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Temples of Somnath

Page Last Updated: May 09, 2017

Somnath is also known by several other names -- Deo pattan, Prabhas Pattan or Pattan Somnath -- which it acquired during its long and eventful history. Somnath was once the most revered shrine in the country, for it had one of the twelve pre-eminent Jyotirlingas (the glowing Lingas) which held a special significance for the Hindus. Somnath's glory and fame are legendary. It is said that people from the remotest parts of the country came to worship at the shrine; revenues collected from ten thousand villages was spent on the maintenance of the temple. Two thousand Brahmins (priests) served the idol and a golden chain attached to a huge bell plate announced the commencement of prayers.

Somnath rose and fell many a time and the amazing drama of the iconoclast's zeal for its desecration and the devout Hindu's passionate desire for its restoration continued till the 15th century, when the Hindus finally gave up in sheer despair and built a new temple nearby.

The present site of Somnath is a pile of ruins and little is known of the early history of this place. It is believed to have been erected by the Vallabhi Kings in about 480-767 A.D. The temple is dedicated to Someshwara, the Lord Shiva with moon in his head. The destruction brought upon this temple by Muhammad of Ghazni in 1025 A.D.  is an important event in Indian history (see also: a time-line of India). 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; this information has been lost to history forever.

In its external design the Somnath temple compares well with the temple of Rudramala at Siddhapur and is more or less of the same size in length. The dome, however, is as large as any other built in this period. The temple faces to east and once had an enormous central hall with three entrances, each protected by a lofty porch. The fragments that lie scattered at a short distance from the site give some idea of the sculpture decorating the temple. The richly carved doorways, the sculptured representations of Nandi, Siva's bull, and the figures of goddesses and their female attendants must once have presented a grand ensemble of great beauty. In the recesses of the balconied corridor, there is a mutilated form of  Nataraja, the dancing Shiva. Although essentially a Brahmanical temple, the influence of Jain architecture is clearly discernible.

The Kathiawar style of temple architecture in the 11th century was so widespread that instances of it can be found in Rajasthan too. There is a group of five badly damaged temples at Kiradu in the Mallani district of Marwar, each of which displays many characteristics of the Solanki style of building. Certain Gupta influences are also apparent, obviously arising from their proximity to Gupta territory.

Of these five temples, the one dedicated to  Lord Vishnu is probably the oldest, but the best preserved is the elegant shrine of Someshwara. The skeleton of a magnificent pillared hall still bears testimony to the intense devotion with which these deserted structures must once have been built. The square shafts of the richly wrought pillars end in the foliage motif so characteristic of Gupta decorative art, and above this is a circular disc and capital, consisting of four brackets.

The ruins of the Rudramala temple at Siddhapur on the banks of the Saraswati river testify to the ornated grandeur that the Solanki style had achieved when it was nearing its decline in the 12th century A.D. Clearly, this temple must have been one of the biggest and most lavishly decorated structures of its time.

Present State (1997)

Soon after independence (in 1947), India's first president Rajendra Prasad commissioned the restoration of the Somnath temple remarking -- "The Somnath Temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction."  It was completed in 1995 and the then President of India rededicated the services of the great Somnath temple, restored for the seventh time on the original location to the people of India. 

Today, it can be visited in the State of Gujarat by pilgrims and students of history.

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First published as Temples of North India, Dept. Information and Broadcasting, Government of India 1975. All Rights Reserved.

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