The Sun Temple, Modhera – Impressions of an Enigma Lost In Time.
Where the Sun is not just a celestial body
And 365 days, 52 weeks and 12 months aren’t just a calendar
Know that you are witnessing something more than just an architectural splendour.
When 7 days of a week are actually 7 horses pulling a chariot
And Day or Night is not a mere phenomenon
Know that you’re standing in the very Abode of the Sun.
The Sun Temple in Modhera, Gujarat is one such enigma lost in time. Bruised in repeated demolitions yet standing tall in resilience, this is a place where you may be teleported to an era of colossal astronomical advancement, accurate mathematical calculations and an impeccable penchant for art.
Modhera is located in the Mehsana district of Gujarat and is at a distance of around 108 km from Ahmedabad. It is easily accessible by buses that ply regularly on this route. The river Pushpavati flows through this small village of immense historical significance. Modhera is primarily known for the Sun Temple built by King Bhimdev-I of the Solanki or Chaulukya Dynasty in the year 1026-27 A.D. The Solankis are believed to have been the descendants of the Sun and hence worshipped the Sun God.
The Sun Temple, Modhera.
The Sun Temple in Modhera is one of the 4 significant sun temples built in the Indian subcontinent. Presently, three out of the four are in India and one is located in Multan, Pakistan. The Konark Sun Temple in Odisha, the Sun Temple in Modhera and the Martand Sun Temple in Anant Nag, Jammu and Kashmir are the three most significant temples dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya in the country.
The Sun Temple in Modhera is a witness to many demolitions by brutal invaders such as Mohammad Ghazni and Alauddin Khilji. According to Hindu mythology and traditions when an idol cracks it is no longer worshipped as it is considered inauspicious. Similarly, the repeated damage caused to the Sun Temple rendered it unsuitable for the worship of Sun God. However, what makes it more intriguing is the fact that it is exactly aligned on the Tropic of Cancer.
The entire temple is based on a lotus shaped plinth just like the Sun Temple in Konark, Odisha is based on a chariot. The temple complex is adorned with exquisitely detailed carvings that adorn every inch of the walls. The carvings depict a variety of things from women in dance poses to Hindu deities of every kind to scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana to exquisitely carved elephants to scenes from Kamasutra as well as the entire lifecycle of a human starting from conceiving a life in the womb of a mother to childbirth to death.
The walls also have carvings of elephants whose trunks are distinctly different from one another. There are 365 such elephants carved on the walls of this temple which symbolise the 365 days of the year.
The walls are made of sandstone which may have been brought from the city of Dhrangadhra in Gujarat. The mode of transport may have been on elephant backs or through the river Pushpavati that flows in the vicinity.
The architecture of the temple has adhered to the imperative of the age old Vaastu Shastra. For instance, the placing of the entry gate in the northeast direction is considered auspicious. The Northeast is also referred to as the Ishan corner and is dedicated to Lord Shiva and Parvati, similarly, the South is attributed to the God of Death, Yama and an entrance placed facing this direction can prove to be highly inauspicious. North is attributed to the God of Wealth Kuber, the southeast has been assigned to Agni Dev or the God of Fire and north-west to Pawan Dev or the God of Air.
Goddess Saraswati or the Goddess of education has been placed high up above on the wall of the temple which signifies that if you have education as your most prized possession, then any obstacle can be easily overcome in life which is indeed very true that if you chase the pursuit of education and excellence then you naturally tend to attract wealth towards you.
The Sun Temple is primarily divided into three parts, the Surya Kund or the stepped reservoir at the entrance, the Sabha Mandapa or the assembly hall and the Gudha Mandapa or the main temple.
The Surya Kund
The Surya Kund is a stepped reservoir which functioned as the cleansing area for the pilgrims before proceeding for the worship of the Sun God in the main temple. The water in the Kund has presently accumulated rainwater but it is believed that in earlier times the source of water was an underground spring. The Surya Kund is also called Rama Kund locally.
The entire kund is surrounded by 108 small and big temples dedicated to various Hindu gods and goddesses. The corners and the centres can be seen to have little bigger temples. The first temple in the corner is that of Lord Ganesha, second is Goddess Sitala, then Lord Brahma, at the centre opposite to the main entrance of the temple lies the reclining Vishnu, followed by Shiva, Goddess Kali and finally south facing is Lord Hanuman.
The Sabha Mandapa
The Sabha Mandapa was essentially the assembly hall of the pilgrims. There are 52 pillars supporting the entire structure. The 52 pillars symbolise the 52 weeks in a year. There are slabs constructed on the sides of the Sabha Mandapa which were used by the pilgrims to sit and rest for a while after completing the worship rituals.
The pillars are adorned in a wide range of carvings from women dancing or engaging in various other activities of beautifying themselves and scenes from Mahabharata and Ramayana. The pillars are diagonally arranged and bear a Toran on four directions. The Toran here is an overhead arch seen mostly at the entrance of such historical buildings. The Toran on the western end has eroded considerably due to the salinity in the air that flows from this direction. The East, West and North directions in the Sabha Mandapa were considered as the preferred entrance directions and exit was necessarily facilitated through the south.
The Gudha Mandapa
The Gudha Mandapa is the main temple which holds the Garbha Griha or the holy sanctum sanctorum of the entire temple. It is believed that the idol of Surya, the Sun God resided in this exact location. At present, though, you can only see a closed door that prevents people from falling into the 10 feet deep pit. This deep pit used to be the exact location where the idol of the Sun God was rested above layers of gold and silver beneath it.
The idol of the Sun God was believed to have been made of gold and had a diamond engraved at the location of the third eye. As per beliefs during the equinoxes every year, i.e. on 21st March and 23rd September, the sun rays would fall on the diamond and the entire temple would illuminate in a golden glow. On the rest of the days of the year, the two pillars before the Garbha Griha still remain illuminated throughout the day irrespective of the position of the Sun. The Garbha Griha is aligned to exactly the eastern direction, thus the idol of Surya was accurately placed facing the east. The Garbha Griha further has a Parikrama Marg or the path to complete circumambulations around it.
This place left me absolutely awestruck, the astronomical and mathematical advancement of that era which led to its impeccable architecture and design is spellbinding. A temple so captivating in its ruins made me wonder what must have been its grandeur when each of those bricks was intact and when the temple actually illuminated in a golden glow when the first sun rays landed on the third eye of the Surya. All of which can only be left to imagination now.