Modhera Sun Temple
Located next to River Pushpavati, the small town of Modhera is quite popular for its 1000+ year old Sun Temple. The temple was built by King Bhimdev of the Solanki Dynasty in 1026-1027 AD. The Solankis used to worship Surya or Sun God, and are believed to be Suryavanshis (descendents of Sun God). Like most temples built during this period, the architecture of Sun Temple at Modhera too is going to leave you stunned! Even at the times where none of the modern technologies and machines were available, the temple was designed such that the first rays of the sun on the equinoxes directly falls on the idol of the diety!! Moreover, the idol was made of gold, and on the equinox days, the whole temple used to glow due the reflections of the sun rays! However, the temple had quickly become a prey to the destructions of Mahmud Ghazni! Due to this destruction, the temple today is a just a ruin! There are no idols in this temple anymore, and hence there no religious rituals that are performed!
Entrance to Modhera Sun Temple
I had not heard or read about this temple before, and I had no idea what the temple had to offer. This temple was suggested by the driver who took us to Rani Ki Vav and Sahasralinga Talav. As I got down the car, and walked towards the temple, I was pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness and maintenance of the place. The temple is now maintained by Archeological Survery of India (ASI), and is located amidst a well maintained lush green garden. As I walked on a well paved pathway, surrounded by the well manicured gardens, the curiosity about the temple and the stories behind it was pulling me towards it. From a distance, I could see the structure of a temple, but I could not figure out what could be so special about this temple.
Architecture of the temple
As you go past the gardens, and get closer to the temple, you can see the beauty of the temple! The temple has a huge tank in front of it, and there are well-designed steps to get down, and take a dip in the water. You can also notice few smaller shrines on the steps of this tank. The tank is followed by a ‘Sabha Mantap’ that was used for religious gatherings during those days. The third and the last structure is the ‘Guda Mantap’, which was the main sanctum of the temple. It was in this mantap that the golden idol was placed. Geographically, the temple is located very close to the Tropic of Cancer. The location of Guda Mantap was chosen such that the first rays of the sun on an equinox (the days of the year where the night is as long as the day) falls directly on the idol!
First Look of the temple
Surya Kund / Rama Kund
The huge rectangular tank in front of the temple is called Surya Kund (some also refer to it as Rama Kund). In the olden days, it was a ritual to take a dip in the water before stepping inside a temple. Surya Kund was built so that visitors could take a dip right before entering the temple. One of the sides of the tank has steps that leads to the temple directly.
The sides of rectangular tank has beautifully designed steps to get down to the water. On a quick look, it resembles the artistic step wells that are found in this region. As you get down the steps, you can also notice several small shrines on the steps. The guide told that there are 108 such shrines on the steps. On each side of the tank, there is one larger shrine (than the others). The shrines were dedicated to Lord Ganesh, Lord Vishnu, Lord Shiva and other deities like Shitala Mata (more popularly known as Goddess of Chicken Pox), worshipped by the Vaishnava religion.
The steps around Surya Kund form a unique symmetrical pattern that is so appealing. Going around the lake, looking at the ruins of the shrines, would give you an idea about the intricacy of the work involved. The work which is appreciated even after 1000 years, the intricacy and the symmetry which was achieved with no modern machinery, will keep you wondering how was it possible to achieve such perfection!!
Today, the water in the tank may not be very clean to take a dip. However, in the olden days, this tank used to hold fresh water so that people can take a dip in it before offering prayers in the temple. The steps at one of the sides of the tank would take you directly to the Sabha Mantap. Two tall ‘Torans’ or the entry towers welcome all the visitors to the Sabha Mantap.
This huge octagonal hall was used for religious gatherings or public meetings. The hall is open on all sides, and the intricately carved ceiling rests on 52 pillars! Each pillar represents one week of the year, and hence denoting the 52 weeks of the entire year! The pillars themselves are heavily carved with various legends from Hindu Mythology.
View from Sabha Mantap
Designs on the ceiling
The pillars have designs highlighting various incidents of Ramayana and Mahabharatha. The pillars also have few carvings based on the life of Lord Krishna, Agni (the Fire God), Varuna (God of Sea) and others.
On the outer side of the Sabha Mantap too, there are carvings based on the above themes. Towards the bottom of the Sabha Mantap, you can see small carvings of elephants. There are 365 such elephants sculpted on the outer walls of the temple. Each elephant represents a day in the year!!
Guda Mantap is the main sanctum of the temple. It was here that the original idol of Sun God was kept. It is believed that the Guda Mantap had a ten feet deep pit which was filled with gold and silver. The pit was then covered and the idol of Sun God made of Gold was placed on top of it. The idol had Sun God sitting on a chariot of seven horses. The idol also had a diamond in the place of “third eye”!
It was the wealth that was the main reason for Mohamud Ghazni to invade the temple. The temple was further destroyed by Alaudin Khilji! With all the destructions during the earlier centuries, we can only find the ruins inside the temple. Yet, the temple is very beautiful, and glorifies the love for art by Solankis.
If you go around the temple, you can see various carvings on the exterior walls of the temple. The carvings ranges from a wide variety of topics: from the epics of Hindu mythology, to various Gods and Goddesses, to the life of a human (starting from being in the womb, to various stages of life, to death).
The numbers game
The Sun Temple of Modhera has quite a few things that amazes you to the core. It was built in the 11th Century, when none of the modern techniques nor machineries were available. And yet, there were several calculations, and few astronomical numbers that were used in the architecture of the temple.
- 108 Shrines at Surya Kund: 108 being an auspicious number in the Hindu religion, is said to be the distance between the Sun and Earth (which is 108 times the diameter of the Sun)!
- The 7 horses of the Sun God refers to the seven days of the week
- 52 Pillars of the Sabha Mantap represents the 52 weeks in the year
- 365 Elephants carved on the outer walls of Sabha Mantap and Guda Mantap which denotes the 365 days of the year!
- The temple is located just off the Tropic of Cancer
- The Guda Mantap was built such that the first rays of the sun on an equinox falls on the idol! The equinox being the days when the sun is exactly over the equator, and length of day and night are equal in most parts of the world! The equity of day and night also represents the equity between two wives of the Sun God named Sanjhna and Chhaya!
How to reach?
Modhera is located at a distance of 100 km from Ahmedabad, which is well connected to the rest of the country by air, rail and road. There are plenty of buses that ply from Ahmedabad to Modhera. As an alternate, you can hire a taxi/car, and take a day trip to visit Rani Ki Vav, Sahasralinga Talav and Modhera Sun Temple.
Where to stay?
- Patan (Very few options)
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