Somnath temple is one of the extremely well-managed temples that I have been to. And why wouldn't it be when Modi and Shah themselves are part of the trust and overlook the trust activities. And so everything is clean and neat and well organized. The stay, the queue, the temple premises, the TVs all around displaying the Somnath Mahadev pooja, the security around everything is top-notch. What kept me interested and intrigued was the history of Somnath Temple. It is more like a phoenix bird! This temple has gone through multiple destructions and yet here it is, standing tall and with one of the finest architecture that I have seen. Sadly they take off your camera and pack it safely in a locker that I cannot show the outer walls of the temple but the history and travel guide on Somnath are here for you to read.
I was traveling from Sasan Gir national park to Somnath by train. The railway station at Gir is the cutest old world charm railway station with a small platform. The passenger train passing through the forest stopped for a minute or two. It was not just me trying to get into the train but the langurs were eager to raid the train too. The train pulled through slow motion into the Veraval railway station. Veraval is about 12km away from Somnath and in small cities like that 12km is a big deal. Hopped on to auto and they dropped right in front of the Somnath trust office. I had already booked a room for stay at Sagar Darshan Guest house which is run by the Somnath trust. The trust runs three kinds of accommodation option for the pilgrims and devotees and tourists. One is Lilavathi Athithi Bhavan, other is Maheshwari Athithi Bhavan and the third is Sagar Darshan guesthouse. Sagar darshan is the premium range of all the three. Even though it is premium rooms, a double bed AC was about just 2500 INR. I was super surprised by the size of the room, the view from the room and the cleanliness. Without wasting time, freshened up and went down to visit the Somnath Mahadev.
Mythology behind Somnath Temple
The mythology behind the Somnath temple is recited during the light and sound show at night. The crowd gathers in to watch this show and I think I paid about 50 bucks or so for the show. The story is interesting but the light and sound show was not and so I left it in the middle to catch some sleep. But here is the story, Somnath is called as Somnath Mahadev because legend says Moon prayed to Lord Shiva Himself and established this Jyotirlinga by Himself and hence gets the name. Soma translates to Moon. Apparently, the moon was married to about 27 daughters of Daksha. But he did not pay attention to all his 27 wives but devoted his time only to Rohini. The father got upset and curses Moon that he will lose all his luster and fade away. The moon starts to fade and so he comes down to this place along with Rohini and starts praying to Lord Shiva. Daksha is also the father in law of Lord Shiva. Shiva then removes his curse, Moon takes a dip in river Saraswati and the Moon starts to glow. And hence this place gets the name Prabhas, which means shine. The very first Somnath temple is said to be constructed by the moon and it was all gold.
Somnath Temple History
The temple has gone through multiple destructions. Like I said it is like a phoenix bird and every time the temple was destroyed, people came forward to build the temple. Somnath is the first Jyotirlinga shrine, that could have been a reason. Or just the beauty of the temple standing by the Arabian Sea would have drawn the people to never give up on this temple. According to the light and sound show, the first temple was built of gold by the moon, the second temple was built by Ravana out of silver and the third temple was built of sandalwood by Krishna during Dwapara Yuga. And according to historical texts, the second temple was built by Yadava kings of Vallabhi which was destroyed by Arab governor of Sindh. The Somnath Temple attack by Mahmud of Ghazni is considered to be one of the worst. He looted the temple of its gold and burnt down the wooden temple. It is also said that he killed nearly 50,000 devotees who stood against the destruction of the temple. The temple was rebuilt again only to be plundered by Portuguese, Delhi Sultanates, Khilji and by Aurangazeb. By 1702 Aurangazeb even ensured nobody came to offer prayers here. The temple has been built and rebuilt six times and in 1947 Sardar Vallabhai Patel proposes to rebuild again. The present structure is the seventh temple and it was inaugurated in 1951 by the then president Dr.Rajendra Prasad. It is also known as "The Eternal Shrine" considering how it withstood time.
This article talks about the interesting conversations that went on between the leaders while the Somnath temple was proposed to be rebuilt. Of how Congress asked the people to fund for the temple and the government did not want to play any role in this temple reconstruction in order to play the secular card. It is an interesting read - Nehru vs Patel - Prasad on Somnath.
