Somnath temple

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Somnath Temple
Front view of the present Somnath Temple
Front view of the present Somnath Temple
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Proper name Somnath Temple
Devanagari सोमनाथ मन्दिर
Sanskrit transliteration Sōmanātha mandira
Gujarati સોમનાથ મંદિર
Country India
State/province Gujarat
District Gir Somnath
Locale Prabhas Patan, Veraval
Primary deity Somnath (Shiva)
Important festivals Maha Shivaratri
Architectural styles Hindu temple architecture
History and governance
Date built 1951 (present structure)
Temple board Shree Somnath Trust of Gujarat
Website [archive]

The Somnath temple located in Prabhas Patan near Veraval in Saurashtra on the western coast of Gujarat, India, is believed to be the first among the twelve jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva.[1] It is an important pilgrimage and tourist spot of Gujarat. Destroyed and reconstructed several times in the past, the present temple was reconstructed in Chalukya style of Hindu temple architecture and completed in May 1951. The reconstruction was envisioned by Vallabhbhai Patel and was completed under K. M. Munshi, the then head of the temple trust.[2][3]


The temple is considered sacred due to the various legends connected to it. Somnath means "Lord of the Soma", an epithet of Shiva.

The Somnath temple is known as "the Shrine Eternal", following a book of K. M. Munshi by this title and his narration of the temple's destruction and reconstruction many times in history.[4]


According to tradition, the Shivalinga in Somnath is one of the twelve jyotirlingas in India, where Shiva is believed to have appeared as a fiery column of light. The jyotirlingas are taken as the supreme, undivided reality out of which Shiva partly appears.[5][6]

Each of the twelve jyotirlinga sites take the name of a different manifestation of Shiva.[7] At all these sites, the primary image is a lingam representing the beginning-less and endless stambha (pillar), symbolizing the infinite nature of Shiva.[7][8][9] In addition to the one at Somnath, the others are at Varanasi, Rameswaram, Dwarka, etc.[10][11]


The site of Somnath has been a pilgrimage site from ancient times on account of being a Triveni sangam (the confluence of three rivers — Kapila, Hiran and the mythical Sarasvati). Soma, the Moon god, is believed to have lost his lustre due to a curse, and he bathed in the Sarasvati River at this site to regain it. 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. The name of the town Prabhas, meaning lustre, as well as the alternative names Someshvar and Somnath ("The lord of the moon" or "the moon god") arise from this tradition.[12]

History of the temple[edit]

According to popular tradition documented by J. Gordon Melton, the first Siva temple at Somanath is believed to have been built at some unknown time in the past. The second temple is said to have been built at the same site by the "Yadava kings" of Vallabhi around 649 CE. In 725 CE, Al-Junayd, the Arab governor of Sindh is said to have destroyed the second temple as part of his invasions of Gujarat and Rajasthan. The Gurjara-Pratihara king Nagabhata II is said to have constructed the third temple in 815 CE, a large structure of red sandstone.[13]

However, there is no historical record of an attack on Somnath by Al-Junayd. Nagabhata II is known to have visited tirthas in Saurashtra, including Someshvara (the Lord of the Moon), which may or may not be a reference to a Siva temple because the town itself was known by that name.[14] The Chaulukya (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.[15]

In 1024, during the reign of Bhima I, the prominent Turkic ruler Mahmud of Ghazni raided Gujarat, plundering the Somnath temple and breaking its jyotirlinga. He took away a booty of 20 million dinars.[16][17] Historians expect the damage to the temple to have been minimal because there are records of pilgrimages to the temple in 1038, which make no mention of any damage to the temple.[18] However, powerful legends with intricate detail developed in the Turko-Persian literature regarding Mahmud's raid,[19] which "electrified" the Muslim world according to scholar Meenakshi Jain.[20]

The temple at the time of Mahmud's attack appears to have been a wooden structure, which is said to have decayed in time (kalajirnam). Kumarapala (r. 1143–72) rebuilt it in "excellent stone and studded it with jewels," according to an inscription in 1169.[21][22] In 1299, Alauddin Khilji's army under the leadership of Ulugh Khan defeated Karandev II of the Vaghela dynasty, and sacked the Somnath temple.[23] 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". Kanhadadeva the Raja of Jalore later defeated the Khilji army, recovered the broken pieces of the lingam and freed the prisoners.[24][25]

