Birth of Islam in the 7th century was a bad omen for Hindu civilization. Right from the first Muslim attack by Mohammad bin Qasim on Sindh in 715 AD, for next 1000 years, every Islamic invasion brought the kinds of horrors and devilish savagery that betrayed all sense of human sanity and civility. Temples like the Somnath Temple always remained special targets due to their opulence – the invading barbarians could neither imagine such wealth in societies where they came from, nor could they understand the subtle Hindu culture that made India rich.
The Somnath Temple
One of the 12 Jyotirlings, Somnath is located in Prabhas Patan near Veraval in the Saurashtra region in the West coast of Gujarat. The temple is located in such a way that there is no landmass in a straight line between Somnath seashore until Antarctica, as mentioned by a Sanskrit inscription found on the Bāṇa stambha (literally, arrow pillar) erected on the sea-protection wall. It mentions that the pillar stands at a point on the Indian landmass that is the first point on land in the north of the South Pole at that particular longitude.
According to the ancient scripture, the Somnath temple was first built by Raja Somraj in gold in the Satyayug, then by Raavan in silver in Tretayug, in wood by Krishna in Dwaparyug, and finally in stone by Bhimdev Solanki in Kaliyug.
In 1026, the temple was looted by Mahmud Ghazni, who took camel-loads of jewels and valuables from here. Archaeological findings suggest it was rebuilt at least three times before Mahmud Ghaznavi’s raid in 1026. After that, it was destroyed three more times – in 1297 by the Sultanate of Delhi and once again in 1395. The last time by the lunatic Mughal ruler, Aurangzeb in 1706.
Debate on Reconstructing the Somnath Temple after Independence
It is interesting to note that Mahatma Gandhi was in favor of rebuilding the temple but not with the State funds (why not? because Muslims would feel threatened! Appeasement!) and Nehru was against the undertaking right from the beginning. That’s not surprising given his deep-rooted guilt of being a Hindu – he loved everything else. The appointed archaeology expert was worried about the safety of the fast decaying structure and suggested building a new Temple at another site because – ‘The shrine should not be converted into religious use as concourse of people coming from all parts of India and rushing through the dilapidated structure will contribute to its speedy decay.’
Thus, the Junagadh State Administrator (a Britisher) wanted to preserve it as a mere archaeological site – not as a Temple. He argued that using as a active temple would attract crowds of worshipers which would further weaken the already fragile structure. Moreover, worshipers would make the task of maintenance difficult. The Education Ministry consented to this view. Home Minister Sardar Patel wanted to restore and preserve the Temple, along with necessary safety provisions.
It is highly instructive to note the opinion of Kanaiyalal Munshi. He wrote in his book Somnath, The Shrine Eternal:
In the beginning, some persons, more fond of dead stones than live values, pressed the point of view that the ruins of the old temple should be maintained as an ancient monument. We were, however, firm in our view, that the temple of Somnath was not an ancient monument; it lived in the sentiment of the Whole nation and its reconstruction was a national pledge. Its preservation should not be a mere matter of historical curiosity. Some of my scholar friends had hard things to say about me, for my ‘vandalism’. They forgot that I am fond of history, but fonder still of creative values. When the question was pressed by the Archaeological Department, Sardar expressed his views as follows:- “… The Hindu sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and widespread. In the present conditions, it is unlikely that, that sentiment will be satisfied by mere restoration of the temple or by prolonging its life. The restoration of the idol would be a point of honour and sentiment with the Hindu public.”
After further debates, it was finally decided to rebuild the Temple – where it always stood.
On January 23, 1949, a Trust was constituted not merely to restore and reconstruct the temple and the idol, but also to improve the surroundings and set up other institutions that may restore the sanctity of Prabhasa Patan and its surroundings. This was to include the construction of rest houses for the pilgrims and setting up of educational institutions for Sanskrit. The Trust was also to attend to the restoration of places like Dehotsarga-the place where Shri Krishna cast off His body.
The architect chosen was Prabhashankar Sompura, and the limestone came from Chorwad which is about 28 km from Somnath. The ruins were pulled down in October 1950 and the mosque present at that site was shifted few kilometers away (not destroyed, why? appeasement again.). The temple was constructed in the ‘Nagar’ style, connecting stone slabs without use of metal. The temple was inaugurated on May 11, 1950, by President Rajendra Prasad. He said in his address:
“It is my view that the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple will be complete on that day when not only a magnificent edifice will arise on this foundation, but the mansion of India’s prosperity will be really that prosperity of which the ancient temple of Somnath was a symbol. …The Somnath Temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction.”
In 1970, a statue of Sardar Patel was inaugurated by Satya Sai Baba in the temple precinct.
Plunder of Somnath Temple by Mahmud Ghazni in 1026
Several writers have described how the Somnath Temple was savaged by Gay Mahmud of Ghazni in 1026. It was his 16th attack on India (he must be a pathological robber!!). Mahmud took along with him the huge sandalwood doors of Somnath. These doors adorned his tomb when he died 4 years later in 1030 at the age of 59, inflicted with Malaria.
