Legends of Indian Temples: Somnath Temple

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. Contd…

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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