29th January 2011
After leaving Dwarka around 8:40 am, our first stop was at Harsiddhimata Mandir. There were enough crowds in that temple but once again, no ambience to pray. People come there to get their wishes granted and once it is done, they visit another temple which is near this one but on a hill. We didn’t go uphill because my immediate wish was to get to a good restaurant, which I was sure that it was not uphill. Even though we had breakfast (bread & butter) before we left Dwarka, my stomach had started making noises. The small snacks bars near the temple were not neat so we chose to move ahead.
I enjoyed the scenery on the way to Porbandar. On both sides of the roads were either fields or barren lands. Most of the crops on the fields could be seen feasted by migratory birds (that looked like big cranes, the ones that we saw from the train). They were so graceful in their movements. All of them moved uniformly. If their leader flapped its wings while flying, the entire flock would flap. If the leader was gliding, the same action would be repeated by the ones flying behind. I could see them flying in curved lines and in different patterns.
By 11 am we reached Porbandar. Most of the structures in this city were built of white stone. Gandhiji’s home is a great place of significance and one of the most popular tourist spot. GTDC buses passing in Dwarka-Somnath route stop here for some time. It was an old structure but well-maintained. Next to the house, there was a library where many photographs, books and things used by Gandhiji was preserved. The house was bought by Gandhiji’s grandfather from a lady somewhere in the 1700s. In the years coming by, as the members of the joint family grew, two additional floors were built up one after the other. The construction, needless to say, was excellent. To get to the floor above, there was a steep staircase from the inside of the house. Most of the rooms were well ventilated by big wooden windows (as big as doors in a few cases). I was wondering what must be the quality of the wood used, that it has lasted centuries.
At this place, we met the Tamilian aunties whom Shreeram had befriended in the boat at Bet Dwarka. In fact, we met them the earlier day also at Dwarka temple for evening Darshan. We left Gandhiji’s home around noon towards Sudamapuri which is a very close by place. Lord Krishna had built the house of gold at this place for his friend Sudama. We took darshan and proceeded towards two famous restaurants of Porbandar – Swagat and Swati. These two restaurants are next to each other. We went to Swagat and had delicious Punjabi food. After a yummy tummy-full meal, we left for Somnath.
The next town we crossed was Mangrol. I had dozed off for a few minutes before I woke up to see this wonderful sight. We were moving along the coast of Arabian Sea. The highway (NH-8B I guess) was running parallel to the sea. I enjoyed the drive very much, but Shreeram was fast asleep to see this sight. Even though it was sea shore, humidity was nowhere to be felt. The sun’s dry heat took away whatever water content was present in our bodies. I was continuously drinking water to moisten by parched lips. Mangrol had a lot of huge coconut farms. People cultivated coconuts and sold to the nearby states. Hence tender coconut here is as cheap as Rs.5 – Rs.10. The scenery looked almost like Kerala.
After Mangrol was Chorvad. Here also we could see coconut farms. Our driver told us that it was the village where Dhirubhai Ambani was born. Here we again saw the Chakra-Rickshaws (Bike Rickshaws) as the common means of transportation.
Our driver told us that these bikes are usually Enfield (Bullet) diesel motor bikes converted into an auto. There are companies in Gujarat that assemble them. A brand new vehicle costs somewhere between Rs. 1.3 – 1.4 lakhs. They are the most common means of transport in rural areas of Gujarat where Auto rickshaws are very few. These bike rickshaws are used for transporting anything – from people to coconuts or even up to 50 gas cylinders at a time. If they had elephants in Gujarat, they might have used it for transporting that even. If one has to realize the power of Enfield engine, then he has to see these rickshaws operating in Gujarat. The sound, or rather noise, of the vehicle can be heard from a long distance. If one travels in it, it will surely powder his ear wax in no time. There are no shock absorbers in it and hence only people who are used to travel in it can commute. Behind the bike, on the carrier, there are two seats on either side which can carry six passengers in total. But at least eight passengers sit on it, few stand in the leg space, three sit on the back side (facing the back…like sitting in a dicky) and if there are men, they hang on to the vehicle from the outside keeping their foot somewhere on the vehicle. It usually carries ten-fifteen people and travels at an average speed of 20-30 km/hr.
Finally we reached Somnath by 4pm, one of the places I was eagerly waiting to go since quite some time. Rajubhai greeted us at Lilavati Bhavan, where we were going to stay. We settled down in our room, had a hot bath and came out for tea. There was an unusual smell in our room. I asked Rajubhai what was it but he couldn’t smell it. It was later that I found out that it was the smell of the air near the coastal areas. The smell is usually there in rooms or cars that are kept closed for few hours. Since we were new to the smell, we could identify it but Rajubhai was probably used to it.
After a quick tea and a dosa, we went to the New Somnath temple. There is an Old Somnath temple next to it where there are two Shiva Lingas. The new one was built under the initiative of Sardar Patel – The Iron Man of India. In the new temple, there was tight security inside and outside the temple. We had to deposit our bags, mobile & camera at the counter, and yes even belts. There was a shoe counter just next to it where we kept our shoes before we walked towards the temple. The temple was 150 feet tall, with the Kalash on top of it weighing 10 tons and the Dhwajdand was 27 feet tall and 1 foot in circumference. After the security checks by the police, as we neared the temple, we could see the beautiful work done on the pillars. We entered through the main entrance into the temple. There was one line of pillars on either side once we are inside the temple. As we moved five feet ahead, an extra line of pillars started on the outside of these pillars. After every five feet ahead, two extra lines of pillars were added on either side until there were eight pillars on either side of the walking area towards the inner sanctum of the temple. Here there were counters where Pooja offerings had to be paid. I didn’t feel like moving ahead fast when I was lost in the beauty of the marvelous sculptures carved on the pillars. Then we entered the main sanctum which was divided into two sides – right side for men and left for women. There were two exits here, one on either side. I saw two lines ahead of me – one for Darshan and one for Aarti. People who wished to have Darshan and move ahead stood in the first line and those who wished to stand ahead to see the Aarti clearly could start standing in the Aarti line. Shreeram and Rushali went in the ladies queue and I went in the Darshan queue. Evening Aarti was going to begin. I stood in the line for Darshan and walked towards the inner sanctum. The main priest was bathing the Shivalinga. What a sight it was! It was the first time I was seeing something so beautiful and that too from such a close distance. The Shivalinga was very big, almost 3 feet tall. Darshan line moved fast. So I thought of standing in the Darshan line once again so that I can get another glimpse how the priest is bathing Shiva and decorating the linga. As I neared in my second round, the Pandit placed a twig with three leaves that looked somewhat like a Trishul. The place where he placed it made it look like Shiva’s two eyes and the third one in between. Now, what looked like a stone a few moments back looked alive with the eyes. I went in for one more round in the line. He then placed wet petals of flowers beautifully on the linga in the shape of OM. In no time, he had decorated the Shivalinga beautifully with flower petals and the sanctum was full of people since it was time for the evening Aarti of 7pm. Usually, I don’t enjoy crowded temples. But here, one gets a feeling as if he (and all these people) has come to Shiva’s home. As I looked up, I saw a lot of carvings inside the dome of the temple. The sculptures seemed to be stooping over to have a Darshan for the Aarti. Soon the music started. First I thought it’s a pre-recorded music for Aarti but it is later I found out that the music was a live one. There was one small Shehnayi, one drum and two temple bells used in creating the music. These were the only instruments. But the way they played it was totally amazing. The music took the whole crowd into a different realm. One could see those men playing the instruments in total devotion. They were literally playing it for God. The crowd was swinging hands, some chanting while some just closing the eyes and meditating. When I saw them, I thought, maybe I should stop looking around in fascination and just ‘Be’ in the present moment. I closed my eyes and stood still listening to the music and imagining Shiva’s picture in my mind. For 20 minutes I’m sure I was not in Somnath temple, I was somewhere else. Shreeram also enjoyed the music. He never enjoys loud music and this one was very loud since they used microphones & speakers inside the dome structure. But he was continuously dancing while the Aarti was going on. I guess, that’s the difference between music and noise. Most of the loud music that we hear is more of noise than of music. Music is ever enchanting however loud it may be.
The Aarti ended at 7:20pm. But the effect lasted for a longer time. I was lost in a different mood until Rushali came up and reminded me about the light & sound show that happens every evening at 7:45 at the Somnath temple. I quickly got 2 tickets started looking for the auditorium where they show it. To my surprise, it was an open air auditorium. It was just behind the temple that a seating arrangement was made in the form of steps ascending backwards to form an arc shape. We chose the seats at the back. And behind us was the Arabian Sea. Above us was the dark sky lit up with stars. Oh Gosh! How can I ever describe that scene? The screen was none other than the temple structure. The show started sharp at 7:45pm. It was one of the most informative vast lessons of history that I learnt in the next one hour. It was shown as if the Sea (voice over by one of the best actors of Bollywood – Amrish Puri) was saying the story of Somnath. I bet, only one actor could have said it in the same effect as Amrish Puri’s voice was having. And that is none other than Amitabh Bachan. There is no other actor, whom I can think of, having such a deep voice and excellent way of dialogue delivery. Incidentally, that was the first time I was listening to Amrish Puri without actually seeing him on the screen. When we see movies on screen, much of the dialogue delivery is covered up by the visual stuff – acting. Here too, one could get a reel of cinema running through their minds on the history of Cinema because there was only ‘Light & Sound’, no characters or pictures. And I’m sure; the effect of the show would have been very less if there were characters played in it because that would take away the most beautiful part of the show – Our Imagination.