The temple was rebuilt by Mahipala Deva, the Chudasama king of Saurashtra in 1308 and the lingam was installed by his son Khengar sometime between 1326 and 1351.[26] As late as the 14th century, Gujarati Muslim pilgrims were noted by Amir Khusrow to stop at that temple to pay their respects before departing for the Hajj pilgrimage.[27]

In 1395, the temple was destroyed for the third time by Zafar Khan, the last governor of Gujarat under the Delhi Sultanate.[28] In 1451, it was desecrated by Mahmud Begada, the Sultan of Gujarat.[29]

In 1546, the Portuguese, based in Goa, attacked ports and towns in Gujarat including Somnath and destroyed several temples and mosques.[30]

By 1665, the temple, one of many, was ordered to be destroyed by Mughal emperor Aurangzeb.[31] In 1702, he ordered that if Hindus revived worship there, it should be demolished completely.[32]

'Proclamation of the Gates' incident during the British period[edit]

In 1782-83 AD, Maratha king Mahadaji Shinde, victoriously brought back three silver gates from Lahore after defeating Mahmud Shah Abdati, to Somnath. After refusal from priests of Gujarat 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.[33][34][35]

In 1842, Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough issued his the 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 temple.[36][37] 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.[34] They were placed in a store-room in the Agra Fort where they still lie to the present day.[38][39]

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.[40]

Reconstruction, 1950–1951[edit]

File:K M Munshi at Somnath in July 1950.jpg
K.M. Munshi with archaeologists and engineers of the Government of India, Bombay and Saurashtra, with the ruins of Somnath Temple in the background, July 1950.
File:Somnath temple ೨.jpg
Early picture of the present 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.[41]

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.[42] 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, Government of India headed by Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.[42]

The ruins were pulled down in October 1950 and the mosque present at that site was shifted few kilometres away.[43] 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.[44] The President 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.".[45] He added "The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction"[45]

Architecture of the present temple[edit]

Bāṇastambha (Arrow Pillar)

The present temple is built in the Chalukya style of temple architecture or "Kailash Mahameru Prasad" style[46] and reflects the skill of the Sompura Salats, one of Gujarat's master masons. The temple's śikhara, or main spire, is 15 metres in height, and it has an 8.2-metre tall flag pole at the top.[46]

The temple is situated at such a place that there is no land in a straight line between Somnath seashore until Antarctica, such an inscription in Sanskrit is found on the Bāṇastambha (Sanskrit: बाणस्तम्भ, lit. arrow pillar) erected on the sea-protection wall. The Bāṇastambha mentions that it stands at a point on the Indian landmass that is the first point on land in the north to the South Pole at that particular longitude.[47]


See also[edit]

Somnath Temple: The Indestructible Temple[edit]

The remains of the temple of Somanath "withstood the shocks of time and survived the attacks of destroyers. Aged, infirm, desecrated, it stood when Sardar Patel rescued it from neglect and pledged himself to its reconstruction. As a temple, it had done its work to remind ages of what India's faith had been; it was left only a symbol of her to-be-forgotten misfortune. With the dawn of a new era, the new temple has risen like the phoenix, from its own ashes," wrote K.M.Kunshi in 1950. His words gained new significance when, on 11 May 1951, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, then President of India, inaugurated a new shrine dedicated to Somanth.

K.M.Munshi -writes: "The shrine of Somanath in Prabhasa is traditionally as old as creation; it. is prehistoric." He further observes: "Prabhasa was traditionally a sacred place even in the days of Dharma, the son of Pandu. The Mahabharata refers to it again and again. It was very well known to the people and was situated &t a holy spot where the river Saraswati flowed into the sea."

Soma is the name for the moon, which was the son in-law of Daksha. Once Soma disobeyed a certain instruction of his father-in-law. Daksha was so angry that he cursed him, saying, "Thou shalt wane!"

