The Sun Temple at Modhera …

History starts when writing starts. Writing, I would venture, is a product of civilisation. We find the first great civilisations and writing springing into existence about 3,100 BC in Mesopotamia and in Egypt. About 500 years later the Indus Valley produced its own version which grew to cover a larger area than Egypt and Mesopotamia combined, built the major cities of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro and survived for more than a thousand years.

One of the finest archeological sites in India is at Dholavira, in the Kutch region of Gujerat. It is a Harappan site that was occupied from about 2650 BC until about 1450 BC. I hope that one day someone discovers there the earliest commercial brewery and distillery known to humanity.

In Australia we start slapping heritage listings on anything over fifty years old and our oldest buildings are barely pushing 200. Gujerat was there from the beginning of history.

My first glimpse of the glorious architecture of Gujerat was on one of the journeys onto the Little Rann. We passed the walled city of Zinzuwada. This was built in the eleventh century, a troubled time because of  invasions from the north.  The city has four magnificent gates, the best preserved is the Madapol Gate. I wish I could have had the time to explore it properly … next time.

I was able to do better at the  Sun Temple at Modhera. This is dedicated to the Hindu Sun God, Surya.

According to the little guide book one can purchase at the gate, there is an inscription on the rear wall of the central hall naming king Bhola Bhimdev as the builder in the year 1027 AD. That is  around the same time as Zinzuwada and by a king of the same dynasty, the Solanki.

P1010599

The temple is in three parts. The weary traveller would first bathe in the pool, the Suryakund, then ascend the steps, pass between two columns to enter the Court or Dance gallery, Sabha Mandap. The next building is the main temple, Garbha-griha. Legend has it that it once contained a magnificent and bejewelled pure gold idol of the Sun God and his chariot drawn by seven horses. This sat atop a pit, fifteen feet deep, filled with gold coins. It was designed so that the rays of the rising and setting sun on the day of equinoxes (round about 20 March and 21 September) fell on the sculpture and filled the temple with radiance. This was taken away by the marauding Mahmud Ghaznavi who is credited with 17 raids on India, carried out for fun and profit. His last invasion, however, was supposedly in 1026. Clearly the legend needs a little tidying up before the insurance claim goes through.

Considerable damage was wrought on the temple by the Sultan of Northern India, Alauddin Khilji, during his reign from 1296 to 1316. Gujerat was one of the first territories he conquered and annexed.

What we have left though is still magnificent. Symbolism is everywhere, just as the sun in its passage causes the lotus flower to open and close so the temple form follows that of the lotus. All the gods are represented in their appropriate forms in their appropriate places with their appropriate vehicles. Various manipulations of the calendar determine the number of pillars, the number of elephants and so on.

Sabha Mandap, built on 52 pillars.
Sabha Mandap, built on 52 pillars.
Pillars within the Sabha Mandap
Pillars within the Sabha Mandap
The dome within the Sabha Mandap
The dome within the Sabha Mandap
Garbha-griha
Garbha-griha

As can be seen from the photos, the stone work is intricately carved. Many of the panels depict what the little guidebook quaintly calls “sexual and amorous acts”…

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This was all completed without the aid of cranes or engines. Once each layer was completed it was filled with sand. Elephants were used to drag the stones up ramps to the new level. Once the building was finished the sand was removed.

Prayers are no longer offered at the temple. The Garbha-griha is now the daytime roost of Greater Mouse-tailed and other bats.

Greater Mouse-tailed Bat
Greater Mouse-tailed Bat

One thought on “The Sun Temple at Modhera …

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