The Sun temple at Konark, the Suraj Kund in Delhi
and the temple at Modhera are all part of a glorious tradition- the
cult of sun worship. The sun temple of Modhera, built by the
Solankis, is testimony to the architectural virtuosity and devotional
fervour of the times.
Its a temple
without an idol or a priest remarked our host as we sped past
the dusty, yet picturesque, countryside of Gujarat towards Modhera.
In fact, right form the time one boarded the bus, our destination
seemed obvious to our fellow-passengers eliciting varied responses.
While one, a school teacher, went into ecstasies describing its
beauty Its a poem in stone he said with great
profundity; another, an elderly village-lady, wondered why at all
were we going that far, since the deity the temple once housed is no
longer there! But the warmth and welcome that visitors to a new
place need was all there, and even as we got off at Mehsama, we were
cordially directed towards the spot from where regular
bus-connections to Modhera were available.
A half-hour ride, a short
walk through the quiet, sleepy, unassuming town of Modhera takes you
towards the imposing Sun Temple that stands in the middle of a
large compound. The immediate reaction is that of awe and surprise
as the silent ruins beckon- opening up a spectacular world of majesty
Although, we are
informed, the cult of sun-worship now no longer really exists, it was
once, especially in the olden days, part of a glorious tradition.
Kings in their acts of obeisance, erected magnificent structures like
the behemoth Sun Temple at Konark in Orissa, the Suraj Kund in Delhi
and of course this one here at Modhera.
Built by the Solankis
Raja Bhimdev I in 1026 AD who were believed to be
Suryavanshis, the structural plan of the temple is such that
propitiates the Sun-God- Surya. And despite the passage of time, the
Sun Temple till date continues to reveal the architectural genius,
the sculptors virtuosity and of course the devotional fervour
of the times.
From a distance itself it
is obvious that the entire temple structure at Modhera has been
divided into three main compartments. The first that all visitors
encounter is the Surya Kund a fascinating massive rectangular
stepped tank. Although, because of the restoration work that is being
carried out here by the Archaeological Survey of India, the kund now
stands dry, but in the days of yore it was believed to be full of
nirmal jal (holy water). Devotees on their way to offer prayers to
the Sun-God would be required to first stop here for ceremonial
ablutions, bathe and cleanse themselves and only then proceed for
worship towards the temple. Small, miniature shrines dot the steps
around the kund. There are 108 of them to coincide with the number
considered auspicious by the Hindus. Besides these, are four larger
shrines dedicated to the gods Vishnu, Ganesha, Natraja Shiva and
Sitala Mata, the last-mentioned being the goddess of the dreaded
disease, small-pox. And upon letting the imagination wander, one can
almost imagine the intense religious activity that once would have
been the hallmark of the place air thick with a soothing
incense smell, flowers floating on the water-surface, devotees
chanting aloud and offering prayers hoping to be blessed by the Surya
Bhagwan, all against the backdrop of the benign twin structures.
Several small steps form
the kund lead up to the enchanting Sabha Mandap rightly described as
a magnificent style of pillared splendour by an awestruck
visitor. This is the place, the guide tells us, that was meant for
religious gatherings and conferences. Open on all sides with four
doorways, the piece de resistance is its unique walnut-shaped ceiling
supported by 52 spectacular pillars. Each of these is intricately
carved with every inch of available space recounting scenes form
Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Krishna Leela. One cannot but be
charmed by the artistry and skill of the artisans of the time and of
course the Solankis to have recognized it and given them due
patronage and further encouragement to produce such structures.
As the architectural plan
of the temple follows the tradition of the time- to have twin-
compartments- theres still more to follow. So, while the Sabha
Mandap was meant for religious congregations, the main temple or
the Guda Mandap was built to house the sanctum sanctorum.
Based on a lotus-base
plinth, the façade of this structure is also stunning and
warrants close attention. Friezes of gods and goddesses cover the
walls, besides which one can also see various aspects of human life-
the cycle of birth and death and some erotic scenes from the Kama
Once inside, the guide
points to the niche that once housed the magnificent idol of the Sun
God. The Guda Mandap has been so designed that on solar equinoxes
i.e. on 21st March and 23rd September, the
first rays of the rising sun fall directly on and light up the niche
where the Surya Bhagwan once sat.
The Guda Mandap contains
yet another incredible a surang (tunnel),
the other end of which is believed to emerge at Patan, the
headquarter of the Solankis. In case of attacks, and they were rather
frequent in those times, these tunnels provided the quiet, ideal
escape routes for the kings and members of the royal family to flee
Time, to some extent, may
have taken its toll, but the Sun Temple at Modhera, braving
plunderous attacks by Mahmood Ghazni and even an earthquake that
wrought quite some damage, continues to stun and charm visitors with
its unmistakable grandeur and craftsmanship. And although it may now
no longer house the idol of the Sun-God, the Temple of Modhera
continues to provide its visitors a religious experience
of a different kind.