Here’s a Solanki era sun temple that has defied Ghazni, Khilji and time itself

If there is anything that bowls me over completely, it is that orange ball of fire, rising slowly behind bare, leafless branches or sinking into the enormous sea. I don’t mind going to any extent to capture these irresistible images, whether waking up at ungodly hours or traversing unfriendly terrain to capture that magical moment. Yes, the sun definitely makes the most gorgeous visuals.

So, travelling in Gujarat recently, I am pulled like a magnet to the Sun Temple at Modhera.

Leaving Ahmedabad airport, we drive for 90 minutes on a more or less smooth road to reach the Modhera Sun Temple, stopping on the way for chai (the thick, creamy variety made from the famous Gujarat milk) and moong phalli. I discover that Gujarat is famous for its peanuts; you get quantities of them everywhere, large, sweet and succulent.

As the magnificent temple emerges into view, I can see that the basic or outer structure of the temple is well preserved and imposing, a brilliant example of our rich heritage. There it is, an exquisite sandstone structure glistening in the winter sun.

Mixed welcome

In the courtyard, an ensemble of disfigured sculptures greets you. Inexplicably placed under a tree in the open, there these precious pieces of art lie, unaccounted and uncared for. Is there at least a catalogue that lists them? I wonder at such cultural wealth lying discarded in gay abandon.

Like other such tourist spots, there are guides hovering and tourists hurriedly clicking pictures before getting back into waiting buses. The photos will be downloaded later, onto Facebook or Picasa, admired over a samosa and chai and, after a few Likes, forgotten. I wonder why nobody spends a little more time just gazing at the temple’s sheer beauty or admiring the intricate figurines carved in fine detail on the pillars by diligent sculptors working in an age long gone by. It could be that they have no time to stand and stare or, more practically, it could be that the pervading stench of the bats drives them away.

I listen to the guide’s sing-song narration. Built in about 1026 AD by the sun-worshipping Solanki rulers, around the time when Somnath was plundered by Mahmud Ghazni, this temple too faced the storm of his invasion. The Solankis, however, regained much of their lost power and splendour and managed to restore the temple, only for it to be attacked at a later date by Allauddin Khilji and left in ruins.

The guide describes how the temple was designed so that the first rays of the sun would fall on the idol in the inner sanctum during the equinoxes. Once, there was a pure gold idol of the Sun God here, riding his golden chariot drawn by seven golden horses, all placed in a 15 feet pit filled with gold coins. Looted by Ghazni and Khilji, we now only have hundreds of bats hanging from the ceiling, repelling visitors.

Stellar structures

The Sabha Mandap, a magnificent pillared pavilion open on all sides, was used for religious gatherings. Its 52 elaborately carved pillars represent the weeks in a year and have an abundance of erotic sculptures carved on them, which the hastening tourists are too harried to notice.

The temple tank is called Surya Kund and is the jewel of the temple. It looks like a huge, beautiful emerald set into the pale brown sandstone. A large rectangular and stepped tank, it was used to store pure water for the devotees to wash themselves in before they worshipped the Sun God. It is surrounded by 108 tiny temples and lies fully covered by green moss, making a pretty picture. Unfortunately, the picture is marred by plastic bags and bottles floating on it.

My fascination for the sun grows, as the guide’s discourse slowly fades, and I turn back to gaze once more at the stunning edifice devoted to our brightest star. Thank you Ghazni, for at least leaving the structure intact.