The famous temple of Somnath is situated in western India located on the Arabian Sea coast of Gujarat. It is believed that between Antarctica – the South Pole, and the point where current temple is situated, there is no land.
This peninsula was once famously known as Kathiawad after Kathi Durbar rulers who ruled part of this region. At the time of Independence most of Kathiawad was divided into numerous princely states. In 1950, two hundred seventeen of such states were merged to form Saurashtra. The literal meaning of Saurashtra is “Uttam Rashtra”or “Saur Rashtra” – the land of sun.
In 1956 Saurashtra was merged with Bombay state. Today when bigger states are divided into smaller ones, it is hard to believe that once smaller states were merged to form bigger state. Later on, in 1960, Bombay was divided into two on linguistic lines and thus formed Gujarat and Maharashtra.
The very high number of the princely state in Saurashtra itself, reminds me of Sardar Vallabh bhai Patel. We are grateful to this steel will man to give boundaries to our imagination of united and strong India.
I told Rachit about Sardar Patel and that he is also known as the iron man. It reminded him of a catalog of books. He got it from his school only a few days before our trip. He pestered me to buy at least one from it. His favorite among it was the “Iron Man” comic. Immediately, he told me that he wanted to know more about the Iron man and that was the reason for his insistence. I could not resist smiling at his innocence and the nearly perfect correlation.
A few years back, I read “Freedom at midnight” – written by Dominique Lapierre and Larry Collins. This book brilliantly captures the political and social scenarios of our country around 1947. It vividly and vibrantly depicts why Mahatma Gandhi is rightfully a Mahatma – tallest among all the world leaders of 20th Century.
I was in Grenoble, France on 1st January 2000 and was stopped by a French stranger. He told me that he voted Mahatma Gandhi as the Man of the Century. Though Einstein was leading the voting, but he strongly felt that it should be Mahatma Gandhi. Such voting has not much meaning for me. I did not even participate in that online survey. But if in far west, I am stopped by a stranger and admired for being from Mahatma’s land, I owe my veneration and admiration to this great man.
However, “Freedom at midnight” is mainly centered on Mahatma Gandhi and Mountbatten. It discusses Nehru, Jinnah and even the eccentric royalties of that time, but remains almost mum on Sardar Patel. My worst fear is that the later generations will read this very well-merited and well-researched book, but as there are no such equally well acclaimed book on Sardar Patel, his daunting contributions may fade.
I am sure the two authors were impressed by Sardar Patel’s character. Even sparse lines Sardar Patel got to his credit show his strong personality. The two authors described him as follows.
“In a land in which man talked constantly, threw their words around like sailors flinging away their money after three months at sea, Patel hoarded his phrases the way a miser hoarded coins. His daughter who had been his constant companion since his wife’s death, rarely exchanged ten sentences with him a day. When Patel did talk however people listened.
Patel was Indian from the uppermost lump of his bald head to the calluses on the soles of his feet. His Delhi home was filled with books, but every one of them was written by an Indian author about India. He rose faithfully at 4’o clock and was in bed just as regularly each night at 9:30. The first waking hours of each day Patel spent on his toilet, doing the bulk of his reading, thirty newspapers sent to him daily from every part of India.”
Among the main three nation leaders of 1947, for me, Mahatma Gandhi was a Humanitarian, Pandit Nehru a Statesman and Sardar Patel a Nationalist.
In 1947 there were around five hundred and sixty five princely states in India. British Government gave these states the right of self determination – to join India, or Pakistan or to remain Independent.
Sardar Patel invoked patriotism of India’s monarch. He proposed favorable terms for merger but did not rule out force and by 15th August 1947, all except Jammu and Kashmir, Junagadh and Hyderabad decided to join and strengthen India. I like to quote Rajmohan Gandhi, the grandson of Mahatma Gandhi and the author of “Patel a life”, also in how he viewed this charismatic leader.
“This tough man smiled at the world and at gloomy moments helped others to laugh. He never hesitated to step aside for others – for his brother Vitthal when the latter wanted to use his passport and ticket to London, and, years later for Jawaharlal Nehru, when Mahatma Gandhi desired that Nehru should sat on a chair to which Patel seemed entitled. Incidentally, in 1946 elections of Congress presidency – Gandhiji asked all 16 state representatives of congress to elect the right person and Sardar Patel’s name was proposed by 13 state representatives out of 16. Patel accepted Gandhiji’s request to not be the first prime minister of India.
This strong man before whom Rajas and Maharajas trembled and to whom rich man gave large funds for India’s national movement, did not allow a rupee to stick to his fingers and he saw to it that his children, a son and a daughter, lived simple lives during and after their father’s lifetime.
His strength of character, the sharpness of his mind, his organizing skills, and all his energy were offered up for achieving the freedom of India under Gandhi’s leadership and after independence for India’s consolidation.”
Descriptions of my travel to this region of Saurashtra and two destinations of my current trip – Somnath and Junagadh are incomplete without Sardar Patel’s mention. The nation is proud and indebted to Sardar Patel, but Gujarat has special affection to this son of their soil and has remembered Patel more than any other state.
Coming back to Somnath, the temple of Somnath has an extremely checkered past. This temple has seen glorious days as well as devastating attacks of brutal iconoclastic invaders. Its earliest history fades into legend.
