The Saga of Somnath and Sardar Patel

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.

Somnath Temple

Somnath Temple

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.

The tall - Sardar Patel

The tall – Sardar Patel

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.

Symbols of Shiva - Trident, Damru and Bow.

Symbols of Shiva – Trident, Damru and Bow.

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.

28 Comments

  • nandanjha says:

    After a long time, your last story was in November, you come back with a jewel. Mr. Patel is one of my favorites, probably we would have been a different nation if our first PM was Patel. Another guy who I think didn’t get his due was JP. Anway.

    Though its not a short story but I thought that you would take us around the temple with more pics and also some factual data around Somnath, in terms of where it is, how to reach etc. I guess the series has just started. right ?

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      As a note: I am reading Freedom in Exile by Dalai Lama. On his first visit to India in 1957 after Chinese forces occupied Tibet, Dalai lama has written that Pt Nehru was of the opinion that he should accept becoming part of China. Nehru was very keen to avoid any conflict with China and believed in building a peaceful Asia and was finally betrayed in 1963. He has also praised Nehru that even with the differences in opinion, it was Nehru who approved his and many of other Tibetan refuges asylum in India and how with its limited resources India welcomed them with open arms.

      Dalai Lama has specially mentioned meeting JP – who had promised on some future appropriate occasion to raise India’s voice in support of Tibetan freedom.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Thanks a lot Nandan for your comment :)

    First of all please tell me how to get rid of this octagonal face and a tongue in middle. I agree that most of the time my comments are just like that, but reality hurts :)

    This is just a start on my trip to Gujarat, my personal experiences will come in subsequent posts. I did not want to dilute the historical importance of Somnath, by my own travel and of course there was enough for me to complete one post.

    I agree with you that JP is another leader that deserves its due. Though I need to read a lot about him, as I know very less about him. A good indication that some selective leaders were not given their dues.

  • nandanjha says:

    Go to http://www.gravatar.com and pick a avtar for you. It could be a photo or anything which you feel like.

    This communication is yet to go out, is part of the mailer which Ram would send sometime later this week. We were on two minds on whether to use the author pic or to allow this global avatar. Our limited research showed that gravtar is much more global and is catching up very well, so we chose this way. There are lots of blog-sites which acknowledge this avatar so its not tied to ghumakkar that way.

    Waiting for next installment.

    By the way Somnath, make me remember a feature which used to appear on Doordarshan way back. It was by Saeed Naqvi, something like

    Uske farogh-e-husn se
    Chamke hai sab mein noor
    Shamm-e-haram ho
    ya ki diya Somnath ka

    usi ke saundarya ka prakash
    chahe woh kabul mein jalta hua diya ho
    ya somnath ka chirag

    …………………………….

    that ‘Somnath Ka Chirag’ line is imprinted in my brain. Dont know why.

    • sagar says:

      True…I share eactly the same sentiments as you do regarding the song…For some reason that enire feature has left lasting impresssion on me too…In fact i came across this post only after searching for that title…Had some nice music..Sadly cannot locate it anywhere on the web :(

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    I would say a very difficult Sher to remember but so rightly said. Beautiful :)

  • Sudhir says:

    Thanks for the enlightened post. I knew most of it, but your post is refreshing. You have so very well put it together. Sardar patel is my favorite too and my parents talk a lot about him whenever the topic of India as a nation comes up and what India would have been with the Sardar at the helm. We would also want a post from you about the beauty and grandeur of the temple with pics.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Thanks Sudhir for leaving the detailed comment.

    For us may be the contributions of Sardar Patel will always be very evident. Our Parents have told about it so many times. With the less times we have such discussion with our kids and Azadi being a long gotton reward, I wonder whether our kids will know his contributions in detail. In the deepest of my heart, I feel THEY WILL.

    On 25th Jan, this year, my Mausaji came to our house and suddenly he remembered that that was the time for the presidential address. He was telling us the time when it was considered such an important event that there used to be almost no vehicle on the roads, people were glued to their radio sets. That was the day when President was suppose to conveying his feelings about development, roadmaps to the nation as well as to the one in Parliament (people’s representatives). It was considered a matter of pride that President is going to address nation on 25th Jan.

    Though somewhere in the back of my mind, I feel that if it would have been Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, some of us might be glued to our radio sets/TV sets :)

    I feel that when India became independent, we were like new born babies and in our effort to grow, we were bound to make mistakes, to fall a several times to rise again. So our start was not bad.

    Many things esp in this decade or a decade earlier make us feel that we deserve to be a more stronger, less polluted, less corrupt country. We see the need of improvement but see just the opposite happening. Quality of wind, water, corruption, law and order is deteriorating with every passing day.

