The Majestic Sun Temple at Modhera, Gujarat
Updated: Mar 30
Me and my family have had a thing for travelling for as long as I can remember. My childhood comprises of a large number of memories which include road trips. We would pack up our suitcases and fill a basket with food and set off in our car. A favourite of ours while contemplating the next destination would be places with cultural or historical value.
At the prospect of a 2 day trip to Mehsana, I was excited by the opportunity of seeing the Sun Temple and the Rani ka Vav.
Mehsana is located at a distance of 76 km from Ahmedabad. We started at 8 in the morning and headed straight for the Sun Temple at Modhera which is 98 km away.
Construction of the Temple
The temple was constructed in 1026 AD. Bhimdeva I from the Chalukya dynasty was the one to sanction this temple at the banks of Pushpavati river. The temple was built with white sandstone, which was then carved to utter perfection. Idols of the Gods and Goddesses, statues of their mounts & rides and carvings displaying scenes from the Ramayana & the Mahabharata adorn the walls of the temple. It is divided into two parts; the main temple and the Ranga Mandapa. On the periphery, to the East of the temple is a step well, where people used to bathe before entering the temple to offer their prayers.
Upon entering the complex we saw a lush Garden. Following the path, we came upon the temple and the Step Well. Our guide, the ever smiling Mr. Goswami, began his presentation at that point.
The Step Well
The Step Well was first on the agenda. Called the Suryakund or the Ramkund, he explained that it was further 30 feet deep from what was visible. This was surprising as it was already quite dizzying. The step well is 36.6 m in breadth and 53.6m in length. He narrated that the steps of the temple lay host to exactly 108 mini-temples, dedicated to various Gods. This is by design, as 108 is an auspicious number, in Hindu myth, as is mentioned in various sacred texts.
The top level of the well contained some man-sized temples, the biggest being ones for Ganesh, Sukhra Dev, Vishnu, Kali and the Mahadev, Lord Shiva.
The Main Entrance
Next, he pointed to two pillars which were located closer to the temple, in the North-Eastern direction. He explained that, that was the main entrance to the temple. In the olden times, pilgrims would bathe in the step well, conduct a Parikrama of the 108 temples, receive a sacred thread, pass through that gate and then pray. He explained that the pillars were all that remained of a grand arch (Toran), which had been broken down by Alauddin Khilji, when he raided India and Bhimdeva’s Kingdom.
He led us towards the pillars, up a small staircase to a platform like area, which had edges covered in carvings. He then motioned to some wooden fixtures that could be seen close to the edges of the platform. They appeared to be little rectangles of wood embedded in the rocks, essentially as joints. Mr. Goswami explained that joints like these all over the temple gave it stability and also mentioned that in an event like an Earthquake, the temple and the platform would perhaps vibrate, but not collapse.
A small temple lies in the distance between the main entrance and the temple. At the base of the temple, one can see a carving of a wheel of a chariot. This small temple houses a Shiva Linga, with 5 smaller Shiva lingas around it, which makes it unique. The second thing making this temple unique is the carving of Hanuman. This is the only one where Hanuman can be seen giving blessings with his open right hand. A conventional image of Hanuman invariably shows him carrying the Dronagiri, a mountain on his right hand.
The Ranga Mandapa
The next part of the temple complex was the Ranga Mandapa, also called the Sabha Mandapa. We were told that this section was used for conducting meetings as well as cultural performances such as dances. The Ranga Mandapa also housed elaborate carvings, both on the inside and the outside.
The most elaborate features in the entire complex are the pillars. Both the Ranga Mandapa and the main temple house pillars with structural as well as artistic brilliance. In the Ranga Mandapa, we counted 52 pillars, which are believed to signify the 52 weeks in a year. The pillars are also arranged in such a manner that they made space for the dancers to go in all 8 directions. Standing in the middle of the Ranga Mandapa, our guide showed us how the dancers would first go in the four directions at a 90 degree angle and thereafter diagonally.
Along the walls and even on the pillars, the carvings depict scenes from epics like The Mahabharta and the Ramayana and other stories from Hindu Mythology. Amongst a multitude of these were:
When the King of Lanka, Ravana convinced Sita to cross the Lakshman Rekha to facilitate him abducting her. Sita held as prisoner in the Ashoka Vatika at Ravana’s Palace.The Vanar Sena carrying boulders to construct the Ram Setu. Lord Krishna stealing and eating butter from an earthen pot. Lord Krishna with the Govardhan Parvat held upon his fingertips. Draupadi’s Swayamvar and Arjuna taking his turn with the bow.
The Main Temple
The main temple building consists of a hall with 12 pillars and the Sanctum Sanctorum, also known as the Garbagruha.
These 12 pillars are said to represent the 12 months of a year. They also have carvings which depict women with various hairstyles and types of jewellery worn back then. Our guide jokingly mentioned that in fact, they acted as a fashion guide for all visiting women, depicting fashion statements which continue to be trendy even now, almost a 1000 years after it was originally constructed and these carvings made.
