21st April 2018; a fine dawn, I woke up for the nth time. I had been doing this for the last 2 hours just to again fall asleep each time. But this time before my eyelids could redo what they have been doing, I was hit with a strong pungent smell. As I looked around with dizzy eyes, everyone in the bus was struggling with the smell, either fanning their hands in front of their noses or covering it. I drew the curtains to look outside and saw factories lined up along the road. It didn’t take much to figure out that these factories were actually fish processing units which often mark their presence with this strong, nauseating odour. Fish.. Aaahh !!!! I love them but early morning, this stench was unbearable. I stretched my hands to shut the AC vent which was throwing chill air right on my face and then tried to locate myself on the Google map. It showed I had almost reached my weekend destination – SOMNATH.
Somnath is a small town in the southern tip of Gujarat christened after Lord Somnath (the foremost manifestation among the 12 jyotirlingas of Lord Shiva). As per Hindu legends, here Lord Shiva liberated Som (the moon god) from a curse after he worshiped Shiva, hence the name Somnath (Lord of Som). The temple has been ransacked and plundered multiple times in the past by Muslim invaders, most notoriously by Mahmud of Ghazni, followed by the Portuguese and the Mughals who joined the loot at later stages. Each time the temple has been reconstructed and today it imposingly stands on the Arabian Sea coast, a beautiful temple built in Chaulukya style. The last reconstruction was undertaken post-independence under the supervision of Sardar Patel and KM Munshi. The renovation activities continue to date.
Somnath can be reached via bus, train, or private taxis from Ahmedabad which is well connected through road, rail, and air. I boarded an overnight bus from Ahmedabad. It took 8 hours and reached Somnath around 8:30 AM. I took an auto from the bus stand to reach my hotel which I had pre-booked. Hotels are mainly clustered near the temple and on the bypass road which is 2 km from the temple. The better ones are on the bypass road. I checked in, freshened up, had a light breakfast, and went to visit the temple.
At first, I was a little surprised because I expected it to be a mammoth temple and it didn’t appear so. On walking closer, I liked it. I clicked a few photographs of the temple before depositing the camera, phone, and leather items in the free locker room in front of the temple. Then I joined a queue for security check-in. After the security check-in, I entered the temple compound and deposited my footwear in a counter. The temple premises are clean and well maintained. There is a sea protection wall on the left and backside of the temple. As you walk in. there is a small shrine of Lord Hanuman on the right. Before entering the main temple, the devotees have to undergo frisking again.
As you enter the temple, you get a glimpse of Lord Somnath in the sanctum sanctorum. The sanctum has gilded walls and in the center of the sanctum is the divine jyotirlinga. It looked absolutely stunning. There is the Nandi bull (the mount of Lord Shiva) in the front. The temple was not very crowded and I had a long and satisfying darshan of the shivalinga. I reached at a time when the shivalinga was being anointed with milk. White milk flowing down the huge, dark shivalinga – it was a treat to the eyes. I peacefully meditated on the shivalinga for sometime before coming out of the main temple.
Trisul: the divine trident of Lord Shiva
As I was walking along the sea wall, I came across the Banastambha – a pillar with an arrow pointing towards the sea. A placard below it mentioned that the arrow pointed to the south pole and there was no landmass between that pillar and the south pole. Thus a sufficiently powerful laser light cast from that pillar would reach the south pole uninterrupted. Behind the temple, there is an open-air theatre where light and sound show depicting the history of Somnath is held every evening. On the right, there is a gallery that showcases the 12 jyotirlingas and events like the Shiva-Parvati vivah. There is a small shrine of Lord Ganesha. There is a photo gallery as well which has a collection of photographs of the ancient temple site, construction of the new temple, and political leaders who visited the site.
The temple is not very crowded and 1 hour is enough to properly explore the temple. After coming out of the temple, I clicked a few more photographs. Just behind the temple, there is a lane which leads to a small mosque where there is an ancient stone inscription in the Persian language which records the advent of Mahmud of Ghazni.
Local sightseeing at Somnath:
Apart from the main temple, there are some other important sites as well. There is a local sightseeing bus that starts near the temple and takes tourists to all the places at a very economical price. You can hire an auto as well but I feel the bus is the best and most economical option. All the sites are located nearby and the trip takes about 2 hours.
Old Somnath Temple: After Somnath temple was destructed by Nawab Sujat Khan on the instruction of Aurangzeb, Holker queen Ahilyabai, established the shivalinga in the basement of this temple in 1783 to ensconce it from the marauding troops. Some believe this shivalinga to be the original jyotirlinga. Do visit this temple as well; it is just beside the new temple.
Bhalka Tirth: This is the place where Lord Krishna was shot on his foot with an arrow by a hunter named Jara after which he relinquished his human body and departed for Vaikunth, his heavenly abode.
Ban Ganga: Ban Ganga is a shrine in the Arabian sea. There are two shivalingas inside the sea, visible during low tides. This is the place where hunter Jara bathed and worshiped Lord Shiva before going for hunting.
Geeta Mandir and Balaram Gufa: At this place, Lord Balaram, the brother of Lord Krishna, departed from the earth after transforming himself to his original Sheshnag form. There is a small cave shrine that has a spiral imprint resembling a snake on its wall which is believed to have formed when Lord Balaram departed. There is a temple called the Geeta Mandir and a Laxmi Narayan temple as well.
Hinglaj Mata Gufa and Triveni Sangam: Hinglaj Mata is the family deity of the Pandavas. There is a small shrine dedicated to her where devotees have to crawl in one at a time through a narrow opening to reach a cave where she is worshiped. Nearby there is an ancient Surya Mandir and the Triveni Sangam, the confluence of river Hiran, Kapila, and the mythical Saraswati. The rivers also fall into the Arabian sea at this point.
Another noteworthy thing in Somnath is its community of shipbuilders. In between Somnath and Veraval, you will find hundreds of ships and boats being built from scratch on both sides of the road. The ships are built inland and on completion are transported to the dock on trucks. In 2015, when I traveled to Rameshwaram, I was awestruck seeing hundreds of ships and boats on both sides of the Pamban bridge but what I saw at Somnath was even more surprising, hundreds on ships lined on both sides of the roads and in open fields. I wish I had time to explore this place for a couple of hours rather than just watching the ships from the auto-rickshaw.
Ship construction at Somnath
The other interesting thing that I saw in Somnath or for that matter everywhere in western Gujarat are the chakras, or the re-engineered goods carriers – a perfect example of jugaad innovation. Below is an old Rajdoot bike converted into a goods carrier. On the roads, you would find many such old, converted bikes – an excellent example of sustainable reuse.
Somnath temple is one of the best and most important shrines in the country. It was indeed a real pleasure to have visited this historical, spiritual, and mythological place. The next morning I traveled to Junagadh, I will write about it in my next post. Please share your experiences of Somnath and feedback, queries about this post in the comment box below. Travel and Spread Love.