The moon, who used to shine in full splendour every night till then, started to shrink. However, before the curse brought about an absolute end to the moon, many a god requested Daksha to revoke his curse. Daksha asked Soma to take a bath in the sea at the mouth of the river Saraswati and then to pray to Lord Shiva.

Thus Soma came to Prabhasa and worshipped Shiva. Hence at Prabhasa, Shiva came to be known as Somanath, the Lord of the moon. It is said that since then the moon comes to bathe in the sea at Prabhasa on every Amavasya , of full dark night, after-which he gradually recovers his lost splendour.

The first temple of Somanath was built as early as, if not earlier than, the 1st century A.D. Six hundred years, later, when Dharasena IV ruled over a part of Gujarat, a new temple replaced the old one. But the second temple did not last long. We do not know whether it was attacked and destroyed by men, or if some natural calamity befell it or a defect in its construction caused its ruin. But the temple became more famous after it was built for the third time, in the ninth century.

Life around the temple was marked by peace and sanctity until on a January day in the year 1026, Mahmud of Ghazni struck. Pot three days, fierce resistance was offered by the people who least expected such a brutal assault on a temple. Fifty thousand men laid down their lives in a brave effort to save the deity; if not the monument, but Mahmud succeeded in plundering and destroying the shrine and he did not spare the deity either.

However, a new temple was built soon thereafter. That was replaced by a fifth and a more impressive one. This was built by the great scholar-devotee, Bhava Brihaspati, under the patronage of King Kumarapala, in the 12th century.

For a period of 100 years, the temple became a centre of religious and cultural research. Then Alha-uddin Khilji sent his general, Alaf Khan, to destroy the grand monument Bhava Brihaspati had built with such devotion. This happened in the late 13th century.

The temple was reconstructed for the sixth time, by Mahipal, the king of Junagadh, and the deity was reinstalled by his son in the first half of the 14th century. In the 15th century the temple was occupied, if not destroyed, by a young governor of Gujarat, Mahmud Begda, and the deity was exiled. But after a few years, Begda's hold slackened, and the deity was reinstalled.

In the beginning of the 18th century, there was yet another ghastly attack. Aurangzeb ordered Mohammad Azam to reduce the temple to dust. Azam did his job well! But the temple rose again under the patronage of the pious Queen of Indore, Ahalyabai, in the latter half of the 18th century.

The British, when they came to India, knew what a delicate place the shrine of Somanath occupied in Indian hearts, and how much the people had suffered because of all that had happened to the great temple.

One day-in the year 1842, Edward Edenborough, then Governor-General of India, made this exciting announcement:

"Our victorious army bears the gates of the temple of Somanath in triumph from Afghanistan, and the despoiled tomb of Sultan Mahomed looks upon the ruins of Ghazni. "The insult of eight hundred years is at last avenged. The gates of the temple of Somanath, so long the memorial of your humiliation, are become the proudest record of your national glory, the proof of your superiority in arms over the nations beyond the Indus. "To You, Princes and Chiefs of Sirhind, of Rajwarra, of Malwa, and of Guzerat, I shall commit this glorious trophy of successful -war. "You -will yourselves, with all honour, transmit the gates of sandalwood through your respective territories to the restored temple of Somanath."

Michael Edwardes comments: "The farce lies not only in the supreme pomposity of the proclamation but in the fact that the gates were not from Somanath at all." For one British Governor eager to create the impression that he could be a champion of the native cause, there were many British bureaucrats who should be held responsible for the deterioration of the temple built by Queen Ahalyabai. The Gaekwad of Baroda, entrusted with the management of the temple, was for a long time denied the right to repair it.

However, soonafter India achieved independence, in November 1947, Sardar Valabhai Patel, the then Deputy Prime Minister of India, visited the temple, lt was the New Year Day of Samvat 2004. Addressing a mammoth gathering before the temple, he said: "On this auspicious day of the New Year, we have decided that Somanath should be reconstructed. You, people of Saurashtra, should do your best. This is a holy task in which all should participate." Amidst the historic ruins, the new shrine of Somanath smiles today - a smile of undying faith.


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External links[edit]

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