Junagarh and the Temple of Somnath

Junagarh and the Temple of Somnath
A journey on Royal Orient
We got up late, had a leisurely breakfast in bed, and continued to relax. The train arrived in Juna-Garh in afternoon. After a wonderful lunch we disembarked in the erstwhile princely state of Juna-Garg, to the sounds of music of drums and pipes. Young girls welcomed us with marigolds and ‘aarthi’. We learnt that the Nawab of Juna-Garh wanted to proceed to Pakistan after the independence of India, just like the Nizam of Hyderabad. But the population of Juna-Garh did not want to do so. When people started revolting, he boarded his plane with his kith and kin and flew away to Karachi, with his wealth in great hurry.

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The Darbar Hall of the court of the Juna-Garh still stands testimony to the sudden departure of the Nawab. Everything is unchanged and time stands still here. The Chandeliers, the portraits on the walls, the royal swords, the furniture of the Darbar Hall engraved in solid silver and the tiger throne everything is as it was then. It appears as if somebody has just left and would be back soon. The amazing variety of chandeliers hanging from the ceiling are made of the rarest shades of the pink, green and blue colour crystals not seen commonly in India.

I also saw a portrait of Benazir Bhutto’s grand father. I understand that he was the Prime Minister of Juna-Garh at the time of the partition of India and perhaps was instrumental in the movement of Juna-Garh Nawab’s family to Karachi. I always knew that the Bhuttos came from Gujarat, but now I knew, from where exactly.

We also went to see the Musoleums of the erstwhile Nawabs of Juna-Garh. There are two excellent examples of Ethnic Islamic architecture with domes, minarets, spiral staircases, and a lot of decorative stuccowork showing miniature domes in rows. Although these buildings are not made of expensive stones like marble, granite, etc, they are beautiful examples of Medieval ‘Indian Islamic architecture’. It was great fun to climb the minarets and look at the whole town from the top.

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After tasting the flavour of Islamic culture of Juna-Garh we boarded the train and arrived in the evening at the hoary temple of Somnath. It is one of the most known shore-temples of India and stands majestically overlooking the Arabian Sea. It is the richest temple of ancient India that was plundered, looted and rebuilt seventeen times. Mohammed Gori and Mohammed Gazhni both plundered the temple in different centuries, stripping it of its gold and wealth.

The last major plunder took place in the sixteen century, which was so total that people altogether gave up the idea of rebuilding the temple. Priests were killed and large-scale conversions to Islam took place. The surviving priests ran away to far-flung villages and towns. Many went to Maharastra and South India. Those who could not get jobs as priests started working as construction workers on temple projects in South India. In due course, many of them learnt to sculpt and became temple-sculptors. There is a community of temple sculptor (Sthapathis) in India, who claimed to be the descendants, of the priest of Somnath temple. There are also Sompura Brahmins living in other parts of India, whose ancestors are supposed to be the temple priests of Somnath temple.

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Due to all these happenings and lack of support from the ruling Muslim family, it was not possible for the next four hundred years to rebuild the Somnath temple. It remained in ruins for centuries. During the last century Rani Ahilya Bai dreamt that ‘Lord of Somnath’ urged her to build a temple for him. She built a small temple near the site of the ancient temple, but she did not touch the original site. (Ahiliya Bai also built the temple at ‘Kashi Vishwanath’ in Varanasi in a similar manner).

It was the dream of Sardar Patel, a son of Gujarat and a builder of modern India to see that the temple of Somnath was rebuilt and made to stand once again in all its dignity on the edge of the Arabian Sea. He ordered the construction of a new temple at the site of the original temple of Somnath soon after independence. The construction started under his direct supervision. Once again ancient families of priests re-migrated to Somnath from different towns, cities and villages of India and once again temple bells started ringing.

It is very interesting that Maharaja Ranjit Singh, the lion of Punjab, was later able to recover large amount of gold as well as the golden gates of Somnath temple, from Afghanistan. He offered to return it to the temple, but since the temple at that time was in ruins the priests could not take the responsibility of being able to protect the wealth of the temple They requested Maharaja Ranjit Singh to keep the gold in his own custody and utilize it suitably. This gold was used for decorating the domes of the golden temple in Amritsar. The original golden gates of Somnath temple were also reinstalled in the ‘golden temple complex’ and could be seen there even today.

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For sometime, we sat in the temple compound, pondering over the past, while enjoying the cool breeze from the Arabian Sea. Outside the compound there were a lot of souvenir shops selling handicrafts and articles made of shells. We had a nice walk through the market, visited Ahilya Bai’s temple, shopped for nick-knacks and ate hot roasted peanuts. Then it was time to return to the comfort of our luxurious train, to a hot meal and a good night’s sleep.