    Will you mind Sudhir, if I write in my subsequent posts that I was not impressed by the current Somnath Temple and wished it to be much more Grand and Beautiful. I know it will be a let down, but then its unavoidable as well …

  • Patrick Jones says:

    Reads like a story.

    As Nandan opined, more pics of the temple would’ve highlighted its grandeur.

    Would you also tell us the significance of having no land in the triangle? If it somehow makes a triangle, I mean.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    You were missed Patrick :) with this comment, its better :)

    Photography is not allowed inside Somnath and the current temple is no where near to splendour we can imagine.

    I talked about two points Somnath Temple & the South pole (meaning the antarctica) and not about the three. The way I have written is slightly misleading :) I hope its better with the explanation.

  • Biswamitra says:

    This post was really refreshing and enlightening…it was actually a search on Naqvi’s lines that brought me here…cos i was trying too hard to remember the whole thing.. and then i read the rest….thanks so much

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Thanks a lot Biswamitra for your encouraging comment.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Browsing through net, I saw this site with some rare and beautiful pictures of Somnath temple, mahmud Gazni’s tomb and the wooden door that was supposedly taken from Somnath. I am providing the link for anyone interested:

    http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00routesdata/1000_1099/ghaznavids/somnath/somnath.html

  • Hi Manish,
    Your piece on Somnath is brilliant. I feel however that the mention of K M Munshi, (yes, one of the founders of Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan) would do justice to his role in the reconstruction of the Somnath shrine. Sardar Patel was the greatest practical visionary of modern India. But for him, India would not have been what it is. Sardar’s vision of the shrine was fulfilled by Munshi as he became the driving force in the temple’s reconstruction. In spite of Nehru’s “secular” objections, the reconstructed temple of Somnath was inaugurated by the then President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    Captain Narendra,

    Thanks a lot for the generous praise.
    Thanks also for writing about Mr K M Munshi. In-fact discussing/commenting is the way we grow and learn more :)

    I first came to know about Mr KM Munshi, when I read Somnath by Acharya Chatursen. He wrote his book after reading “Jai Somnath” by Mr Munshi and he has accepted that in choosing several characters, he took a few fictitous characters of that novel as the real ones.

    Later on when I read about Somnath temple in little detail, I realized Mr Munshi’s BIG role in reconstruction of Somnath temple. I think your comment will help other readers to realize it and may be prompt them to know more about him.

    You seems to be very well read, it will be a pleasure even to get critical comments from you. Thanks again.

  • Thanks, Manish for the compliment. I would like to follow your blog interesting as it is. Could you please mail me a note when your next blog is out? Thanks.

  • Manish Khamesra says:

    I feel honoured. Thanks for it.
    I will surely update you whenever I write the next story.

    I also looked at your blog. It seems to be very interesting with some very insightful informations, but its in Gujarati so I could get only a feel.

    Thanks again.

  • tripper says:

    i have just visited somnath temple on 17 october 2009 tat was diwali. i am a person who believes in superior power but not in any incarnation as supreme power…. i have visited many spiritual places but the respect i have for somnath temple exceeds all the other places…..This respect is just due to one fact that it has withstand the test of time and has managed to rise again and again from ashes…..the contentment we get when we visit this temple is very different compared to all other temples…..The renovation is still going on and they are making it more spacious and a large area into a vehicle less zone.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Thanks Tripper for commenting and giving your opinion. I was a little disappointed in Somnath as compared to what I expected.

      The respect I can feel in your comment about Somnath and the never dying spirit that is oozing from it, is what in my opinion makes a difference.

  • tiger says:

    manish,

    i just finished reading the first part of this Gujarat series. you are very informative (and also very well informed) in your writing. i also believe that you are a person who gives every opinion or historical perspective a fair space in your narrative.

    apart from tht you have given us valuable information on the travel itself.

    i have a slightly different take on the saga of Somnath in terms of how to view it historically.

    it is evident, after reading and giving all versions their due, that Somanath is an ancient pilgrimage site. its value as a teerth may have waxed or waned in different times. we can agree, on basis of (acceptable) historical records that atleast by 5th century AD it was a famed pilgrimage, where the devotees, a large part of whom were traders, donated generously to the temple. i am not sure if donation is the right term here, because it carries some neutral secular connotations. the devotees were in a significant way, giving to God, than to its management. now, this tradition of devotees’ expressing their devotion by giving money in whatever form, though not unknown in other traditions of the world, seemed to have been institutionalised in the later vedic and early medieval times by the priestly class. while the devotee parted with valuables to please god, it is anybody’s guess as to who it actually pleased. the upkeep of the temple, its workers, its kitchen, lodgings and food for devotees amd other attendant expenses were to be met by the villages (and their lands) granted by the rulers. This was a popular practice as it was in purnagiri, where the temple priests of purnagiri, were given the villages of Thak and some others to meet the expenses of upkeeping.

