Monday 8 August 2011

Somanath Temple

Somanath Temple Through The Ages
“It is a Swayambhu Linga of great prowess, as bright as the disc of the Sun, surrounded by a serpent, of the size of the egg of a hen, called the Sarsa Linga and lodged underground.”….  Prabhasa Khana of the Skanda Purana.
Somanatha, as a Jyotirlinga, has been given a premier place in our religious literature. From Mahabharata downwards, the Puranic literature has referred to Prabhasa with reverence not shown to any other center of pilgrimage.
Prabhasa continued to be famous for its sanctity. It was the principal port for commerce with the Middle East. On account of its favourable geographical situation, it rose to prominence, it being an important port of call for ships between Africa and China, possibly the sailors carried the fame of the idol far and wide. In the last quarter of the 15th century A.D. after Begda’s destruction. Prabhasa Patan declined as a port and Surat rose as a great entry pot.
For a thousand years, Mahmud’s destruction of this shrine in A.D. 1026, according to K. M. Munshi, ‘has been burnt into the collective Subconscious of the race as an unforgettable national disaster.’
B. K. Thapar, an eminent archeologist who later rose to be the Director General, Archeological Survey of India, had conducted a short but intensive excavation here in September – October, 1050, before the old temple was demolished. He brought to light abundant evidence of the material remains of the earlier temples buried below. A few stone slabs with inscribed letter were also discovered. Red polished ware found in the lower levels of the trenches is dated to the early centuries of the Christian era. Lakulisha, the founder of the Pashupata cult, flourished in the 2nd century A.D. The Miras temple may be taken to pertain to the 1st-2nd centuries A.D. and its relics were the traces of one of the earliest stone temples in India. In all, remains of five successive temples at the same spot were uncovered.
Thapar writes: ‘The story of Somanatha is known to us in considerable detail. It signifies the faith and reverence of the devout Hindu; it symbolises the racial instinct for survival; it amplifies the theory of creation, destruction and reconstruction and above all, it represents the architectural development in Gujart for over nine hundred years.
Mahmud of Ghazni looted this historic shrine and desecrated it in 1026 A. D. But a large part of his army perished on the way back. After suffering great distress and hardship and after a short halt at Multan where he reached via Mansura in Sindh, he saved his life, but many of his followers of both sexes were captured. He had not returned by the direct route out of fear of the confederate forces of Raja Param Deo, one of the most powerful Rajas of Hindustan.
The Tarikh-I-Sorath states that the Muslim army did not make a stand but fled. It was a rout. Shah Mahmud took to his heels in dismay and gave up his designs on India thereafter after reaching Ghazni. The temple was immediately reconstructed by Bhoja and Bhima, the rulers of Malwa and Guajrat. Whenever the Muslims subsequently destroyed the temple, it was soon rebuilt by the Hindus.
According to K. M. Munshi, ‘From this time, Shiva the Destroyer, was the God of Resistance and in his name million laid down their lives in defence of their faith and land, till in A.D. 1665 and thereafter again in His name, the South under Shivaji and his successors with “Har Har Mahadev” on its lips rose in resistance and destroyed the Mughal empire.’
In A. D. 1783, Queen Ahalyabai built a new temple nearby.
In A. D. 1842, the British Indian infantry Regiment when marching from Kandhar to Kabul fought a historic battle at Ghazni and removed the gates of Mahmud’s Tomb taking them to be the gates of the Somanatha Temple. M. C. Joshi, ex-Director General, Archeological Survey of India, had examined them in Agra Fort but they are gates of Mahmud’s tomb having inscription of Mahmud’s name and not those of the temple.
M. A. Daky who excavated here in 1970s writes: ‘And we found the answer all right. Not that it was a complete one. Even today it is not. There still are a few exasperating gaps which are beyond our power to fill in; and a couple of blind alleys for which no break through seems in sight.’
There was a view that the ruins of the old temples should be maintained as an ancient monument. K. M. Munshi was, however, firm in his opinion, that the temple of Somanatha was not just an ancient monument; it lived in the sentiments of the whole nation and its reconstruction was a national pledge. Its preservation was not a mere matter of historical curiosity. When the Archeological Survey of India pressed the question, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel expressed his views as follows: ‘The Hindu sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and widespread. In the present conditions, it is unlikely that sentiment will be satisfied by mere restoration of the temple or by prolonging its life. The restoration of the idol would be a point of honour and sentiment with the Hindu public.’
On Kartik Sudhha 1, the New Year Day of Samvat 2004, the Sardar visited Somanatha with Kakasaheb Gadgil. At a huge public meeting held in the dilapidated Ahalya Bai Temple, he announced with sea-water in his hands on November 3, 1947.
‘On this auspicious day of the New Year, we have decided that Somanatha should be reconstructed. You, people a Saurashtra, should do your best. This is a holy task in which all should participate.’
A Trust was set up for the purpose and Shri N. P. Chakravarti, Director General of Archeology, was its Convener. After his retirement in 1950, Shri M. S. Vats succeeded him as the Director General before Shri Thapar took up the excavation. Under the Advisory Committee’s instructions, Prabhashankar Sompura, with his wide knowledge of the ancient temple architecture building, prepared a plan of the new Temple on the style of the old one.
On May 11, 1951, Rashtrpati Dr. Rajendra Prasad installed the Jyotirlinga of Lord Somnath in the new Temple constructed on the historic spot at Prabhasa Patan near Veraval (Saurashtra, Gujarat). It was the same spot and over the same Brahmasila were for millennia stood the hoary and sacred Jyotirlinga, and shrine of God Siva, the first among the twelve Jyotirlingas (Divine columns of eight symbolishing the all pervading God Siva) in India.
The overall height of the new Temple is 155 feet and the foundation has gone upto a depth of 30 feet at places. No temple of this size, architecturally known as Kailas Maha Meru Prasada had been built in the Indian sub-continent for the last 800 years. The stone used from first floor upwards is of the same type as the stone originally used for constructing the previous Somanatha temple. The architecture is also the same.
On May 13, 1965, the booming of 21 guns announced the rising of the flag for Somanatha temple on its sikhara to mark the completion of Kalasha pratishtha and dhvajadanda ceremony by His Highness the Jam Saheb of Nawanagar, Chariamn of the Somanatha Trust. The funds for reconstruction, Rs. 25 lakh, were donated by the public. As per the advice of Mahatma Gandhi, no funds were taken from the Government.

Article by : A. N. Khanna
Source: Bhavan's Journal 31 October 2007
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