More than a thousand years old, the Modhera Sun temple, located just 100 km from Ahmedabad, has an amazing history behind it
JUST a little more than a hundred km from Ahmedabad you come across the fascinating remains of Sun temples at Modhera, relics of a bygone era, when reverence of the natural elements including fire, air, earth, water and sky were at their peak. The village of Modhera is a mere 35 km from Mehsana and is located on the banks of the Pushpavati. Legend has it that after defeating Ravana, Lord Rama was returning home along with Sita and halted at the place for a few days. Rama consulted with sage Vashishtha and decided to conduct a ‘yagna’ at the place to cleanse himself of the sin of killing Ravana, a Brahmin and Shaivite and a key disciple of Shiva. A Brahmin from the Modh community – hence the name Modhera – performed the ‘yagna.’ (There is also a temple called Modheshwari, a manifestation of the mother goddess in the locality). It was nearly a thousand years ago that the Sun temple was built under the patronage of Bhimdev I as an offering to the fiery Surya, the sun god, and the lord of life and light. A patron of arts, king Bhimdev supported all religions The temple is the only one to have a ‘kund’ – ceremonial tank – seamlessly dovetailing into the main complex and emphasising the dichotomy of the elements of fire and water.
The Modhera Sun temple is a classic example of the material aspect of Solanki architecture – mastery over elegantly intricate carving of stone and judicious use of lime mortar. The ‘Silavats’ were image or idol makers and had an oral tradition of temple engineering.
The Modhera Sun temple complex reflects a marvel of planning engineering, mirroring the principles of ‘vaastu shastra’ and astronomy. Ensconced in an undulating landscape of green foliage, the temple design follows the tenets of Vastu – Shilpa. The ‘kund’ and the entrance passageway face east in an aura of welcome to the tantalising rays of the sun, and the entire structure floats on a plinth resembling a flowering lotus as an ablution to the sun god. The steps are designed as a stylised mirror image of the temple ‘shikhar’, symbolically linking fire and water, dream and reality. The main complex is divided into three parts – the entrance which is the ‘Sabha Mandap’, ‘Antaral’ the connecting passage and the ‘Garbagruha’, the sanctum sanctorum. If you want to escape the hustle-bustle of modern cities, Modhera is the ideal destination. The majestic temple complex and the quiet landscape ensure that you are not distracted by the routines of daily life; in fact, you soar to the glorious past from the Golden Age. The manificent Ramakund, built in rectangular shape and containing 108 shrines of various gods and demi-gods, welcomes you as you enter the historic complex. The ‘kund’ is surrounded on three sides by shrines dedicated to Ganesh, Vishnu and Shiva, who is seen dancing the ‘tandav’ and facing the temple of the sun, which is on the fourth side. Other shrines showcasing different ‘mudras’ are arrayed along the staggered configuration of steps leading down to the base of the ‘kund’.
Rhythmic ups and downs of the steps
Walk up the steps to the ‘Sabha Mandap’ (the assembly) and witness the sculpted renderings of 12 ‘Adityas’ (another name for the sun god). Carved on the pillars, they represent the sun and the twelve months. Unfortunately, the decline of the Solanki dynasty, the vagaries of time, the presence of Islamic iconoclasts and devastating earthquakes has affected the basic structure of the temples. Mehmood Ghazni raided the Solanki empire in the early part of the 11th century. However, Bhimdev defended the kingdom and Ghazni had to flee the place. For more than 150 years, the Solanki architecture and Modhera thrived, but Allauddin Khilji attacked Gujarat from his Delhi base. His troops defaced and plundered the temples and also set fire to the main ‘shikhara.’ But despite these senseless attacks through the centuries, the Modhera sun temple continues to be a magnificent work of art in stone. A walk around the serene temple makes you aware of the strong and positive aura of energy which radiates through it and brings one closer to the environs.