The Modhera Sun Temple

For centuries, "Surya" (Sun) has been worshipped as a major deity in India. The sun, acknowledged as the source of energy, vitality and life, controls the course of our life. Our concepts of life, time and death, good and evil, happiness and misery stem from this primeval source of divine effulgence. The Aryans, who came from Central Asia, crystallized the image of "Surya", benefiting from their knowledge of sun worship in Egypt and Persia. The Aryans used the solar disc, lotus and swastika as symbols of the sun. Surya riding a chariot driven by seven horses is a familiar image in Indian art and sculpture. The image, generally depicted in long boots and a tunic is Babylonian and Persian in origin but has now become a classic image of Surya.

It is not generally known that the Gayatri mantra (chant), which forms the core of the Hindu faith, is actually addressed to Surya:

"O splendid and playful sun,
we offer this prayer to thee.
Enlighten this craving mind. 
Be our protector. 
May the radiance of the divine ruler guide our destiny.
Wise men salute your magnificence with oblations and words of praise." 

Lord Rama was also taught, by sage Agastaya, the Adityahridayam, a prayer addressed to the sun god.  

Many temples in India are exclusively dedicated to Surya: Martand temple in Kashmir, Katarmal in Almora, Osia in Rajasthan, Konark in Orissa and Modhera in Gujarat.

The Modhera sun temple is situated on the bank of the river Pushpavati, 30 kms from Mehesana and 125 kms from Ahmadabad in northern Gujarat. This is an ancient township, traceable to the Puranic age, when it was known as Dharmaranya. It is believed that Lord Rama performed here a yajna (sacrifice) to purify himself of the sin of having killed a Brahmin - Ravana, the king of Lanka. Rama built "Modherak" which subsequently came to be called "Modhera". It became a pilgrimage centre for hordes of people who thronged to the place to pay homage to Surya.

The Modhera temple is the creation of the Solanki era in Gujarat when it was ruled by Bhima-I in 1026-27. This was the time when Somnath and the adjoining area was plundered by Mahmud Ghazni and reeled under the effects of his invasion. The Solankis, however, regained much of their lost power and splendour. Anahilvad Patan, the Solanki capital, was restored to glory. Royalty and traders jointly contributed to build grand temples.

The first view of the sun temple is breathtaking, with the pillared portico of the sabhamandap reflected in the massive tank. The weathered golden brown stone of the edifice has an overpowering grandeur. The temple follows the contemporary stylistic traditions, incorporating twin compartments - a shrine with the cells housing the presiding deity and the mandapam or sabhamandap (assembly hall). A narrow passage connects the two structures. The lower portion of both structures is ornamented with horizontal bands of sculptural decoration. The mandovara (upper wall portion) is covered with panels of large images of deities from the Hindu pantheon, placed in their carved niches and tabernacles. The vimana or the spire has horizontal bands of figurative and geometrical designs, all rising to the apex of the pyramid, and recreating in stone the mythological Mount Meru - abode of gods. Urusrimgas, miniature replicas of the shrine, cling to the central spire. Although the spires over the cells and sabhamandap were destroyed by the invaders and have survived only in the core pyramidal structure, an idea of their form can be had from the spires of the small temples built on terraces of the steps over the tank.

The temple interior is peristylar and consists of superbly carved pillars. Covered with lavish sculptural decoration, these pillars are examples of the perfect craftsmanship of the Solanki artisan. These pillars are geometrically arranged to create an octagonal space at the centre of the hall used quite frequently for ritualistic dance performances.

The sabhamandap is a small independent structure. The four entrances have ornamental toranas (decorative hangings over the entrance) which have a marvellous quality of intricate and precision craftsmanship. At the centre of the hall is the walnut shaped ceiling, with its numerous folds of floral girdles, upheld by two aisles of pillars arranged on diagonals of the square plan. Even at its dimly lit height, the astounding splendour of stonecraft shines brightly. It is a visual delight to stand under the 23 feet high ceiling.

The structure containing the sanctum is modest in size but a rare gem of architectural and sculptural decoration. At one time, the image of the Sun, cast in gold, was placed at the centre of the sanctum to receive the first rays of the sun. The invaders removed the image for its gold and left the sanctum walls bereft of any decoration - a mere empty jewel casket. The structure is oblong in shape, 80 feet by 50 feet, with a single entrance over which the artisans have worked like jewellers. The slender columns at the porch are ingeniously crafted. On the exterior walls are the large panels of gods and goddesses, celestial maidens, nymphs and dancers, and of course impressive images of Surya riding his chariot across the heavens. Very discreetly, the profuse erotic sculptural panels have been placed at inconspicuous angles to avoid unnecessary attention.

The entire structural complex at Modhera is aligned to the east, to the rising sun. Kama Kunda, the water tank, meant for ritualistic ablution before offering worship, is one of the most perfectly designed structures of its kind in the country. A regular well-patterned lateral formation of stone steps descends upto the bottom of the tank. The geometrical configuration of steps allows a direct or diagonal descent from all the four sides. On the small terraces on the steps are small temples with niches housing Vaishnavite deities. The dramatic play of light and shade on these steps creates a fascinating impact. On top of the eastern steps stands a magnificent torana, now surviving as ruined columns without their splendid superstructure, which leads into the sabhamandap. These columns, like every other inch of space on the temple structure, are loaded with sculptural decoration of an extraordinary beauty. Thus, the Modhera sun temple is a glorious example of Gujarat's rich cultural heritage.

Some of the most exhilarating Pilgrimage in India include 
Ajmer Sharief (Rajasthan)
Badrinath (Uttar Pradesh)
Rishikesh (Uttar Pradesh)
Haridwar (Uttar Pradesh)
Kanchipuram (Tamil Nadu)
Kanyakumari (Tamil Nadu)
Trichy (Tamil Nadu)
Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu)
Velangani (Tamil Nadu)
Konark (Orissa)
Amarnath (Jammu & Kashmir)
Tabo (Himachal Pradesh)
Kangra Valley (Himachal Pradesh)
Pawapuri (Bihar)
Sikh shrines (Amritsar)
The Modhera Sun Temple (Gujarat)
Pushkar (Rajasthan)
Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh)
Kedarnath (Uttar Pradesh) 
Varanasi (Uttar Pradesh) 
Rameswaram (Tamil Nadu) 
Tanjavur (Tamil Nadu)
Basilica of Bom Jesus (Goa)
Bhubaneshwar (Orissa)
Puri (Orissa)
Vaishno Devi (Jammu & Kashmir)
Buddhist sites (Himachal Pradesh)
Bodhgaya (Bihar)
Tirupati (Andhra Pradesh)
Shirdi (Maharashtra)
Madurai(Tamil Nadu)