By Swami Harshananda
The temple of Somnāth, also spelt as Somanātha, can rightly be described as the phoenix of the religious ethos. No sooner was the temple razed to the ground by the barbarian marauders who invaded the country, than it would rise again. Situated in the small town of Prabhās Paṭan in the Saurashtra area of the modern Gujarat state, on the shore of the Arabian Sea, it is the first of the twelve Jyotirliṅgas mentioned in the purāṇas.
Significance of Sparśaliṅga in Somnāth Temple
The original icon, called the Sparśaliṅga, was vouchsafed to Soma by Lord Śiva who was immensely pleased by his severe austerities. Hence, the liṅga got the appellation Somanātha. The first temple over it was built by Moon in gold as per the legend. Subsequently, as it was ravaged in course of time, it was rebuilt by Rāvaṇa in silver, by Kṛṣṇa in wood and by Bhīma in stone.
Prabhās Paṭan is an important pilgrim center associated with Kṛṣṇa’s final departure from the world. The river Sarasvati was said to join the ocean here. There is a reference to Somnāth even in the Ṛgveda. The Prabhāsakhanda of the Skandapurāṇa deals with this subject in great detail.
Historical Significance of Somnāth Temple
Historically, one of the first temples might have been built by the Valabhi kings sometime during the 5th century A. D. From the ruins at the site, it is surmised that a temple might have existed even in A. D. 4. This place was a stronghold of the Pāśupata sect started by Lakulīśa before A. D. 600. The Somnāth temple was the wealthiest at its time, before being looted by Ghazni Mohammed in A. D. 1026. The earnings from ten thousand villages were dedicated to it as offering. For the daily worship, water was being brought from the river Gañgā and flowers from Kāśmīra. One thousand brāhmaṇas were engaged in its worship, in various ways. A very heavy chain of gold was used to ring the temple bell. The temple hall contained 56 gem-studded pillars, each encrusted with gold sheets.
The liṅga in the garbhagṛha or the sanctum was 3 metres high and 1.8 metres in diameter. The sanctum itself was very majestic. There were three paths leading to it. A golden palanquin had been gifted by the Solaṅki king Bhīmdev, to carry the utsavamurti. This wealth and splendor tempted Ghazni Mohammed to plunder and destroy the temple in A. D. 1026.
Re-Construction of Somnāth Temple
Thereafter, reconstruction by the local kings and destruction by the Muslim invaders went on for several centuries, the last destruction being the one by Aurangazeb in A. D. 1706. Ahalyabai Holkar built another temple near the ruins in A. D. 1783. After independence, the temple was rebuilt, the garbhagṛha being located in the original place, the Śivaliṅga being established on the same brahmaśilā. The credit goes mainly to Sardār Vallabhbhai Paṭel, the then Deputy Prime Minister of India. Dr. Rājendra Prasād the then President of India, opened the rebuilt shrine on the 11th May 1951. The whole complex was completed only in 1995. Dr. Śaṅkar Dayāl Sharma, who was the President of India at that time, dedicated it on 1st December. It has been built in the Cālukyan type of temple architecture.
Present Situation of Somnāth Temple
The vimāna of the new temple is 50 metres high. There are intricate carvings and silver doors. The Nandi is quite elegant. Other idols also find appropriate places in the temple-complex. In and around the Somnāth temple there are quite a few places of religious significance like:
- Gitā Mandir
- Laksmī-nārāyaṇ Temple
A statue of Sardār Paṭel stands out in the precincts in commemoration of his historic association with the reconstruction of this temple of Somnāth.
- Jyotirliṅgas means ‘liṅgas of light’.
- Sparśaliṅga is almost the size of a hen’s egg.
- Soma is the deity Moon.
- It means Lord of Soma or the Moon.
- It is in khila part at the end of the 9th maṇḍala.
- Temple hall means raṅgamaṇḍapa.
- It is approximately 10 ft.
- It is approximately 6 ft.
- Utsavamurti means processional icon.
- He lived in A. D. 1875- 1950.
- He lived in A. D. 1884- 1963.
- Vimāna means tower over the sanctum.
- It is approximately 164 ft.
- Nandi means reclining bull.
- It means cave.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore