#SomnathSeries : Ruined and ravaged Somnath temple as described by visitors in 19th and 20th centuriesAugust 20, 2017
Somnath Series by Japan K Pathak
In this series, I intend to cater various articles on Somnath temple, covering the period between its last destruction and final reconstruction. To clear any doubts or to obtain more details, you can reach me at my email address japanpathak [at] deshgujarat [dot] com.
In the previous article which was the first article of this series you read how last demolition of Somnath temple took place as per the instructions issued by then ruler Aurangzeb. Post its last demolition, the temple continued to remain in ruined shape and suffered even further damages through roughly two and half centuries period, till a historic visit of Gadgil, Sardar Patel and Jam Saheb in late 1940s. Only one good development that happened during all these years was construction of new Somnath temple by Ahilyabai Holkar, some distance away from the ruined temple site. Presented below are curated portions of descriptions/observations noted down by various visitors who paid visits to the ruined Somnath temple site across two and half centuries period before a decision to reconstruct the temple at original site was ideated:
‘Canon on the roof of temple to keep off French privateers’
– James Tod
The dome of the central munduff is complete, but unfortunately too little in unison with the original design to sanction a belief that it is Hindu…….
Canon, placed upon the roof of the temple to keep off French privateers, which frequented the coats during the war…….
The spot where stood the symbolic lingam is deserted, and in the western wall, facing the holy city of Mecca, is excavated a pulpit for the Moollah. …..
The temple of Somnath stood in the centre of an immense quadrangular court, defended by its own lofty battlements. The subordinate shrines, which, like satellites, heightened the splendour of the ‘Lord of the Moon,’ are now leveled with the earth, and mosques, walls, and the habitations or mortals, have been raised from their debris. The great mosque, called the Joomma Musjid, must have absorbed the materials of at least five of minor shrines; for its five vaulted cupolas, with all their appendages, are purely Hindu, and the enormous triple-colonnaded court, in which it stands, must have cost of a dozen more.
Such was and such is the shrine of Somnath, even now a noble object, yet how much grander in the high and palmy days of Hinduism, with all its ministrant appendages! Mahmoud himself could scarcely have contemplated its present degradation. Even with the Hindu, all reverence for its is gone, nor do the minarets at the portal, or the pulpit pointing to Mecca, command the slightest homage from the Mooslem, whilst all the waters of the Ganges would not suffice to illustrate the now desecrated dwelling of the sun-god.
(Travels in Western India, 1839, Chapter 16 page 328)
‘Bats, owl and goat-herd’
– MRS. Postans
As Lieutenant Kittoe remarks, it shows the temple to have been restored, as a place of Hindoo worship, after its destruction by Mahmour, and to have remained as such, with something like its former renown, for two hundred years after that conquest. It is evident, from its present appearance, that it has since yielded to other spoilers, and has been even, at one period, converted into a musjid.
…. Thus feel the splendid idol of Puttun; and such the intolerance which led to the wanton defacement of its beautiful temple. The solidity of its materials, and the favorable climate of the east, have preserved some remnants of its architectural beauty; but the jeweled columns, the golden idols, the dancing girls, and the voice of melody, are replaced by heaps of unsightly rubbish; the chirp of the bat is heard from the sanctum, and the owl has found a nest amongst its richly sculptured cornices. Time, more destructive than even the sword of Mahmoud, has leveled it with all common things, and the great temple of the Self Existent has become a sheltering place for cattle, a resting spot for the traveling goat-herd.
….. Puttun is now completely Mohammedanized, yet bears about it abundant evidence of its origin character, as the capital of an extensive Hindoo territory. Its walls and gates are rich in the remains of Hindoo architecture ; and the magnificently-chiselled shrines of Hindooism form the bases of the finest musjids, now used by the followers of the prophet.
The success of Mahmoud laboured strenuously to eradicate every trace of a religion and people they so fearfully detested, but in vain: the present architectural beauty of modern Puttun is but an inferior graft on its original magnificence ; and the proud Moslem is content to prostrate himself before altars, once sacred to the mysterious rites of Maha-deo and Siva.
I may mention that, until very lately, the roof of the Somnath was used as a battery for several large pieces of ordnance, placed there by the Nuwaub, to protest the neighborhood of his Harbour of Puttun from pirates.
(Western India in 1838, Volume 2)
“The exterior of the temple is of black stone, gorgeously decorated with magnificent sculptures; mutilated, however, most grievously by the effects of violence and time ; while of the five domes which originally supported the roof of Somnath, two only remain ; and it is probable that much injury to the roof has occurred lately in consequence of the nuwaub having placed on it large pieces of ordnance, intended to form a battery to protect the harbour of Puttun from the pirates who infested the neighborhood.
“The interior of Somnath disappointed me much. Having read a good deal of the early history of this beautiful temple, of the wealth and importance which tempted the cupidity of its Moslem defacer, of its splendid idol, and its jeweled pillars, I hoped at least to have traced some remains of the gorgeous character of decoration which had rendered it so renowned ; but scarcely a vestige of such remains …..
(Asiatic Journal, January – April 1843)
‘Attacked more than once, the building has been converted into a masjid’
– Henry Cousens
Subsequently, the building has been attacked on more than one occasion by the Muhamadans, and has been converted into a masjid, when two little minars were set up above the main entrance and a new dome was put over the main hall. It is now quite deserted, and near it lie scores of old images from its walls and collected from various old buildings in the town. ….
…….When the Muhammadans began to settle down in the districts they had raided, they made it an almost universal practice to build their first mosques out of the material of the demolished shrines, and often upon their very sites. In many cases they were content to adapt, with a few alterations and the mutilation of images, the temples as they stood, as was the case with the temple of Somanatha in Kathiawad, and the temple in the fort at Bankapur in the Dharwar district. In the latter, ignoring the shrine, they built a wall across the west side of the hall and converted it into a masjid. This was the quickest and readiest way of meeting their immediate needs; and they followed this up with more pretentious buildings, such as the Jami Masjid, at Somnath-Pattan, constructed wholly, or largely, out of temple materials, but on their own plans. The Hindus, unlike the Muhammadans, did not hold their own temple material too sacred to be used again for any other purpose. The Muhammadan, on the other hand, looks upon every stone of his mosque, even when the latter is totally ruined, as having been consecrated to God’s use, and it is a desecration to use it in any other way.
(The Architectural Antiquities of Western India, 1926)
‘In the dilapidation of the temple we had proof of Mohammedan devastation’
– Lieut Alexander Burnes, of the Bombay Army
The temple of Somnath was at once converted by the sultan into a mosque, its cupolas were overtopped with minarets, which still remain, and the minor temples in the city shared a like fate.”
The pious Hindu does not den the fate which befell his god; he consoled himself with the belief that he retired into the sea on the intrusion of the unclean Mohammedan, where he has since continued. The building is no longer used as a mosque, and now neglected by both Hindu and Mohammedan, it is appropriated to the meanest of purposes. A Brahman, who pointed out to me the curiosities of the city, compared this once far-famed edifice to the human body deprived of life. “It once,” he said, “had honour, but you now behold the frame-work rotting and neglected.” The description was apposite.
…… In the dilapidation of the temple we had proof of Mohammedan devastation; and in the arches which they had reared under the ruder plans of the Hindu, that they might the better give to it the appearance of a Mohammedan sanctuary, we had the architecture of the Eastern and Western world combined together in one edifice. I must not omit to mention another building, worthy of notice, in the center of the city. It is still known by the name of the “Jama Masjid,” or Great Mosque, though it has also been a Hindu temple. It is in the Jain style of architecture, of an oblong square figure, with pillars on the great sides, and four domes resting on pillars at the end which faces the entrance : the shafts of all these pillars are low.
….The images which have once adorned both the interior and exterior of the building are mutilated, and the black polished stones which formed its floor have been removed by the citizens for less pious purposes. Everything in the vicinity of Pattan corroborates Its age, and confirms the relations of the people.
Two marble slabs, with sentences from the Koran, and inscriptions regarding Mangrol Isa, point out where that Mohammedan worthy rests. They arc on the western side of the city, and the place is still frequented by the devout Moslem. Near it is a cupola, supported on pillars, to mark the grave of the sultan’s cash-keeper, with many others; and the whole city is encircled by the remains of mosques, and one vast cemetery. The field of battle, where the ” infidels” were conquered, is also pointed out, and the messy walls, excavated ditch, paved streets, and squared-stone buildings of Pattan itself, proclaim its former greatness. …… At present the city is a perfect ruin, its houses are nearly unoccupied… it is striking to remark how aptly the Mohammedans have converted these clumsy attempts into chaster forms.
…The arch was unknown in India before the Mohammedan conquest, and that I surely did not deceive myself in finding it in the temple of Somnath. A closer inspection soon verified the fact, and on examining the stones which composed these additions, they were found to consist of inverted Hindu images, and mutilated pieces from the exterior of the temple.
(Account of the Remains of the celebrated Temple at Pattan Somnath, sacked by Mahmud of Ghizni, A.D. 1024, 18th January 1834 , Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Volume 5, by Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland)
‘Hindus themselves are totally ignorant respecting the interest attached to Somnath’
– Captain Postans
Like everything of an historical character in India, the Hindus themselves are totally ignorant respecting the interest which attaches to Somnath, and certainly in and near the spot, the fact of Mahmud’s invasion, startling though it was, is quite unknown, and the building itself looked upon in its ruined state without the slightest approach to respect or interest of any kind. How far this apathy may extend into the interior of India I am not prepared to state, but certainly in no part of the Bombay Presidency, or amongst the Rajput tribes of Saurashtra, did I ever hear a syllable indicative of an acquaintance with an interest in the Somnath, except amongst the Jain priests of Girnar, who in their crude historical records designate it as Chandra prabhasa, and appear to consider it as one of their shrines; but of its political history they know nothing. The vicinity has shared the veneration of pilgrims (with the neighboring shrine of Dwarkanath and the whole line of coast) fo
Pattan, and all the part of the country wherein it is situated, is now under a Mohamedan ruler, the Nawab of Junagurh, and the city itself offers the most curious specimen of any I have ver seen of its original Hindu character, preserved throughout its walls, gates, and buildings, despite Mohammedan innovations and a studies attempt to obliterate the traces of paganism ; even the very musjids, which are here and there encountered in the town, have been raised by materials from the sacred edifices of the conquered, or, as it is said by the historians of Sindh, “the true believers turned the temples of the idol worshipers into places of prayer.” Old pattan is to this day a Hindu city in all but its inhabitants – perhaps one of the most interesting historical spots in Western India.
Various historians mention spoliations and conversions of the temples to mosques by succeeding conquerors, until Somnath assumed the appearance it now presents, of a temple evidently of pagan original altered by the introduction of a Mohammedan style of architecture in various portions, but leaving its general plan and minor features unmolested.
Internally, the whole presents a scene of complete destruction; the pavement is everywhere covered with heaps of stones and rubbish; the facing of the walls, capitals of the pillars, in short, every portion possessing anything approaching to ornament, having been defaced or removed, (if not by Mahmud, by those who subsequently converted this temple into its present semi-Mohammedan appearance).
I learnt, to my inexpressible regret, that an ancient tablet, whose unoccupied niche was pointed out to me, had been removed from Somnath some years ago by a European visitor.
Externally the whole of the buildings are most elaborately carved aud ornamented with figures, single and in groups of various dimensions. Many of them appear to have been of some size; but so laboriously was the work of mutilation carried on here, that of the larger figures scarcely a trunk has been left, whilst few even of the most minute remain uninjured. The western side is the most perfect: here the pillars and ornaments are in excellent preservation. The front entrance is ornamented with a portico, and surmounted by two slender minarets — ornaments so much in the Mohammedan style, that they, as well as the domes, have evidently been added to the original building. The two side entrances, which are at some height from the ground, were gained by flights of steps : of these latter the remains only are to be traced. The whole space, for a considerable distance around the temple, is occupied by portions of pillars, stones, and fragments of the original building.”