    i always wonder, this wealth that found its way to Somanth coffers, was it ever put to any economic use? or was it just there, like a kings personal treasure unlike his treasury? in absence of any evidence to suggest things to the contrary, this wealth just lay hoarded mostly, and became a target of loot for any looter/marauder. Ghazni may have justified his looting action on moral grounds of desecrating an unislamic, infidel centre but the truth is– he was just a looter. And Somnath was like a Bank, managed by its priests with no banking sense. this nature of Somanth was in no way restricted to Somnath alone. it can be extended to describe the nature of other pilgrimage centers run by a priestly class with a similar mind set.

    lastly, Thapars view of Mahmud and Somanth is not to deny its historical authenticity. even jain records describe the pillage but take pride in the fact that Mahmud could not harm the jain temples. which supports the contention, that it was not Islam which drove Mahmud to the loot, but the money. and the jaina temples probably either didnt have that kind of money, or had put them to some other use instead of just hoarding it.

    now, this is the kind of serious and involved study that you inspire in your readers manish. Hardly, surprising, because you seem to labour a lot before putting anything to print. in these days of careless blogging, you are a rare exception.

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      What a view Sanjay! Thanks for sharing it. You have opened a box of thoughts for the serious students of history.

      My personal belief is that the Indians in general are honest and this honesty was even much more in the ancient times. I feel the same for priests as well. The attack on Somnath could be mainly because of money but those who defended it did so because of their love, regard and respect for Lord Somnath.

      Thanks again Sanjay for sharing the involving and interesting thought process.

  • Manish khamesra says:

    These days I am reading “The age of Kali” by William Dalrymple. In the chapter dedicated to the author’s meeting with Benazir Bhutto, he has mentioned the exchange of the book “freedom at midnight” between her and her father Zulfiqar ali Bhutto. And I am including his comment about the book as they surprised me –

    “Was she being serious? Freedom at midnight is terrible schlock pop-history – the Indian independence Movement for Imbeciles – hardly the sort of book you would expect to find a senior south Asian statesman admitting to reading”.

    I am not sure that I should use my own post as my scrap book, esp when the site is about travelogues, but I could not stop myself. This comment of the renowned author about the book has left me confused as I used to think that “Freedom at mid-night” is widely acknowledged and accepted as a well-researched book.

  • Wow Manish ……………………………………

    Day by day i am becoming your fan.Wonderful ………………Its like if I get time someday from this busy schedule rather than reading a novel, i would read your all posts. first Junagadh , then Patal Bhuvaneshwar and now this one. extremely happy……………………..

    What a research and description.Speechless…………..

    Thanks for sharing Information on Sardar patel also . Even though I am from Gujarat, I never had that much deep info on Mr. Sardar Patel……………………..

    Thanks Manish once again……..

    • Manish Khamesra says:

      Thanks Vishal for such a loving comment. It was the same for me, some aspects on Sardar patel were indeed a discovery for me. Its a pleasure to share and probably to discover more about this GREAT LEADER together.

  • Kiran patel says:

    I think you should correct the mistake in this article that Somnath Temple was reconstructed by
    Indian Government funds. Sardar Patel had started a private trust fund for the reconstruction.

    • Thanks Kiran for finding the mistake. I have removed the line from the article. Sorry for the delay as I wanted to read more and understand how I committed the mistake. This helped me in learning about few more important happenings of the time. I am quoting what I read for other readers.

      The important role in the reconstruction was played by Sardar Patel, and Mr. KM Munshi (who was minister of food and civil supplies in Jawahar Lal Nehru’s cabinet). These two ministers, with other colleagues in Congress, also met Gandhiji expressing their desire of reconstructing the Somnath Temple. Gandhiji gave his blessings for the same, but suggested that the fund for the reconstruction should be collected from public and state should not fund it.

      Soon, both Gandhiji and Sardar Patel died and task of reconstruction fell on KM Munshi, who worked over with a mission and got the temple reconstructed. The installation ceremony was attended by Dr Rajendra Prasad, even after Jawahar Lal Nehru expressed his reservations.

      KM Munshi was a litterateur and is also credited with widely popular “Jai Somnath” written originally in Gujarati (Though it is also fictionalized version of the war).

  • V Patel says:

    Another person involved in Somnath temple reconstruction was Digvijaysinhji, ruler of Nawanagar, who became first chairman of Somnath Trust. One more less known fact is that Swami Vivekanand also visited ruins of Somnath and meditated there.

  • Thanks V Patel for enriching us all.

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