Somnath Temple is a Hindu temple located in Prabhas Patan near Veraval in west Gujarat. Regarded as the first of the twelve Jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva, Somnath Mandir is one of Gujarat’s biggest pilgrimage sites. Many rulers have reconstructed the temple over the centuries. It was reconstructed in 1951 in the Chaulukya style of architecture. Hindus call the temple the ‘Shrine Eternal’ and hold it particularly dear as a center of worship.
History of Somnath Temple
The Somnath temple history is a rich and varied one. Ancient texts such as the Skandpuran, Shiv Puran, and Rig-Veda mention it. This signifies its revered nature since the dawn of Hinduism. Since ancient times, in fact, Somnath has been a pilgrimage site as it lies at the confluence of three sacred rivers – Hiran, Kapila, and Saraswati. 10000 villages would donate funds to maintain the temple.
The first confirmed documentation of a temple at this site goes back to 649 BC, by the Yadava Kings of Vallabhi. King Nagabhata II later built a temple here out of red sandstone. In 1024 AD, Mahmud of Ghazni raided the temple and destroyed it. Subsequently, King Kumarapala rebuilt it in 1169 AD. The Portuguese invaders and then Emperor Aurangzeb destroyed later rebuilds of the temple in turn.
Much later, the first government of independent India, under Dr. Rajendra Prasad, completed the reconstruction of the temple. The current temple is constructed in the ‘Kailash Mahameru Prasad’ style. It features a sikhara or main spire that is 15 meters high, with a flag pole on top. The temple features a lingam as its primary image, which represents the infinite nature of Lord Shiva. The roof of the temple is covered with beautiful sculptures of different Hindu gods and goddesses. The structure is a tribute to the skills of the Sompuras, who are the master architects of Gujarat. Today, pilgrims from across the country flock to offer prayers to the Somnath jyotirlinga, which is among the holiest of sites dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Legends about Somnath Temple
Somnath Mandir Gujarat is known for the many legends and stories that surround it. Some of these incredible legends are truly worth recounting.
- According to ancient Indian tradition, Chandra the Moon God had married the twenty-seven daughters of Daksha Prajapati. However, he favored Rohini above all the others. Daksha, angered by this, cursed Chandra and took away his power(moonlight). Chandra then sought the help of Lord Brahma – on his advice, Chandra prayed to Lord Shiva at Prabhas Teerth. Shiva, pleased with his devotion, restored his light.
- According to a similar legend, Chandra bathed at the Saraswati River at this site to regain his lost light. The consequent change in tides resulted in the waxing and waning of the moon.
- Pauranic tradition states that Chandra built this temple out of gold, followed by Lord Ravana who rebuilt it out of silver. Later, Lord Krishna rebuilt the temple out of sandalwood. The Somnath temple is the first among these jyotirlingas. Lord Shiva allegedly appeared at these sites in the form of a blazing column of light. This column represented his supreme and unified reality. This is why Hindus worship the Somnath Shivling as a symbol of great power.
- The Banastambha (arrow pillar), located on the sea-facing wall of the temple, bears an ironic inscription. It states that the Somnath temple is the first point of land from that position to the South Pole in that particular longitude.
- The Somnath temple and its stories also captured the imagination of the British. In his 19th-century novel “The Moonstone”, Wilkie Collins mentions a diamond that was presumably stolen from the Somnath temple