(Royal Asiatic Society’s Journal, October 1838)
‘Mahommedans erected a kibla and a mimbur’
– Justice A. Kinloch Forbes
With the exception of destroying the spire, and as much as possible of the mythological sculpture on the rest of the building, and replacing the dome (if the conjecture to that effect be correct), the Mahommedans appear to have done little to adapt the character of the building to their own worship. They erected a kibla and a mimbur, and they set up two paltry minarets upon the frontispiece. They formed their Jumma Musjeed, or principal mosque, out of a small temple in the neighborhood, but not within the court-yard of the temple of Somnath, of which they preserved the surrounding enclosure, after removing the shrine from centre thereof.
(14th April 1864, Puttun Somnath, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay, Volume 8)
‘Nawab’s Muslim employee gave key to visit the temple’
– Sadhu Charanprasad
Junagadh Nawab’s Muslim employee gives key to visit the temple. Muslims have created Namaz place on the western side of the temple.
(Bharat Bhraman, fourth volume, 27th chapter 1903)
‘Lizards slipped in and out of their holes, an inspector’s horse, tied there’
– Kanaiyalal Munshi
In December 1922, accompanied by a young man, I went to see the shrine before the dawn broke. At that time, I was passing through an emotional crisis and my imagination was aflame with the past glories of Gujarat. We walked for some time on the sea-shore looking with subdued awe at the majestic ruins of the great temple silhouetted against the starry sky. I remembered our poet Nanalal’s verse about Saurashtra where “the sea lashes against its pearly shores”. The dawn broke; the aged hoary ruins of this once magnificent temple stood before me. I went into the temple. On the dusty floor of the gudhamandapa, on which once stood the noblest and the mightiest in India, a police sub-inspector had tied a pony! Since my college days, I had dreamt of the vanished glories of Gujarat. Since 1910, I have dreamt and thought and written about Gujarat-one and indivisible-rising again in its pristine glory. In my first novel in 1915, I had ‘found in ‘Jai Somanatha’ Gujarat’s ancient battle cry. But at the plight of this shrine, I broke down.
Desecrated, burnt and battered, it still stood firm – a monument to our humiliation and ingratitude. I can scarcely describe the burning shame which I felt on that early morning as I walked the broken floor of the once-hallowed sabhamandap littered with broken pillars and scattered stones. Lizards slipped in and out of their holes at the sound of my unfamiliar steps, and – Oh! the shame of it – an inspector’s horse, tied there, neighed at my approach with sacrilegious impertinence.
(Somnath – the shrine eternal)
‘Nothing much left that could be further attacked’
– Shambhuprasad Desai
There are some valuable details available from Shambhuprasad Desai’s book Prabhas anne Somnath:
– Barring some events, Somnath temple witnessed no fresh attack after 1707. However there was nothing much left that could be attacked. Attacks on other Hindu temples had continued in Prabhas, description of which is improper to be put here as we are focusing only on Somnath temple.
– In 1819 AD South West corner part of ruined and vandalized Somnath temple collapsed due to earthquake.
-People would go to toilet in ruined Somnath temple and damage it further like it was part of their religious duty. There was no strength or time available to rebuild this temple. Harprasad Udayshankar Desai with cooperation of his friends Prataprai Vasantrai and Chishti Samanmiya Hakim set up a Gymkhana club and one tennis court at the temple site. Plan was made to set up chairs and table in temple and play chess and other games there. Cricket and tennis games were also played. Somnath temple was in ruined condition but further desecration could be prevented. In July 1882, due to rain in the evening, tennis players and viewers entered inside the temple and started playing chess there. When shower somewhat reduced its intensity, Samanmiya Hakim asked everyone to come and have tea at his house which was situated nearby. All stood up and left the place. When they were at some distance away from the temple, the dome(sabha mandap) of ruined Somnath temple collapsed. If they had left the temple premises just five minute later, twenty prominent youths of Prabhas could have been dead.
-In 1932, Shastri Harishankar Prabhashankar set up Prabhas Itihas Sanshodhan Sabha. Due to efforts of this organization, Junagadh State Diwan, Sir Patrick Cadle passed a law for protection of buildings of archaeological importance. He promised to protect the ruined temple of Somnath . In response to demand made by Sabha, he also constructed a wall around the temple building and appointed a guard.
(Prabhas and Somnath)
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