According to Swami Shri Gajananand Saraswatiji, Chairman of Shrimad Aadhya Jagadguru Shankaracharya Vedic Shodh Sansthan, Varanasi, the said first temple was built 79,925,105 years ago as derived from the traditions of Prabhas Khand of Skand Puran. The research based on ancient Indian classical texts show that first Somnath Jyotirling Pran-Pratistha was done on the auspicious third day of brighter half of Shravan month during the tenth Treta yug of Vaivswat Manvantar. The story goes like this…Moon God (Chandrama) had married 27 stars who were the daughters of Daksh Prajapati. But Chandrama was always with Rohini Nakshatra (star) which made the other stars sad and jealous. When they complained about this to their father who then cursed Chandrama to become a leper. Diseased Chandrama could not complete his rotations around the earth on time. All the living beings started facing a lot of problems due to this and hence some sages requested Daksh Prajapati to withdraw his curse. Feeling pity on the earthlings, he told Chandrama that if he does penance and austerities meditating on Lord Shiva, his disease will be cured for some time and he shall regain his real form once in a month. Chandrama performed this penance with utmost sincerity and prayed to Lord Shiva to forgive his mistake of being partial to just one wife. Being pleased with his devotion, Shiva took his form and asked him to make a temple in this place which was named after Chandrama (Soma, another name of Chandrama) & Shiva – Somnath.
Since then Prabhas Teertha, as this place was called, had been a very famous pilgrimage centre. During the days of Shree Krishna, the temple was very beautifully decorated with precious stones and pearls. But it didn’t stand in the same way through out. History says that the temple was destroyed at least seven times by Mughal invaders. But after every destruction, the devoted people of Gujarat have brought it up from the state of ruins. In the 11th Century, Mahmud of Ghazni invaded Prabhas Teertha and looted Somnath temple. During that time, the Shiva linga was adorned with precious gems & stones. There were over a thousand priests to serve the temple. Hundreds of dancers and singers played before the temple. Somnath temple was famous for its treasures and this is what attracted Ghazni. Mahmud ordered his men to loot the temple and to destroy the sacred idol of Shiva. Thousands of Rajput soldiers laid their lives to protect the temple but could not stand the huge army of Mahmud.
There was nothing left except for ruins in the place where Somnath stood. Raja Kumar Pal rebuilt the temple in the year 1174. Raja Bheem Dev built a dome in the courtyard of the temple. As Somnath slowly started regaining its glory, Allaudin Khilji’s army plundered the temple and destroyed the Linga. Once again thousands of men fought to protect the temple from the cruel invaders but ended up in giving up their lives. The people of Saurashtra (Gujarat) didn’t give up and rebuilt the temple once again. But fate was meant to be bitter for Somnath temple when Ghiasuddin Tughlak’s son Mahmood raided Somnath temple. The temple was looted & destroyed many times by Jaffer Khan, a governor of Gujarat in 14th Century. Every time he would attack, destroy and return, the people would start rebuilding the temple once again. In the Eighteenth Century, Maharani of Indore, Ahilyabai Holkar installed the Shivaling once again.
In 1893, a Hindu-Muslim riot broke out and many temples were vandalized. In 1947, the Nawab of Junagadh decided opt for Pakistan which was opposed by the people of Gujarat. It is here that the then Deputy Prime Minister of India, Sardar Patel, emerged as a hero and announced the reconstruction of the Somnath temple. When Sardar Patel visited Somnath temple along with many Indian leaders of that time, he was shattered to see the dilapidated condition of the temple. When consulted with Gandhiji, he said that people of Gujarat should build the temple without using the Govt. funds. Both rich & poor, contributed as much as they could to reconstruct the temple. But alas, Sardar Patel did not live to the day the temple was reconstructed. In his memory, a statue of Sardar Patel is kept at the entrance of the temple. The Somnath temple we have today would not have existed if it were not for Sardar Patel.
When I heard all these stories, I asked myself, “Did I miss my history classes in school or were these chapters left out to be printed? When I learnt about Akbar ‘The Great’ and Alexander ‘The Great’, our freedom fighters were not given the title of being great.” There were a few schools that had brought their children here. I feel schools should bring students to such places for study tours which would make them feel proud of their country, countrymen and culture.