Somnath Temple Visit
The temple is at a walkable distance from the Sagar darshan guest house. I went once to click photos inside the temple compound. This is a common area where you are allowed to take personal photographs, sit and feed pigeons. After this point, it is a high-security area. I decided to go back to the room and leave all my belongings in the room. There is a safety locker deposit room also near the temple. You need to deposit your bags, purse, all electronics everything in the locker. The crowd was too much that I decided to leave the bags and money in the room. Carried just a few bucks hoping to buy some darshan ticket or Prasad but that was not required too. At the entrance there is a security check, you deposit the bags, then again a security area before which you leave footwear in the rack. Guys should leave behind leather belts too, no leather. And then opens the wide Somnath temple complex. It is huge. The sanctum sanctorum is a wide open area and no rush to see the Somnath Mahadev. You can conveniently stand, watch, pray, observe the beauty. So peaceful. There is always one pooja or the other going on. You can see abhishekam being done and then decking up the Shiva Lingam too. The 7 pm Aarti is beautiful. You can see the entire temple lit with light and you can hear the Aarti sounds reverberating all around the temple. The inside of the temple is gold and silver plated and it glitters away so beautifully.
Not sure how many of you know the story of Syamantaka Mani possessed by Lord Krishna. It is one of the prestigious stones that always hangs by His neck and has power to produce gold everyday. The war of Krishna and Jambavan over the Syamantaka Mani is a popular mythological story. It is said that while Krishna constructed the Somnath temple, he placed the Syamantaka Mani under the Somnath Mahadev Linga and hence the Linga was found levitating from the ground. The gem apparently had some radioactive powers and one of the literatures which quote the attack of Ghazni even states that, "when they entered the temple to loot the place they were surprised to see many gold statues floating in the air". It is also said that Mahmud of Ghazni took away the Syamantaka Mani. Makes me wonder if that is how the Jyotirlinga representation started, after all Somnath is the first Jyotirlinga site and Jyotirling is nothing but Shiva represented as a column of light.
Also read - By the Narmada Ghats - Omkareshwar Jyothirling
Architecture of Somnath Temple
The current architecture of Somnath temple is based on Chalukya architecture, the ones like how you can find in Badami. Why so? Because the three temples after the Ghazni invasion were all reconstructed by the Chalukyas and in honor of them and to reconstruct a possible similar structure, the architecture adheres to the Chalukya dynasty. I wish they had let me photograph the temple. Once outside the sanctum, it opens up to the well-maintained temple gardens and the temple stands in between tall and proud. The walls have horizontal row moldings running around like how you can see in Hoysala temples. And then various figurines from Hindu mythology can be found. You would have seen this kind of work in 100 or 1000 year old Hoysala temples or at Khajuraho. But to see this kind of intricate jaali works, and emoting sculptures to be done in the 1950s made me feel happy. This is not a long time ago and we could make such amazing sculptures, telling us stories of the past. I spent quite some time reading these sculptures and with the pleasant sea breeze and sea waves crashing nearby, it is a serene place to be.
Baan Stambh aka Arrow Pillar
Just after admiring the sculptures, I was looking for a bench to sit by and enjoy the sea breeze. And that is when I noticed Baan Stambh or the arrow pillar protruding into the sea. It is a pillar with a globe on it and a Trishul running through it. This pillar indicates that this piece of land is the first piece of land between the South Pole and the world. The World!! Now if you just open the google maps and verify it, it is true. Such is the place where Somnath mandir has been constructed. There is no piece of land between this point and Antartica, just the sea. There is no evidence as to how old is the Baan stambh, but old enough and it is not an addition during the 1950s construction. So how did the ancestors know that this is the first piece of land after the South Pole, is quite intriguing. Did they know the earth is round, and did anybody do a back and forth journey in the sea? How, I mean how on earth did they come to this accurate piece of land and concluded this theory is a real mystery! And makes you go in awe with how much wealth of knowledge our ancestors had!
