountains and sent his sons, one after another to fetch it. He lost eight sons in these attempts. Finally, the eldest son managed to procure the best marble and get it back safely with the blessings of a saint and then the marvelous Laxmi Narayan Temple got an idol made with it.
The King named the temple after his favorite daughter Champavati. Some say he named it after his favorite Queen. No sooner than the first temple of Lord Krishna and his consort Goddess Laxmi was complete, the next one was built next to it. Thus over several generations, a beautiful temple complex of six temples was built here. The successors kept adding to the beauty of the temples too. Some gilded parts, some added staffs, and figurines. Thus the whole complex is dated between 10th and 17th century AD. Today, it stands as a fine example of Shikhara style of architecture. Three of these temples are dedicated to Lord Krisha and the other three have Shiva as the deity. All six temples have a wooden umbrella and a wheel on the roof to protect it from heavy snowfall and cold. They are all arranged along the north-south axis with the biggest Laxmi Narayan temple being at the top. All are made from a pinkish looking stone.
Each has a Mandap in front of the inner sanctum. The carvings on the temple facade are absolutely exquisite. Basically, there are vertical columns of intricate carvings of floral motifs with animal figurines or geometric patterns are intercepted by small statues of Gods and Goddesses at eye level. Various stories from Hindu mythology or history are carved and immortalized in stone such as the Narasimha Avtar -half lion and half human form in which the God appeared. The carvings also depict Ganapati, Laxmi, Parvati, and Gopikas.
The main gate of the temple has a huge metal staff atop which sits a majestic Garuda figure – a man with a bird beak and outstretched wings. Garuda is the vehicle of small shops are lined up on either side of the narrow road that leads up to the main entrance.
The standing idol is placed on a golden pedestal with carvings of fierce-looking lions on either side and Garuda with folded hands in the middle. The idol itself is almost human-sized and made in the finest white marble. It is dressed in bright yellow and red Zari clothes and His hand is raised in a blessing.
This temple complex, in addition to being the largest and most beautiful one in the region, is also famous for the Suhi Mata festival celebrated in April. Only women and children take part in it and dance in the procession from the town square to the Suhi Mata Temple.