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Visiting Sun Temple, Modhera—an Architectural Marvel and Historical Monument in North Gujarat

Vanita is an engineer-researcher-consultant-artist: an accomplished singer-poetess. She loves to write on Indian Culture and Life.

The first glimpses of the Temples captured on my mobile camera.

The first glimpses of the Temples captured on my mobile camera.

An Unplanned Visit . . .

Our little group of four—Shree Sundaram Tailor (Gujarati poet) and his wife Mrs. Veena Tailor, Ms. Shweta Joshi (co-ordinator of a Vadodara-based literary organization) and myself—were on our way back from a National Conference of Artists and Art Lovers at the Brahma Kumaris, Abu Road, in early August 2022. Our car was heading towards the Bahucharaji Temple when I spotted that my Google map was showing Modhera on the way. We immediately decided to go there.

It was cloudy and cool. We reached the temple gate around lunchtime, at about one in the afternoon. We decided to first have lunch in the restaurant located just beside the entrance gate and then proceed to enjoy the charms of the historical temple site.

The lunch was much better than what we had expected. But, as we were enjoying our meal, rain started pouring in profusely. We saw some tourists coming out of the temple campus, running to reach the nearest shelter . . .

Oops!

I jokingly told my friends that I had asked the rain to stop by the time we were through with our lunch. And it indeed happened that way! By the time we were ready to go toward the temple, the rain had stopped.

Happily, we strolled on the stone path leading to the temple. The green lawns on both sides of the pathway and beyond, with huge trees studded all across, had come to life due to the rain shower that just went by. Some birds were chirping and trilling. White cranes with their golden beaks were busy exploring their grassy feasting grounds. Squirrels were eagerly racing up and down the pathway, looking for something to munch on, their fluffy dancing tails going up as they made soft, squeaky sounds.

The surrounding scenic lawns had come alive after the short spell of rain before we entered the Temple premises.

The surrounding scenic lawns had come alive after the short spell of rain before we entered the Temple premises.

Background on Modhera's Sun Temple

Modhera is a small town, with rich ancient and historical background, in North Gujarat. It comes under the Becharaji / Bahucharaji sub-division of Mehsana district—the home district of the Prime Minister of India, Shree Narendra Modi.

Modhera is known for the thousand-year-old Sun Temple, the Modhera Sun Temple.

The temple is believed to be built around 1026–27 AD by the King Bhimadeva-1 of the Solanki / Chalukya dynasty (1022–1063 AD).

The Sun Temple of Modhera obviously reminds us of the Konark Sun Temple, located on the eastern coast of India in the state of Orissa. However, Modhera Sun Temple is older than the Konark Temple, which was built in the 13th century, around 1250 AD. Also, Konark Temple is much larger and in better condition.

The Modhera region finds mention in the ancient Hindu Scripture—the Skanda Purana—in which it is called the Bhaskar Region. Bhaskar is a Sanskrit word meaning the illuminated, the shining one or the brilliant one, and it is also the name of the Sun God Surya.

Bhaskar Teerth—mentioned in Skanda Purana. The heading text is underlined and ticked.

Bhaskar Teerth—mentioned in Skanda Purana. The heading text is underlined and ticked.

The Main Constituents of the Sun Temple

There are three main components of the Sun Temple you can look around at, namely:

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  1. The Main Sun Temple consisting of the main hall called the Gudhamandapa, towards the far end of which is the Garbhagriha or the Sanctum Sanctorum, where the Deity is consecrated. The Deity, which was seated on the upper cell of the Garbhagriha, on a platform, is now missing and a sorrowful, silent pit formed at its place, speaks about its absence. Most of the upper part of the temple is missing—it was either demolished in an invasion and could not be revived or it got worn out with time. Sometimes the case is both.
  2. The Sabhamadapa (assembly hall) or Rangamandapa (dance hall), rhombic in shape, with an entrance on each corner. Opposite entrances match to give a clear through and through view, as also ensuring uninterrupted passage of light and air circulation. There are 52 beautifully and intricately carved pillars in the Sabhamandapa. The entrance of the Garbhamandapa faces and matches the western entrance of the Sabhamandapa, which is in line with the eastern entrance. There was a Kirti-Toran—a triumphant arch—at the entrance of the Sabhamandapa. Now, there are only two pillars indicative of its presence. The rest of the structure is completely missing.
  3. The Kund or the Reservoir / Pool that marks the entrance of the Temple complex, which is rectangular. It's 176 feet north to south and 120 feet east to west. It is known as the Raama Kund or Surya Kund. There are steps going downwards to the Kund from all four sides, which are lined with small temples of different deities. There are in all 108 small shrines surrounding the Kund. To the west of the Kund is a step-well. The Kund houses multitudes of turtles which readily and eagerly surface out when tourists offer them something to eat.

The Architecture and Sculptures and Carvings

As already told, we visited the temple on a rainy day. There was no sun around. The main shrine temple—the Gudhamandapa—was dark and damp. However, one of my companions, who had visited the place early in the morning on a summer day, told us that the first rays of the sun enter the shrine and illuminate it in such a way that the area of the Garbhagriha, where the Sun Deity was consecrated, gets lit up. It is apparently one of the most beautiful sights to see.

The outer walls of the Gudhamandapa are carved with sculptures and carvings. Most of the sculptures are badly damaged. The carvings are also worn out, but the shapes of inverted lotuses at the bottom and lines of elephants a little above them, pitchers, which are called—Kumbha or Kalasha—can still be clearly made out.

There are sculptures of Lord Surya—the Sun God—and other Deities, such as Shree Vishnu, Lord Shiva, Shree Ganesha, Maa Parvati, and other Goddesses, on the walls as well as pillars.

Incidents of the great epic Raamaayana are also depicted in the sculptures in the Sabhamandapa.

Beautiful floral designs, sculptures showing human attitudes, warriors, Ashta-Dikpala (the Deities of eight directions) and erotic figures are also there in the sculptures and carvings found on the walls and pillars of the temple structure.

The More Than Thousand Years Old Shiva Temple

Towards the northeast of the main temple, there is a small Shiva Temple, which is said to be more than a thousand years old.

There is no mention of this temple in the literature that I could trace on the internet or even in the stone caption about the temple complex posted by the Archeological Survey of India. However, the locals told us that this temple is more than a thousand years old. They asked us not to miss offering our prayers there during the ongoing month of Shraavan—the month in the Hindu calendar dedicated to the worship of Lord Shiva.

The Old Tree at the Far End

My companions, who had visited this Sun Temple earlier, were eager to go and see an old bent tree with cavities in it. It was located in the backyard of the temple complex.

The tree is indeed pretty old and awkwardly bent with goose-pens in it. It has become a photography attraction.

I remember having seen such trees at other historical places as well, such as one in the Ranakpur Jain Temple complex near Kumbhalgarh in Rajasthan.

Dance Festivals at the Sun Temple Modhera

Temple Dance Festival traditions of India are well-known. Like Konark and Khajuraho, Modhera Sun Temple also organizes a three-day Dance Festival every year in the third week of January.

During these three days, the temple premises resound and glitter with the tunes and rhythms and performances of classical dances presented by artists from all over India.

Reflections

The visit to Sun Temple, Modhera, turned out to be a memorable diversion on the way back home from the conference.

Rejoicing, we returned, with our imaginations stretched to those days when this temple would have been new or intact enough.

Whereas the worn-out structures speak of the might of Time, the tough spirits of the sandstone remains give us a clear idea of the architectural and sculpting expertise of our ancestors. We were struck by the tones of the impermanence of life as well as the immortality of beauty that these monuments effuse.

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