He invaded India 17 times and laid the foundation for future Muslim rule in India. Mahmud was the son of Sabuktigin, a Turko-Persian slave. Sabuktigin was the ruler of Ghazni province in Eastern Afghanistan but soon brought most of Afghanistan, Khorasan and Eastern Iran under his fold. Mahmud became the ruler of Ghazni in 998 AD after defeating his brother in a battle.
Al Biruni described Temple’s destruction:
“In January 1026, Somnath Lingam was smashed, after killing 50,000 devotees, and the loot amounted to 20,000,000 dinars, each containing 64.8 grains of gold. The smashed Shivalingam were carried to Ghazni where some of the fragments were turned steps of the Jama Masjid in the city while the rest were sent to Mecca, Medina, and Baghdad to be desecrated in the same manner.”
When Sultan Mahmud ascended the’ throne of sovereignty, his illustrious deeds became manifest unto all mankind within the pale of Islam, when he converted so many thousands of idol-temples into masjids, and captured so many of the cities of Hindustan, and overthrew and subdued its Raes, Jaipal, who was the greatest of the Raes of Hind, he made captive, and kept him [a prisoner] at ManYazid, in Khurasan, and commanded that he might be ransomed for the sum of eighty dirams. He led an army to Nahrwalah of Gujarat, and brought away Manat, the idol, from Somnath, and had it broken into four parts, one of which was cast before the entrance of the great masjid at Ghaznin, the second before the gateway of the Sultan’s palace’, and the third and fourth were sent to Makkah and Madinah respectively.”
Here is how the Persian Geographer Kazvini described destruction:
“When Sultan Mahmud, the son of Sabuktagin, went to wage religious war against India, he made great efforts to capture and destroy Somnath, in the hope that the Hindus would then become Mohammedans. He arrived there in the middle of Zu-l-ka’da, 416 A. H. (December, 1025 A.D.). The Indians made a desperate resistance. They kept going in to the temple weeping and crying for help; and then they issued forth to battle and kept fighting till all were killed. The number of the slain exceeded fifty thousand. The king looked upon the idol with wonder, and gave orders for the seizing of the spoil and the appropriation of the treasures. There were many idols of gold and silver, and countless vessels set with jewels, all of which had been sent there by the greatest personages in India. The value of the things found in the temples of the idols exceeded twenty thousand thousand dinars.”
The History of Plunder of Somnath Temple
In the 7th century, the dilapidated structure of the Somnath Temple (from the pre-Christian era) was reconstructed by Maitraka kings of Vallabhi in Gujarat. This second structure was destroyed by the Arab governor of Sind by the name of Junayad in 725. It was the first Islamic destruction.
It got reconstructed around 815 AD by Nagabhata II of the Gurjara-Pratihara Dynasty, and around 997 AD the Temple was renovated by the king of the Solanki Dynasty.
Destruction by Mahmud Ghazni in 1026
In 1026, the temple was razed by Mahmud, as mentioned earlier.
The Paramara King Bhoj of Malwa and the Solanki King Bhima of Gujarat (Anhilwara) took the initiative to rebuild the temple during 1026-1042. It was a wooden structure which was later replaced by a stone structure by Kumarpala in 1150.
Destruction by Allauddin Khilji in 1296
About 275 years later, in 1296 the temple was destroyed by Allauddin Khilji and his army.
Here is an account of Khilji’s savagery:
The temple of Somnath, which had been rebuilt by the Hindus, was plundered and the idol taken to Delhi for being trodden upon by the Muslims. The whole region was subjected to fire and sword, and Hindus were slaughtered en masse. Kampala Devi, the queen of Gujarat, was captured along with the royal treasury, brought to Delhi and forced into Alauddin’s harem.
Another description of the destruction as quoted from historical sources in Islammonitor:
Alauddin Khilji’s capture of slaves was stupendous and he shackled, chained and humiliated slaves. In the sack of Somnath alone he: “took captive a great number of handsome and elegant maidens, amounting to 20,000 and children of both sexes ..more than the pen can enumerate. The Mohammadan army brought the country to utter ruin, destroyed the lives of inhabitants, and plundered the cities and captured their offspring.”
Many thousands were massacred. Alauddin Khilji had 50,000 slave BOYS in his personal service and 70,000 slaves worked continuously on his buildings.
Padmanabha, a Nagar Brahmin from Vishalnagar, composed the Kanhadade Prabandha in 1455. In it he narrates the same destruction:
“The Mlechchha (asura) stone breakers”, writes Padmanabha in his classic work “climbed up the shikhar of the temple and began to rain blows on the stone idols on all three sides by their hammers, the stone pieces falling all around. They loosened every joint of the temple building, and then began to break the different layers (thara) and the sculptured elephants and horses carved on them by incessant blows of their hammers. Then, amidst loud and vulgar clamour, they began to apply force from both the sides to uproot the massive idol by means of wooden beams and iron crowbars.”
The temple was rebuilt by Mahipala I of the Chudasama dynasty of Saurashtra in 1308 and the Linga was installed by his son Khengar around 1340.
Destruction by Muzaffar Shah I of the Gujarat Sultanate in 1395
In 1395 the temple was destroyed by Muzaffar Shah I of the Gujarat Sultanate.
