Religious Places and Temples of Gujarat
Since time immemorial Gujarat has been noted for its temples. These houses of gods and goddesses have been attracting millions of devotees. They range from the holy of holies like Somnath and Dwarka to wayside shrines. Whatever be their size and wealth all of them share one thing in common the intense faith of the devotees who can be seen trekking to places like Ambaji and Dakor for some favour received.
When we talk of Somnath and Dwarka we deal with a period when the concept of time was not yet born. The temple of Somnath dedicated to Shiva is the first among the 12 Jyotirlings. It is the seventh temple in living memory. Known for its fabulous wealth it attracted the attention of iconoclasts in the course of its chequered history. The present temple is the result of strenuous efforts made by devotees like Sardar Patel, Jam Saheb of Navanagar, K.M. Munshi and a host of others.
Dwarka has been sanctified by Vishnu himself in the form of Lord Sri Krishna. He led his Yadavas to the safety of Dwarka from Mathura to escape from the depredations of Jarasandha. Legend has it that Lord Krishna ordered Vishvakarma, the divine architect, to build the place. The Dwarka of Krishna’s period lies under the Arabian Sea. Prabhas Kshetra in which Somnath lies was the place where Krishna and his elder brother Balaram ended their earthly lilas.
Hill-top shrines like Ambaji, Palitana, Girnar and Pavagadh are similarly steeped in legend and celebrated in history. Some of them like Palitana are known fortheir architectural splendour.
In addition to the divinities distinguished seers like Vishwamitra, Kapila and Dadhichi have sanctified Gujarat. In historical times Acharyas like Shankara, Ramanuja, Vallabha and devotees like Narsinh Mehta, Mirabai, Nanakand Kabir offered worship atthese shrines.
So Gujarat, where history and legend lie cheek by jowl, offers a rich spiritual fare to the pilgrim.
Akshardham : A Tribute to Lord Swaminarayan
Akshardham is a homage to the Sarafan DAa/ma in stone. The monument which is set in a 23-acre plot at Gandhinagar (Gandhinagar district) is built in pink sandstone. It is 108 feet tall and 6000 tonnes of stone has gone into its making. A point worth noting is that this modern monument to Hinduism was built as per the injunctions of Vastu Shastra. Not a bit of steel has been used.
The monument stands on 93 sculpted pillars, 210 single-piece stone beams, 57 window grills, M domes, eight ornate zarokhas, etc. The sanctum sanctorum contains a 1.2 tonne gold-plated idol of Lord Swaminarayan, the founder of the sect that bears his name. The 7-foot idol is shown in a sitting posture with his right hand raised in abhay mudra. He is flanked by Swami Gunatitanand on his right and Swami Gopalanand Swami on his left. Both of them were his disciples. Swami Gunatitanand is called Swaminarayan’s Akshardham the eternal abode. According to the Swaminarayan philosophy whenever Lord Swaminarayan incarnates on this planet he brings with him his Akshardham.
Gunatitanand Swami is also called Aksharbrahma and ranks second in the hierarchy of the Bochasanvasi Akshar Purushottam Sanstha which built the Akshardham monument.
Inspiring episodes and incidents from the glorious history of Sanatan Dharma are presented in sound and light form for the benefit of the visitors. The show takes the visitors through various facets of Hinduism. So far millions of people have visited the monument since its inception on November 2,1992. They have been able to savour the story of Hinduism and to imbibe the message of universal peace and brotherhood.
The wisdom of the Vedas, the epics, the Puranas is depicted on a crowded canvas by the exhibition. The visitor comes face to face with personages who have made this land what it is.
It is a perfect mix of modernity and ancient values. Apart from Lord Ram going in search of his kidnapped wife, the visitor can see Shravan, the dutiful son, the Pandavas losing the game of dice in the Hastinapur palace, etc. Besides the visitors can see Sabari’s long wait for Ram and Draupadi’s humiliation in the Kauravasabha.
The Hall of Harmony projects world religious side by side. The monument is ringed by aparikrama containing 365 stone pillars.
• Tallest structural stone pillars in India – four delicately sculpted pillars rise to 33 ft.
• Longest stone support beams in stone architecture – 22 ft. long single-piece beams each weighing 5 tons.
• No iron or steel – from foundation to pinnacle – only stone has been used.
• 73 richly patterned and 63 partially carved pillars.
• 16 pillars with profuse roopkam – sculptures and figures.
