Front view of the "present" Somnath Temple
|Proper name||Somnath Temple|
|Sanskrit transliteration||Sômnãth Mandir|
|Primary deity||Somnath (Shiva)|
|Important festivals||Maha Shivaratri|
|Architectural styles||Hindu temple architecture|
|History and governance|
|Date built||1951 (present structure)|
|Creator||Vallabhbhai Patel (present structure)|
|Temple board||Shree Somnath Trust of Gujarat|
The Somnath Temple (Gujarati: સોમનાથ મંદિર Hindi: सोमनाथ मन्दिर) located in Prabhas Patan near Veraval in Saurashtra on the western coast of Gujarat, India, is the first among the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. It is an important pilgrimage and tourist spot for pilgrims and tourists. The temple is considered sacred due to the various legends connected to it. Somnath means "Lord of the Soma", an epithet of Shiva.
Somnath Temple is known as "the Shrine Eternal". This legendary temple has been destroyed and rebuilt several times by Islamic kings and Hindu kings respectively.[page needed] Most recently it was rebuilt in November 1947, when Vallabhbhai Patel visited the area for the integration of Junagadh and mooted a plan for restoration. After Patel's death, the rebuilding continued under Kanaiyalal Maneklal Munshi, another minister of the Government of India.
The temple is open daily from 6AM to 9PM. There are 3 aarti daily; in the morning at 0700, at 1200 and in the evening at 1900.
The shiva linga in Somnath is believed to be one of the 12 jyotirlingas in India, where Shiva appeared as a fiery column of light. The jyotirlingas are taken as the supreme, undivided reality out of which Shiva partly appears.
According to the Shiva Purana, as a result of an argument between Brahma and Vishnu regarding the supremacy of creation, Shiva pierced the three worlds as a huge endless pillar of light, the jyotirlinga, to test them. Vishnu and Brahma split their ways to downwards and upwards respectively to find the end of the light in either directions. Brahma lied that he found out the end, while Vishnu conceded his defeat. Shiva appeared as a second pillar of light and cursed Brahma that he would have no place in ceremonies while Vishnu would be worshipped until the end of eternity.
Each of the twelve jyotirlinga sites take the name of a different manifestation of Shiva. At all these sites, the primary image is a lingam representing the beginningless and endless stambha pillar, symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva. Even though there are believed to have been 64 jyotirlingas, twelve of them are considered to be very auspicious. In addition to the one at Somanath, the others are at Varanasi, Rameswaram, Dwarka etc.
Timeline of destruction and reconstruction of the ancient Temple
According to the religious traditions documented by J. Gordon Melton, the first Siva temple at Somanath was built at some unknown time in the past. The second temple was built at the same site by the Seuna kings of Vallabhi around 649 CE. In 725 CE, Al-Junayd, the Arab governor of Sindh, who invaded various parts of Gujarat and Rajasthan, is said to have destroyed the second temple. The Gurjara-Pratihara king Nagabhata II is said to have constructed the third temple in 815 CE, a large structure of red sandstone.
Accoring to historians, the site of Somnath has been a pilgrimage site from ancient times on account of being a triveni sangam (the joining of three rivers — Kapila, Hiran and the mythical Saraswati). Soma, the Moon god, is believed to have lost his lustre due to a curse, and he bathed in the river Saraswati at this site to regain the lustre. The result is the waxing and waning of the moon, no doubt an allusion to the waxing and waning of the tides at this sea shore location.
There is no historical record of a temple destroyed by Al-Junayd. However, Nagabhata II is known to have visited tirthas in Saurashtra, including Someshvara (the Lord of the Moon) at Somnath, which may or may not be a reference to a Siva temple. The Chalukya (Solanki) king Mularaja possibly built the first temple at the site sometime before 997 CE, even though some historians believe that he may have renovated a smaller earlier temple.
In 1024, the temple was destroyed by the prominent Afghan ruler, Mahmud of Ghazni, who raided the temple from across the Thar Desert. The temple was rebuilt by the Paramara king Bhoja of Malwa and the Solanki king Bhimdev I of Anhilwara (now Patan) between 1026 and 1042. This appears to have been a wooden structure, which was replaced by a stone temple by Kumarpal (r.1143-72).
