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The Somnath temple is shrouded in an incredible aura of myths and legends. To understand the Somnath story one needs to dive deep into the mythology of Somnath temple. The Somnath story starts with the partiality of Chandra (the Moon God) to Rohini, one of his 27 wives who were all daughters of Daksha Prajapati, the son of Brahma. The sisters of Rohini were jealous of the extra attention that Rohini received and complained of this to their father. In spite of a warning, the Moon did not mend his ways and the angered Daksha Prajapati cursed him, because of which the Moon lost his lustre. Alarmed with the curse of Daksha Prajapati, the Moon rushed to Prajapati Brahma, the creator of the World. Brahma advised him to visit Prabhas Teerth, bathe in the Triveni Sangam where the rivers Hiran, Saraswati, and Kapila meet and worship Lord Shiva there. The Moon did as he was advised and was relieved of his curse. As a token of gratitude he built a temple in Gold to honor Lord Shiva and the temple came to be known as Somnath. Interpretations from the Puranas say that the Moon had built a golden temple and entrusted the worship and upkeep of the temple to the Sompura Brahmins whom he had created specifically to do Yajnas and other ceremonial worship to Lord Shiva during the prathishta or installation ceremony of the temple. Even today there lives in Somnath a community of Sompura Brahmins who trace their ancestry to the moon. In fact, when the Somnath Temple was rebuilt after Independence, the masons and artists who gave shape to it were from the Sompura Salat community, a branch of the Sompura Brahmin community known for their architectural and artistic skills. Legend has it that ages after the Moon God built the temple of God, Ravana built a temple in silver, and later in the Dwapara Yuga Shree Krishna had a temple of wood built at Somnath. As per the information on the website of the Somnath Trust, it is believed that the first Somnath Temple was built during the tenth Treta Yug of the Vaivswat Manvantar and calculate this to be some 7,99,25,105 years ago. In terms of history, the main sources of information seem to be the writings of Persian and Arabic travelers. one of the accounts of the Somnath Temple is found in the writings of a 13th century Persian Geographer and traveler named Zakariya al-Qazwini. Below is an excerpt said to be from his book in Arabic titled, “Wonders of Creation”. ‘Somnath is a celebrated city of India, situated on the shore of the sea and washed by its waves. Among the wonders of the place was the temple in which was placed the idol called Somnath. This idol was in the middle of the temple without anything to support it from below, or to suspend it from above. It was regarded with great veneration by the Hindus, and whoever beheld it floating in the air was struck with amazement, whether he was a Mussulman or an infidel. The Hindus used to go on pilgrimage to it whenever there was an eclipse of the moon, and would then assemble there to the number of more than a hundred thousand. They believed that the souls of men used to meet there after separation from the body and that the idol used, at its pleasure, to incorporate them in other bodies, in accordance with their doctrine of transmigration. The ebb and flow of the tide were considered to be the worship paid to the idol by the sea. ‘Everything that was most precious was brought there as offerings, and the temple was endowed with the taxes gathered from more than ten thousand villages. There is a river, the Ganges, which is held sacred, between which and Somnath the distance is two hundred parasangs. They used to bring the water of this river to Somnath every day, and wash the temple with it. A thousand Brahmans were employed in worshipping the idol and attending on the visitors, and five hundred damsels sang and danced at the door – all these were maintained upon the endowments of the temple. The edifice was built upon fifty-six pillars of teak, covered with lead. The shrine of tile idol was dark but was lighted by jewelled chandeliers of great value. Near it was a chain of gold weighing two hundred mans. When a portion, or watch, of the night closed, this chain used to be shaken like bells to rouse a fresh lot of Brahmans to perform worship. ‘When Sultan Mahmud, the son of Sabuktagin, went to wage a religious war against India, he made great efforts to capture and destroy Somnath, in the hope that the Hindus would then become Mohammedans. He arrived there in the middle of Zu-l-ka’da, 416 A. H. (December 1025 A.D.). The Indians made a desperate resistance. They kept going into the temple weeping and crying for help, and then they issued forth to battle and kept fighting till all were killed. The number of slain exceeded fifty thousand. The king looked upon the idol with wonder and gave orders for the seizing of the spoil and the appropriation of the treasures. There were many idols of gold and silver, and countless vessels set with jewels, all of which had been sent there by the greatest personages in India. The value of the things found in the temples of the idols exceeded twenty thousand thousand dinars. When the king asked his companions what they had to say about the marvel of the idol, and of its staying in the air without prop or support, several maintained that it was upheld by some hidden support. The king directed a person to go and feel all around and above and below it with a spear, which he did, but met with no obstacle. One of the attendants then stated his opinion that the canopy was made of loadstone, and the idol of iron, and that the ingenious builder had skilfully contrived that the magnet should not exercise a greater force on any one side – hence the idol was suspended in the middle. Some inclined toward this explanation, others differed from it. Permission was obtained from the Sultan to remove some stones from the top of the canopy to settle the point. When two stones were removed from the summit, the idol swerved on one side; when more were taken away, it inclined still further, until at last, it rested on the ground.’ This is one account of the destruction of the Somnath Temple by Mahmud of Ghazni. Even before the destruction of the Somnath Temple by Mahmud Ghazni, the earlier version of the temple built by the Yadavas is said to have been destroyed by an Arab Governor named Al-Junayd. and after that, a red-sandstone temple was erected in its place by Nagabhata-II from the Gurjara-Pratihara dynasty. After the Somnath Temple was desecrated and destroyed by Mahmud Ghazni, it was again built by King Bhima I who belonged to the Chalukyas of Gujarat who then ruled over parts of what is Gujarat and Rajasthan now. The temple was again destroyed by the army of Allauddin Khalji. The Somnath temple rose again, rebuilt by Mahipala I who belonged to the Chudasma dynasty of the region during the earlier part of the 14th century. however, the temple again was razed to dust towards the end of the 14th century by Zafar Shah who was the then Governor of Gujarat under the rule of the Delhi Sultanate. The sacred temple next bore the brunt of an attack by Mahmud Begada, the then Sultan of Gujarat during the mid of the 15th century. Finally, it was the turn of Aurangzeb who wanted the Somnath temple to be destroyed such that it never surfaced again. In keeping with Aurangzeb’s dictum, the Somnath Temple was destroyed and a mosque came up. Domes appeared between arches and the temple was silenced. However, it seems that the mosque too was abandoned and the Somnath temple lost its shine and lay in ruins, a far cry from its heyday, waiting to rise again, with the resurgence of faith. After Independence, the initiative to rebuild the Somnath Temple was taken by Sardar Vallabhai Patel and the task was completed by K.M.Munshi with the help of many others including the Jam Saheb of Jamnagar, N.V. Gadgil, and others. Initially, there were some who wanted to preserve the ruins of the old Somnath temple as is, however, Sardar Patel and K.M.Munshi wanted the temple of Somnath to rise again and shine at the very spot where it had straddled the earth from time immemorial. The sun shone on the resurrected Somnath temple as the then President of India Dr. Rajendra Prasad did the Prana-Pratishta or installation of the deity on the 11th May 1951. A moment that underlined the true independence of India.
Location: Somnath Jyotirling, Somnath Mandir Rd, Veraval, Gujarat, India