• 64 large traditional sculptures with spiritual meanings and 192 small figures of gods and goddesses adorn the pillars.
• 5 types of stones used in the Monument : 1. Pink sandstone from Bansipahadpur. 2. Yellow stone from Jesalmer. 3. White marble from Makrana. 4. Maroon granite from Jhansi. 5. White marble from Ambaji.
• 25 domes of varying sizes and depths.
• Grandly ornate porch and 3 exclusively decorated porticos.
• Intricately carved from both sides – 30 large windows and 24 small grills.
• 220 stone beams for structural support.
• 57 stone screens for controlling light and enhancing beauty.
• 160,000 cubic feet of pink sandstone has been carved and assembled.
Ambaji : Devi’s Abode
Ambaji (Banaskantha district) is the seat of Ambe Mata, the mother goddess. Hers is a household name in the state. People pay homage to her during Navratri in song and dance. She is an aspect of goddess Parvati Shiv’s consort. Amba or Ambe Mata is shown riding a tiger during the Navratri celebrations. Navratri in Gujarat is comparable to the worship of Saraswati in Bengal.
Hindus do not believe in gender bias where divinities are concerned. Krishna says in the Gita, “I am the father of this universe and even the source of the father. I am the mother of the universe and the creator of all.” The logic is simple. If god is our father why can’t he be our mother? Ambe Mata is the Adya Shakti- the primordial female power the mother goddess.
The Ambaji temple which is situated on the Arasur hill in the Aravali Range does not contain any idol. It has only a yantra engraved in a niche. The shrine is made of marble. Large number of devotees visit the shrine during the Purnima fAirs held on the full moon day oiKartik, Chaitra, Bhadrapad and also Navratri is celebrated on a grand scale here.
Ambaji is one of the 64 Shakti Piths. The Shakti Piths have been established at those places where the pieces of Sati’s body fell. It came about this way. Shiv’s father-in-law Daksha Prajapati felt
insulted when the son-in-law did not stand up to receive him. In order to slight him he organized ayagna and did not invite Shiv. Sati went to the yagna uninvited. She too felt slighted when people failed to take note of her presence. According to Puranas she fell into the sacrificial fire. Shiv picked up her body and rushed about in great grief. Vishnu had to intervene. He cut up the body with his discus, so that Shiv may regain his composure. According to tradition one of the pieces fell at Ambaji.
A short distance from Ambaji is the Gabbar Hill. It is said that the goddess revealed herself on the Hill and left her footprints.
An interesting legend relates how Lord Krishna came to reveal himself at Dakor (KAira District) leaving his Dwarka abode. In olden times a Krishna devotee named Bholanath used to walk all the way to Dwarka from Dakor on every full moon night to worship his beloved Krishna. The all-knowing God noticed the difficulties which his devotee was undergoing. The god told Bholanath when he was visiting Dwarka that he need not walk all the way to distant Dwarka as he had decided to stay at Dakor (Dhankpuri of olden times). So God accompanied him to Dakor.
The priests at Dwarka temple were naturally upset at the turn of events. They somehow or other wanted to get backthe stone-idol of Ranchhodrai (Krishna). Both at Dwarka and Dakor Krishna is known Ranchhodrai. It is said that he ran away from battle when Kalyavan attacked him as an ally of Jarasandh. So Krishna is called Ranchhodrai – one who ran away from the battle. The priest of Dwarka knew that Bholanath was a poor man. So they told him that he should either pay for the stone idol in gold or return it. The only golden ornament the poor devotee had was his wife’s nose ring. When the idol and the nose ring were placed in the scales they were found to be equal in weight. That is how Krishna changed his residence from Dwarka to Dakor for the convenience of a devotee. The belief is the Krishna idol of Dakor was originally from Dwarka.
On every Sharad Purnlma a big fAir Is held at Dakor. Gujaratis venerate Krishna and Dakor provides an important link in this.
Dwarka : Lord Krishna’s Temporal Kingdom
Dwarka (Jamnagar district) in ancient Anarta (Saurashtra) was the capital of Lord Krishna’s terrestrial kingdom. He shifted to Kusasthali which was the old name of the region to escape the harassing raids of Kamsa’s father-in-law Jarasandha on Mathura after Krishna had killed Kamsa. Kusasthali was Krishna’s ancestral place on his mother’s side. It was founded by Raivata, his Yadava ancestor after he had lost his kingdom to Punyajanas and migrated to Mathura for safety; then he came back to found Kusasthali. So Krishna’s migration to the Dwarka was in the reverse order.