In 1296, the temple was once again destroyed by Alauddin Khilji's army. Raja Karan of Gujarat was defeated and forced to flee. According to Taj-ul-Ma'sir of Hasan Nizami, the Sultan boasted that "fifty thousand infidels were dispatched to hell by the sword" and "more than twenty thousand slaves, and cattle beyond all calculation fell into the hands of the victors."
The temple was rebuilt by Mahipala Deva, the Chudasama king of Saurashtra in 1308 and the Linga was installed by his son Khengar sometime between 1326 and 1351. In 1375, the temple was once again destroyed by Muzaffar Shah I of the Gujarat Sultanate. In 1451, the temple was once again destroyed by Mahmud Begada, the Sultan of Gujarat.
By 1665, the temple, one of many, was once again ordered destroyed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb. Later the temple was rebuilt to its same glory adjacent to the ruined one. Later on a joint effort of Peshwa of Pune, Raja Bhonsle of Nagpur, Chhatrapati Bhonsle of Kolhapur, Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore & Shrimant Patilbuwa Shinde of Gwalior rebuilt the temple in 1783 at a site adjacent to the ruined temple.
'Proclamation of the Gates' Incident during the British raj
In 1782-83 AD, Maratha king Mahadaji Shinde, victoriously brought the Three Silver Gates from Lahore after defeating Muhammad Shah of Lahore. After refusal from Pundits of Guzrath and the then ruler Gaekwad to put them back on Somnath temple, these silver gates were placed in the temples of Ujjain. Today they can be seen in two temples of India, Mahakaleshwar Jyotirlinga and Gopal Mandir of Ujjain.
In 1842, Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough issued his famous Proclamation of the Gates, in which he ordered the British army in Afghanistan to return via Ghazni and bring back to India the sandalwood gates from the tomb of Mahmud of Ghazni in Ghazni, Afghanistan. These were believed to have been taken by Mahmud from Somnath. There was a debate in the House of Commons in London in 1843 on the question of the gates of the Somanatha temple. After much crossfire between the British Government and the opposition, the gates were uprooted and brought back in triumph. But on arrival, they were found to be replicas of the original. They were placed in a store-room in the Agra Fort where they still lie to the present day.
In the 19th century novel The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins, the diamond of the title is presumed to have been stolen from the temple at Somnath and, according to the historian Romila Thapar, reflects the interest aroused in Britain by the gates.
Reconstruction of the Somnath Temple
Before independence, Prabhas Patan was part of the princely state of Junagadh, whose ruler had acceded to Pakistan in 1947. After India refused to accept his decision, the state was made a part of India and Deputy Prime Minister Patel came to Junagadh on 12 November 1947 to direct the stabilization of the state by the Indian Army and at the same time ordered the reconstruction of the Somanath temple.
When Patel, K. M. Munshi and other leaders of the Congress went to Mahatma Gandhi with their proposal to reconstruct the Somnath temple, Gandhi blessed the move, but suggested that the funds for the construction should be collected from the public and the temple should not be funded by the state. He expressed that he was proud to associate himself to the project of renovation of the temple However, soon both Gandhi and Sardar Patel died and the task of reconstruction of the temple continued under Munshi, who was the Minister for Food and Civil Supplies in the Nehru Government.
The ruins were pulled down in October 1950 and the mosque present at that site was shifted few kilometres away. of In May 1951, Rajendra Prasad, the first President of the Republic of India, invited by K M Munshi, performed the installation ceremony for the temple. Rajendra Prasad said in his address "It is my view that the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple will be complete on that day when not only a magnificent edifice will arise on this foundation, but the mansion of India's prosperity will be really that prosperity of which the ancient temple of Somnath was a symbol.". He added "The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction"
The present temple, which was built by Patel and Munshi, is managed by Shree Somnath Trust.
Architecture of the present temple
The present temple is built in the Chalukya style of temple architecture or Kailash Mahameru Prasad Style and reflects the skill of the Sompura Salats, one of Gujarat's master masons. The temple's shikhara, or main spire, is 15 metres in height, and it has an 8.2-metre tall flag pole at the top.
The temple is situated at such a place that there is no land in straight-line between Somnath seashore till Antarctica, such an inscription in Sanskrit is found on the Arrow-Pillar called Baan-Stambh erected on the sea-protection wall at the Somnath Temple. This Baan-Stambh mentions that it stands at a point on the Indian landmass, which happens to be the first point on land in the north to the south-pole on that particular longitude.
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- Thapar 2004, p. 170
- Hindustan Times, 15 Nov, 1947
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