The call of the Sun

At the Sun Temple of Modhera   | Photo Credit: mail

We are driving to Modhera, nearly two hours north of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. It’s a little out of the way of our planned trip to Dwaraka, but we don’t want to miss a chance to see a Sun Temple older than the one at Konark and that which is situated on the Tropic of Cancer.

Soon, we pull over at what seems like a typical Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) monument. Tourist buses, stalls selling food, drinks, and trinkets line the fence on either side of the gate. Nothing is immediately visible as we walk over to get our admission tickets.

The moment we enter the gates, we are struck by the magnitude of the complex. Vast stretches of green with a well-marked pathway heading towards the main temple greet us. A path leads to the left towards the ASI museum.

Just ahead of this fork on our right, we see the rectangular bathing tank or the Surya Kund. All four sides of the tank have intricate steps reminiscent of Gujarat’s famed step wells. These are reflected in the still waters, reminiscent of an Escher painting of an unending staircase.

The Surya Kund is the first of three distinct components of the temple complex. To the west lies the Sabha Mandap or primary hall and beyond is the main temple — all laid out as on an east-west grid. The temple complex, which is built on the Tropic of Cancer, is designed such that the first rays of the sun fall on the main idol at the time of the equinoxes.

The Surya Kund itself is graced by a variety of small shrines — placed between the numerous pyramidical steps. Literature alludes to 108 such shrines, though only a few remain intact. The distinctive gopuras on the southern and northern edges of the rectangular tank, give us a sense of the grandeur of the tank in its heyday. Intricate stone carvings of Hindu deities such as Vishnu and Shiva are enshrined between the steps at the corners of the Surya Kund.

We walk halfway down the northern side of the tank and make our way to the centre of the western edge. Steps lead up to the Sabha Mandap, an octagonal hall between the water tank and the main temple. At the top of the steps are the remnants of a huge arch or Toran that lead to the main hall, the Sabha Mandap. There are 52 pillars in the hall, denoting the 52 weeks in a year.

Every pillar, including the Toran, is intricately carved. Starting with a simple octagonal base that showcases a small deity set in an arch on each face, the pillars are formed of geometrical patterns surmounted by exquisitely carved dancing nymphs, above which octagonal panels display scenes from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. At the centre of the hall is an arched ceiling carved like an inverted lotus flower. The detailing is marvellous — it takes our breath away.

Beyond the Sabha Mandap is the main temple or the Guda Mandap, which is no longer used. The absence of the main idol —believed to be a golden Surya on his chariot, in no way detracts from its beauty. The exterior walls of the temple are replete with carvings — including twelve postures of Aditya or the Sun god. Like many other temples in India, the walls depict divine as well as the daily lives of people, including a good deal of erotic sculptures. The temple complex is being well maintained by the ASI, with some renovations done in recent times. For the historically inclined, the onsite museum has numerous sculptures and other stone work on display.

The temple’s workmanship reminds us of the Dilwara temple in nearby Abu with its ornamental work on the roofs and pillars. After the day well spent, we leave the temple reluctantly.

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Printable version | May 13, 2021 3:13:39 AM |

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