Legend is that Daksh Prajapati married his twenty seven daughters with Somraj – the Moon God. The moon showed his love, affection and attraction only for Rohini and neglected other wives. So they complained to their father. He cursed moon that he will lose his beauty and his radiance will wane. As the condition of Somraj started to deteriorate, he got scared. He was suggested by Brahma to worship Sparsha Linga of Somanth. He worshipped it for six months, after which Bhagwan Shiv (Lord Shiva) partially relieved him from his curse and blessed him immortality. He was told that though he will wane in Krishna Paksh but will start waxing in Shukla Paksh attaining his complete self on Poornima (the full moon day). On the request of Somraj, Bhagwan Shiv resided there eternally.
This legend is being described in Skandpurana as how this Jyotirlinga emerged. Somraj built a temple and dedicated it to Someshwara, another name of Bhagwan Shiv with moon on its head.
Somnath is the most sacred of twelve Jyotirlingas of Bhagwan Shiv. These Jyotirlingas are mentioned in ancient and sacred books like Shivpuran, Rigveda, Ramayan and Mahabharat.
It is believed that the temple built by Somraj was out of gold. It was rebuilt by Ravan in silver, by Krishna Bhagwan in sandalwood and later on by Solanki kings Kumarpal and Bhimdev in stone.
Like Shaivites, this place has religious importance for Vaishnavites as well. After destruction of Yadu vansh, bhagwan Krishna came to this place (it was known as Prabhaspatan at that time). One day when he was sleeping in a deer skin under a tree, he was mistaken a deer by Jara – a hunter, and was wounded by an arrow. That place is known as Bhalka Tirth. Later on that arrow caused his death. His soul left the body at Geeta Mandir. Balram, Krishna Bhagwan’s elder brother, also died at nearby place. Bhalka Tirth and Gita Mandir are in Somnath.
In its past, Somnath has been destroyed and re-constructed many times. After the first temple that existed from the Common Era, it was rebuilt by Vallabhi kings circa 5th or 6th century. Around 725 AD it was destroyed by the Arab Governor of the Sindh. This temple was built for the third time by Pratihaar kings.
In tenth and eleventh century the shrine was endowed with around 10,000 villages to meet its expenses. Somnath temple was so rich that no Indian kingdom of that time could even boost of one tenth of its treasure. There were around 2000 Brahmins, 300 barbers, 500 dancers and 300 musicians living in that temple. Expenditures of all these was met through the donations of the devotees.
The temple was supported on 56 pillars that bore the name of the kings who got them constructed. All these pillars were studded with precious stones and diamonds.
Somnath at that time was considered the biggest pilgrimage. It was believed that after death the souls come to Somnath and after His orders enter new bodies. Even sea God was supposed to worship Somnath and it was evident by the waves that tried to reach Somnath at the time of high tides.
These stories of people’s faith and its splendor and grandeur reached Gazni (now part of Afghanistan). It prompted Mahmud Gazni, the cruel iconoclast of Gazni, to attack Somnath. In 1024, he arrived with his big army to desecrate the temple, to loot its bounty and to destroy the faiths of hundreds by damaging the idol.
Mahmud’s invasions were always bloody and ruthless affairs. He captured the temple and the town only after two days of battle and around 50000 devotees were butchered and hundred of thousands of people were taken as slave. Mahmud and his troops carried away equivalent of around 6.5 tons of gold and the intricately carved doors of the temple.
Prior to my trip, to know more about Somnath I read, “Somnath” by Acharya Chatursen. This book vividly describes the attack of Mahmud Gazni on Somnath. It very well analyzed the political scene of that time – the attack by Mahmud and defence of Somanth by Bhimdev and the events that followed the attack. It is largely a fiction. But after reading it I am convinced that it was not one sided battle. In the battle Mahmud’s forces also became weak and also after getting enormous treasure he was keen to avoid any further clash and instead of taking the normal route back he followed the way through Kuchh Kaa Rann.
There are evidences that even after this attack the royal, social and religious fabric of Gujarat remained intact. Even after this loot there was no change in Gujarat’s monetary power (isn’t it surprising!). Circa 1032, just a few years after Mahmud’s return, Vimalshah, the prime minister of Gujarat constructed the famous Vimal Vasahi temple (Dilwada temple) of Mt Abu. I had seen this temple. Undoubtedly, the intricate work done on marble in this famous temple is incomparable in whole world and it cost him around Rs 18 Crore.
Some historians doubt that may be the attack was all a folk lore and that invasion never happened, or if happened, was not so destructive. They point to the above fact and to the fact that a few jain literatures, supposedly of the same time, totally neglected and did not even mention Mahmud’s invasion, in support of their views. Romila Thapar, the prominent historian, is among them.
After Mahmud’s invasion a pattern of destructions by iconoclastic invaders and re-construction by devout Hindus started. In the end it was demolished by Aurangzeb and was not rebuilt until 1950.
After independence, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel vowed to reconstruct it to wipe the scares of defeat and destruction. He strongly suggested that even government should not shy from bringing back the lost glory of this pilgrimage. Sardar Patel got it re-constructed even after objections of Nehru and several other leaders who felt that it would break the secular fabric of new born nation.
Brutal destructions and trumpets of iconoclast could not keep Somnath down for ever. Somnath resurrected itself with a strange but a strong will. This is the music of Indian life that has proved that the power of construction is always greater than the power of destruction. Long Live this spirit and Long Live the Somnath.