Sunset at Somnath Beach
I had to mention this as a separate section as the Sunset at Somnath was very special. As such sunset during winters are beautiful and this visit was also during December. Somnath beach is at a walkable distance from the temple. You can spend time at the beach or the temple garden is also close by and gives access to the sea. Either place you can sit and enjoy the beauty of Sunset and the lit Somnath temple. The sun was super huge orangish and standing on those rocks looking at the beautiful sunset was one evening I will always remember. As the sun goes down, the drums are played loud calling for the evening Aarti. I rushed to the temple complex and watched the aarti on the TV as it was quite crowded inside. I then proceeded to go watch the sound and light show which begins at 8 pm. The seating is first come first served basis so crowd starts to gather by 6:30, 7:00 pm. It is a one hour show and a ticketed show.
Old Somnath Temple aka Ahilyabai Temple
Ahilyabai of Holkar dynasty is well known for her immense devotion to Lord Shiva and her numerous contributions to construct Shiva temples around India, from south to north. So it is said, the lord appeared in her dream and reminded of the dilapidated state the Somnath temple is in and she decides to construct a temple here. Many believe this is the original Somnath temple, this Shiva ling is the original Somnath Mahadev. Whatever it maybe it is older than the present temple and unlike the new temple, they let you into the sanctum sanctorum and you can touch and feel the God statue. Old Somnath temple was built in the year 1783.
Who is Ahilyabhai? - Devi Ahilyabai and Holkar Dynasty
Places to visit in Somnath apart from the temple
There are many places to visit in Somnath apart from the main temple. But most of the others are temple too :)
- Laxmi Narayan Temple - Just as I walked out of the Somnath temple complex I saw this temple. It was late in the evening and I went into this temple because I was intrigued to see a Tamil Nadu style structure in Gujarat. And true to what I thought, this temple was built by a Tamil Nadu trust and even the priest spoke in Tamil. So I had a good chat with the people there and they mentioned this is where Lord Krishna left His soul at last. The idol, the sanctum, the pooja everything else is the North Indian way and the architecture alone is South Indian way.
- Triveni Sangam - the confluence of rivers Kapila, Hiran, and Saraswathi takes place here before they all reach to the Arabian Sea. So many people come here for a holy dip and do pooja for the departed souls. This is also considered as the place where the Moon took a dip and so did Lord Krishna.
- Somanth beach and surrounding shops to spend your evening with family.
- There are numerous temples near the Somnath beach like Parasuram temple, Hanuman temple, Veneshwar Mahadev, Kamnath Mahadev, Saraswati temple, Brahma Kund, etc. All with a bunch of mythological stories associated with it.
- Prabhas Patan Museum aka Somnath museum - In a small gully behind the Somnath temple is the Prabhas Patan museum. It holds not just the artifacts retrieved from the ruined temple but also pillar structures with carvings intact. If you are keen to know about the history of the place this is the place to be. You can easily spend a few hours here.
Things to keep in Mind
I have pretty much written everything about the temple and the things to keep in mind while visiting Somnath Temple. Summarising it yet again,
- The Somnath temple timings are from 6 am till 9:30 pm. Live pooja updates are telecasted throughout the day all around the temple.
- There are three Aarti timings. Morning at 7 am, noon 12 pm and again evening at 7 pm.
- The light and sound show called "Jay Mahadev" happens every day from 8 pm to 9 pm unless it is not raining. I don't remember if I paid 25 bucks or 50 bucks for the show.
- Wheelchairs are available for the senior citizens and the physically challenged.
- You cannot carry anything into the temple premises except money in hand which is also not required if you are not planning to pay donation or so. Leave everything at the luggage desk / cloakroom and footwear at the footwear rack.
- Donations can be made at the temple. Apart from that, I did not see any special poojas that you can offer for.
Somnath hotel and accommodation
I strongly recommend staying at the guest house provided by the Somnath Trust. It is at a walkable distance to the temple, rooms are clean, the view is also good. The Sagar darshan guest house has a restaurant attached to it serving good vegetarian food.
Here is where you can book Somnath Trust Guest houses - Click here
How to Reach Somnath Temple
Somnath has a bus station which is well connected to many parts of the state. Somnath bus station was in a bad state. From Somnath I proceeded to Dwaraka by state bus. The nearest railway station is Veraval which is about 10 - 12 km away. The nearest airport is Diu. Diu and Sasan Gir make good spots to combine your trip with.