The Garbagruha is considered a place of great sanctity. Our guide explained to us that according to legend, Garbagruha initially housed an idol of the Sun God on his chariot. This idol, it is believed, was made of Gold. The idol is no longer to be found there. Some legends say that the idol was taken by Khilji when he raided the temple. Other legends say that the priests at the temple hid it when the raids happened and the idol was never found.
The legends also say that the Gold idol also had 2 diamonds on it. On the Equinox days (20th March and 21st September), the first rays of the sun would fall on the diamonds and illuminate the entire temple. Our guide informed us that the temple was built upon the Tropic of Cancer and was directly perpendicular to it. To prove his point, we were asked to open the compass on our phones. There he proceeded to show us the 90 degree angle and the latitude at the center of the temple.
Outer Walls of the temple and the Ranga Mandapa
As we moved out of the temple, our guide, Mr. Goswami took us to the right, to begin our parikrama of the temple. He explained that ancient scriptures all said that the foremost importance is to be given to knowledge. To that end, the first statue on the top is that of Goddess Saraswati, the embodiment of knowledge. Near that statue, we see the statue of the God Surya, the Sun God. This is on the Eastern face of the temple. He is shown riding his sun chariot, which is drawn by 7 white horses. The central horse is ridden on by Surya’s charioteer, Arun. This is why it is said, ‘Suryauday se pehle Arunuday hota hai’ (before the Sun can rise, Arun has to rise). The name Arun literally means a deep red color and may be considered as Dawn.
This statue of Surya represents the earliest phase of the Sun in the day. If we go a few more steps forward, the wall turns 90 degrees to the right. On this face of the wall we see Surya in yet another phase. As we move ahead we come to the Southern face of the temple. Here we see the image of Surya again, in a different light.
Moving forward we see the Sun God in yet another phase. Beside him is seen the God of rains and water. Here, the Sun God is seen to be wearing boots of some sort. He is in fact the only God to wear footwear. The guide, Mr. Goswami revealed that this is a representation of ‘Gum Boots’. As we went over to the North-West, we were greeted by the God of the wind. He also asked us to feel the wind at this point and that it was stronger than other areas, which we found to be true.
Passing by the Northern Face we saw the carving of the Snake God and his wives, who were also Reptilian. This was the same God that lord Krishna defeated in the village of Gokul when, during a game, the ball they were playing with, fell in the Yamuna. Thereafter, we saw the statue of Kubera, the God’s treasurer.
As we finally reached the North-Eastern side, Mr. Goswami called for attention. He directed our eyes towards the top on one side, where was the idol of the God, Kal-Bhairav. That God, Mr. Goswami mentioned, was revered greatly in the region and was prayed to for victory.
Finally, at the top of the temple wall, in a place directly opposite to the statue of Saraswati, is the statue of Ganesha. He’s the God first prayed to and hence, is very important.
Notably, the entire temple is seen to have an inverted lotus as a layer in the base area. This is a representation of how the Universe was created. Similar to the Big Bang Theory, it was said that a Lotus existed, without birth or death, sans a body or limit and pure. This lotus, upon opening, created the Universe. A few layers above the Lotus petals are seen Elephant heads. It is said that 4 celestial elephants are what are holding up the Earth so that it doesn’t fall into the Patal Lok or Hell. There are a total of 1008 heads around the base, 1008 being a very auspicious number.
Interestingly, the base of the Ranga Mandapa also has a total of 364 heads, representing the total days of the Lunar calendar.
Konark Sun Temple
It is impossible to talk about a Sun Temple without thinking of the one at Konark. Having visited the Konark Sun Temple earlier, I was curious to see and compare.
While the Konark temple faces the sea, the Modhera temple has a kunda at its front and earlier the most sacred, river Saraswati would pass immediately behind it. Water has a large significance in both the temples, and the construction of a Kund, an artificial water body in front of it at Modhera highlights it.
Both the Sun temples have stories from Indian mythology carved into their features. However, the temple at Modhera covers a far larger number of stories than the temple at Konark. The relevance of the solar & lunar calendar, he planetary positions, the cardinal positions, celestial bodies, position, number & value of Nakshatras are all things that are of great relevance in both the temples.The Sun temple at Konark is grand, in the sense that it is spread over a larger area and is much bigger in size. While the Modhera temple is smaller than the one at Konark, it has a beauty of its own that leaves you just as speechless.
Some tips for visitors to the temple:
The best time to visit the temple is early in the morning. Since it can get very hot in the afternoon, it’s better to go early, as soon as it opens in the morning. The timings are Sunrise to Sunset.
If you want to truly understand the history of the temple, you should hire a guide. The guides charge a nominal fee which varies as per the number of people. There are a lot of fine details in the temple which you will not be able to grasp without the assistance of a guide.
The area around the temple does not have a lot of restaurants. So it is advised that you carry your own food. Be sure to carry lots of water and liquids to keep yourself hydrated.
The entry fee is Rs. 25 and parking space is adequately available.
Recommended time to be spent at the temple is 2-3 hours.
The next in our trip to Mehsana was the Rani Ki Vav at Patan. In the next post, I’ll take you through that and the amazing architecture!