Dwarka which was known as Suvarna Dwarka (the golden Dwarka) had been very prosperous and hence got the name. The Dwarkadhish temple honours Krishna Bhagwan and attracts thousands of pilgrims from different parts of the country. The Dwarka of Krishna’s time lies submerged under the Arabian Sea. Tradition has itthat Krishna’s residence was at Bet Dwarka, a few kms from the mainland Dwarka.
The Dwarkadhish temple (also known as Jagat temple) and its Sikhar rises to 170 feet. The pataka or flag of the temple is changed three times a day. Pilgrims and devotees vie with one another to pay for the flag. There are special tailors to stitch it. Before hoisting the flag it is taken round the temple by the donor. The five-storeyed temple stands on 60 pillars. The pilgrims enter the temple by Swarg Dwar (the gateway of heaven) and leave by Moksh Dwar (the gateway of salvation).
The temple has rich carvings. The ancient shrine has been supported by kings and commoners alike from its inception. It is one of the important moksh dhams. The Gomti River flows nearby.
The other temples in Dwarka are the Trikamji temple, Kalyanrai temple, the Patrani temple, Durvas temple, etc. Sharda Pith set up by Adi Shankaracharya imparts instruction in Sanskrit. Darukvan in the region is one of the Jyotirlingas.
Girnar : Pinnacle of Faith
Mt.Girnar (Junagadh district) is a sacred hill both to the Hindus and Jains. The Jains call it Mt. Neminath. According to traditional history, Siddhas have used it as a retreat to undertake tapasya since ancient times. The 3660 feet hill is connected with Lord Krishna. When Kalayavan, apparently a warrior of foreign origin, was chasing him, the Lord got the better of the powerful adversary in a curious way. Raja Muchkund was sleeping in one of the caves of Raivatachal mountain (the ancient name for Girnar.) He was taking rest after fighting on behalf of the gods. After his exertions Muchkund had only one desire rest and repose. He got a boon that whoever disturbed his sleep would be reduced to ashes when he opened his eyes. This boon Krishna knew. What better way to get rid of Kalyavan. So he pretended as if he was running away from Kalyavan and led him to the cave where the king was sleeping. Krishna covered Muchkund with his upper cloth. Kalyavan after the long chase mistook the sleeping figure for Krishna and woke him up and was reduced to ashes.
Girnar was known by different names at different periods-Ujjayant, Manipur, Chandraketupur, Raivat Nagar, Puratanpur, Girivar and Girnar. Of the sever peaks five are important Amba Mata, Gorakhnath, Augadh, Guru Datatreya and Kalika.
The pilgrims have to climb 4000 steps to reach the top. There are five important Jain temples, besides several Hindu shrines.
The most prominent Jain shrine is the rectangular Neminath temple which was completed between 1128 CE and 1159 CE. Neminath (the 22th Tirthankar) is carved in black marble with jewelled eyes. The courtyard is filled with sculptures. Further up is the Amba temple. Newlyweds who seek Mataji’s blessings for a happy married life frequent it.
The Mallinath temple dedicated to the 19th Tirthankar was built in 1231 CE by Vastupal and Tejpal. Neminath is shown in blue colour. The Rishabhadev temple in golden colour has 24 Tirthankars. The Parshwanath temple was built in the 15th century. It is known as Meravasi. The Dattatreya hill is half way down the temple cluster.
It is best to start the climb in the morning. Bhavnath Shiv temple is the first shrine on the upward path. Bhartruhari cave, Sorath Mahal, Bhim Kund and Suryakund are the other important places. Gomukkhi Kund has pellucid water fed by a mountain stream.
Palitana : Gallery of Temples
Imagine two peaks covered with shrines you have the Jain pilgrimage centre of Palitana (Bhavnagar district) atop the Shatrunjay Hill. There are 900 temples big and small on the two summits. The sculptures that adorn the marble temples present a feast to the eyes. You need not be a Jain to admire the spectacle. Generations of Jams all over the country have contributed their mite to make Shatrunjay Hill what it is today.
It is said all the Jain Tirthankars, excepting Neminath, had attained nirvan on Shatrunjay Hill. This fact adds to the veneration the devout have for the place. The place is therefore called Siddhakshetra where one attains moksh.
The mountain is associated with Rishabhdev, the first Tirthankar who is also known as Adinath. The main temple at the top contains his idol in padmasan. He belonged to the Ikshvaku Dynasty of Ayodhya. So Rama was his ancestor. Adinath visited the Shatrunjay Hill 93 times.