Muzaffar Shah’s destruction of Somnath, taken from M. M. Syed’s “History of the Delhi sultanate”, pp. 184
Next year, in 1395, Muzaffar Shah invaded Somnath, burnt the temple, and destroyed the idol. He killed many Hindus, and left the place after arranging for the erection of a mosque. In 1401, news reached him that the Hindus were trying to restore the temple of Somnath, and revive their customary worship. Muzaffar immediately proceeded thither with an army, and the Hindus, defeated after a sharp encounter, retired to the fort of the lop. This fort also fell after a few days of fighting, and Muzaffar killed the entire garrison, and had the men trampled under the feet of elephants. He then demolished the temples and laid the foundations of a mosque.”
Somnath destruction by Muzaffar Shah from Hindunet The Magnitude of Muslim Atrocities
Next year (in 1395) he led an expedition to Somnath and sacked the temple which the Hindus had built once again. He killed many Hindus to chastise them for this “impudence,” and raised a mosque on the site of the ancient temple. The Hindus, however, restarted restoring the temple soon after. In 1401 AD Muzaffar came back with a huge army. He again killed many Hindus, demolished the temple once more, and erected another mosque.
Unknown people rebuilt the Temple.
If you are already feeling sick, reading about such inhuman acts, you may like to read 8 FAQs on Islam
Destruction by Aurangzeb in 1706
In 1706, the holy shrine was savaged by lunatic Mughal king Aurangzeb, who used to parade the heads of slain Hindus as a warning for others.
Below is a description of the destruction as per Kalimat-i-Tayyibat of Inayatullah.
“Kalimat-i-Tayyibat” is a collection of letters and orders of Aurangzeb compiled by ‘Inayatullah in 1719 AD. It covers the years 1699-1704 of Aurangzeb’s reign.
In 1706 Aurangzeb wrote to his officers in Gujarat: “The temple of Somnath was destroyed early in my reign. I do not know what the present state of affairs there is. If the idolators have taken to worship of images again, ensure that the temple is destroyed in such a way that no trace remains of the building. Expel every worshiper from the place”.
In 1783, the temple was reconstructed at an adjacent site by the Peshwa of Pune, Raja Bhonsle of Nagpur, Chhatrapati Bhonsle of Kolhapur, Queen Ahilyabai Holkar of Indore and Shrimant Patilbuwa Shinde of Gwalior.
Finally, the Temple as we see today was constructed after independence at the initiative of Patel and Munshi.
Now the real question:
What attracted Islamic Invaders to Somnath Temple
The simplest answer is its enormous wealth and greed to PLUNDER.
The Turko-Arab invaders had never seen the kind of prosperity India had, although it was on decline by the time Mohammad propagated his murderous ideology in the 7th century. In India, being a land of spirituality and Vedic wisdom since ancient times, people were always inclined towards piety and purity of conduct. Despite the onset of superficial rites and rituals, they relished the serene atmosphere of Temples. Thus, temples used to be the focal point in villages and towns. The rich profusely donated in temples – knowing the importance of Dana as a ‘good karma’ that brings ‘good result.’ This culture still exists in India from North to South – look at how liberally people donate at the Vaisho Devi temple in north, at the Tirupati Temple in the south, the Saibaba temple in Shirdi in the west, besides so many other temples across the country. Thus, even at that time temples were overflowing with opulence – reflecting people’s devotional mindset.
Being one of the 12 Jyotirling, the Somnath Temple also had special importance. It was also a fabulous Temple with a unique architectural marvel. Its spiritual significance is profusely mentioned in various ancient scriptures. The main idol in the sanctum sanctorum was a levitating linga. Moreover, the temple is located near a triveni sangam. All these factors made the Somnath Temple an important pilgrimage destination – and the resulting opulence attracted greedy looters from outside uncivilized world.
Al Biruni describes Somnath Temple as follows.
“300 musicians, 500 dancing girls and 300 barbers to shave the head of visiting pilgrims. Somnath’s glory and fame are legendary and revenue collected from ten thousand villages was spent on maintenance of the temple. Two thousand Brahmins served the idol and a golden chain attached to a huge bell plate announced the commencement of prayers.”
In those days, on foreign soils opulence was limited to kings and their aristocracy, obtained mostly through oppressive taxation. The societies from where the Muslim invaders came were largely tribal, uncultured and barbaric. Raiding passing caravans or wealthy societies for BOOTY – of wealth, cattle and women – was their basic means of living. In the absence of powerful kings in India in that period, the defenseless Temples overflowing with opulence always attracted them – with plenty of booty!
Additionally, advent of Islamic teachings offered them another motif – of waging jihad against infidels to convert or kill. In fact, many invaders came just to impose Islam on Indians and converted people through threat and slaughtered all those who defied.
Since there was plenty to be looted in Hindu Temples, the booty could easily cover the cost of invasion – salary of hired soldiers, cost of weapons, food, transport, etc. An important point must be noted here. Many Mohammadan invaders remained in India after victories because they felt safer here, lording over the peaceful and spiritually oriented Indian people, than in their own uncivil violence ridden societies of origin.