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October - November 2004


Somnath Temple

by Hemang Palan

The fascinating temple of 'Bhagwan Somnath', dedicated to the Moon God, is situated in the sacred Prabhas Patan region near Veraval port on the southwest Arabian sea-cost of Gujarat state's Saurashtra belt in India. In the vicinity of Somnath lies Gir forest famous for its natural habitat of world renowned Asiatic Lions.

Prabhasa; where the legendary Somnath temple stands, in the days of great poet Kalidasa, was known far & wide for its sanctifying powers and was a centre of worship for 'Shivayogis' who recorded their religious rituals in a book called 'Somavidya'. They believed that if there was a moonless night on a Monday, the day which is considered to be sacred to Shiva, it was most appropriate to worship him and any religious ceremony performed on that day was supposed to evoke divine favour for the worshipper.

When and who constructed the first or original temple of Somnath is conclusively and historically not known. In the 'Skanda Purana' - one of the oldest Hindu epics, a clear description of the holy installation of a mighty 'Shivalinga' in Prabhasa is available but no explicit mention is made of Somnath temple. However, many learned Hindu historians strongly opine that the first Somnath temple came into being in the 6th century BC. A legend in Hindu relegion goes that the Moon God; after getting married to 27 daughters of 'Daksha Prajapati', remained partial and affectionate only towards Rohini among his wives and neglected the other ones. An angered Daksha thus cursed him to wane into nothingness. To save himself; along with Rohini, Moon God - 'Soma' worshipped the 'Shiva' deity in Prabhasa which hence got the name 'Soma-Nath' - the Lord of the Moon.
Somnath temple's glory grew thereafter by leaps & bounds. It is said that people from the remotest parts of the world came to worship the shrine at Somnath. The revenue collected from ten thousand villages nearby Prabhasa was spent on the maintenance of the temple, two thousand 'Brahmin' priests served the idol and a golden chain attached to a huge plate announced the commencement of prayers at Somnath.

Destroyed six times by notorious Mughal invaders, the existing Somnath temple is the seventh shrine of 'Shiva'. It rose and fell many a times and the amazing drama of the iconoclast's zeal for its desecration and the devout Hindu's passionate desire for its restoration continued till 15th century when Hindus finally gave up in sheer despair and built a new Somnath temple nearby the original one.

The destruction brought upon this temple by Mahmood Gazani, the 'Sultan' of Gazani (modern day Afghanistan) in 1025 AD is one of the most unfortunate chapters in Indian history. It was a Thursday in the month of January when Mahmood invaded Prabhasa with a mighty army comprising of lakhs of Moghul soldiers. Thousands of Hindus and 'Rajas' tried to repulse the attack but failed to defeat. He smashed the huge 'Shivalinga' of 'Bhagwan Somnath', vandalised the temple structure, looted mighty treasures of the temple housing heaps of silver, gold, diamonds, pearls and various other precious stones and abducted hordes of young men and women as slaves which he took along with him after 18 days of massacre and carnage. The 'mission' cost him three-forth of his army as had to encounter fierce attacks from Raja Bhoj of Malwa and Raja Beesaldev of Ajmer while back home. In his blind fury, not only did he despoil an object of beauty but tore up the pages of history which Somnath bore on its walls. It is said that the temple was supported by pillars which bore the names of its sculptors. Unfortunately, this information has been lost to the history forever.

Thereafter, the Portuguese Governor of Diu-de-Castone plundered the ports of Saurashtra nearby Somnath. He also descended upon Prabhasa and put it to loot and arson sparing neither mosques nor temples. The whole of Prabhasa was then reduced to ruins. The portuguese took away the famous inscription well known Sankrit by the name of 'Bhipuratak Prashsti'. This inscription is kept nowadays in the village 'Sitta' of Portugal.

After partition of India in 1947, the Indian Army took over the administration of Junagadh state in control of Prabhasa Patan. On December 13, 1947; Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, then Deputy Prime Minister of India, visited Somnath with Maharaja Jam Saheb Digvijaysinghji of Jamnagar State. The ruined condition of the temple moved Sardar Patel - the iron man of India, to such an extent that he went to the seashore nearby, took few drops of water from the Arabian Sea on his Palms and made a vow to rebuild the temple and install the deity under the supervision of a galaxy of stalwarts form all walks of life. The Somnath Trust Board was thus established.
Prabhashankar Sompura - a well known expert in the field of construction of 'Shiva' temples according to 'Bharatiya Vastu Shastra', was put in charge of building the new temple in the independent India.

The full version of this article is available in the print edition.

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