The temple chain starts with the shrine constructed by Babu Dhanpatsinh of Murshidabad at the foot of the hill. The pilgrims have to ascend 3745 steps to reach the 1800 feet hill. It takes between one-and-a-half to two-and-a-half hours to reach the summit. Those who cannot climb can use sling chAirs. The steps were hewn out of the rock in the 13th century CE during the time of Jain minister Vastupal. The visitors cannot take any eatable on way to it. They can, however, drink water and water posts are provided all along the route. They have the footprints of Tirthankars. They can eat only after coming down the hill. Every shrine has idols of Tirthankars adorned with jeweled eyes.
Pilgrims make their offerings at the main temple containing the Adinath idol. The temple has been renovated and rebuilt several times since its inception. A Jain merchant Javad Shah renovated the shrine in Vikram Samvat 1018 forthe 13th time.
Originally the temple was built of wood and Siddhraj Jaisimha’s minister Udaymehta got it built in marble at the fabulous cost of Rs. 2.97 crores. Siddhraj’s descendant Kumarpal extended the temple.
The present temple was constructed in 1618 CE. The Adinath temple is situated on DadaniTuk. There are nine tuks all along the route containing shrines.
The most famous temples are those of Adinath, Kumarpal, Vimalshah, Samprati Raja and the Chomukh which is the highest. Besides there are temples dedicated to Hindu gods and goddesses like Saraswati, Shivji, Hanumanji, etc. The Saraswati temple is nearthefootof the hill. Angar Pir’s shrine is situated at the top of the hill. Barren women pray for children at the Muslim saint’s shrine.
Somnath : The Shrine Eternal
The Someshwar Mahadev temple stands tall among the temples of India. The construction of the present temple in Junagadh district began in 1950. It is the seventh temple built to commemorate the glory of Lord Somnath who was known as Bhairaveshwar in the Sa(ya Yug, Shravanikeshwar in Treta Yug and Shrigaleshwar in DwaparYug.
According to legend, Soma, the moon God built the temple in gold, Ravan in silver, Krishna in wood and king Bhimdev of Anhilwad in stone. Soma constructed the temple as a gesture after Lord Shiva cured him of his illness. This illness was caused by his father-in-law Daksha Prajapati’s curse. Daksha cursed him to wane as he was infatuated with Rohini and was neglecting the other 26 wives, all 26 of whom were the daughters of Prajapati. It is said that Brahma advised him to build the temple in honour of Shiva.
In the first phase of construction the shikhar portion, the sanctum sanctorum and the sabha mandap (assembly hall) were built. The nritya mandap (the dancing hall) was built later. The temple has been constructed in the Solanki style.
The pinnacle rides to a height of 155 feet. The kalash atop the shikhar weighs 10 tonnes. The flag- mast is 37 feet long. These details give an idea of the size of the temple. In historical times the temple, the third to be precise, was raged to the ground by Sultan Mohmad of Ghazni. Then Sultans Allauddin and Mohmad Begda too desecrated it.
After the Maraths took over Gujarat Rani Ahalyabai of Indore constructed a temple near the old temple and worship is offered there ever since.
The temple is so situated that there is no land from here to the South Pole. An arrow indicates the direction.
Dehotsarga also called Balkh Tirth where Krishna shuffled off his mortal coil is nearby which the pilgrims should visit. The tirtha stands at the confluence of Hiranya, Saraswati and Kapila rivers. Vallabhacharya’s Baithak is also there at Prabhas Patan.
Modhera : Sun Temple
Constructed in 1026-27 A.D. during the reign of King Bhimdev I of Patan, the temple is dedicated to Surya or the Sun God. Although it bears a dilapidated look, it is still a magnificent specimen of superb artistry of Gujarat’s architects of the bygone days. Modhera’s sun temple is positioned in such a manner that at the equinoxes the rising sun strikes the images in the sanctuary.
It also incorporates an amusement park, a museum, a cafeteria, picture gallery and library.
The canvas on the walls and pillars depict the incidents from the Ramayan and the Mahabharat, and forms of gods and goddesses and the way of life of the people of that time. An interesting iconograph is one with three heads, three arms and three legs.
The temple was ruined by Mahmud of Gazni.
Adjoining the Sun Temple is the huge ‘Sun Kund’ (Rama Kund) surrounded by step-terraces with numerous smaller temples numbering about 108.