Art & Culture

Somnath Temple: A Historical Perspective

  • The opening of the Ram temple at Ayodhya on January 22, 2024, has prompted debate regarding the relationship between politics and religion in India.
  • In this historical examination, we look at the lesser-known characteristics of another famous temple, the Somnath Temple, to better appreciate its complicated historical context and the British effect on its reputation.

Somnath, till 1947

  • Historical significance: Somnath, located near Prabhas Patan, Veraval, Gujarat, is a sacred Hindu pilgrimage place.
  • Temple Legacy: The temple is renowned as the “holy place of the First Aadi Jyotirling Shree Somnath Mahadev” and is religiously significant.
  • Maratha Queen’s Effort In 1782, Maratha queen Ahalyabai Holkar constructed a tiny temple on the site, but the original’s splendour was not restored.

Somnath’s Decline

  • Historical Attacks: The temple has been attacked multiple times throughout history, including a disastrous invasion by Mahmud of Ghazni in 1026 CE.
  • Diverse monarchs: While some Muslim monarchs, such as Akbar in the sixteenth century, authorised temple worship, others, like Aurangzeb in 1706, ordered its demolition.
  • Historian Abul Fazl referred to Mahmud of Ghazni’s attack as “the plunder of the virtuous,” emphasising the temple’s significance.
  • British Intervention: During an expedition to Afghanistan in 1842, British Governor General Lord Ellenborough used the “gates of Somnath” to avenge an affront.

After Independence: 

  • The Nawab of Junagadh sought to accede to Pakistan, causing instability.
  • Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel’s Decision: On November 12, 1947, Patel announced the reconstruction of Somnath, which was approved by the Union Cabinet.
  • Mahatma Gandhi’s Suggestion: Gandhi advocated that the temple’s finance come from the public, which resulted in the formation of a Trust under K M Munshi.

Nehru’s Opposition to Inauguration

  • Political Implications: Nehru opposed President Rajendra Prasad’s attendance in the temple’s grand opening.
  • Concerns about Secularism: Nehru raised worries about the government’s participation in an event that may have political and revivalist overtones.
  • Financial Concerns: He criticised the Saurashtra government’s involvement in the event, citing austerity measures and economic concerns.
  • Secular State: Nehru emphasised the need of India becoming a secular state that does not participate in religious ceremonies.
  • Opposition to External Affairs Circular: He protested to a circular asking water, soil, and twigs from other nations for the event.
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