Indian temples, with their grand architecture and great religious and spiritual significance, have always attracted travelers who set out on the journey of discovering the real Bharat. These places of worship turned out to be India’s best attractions, drawing in history buffs, architecture enthusiasts, pilgrims and spiritually inclined travelers alike. Gujarat’s Somnath Temple, the first of the 12 Aadi Jyotirlingas (the places where Lord Shiva appeared in the form of a radiant, infinite light) and a popular pilgrimage site for Hindus, is one of the most-visited temples in India.
The glorious history of Somnath Temple, one of the richest Indian temples, has been marred by the malevolence of Muslim marauders who raided, looted, and sabotaged this temple no less than 17 times. Try as they might, they couldn’t erase its existence as it rose like a phoenix from the ashes every time it was razed to the ground. Let’s delve into the history of Somnath, the myths, legends, and other interesting facts about this Shrine Eternal.
History of Somnath Temple – A Saga of Vile Demolition and Wilful Resurrection:
Much like the history of Bharat, the Somnath temple’s past is also fraught with depredations and destructions, but this temple survived them all. Standing firm on the western coast of India, this indestructible temple reflects the resilient character of Bharat.
According to Indian mythology, this age-old shrine was first built in gold by Somraj (Moon God), then in silver by Ravana, in sandalwood by Lord Krishna, and much later, in stone by Bhimdeva (one of the rulers of Gujarat).
Historical records state that the Somnath temple was pillaged and vandalized multiple times by various Muslim monarchs like Mahmud Ghazni, Khilji, Muzaffar Shah, Zafar Khan, Ahmed Shah, Mahmud Begada, Aurangzeb, etc., who looted the temple’s riches and reduced the pious site to a wreck. But every time the foreign invaders knocked the temple down, our ancient rulers like Shri Vikramaditya of Ujjaini, the Vallabhi kings, Bhimadeva of Anhilawada, and Khangara (the king of Junagadh) among others resurrected it, bringing back its glory.
This cycle of demolition by Muslims and reconstruction by Hindus continued for some centuries. But when Aurangzeb ruined it in 1702 for the last time, the temple wasn’t rebuilt until 1950.
Mahmud Ghaznavi’s attack on Somnath temple during the 11th century is the most heinous one. He not only attacked and looted the temple but also took away the lives of thousands of pilgrims and burnt away the temple.
Destruction they did, but their intention was never fulfilled because ‘the power of creation is always more than the power of destruction,’ as noted by Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, during the pran pratishtha ceremony at the modern Somnath Temple in 1951.
Reconstruction of Somnath Temple by the Iron Man of India:
The temple we see today is a result of the iron will of the great freedom fighter Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, who initiated the reconstruction of Somnath Temple during his visit to Prabhas in 1947. The mosque that Aurangazed replaced the temple with, was shifted to a new place, and Jyotirling Pratishthan was done by Dr. Rajendra Prasadon on 11th May in 1951.
The new Somnath temple was designed in Chalukya style temple architecture by the Sompara community, under the auspices of Prabhashankar Sompura. The exquisite carvings on the honey-colored temple speak volumes about the exceptional craftsmanship of our artisans. Well-maintained temple gardens, an ornate gateway called Digvijay Dwar, intricate artwork on walls and ceilings, and a beautiful Sabha Mandap (Assembly Hall) and Nritya Mandap (Dance Hall) are some of the notable features of Somnath Temple. There is also a statue of Shri Vallabhbhai Patel at the main gate of the temple.
Sitting solemnly at Triveni Sangam, the place where the three holy rivers – Kapila, Hiran and Saraswati – meet, Somnath Jyotirlinga temple imbues the surroundings with an air of tranquility and spirituality.
Who built the original Somnath Temple?
The construction of the original Somnath Temple is associated with the legend of Daksha’s curse on the Moon (Chandra Deva), the lore that explains the waxing and waning phenomena of the moon.
When Chandra Deva favored Rohini more than his other wives (who were all daughters of Daksha) as opposed to his promise that he would love all his 27 wives (the 27 nakshatras) equally, an infuriated Daksha puts a curse of Kshay (gradual degeneration of the body) on him. Gutted, Chandra Deva rushes to Lord Brahma, who advises him to bathe in Triveni Sangam at Prabhas Teerth and worship Lord Shiva, the ultimate savior. As instructed, Chandra Deva recites Mahamrityunjaya Mantra invoking Lord Shiva, who offers Chandra refuge in his dreadlocks (Lord Shiva thus came to be known as Chandrashekara). Lord Shiva also releases Chandra Deva from the curse inflicted on him for his unjust behavior, but without completely revoking it. Chandra Deva would wither, as cursed, however, Lord Shiva blesses him that he would steadily grow in size and radiance during the next 15 days of shrinking to a charming crescent, thus shining in full glory on Poornima.
Having received this boon, Chandra Deva constructs a beautiful temple in gold for Lord Shiva, which is the Somnath Temple (Soma meaning moon) and installs the first Jyotirlinga which he names Somnath Mahadev. Chandra also began to spend equal time with each of his 27 wives (1 day in each nakshatra) ever since.
Interesting Facts About Somnath Temple:
- Also known as Prabhas Kshetra or Prabhas Patan, Somnath temple is the pious place where Bhagavan Shree Krishna took his divine journey to Neejdham.
- Lord Krishna’s funeral rites were performed at Triveni Sangam, the confluence of Hiran, Kapila and Saraswati Rivers.
- Ancient Holy texts such as Rig Veda, Shiv Puran, Shreemad Bhagavad Geeta, and Skanda Purana mention Somnath Temple.
- Skanda Purana states that the original Somnath temple was built some 7, 99, 25,105 years ago.
- According to the Skanda Purana, the name of this temple will be changed every time Lord Brahma recreates the world. So, Somnath temple will be known as Pran Nath Temple in a new world that replaces the world that we are living in right now.
- Ancient texts also say that the ‘Pran Pratistha’ of the first Somnath Jyotirlinga was done on the auspicious third day of the brighter half of Shravan month during the tenth Treta Yug of Vaivasvata Manvantara.
- The Jyotirlinga enshrined here is said to possess alchemic and radioactive properties and the magnetic field it creates around itself is the reason why it levitates above the ground.
- Can you believe there exists no piece of land along the straight line between Somnath seashore and Antarctica? The Baan-Stambh (Arrow Pillar) erected on the sea toward the south of the Somnath temple has an inscription in Sanskrit attesting to this fact.
- A one-hour light and sound show is organized at the Somnath temple every day, narrating to devotees the history and importance of this age-old temple.
How to Reach Somnath Jyotirlinga Temple?
Somnath Temple is situated near Prabhas Patan in Saurashtra. Here’s how you can reach this temple by air, rail, or road.
By Flight: Keshod Airport and Diu Airport are the two closest airports, located at a distance of about 50 and 90 km from Somnath respectively. You can take buses from the airport or hire a taxi or cab to reach Somnath Temple. Sardar Vallabhai Patel Airport in Ahmedabad is the nearest international airport. Indian Eagle offers the best deals on international flights. So, hurry up, plan your trip and fly over to Gujarat to experience the mystical aura of Somnath temple yourself!
By Train: Somnath has its own railway station. Trains ply to Somnath from Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Pune, Jabalpur, and other major cities regularly. Veraval railway station located nearby is another option you have.
By Bus: Several public and private buses connect Somanth with cities like Rajkot, Porbandar, Ahmedabad, etc.
Places to See around Somnath Temple:
- Old Somnath Temple
- Prabhas Patan Museum/ Somnath museum
- Triveni Sangam
- Krishna Paduka
- Somnath Beach
- Sarada Math
- Surya temple & Mata Hinglaj Mataji Gufa
- Geeta Temple
- Baldev Ji Gufa
- Veneshvar Mahadev temple
- Laxminarayan Mandir
- Junagadh Gir Safari