Somnath is a veritable treasure trove of pilgrimage locations clustered around the Famous Jyotirling temple. Death of Krishna, Penance by Parashuram and many other linkages increase the aura of this place.
Somnath is an ancient city, located near Veraval in Saurashtra, Western coast of Gujarat. It has been a very important pilgrimage site for Hindus from ancient times, as it is believed to be the first amongst the twelve Jyotirling shrines of Lord Shiv. It is at the Jyotirling sites that Lord Shiv is believed to have appeared as a fiery column of light at the dawn of universe. This place is also known as Prabhas Patan.
The place is considered holy also because it is near the ‘Triveni Sangam’, the confluence of the three rivers, Kapila, Hiran and Saraswati (now extinct). Apart from the famous Somnath temple, this place is also the final resting place of Krishna who came here after the end of Mahabharata war. The town is also linked with Parashuram, Pandavas, Sun worship and Adi Shankaracharya. It has been the nucleus of religious activities since antiquity.
At Somnath, Lord Shiv exists as ‘Lord of the moon’. It is the place where moon got its waning power back by the grace of Lord Shiv. The Origins of the Shiv Temple at Somnath is lost in the mist of time. Existing historical records show that a temple was built at this site by Yadav Kings of Vallabhi around 649 AD. The west coast of India has seen barbaric invasions by the Muslim invaders.These had a direct impact on the Somnath Temple that ended up being destroyed, desecrated and looted several times along with the massacre of Hindus on almost all occasions.
It is widely known that Somnath was looted during 1072 by the barbaric Turk invader Mahmud of Ghazni. But it is not so well known that Somnath was earlier destroyed during 8th century by Arabs and it was rebuilt by Nagabhatta in 815 A.D. Due to the deep reverence held by Indians for Somnath this temple has been rebuilt after every destruction. This temple has been destroyed by Alauddin Khilji’s generals in 13th century, by the Portuguese in 16th century and finally by Aurangzeb in 1702. It was the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb, who ordered that the place would be demolished completely if Hindus attempted to revive worship there. So much for the non-religious nature of these events.
It was only after Independence of India in 1947 that Deputy Prime Minister Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel ordered the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple. Dr.Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India gave the task of reconstruction of the temple to Mr.K.M.Munshi, the head of the temple trust. It may not amaze those, who are aware of medieval History in India that a mosque was present at the exact sacred site of Somnath Temple. This Mosque was shifted and the current temple constructed at the original site..
The present Somnath temple has been reconstructed in Chalukya style of Temple architecture.
The Somnath Temple is open throughout the day and therefore is convenient for the devotees, who come for Darshan. During the Aarti, the devotees inside the sanctum sanctorum actually move away from the line of sight of the Shivling and gives the opportunity to those behind to have a Darshan.
The Krishna Linkage:
Somnath is inextricably linked to the story of Krishna and his death. Krishna created his kingdom at the fabled Dwarka and ruled from there after the great war of Mahabharata was over. After the demise of Pandavas and the destruction of his clan due to an internecine war, he felt that the time had come to leave this world.It was to the holy Somnath that he came at this point of time.
When Krishna was sleeping under a Peepul tree, a hunter named Jara mistook his feet with a deer and shot an arrow, grievously wounding him. The location of this tree has been converted into a temple called Bhalka Teerth.
The marble image of Lord Krishna inside this temple is so sublime that it casts in a spell of devotion in every pilgrim. Krishna becomes the surrounding, the present, the universe. The tree under which Krishna was hurt is also represented inside the temple.
After getting injured, Krishna went to the holy Triveni Sangam at the banks of Harini River and took a bath.It is around 4 km away from the place where he was fatally injured by the arrow. This Sangam is just beyond the main Somnath temple complex area.
Ghat at the Triveni Sangam area:
A few meters away from the Sangam area is the place where Krishna shed his mortal body. This place is called Dehotsarg (literally meaning “leaving the body”) or Golokdham Teerth. It is a quaint place on the banks of the river Hiran with two main temples on the site-The Geeta Temple and the Lakshmi Narayan Temple.
The Geeta temple is a beautiful pink stone structure with polished marble inside. It is said to be located at the exact spot where Lord Krishna finally rested after his injury.
The idol of Krishna is of his character as the Muralidhar (flute holder) always accompanied with a cow, depicting his childhood days.
This temple is a peaceful location matching with the sombre reality of being associated with the death of an Avatar of Vishnu. The writings of The 18 chapters of the Geeta has been inscribed on 18 pillars inside this temple. The temple has depictions from Krishna’s life shown as paintings on the walls. The sound of Bhajans echo inside the hall giving a divine effect to music.
The Lakshmi Narayan temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu along with his wife, Goddess Lakshmi, inside the temple. It is a beautiful marble structure with the scenes from Puranas and other scriptures depicted inside the temple.
The whole complex is located beside the calm waters of the river Harini (Golokghat) and the peaceful area with the ever present water birds enhance the beauty and serenity of the location.
Apart from these two main temples there are many other smaller shrines in this serene campus.
There is a canopied structure where Krishna’s feet are depicted in marble. This is called Krishnacharan Padukaji.
There are other smaller shrines like Kashi Vishwanath temple, Bhimnath temple and Shri Mahaprabhu Baithakji.The Baithakji represents Baithak which means seating. It is the location where Vallabhacharya gave discourse on Geeta.
There is a small shrine called Baldev ki Gufa. Baldev is the affectionate name of the elder brother of Lord Krishna, popularly known as Balram. He is also known as reincarnation of Lord Vishnu’s serpent, The Adishesha. After lord Krishna’s departure from this world, Balram also took his leave from this world and proceeded to Vishnu Lok via the underground cave in this location.
This Triveni Sangam is known as the place where penance can be done to wash away one’s sins since time immemorial. It is evident from the fact that this site is associated with the sage Parashuram, who is the sixth avatar of Lord Vishnu. In chronology he came before the time of Mahabharata or even Ramayana. In this reincarnation he has taken up the duty of cleansing the earth of the rapaciousness of kings and ruling classes and to re-establish the Dharmic principles. He had decimated such kingdoms repeatedly. It is said that Parashuram came here to do the penance for his violent acts. These Ghats are considered holy to this day and pilgrims come here from all parts of the world to take a holy dip in the venerated Sangam waters.
There is a peaceful temple away from the roadside crowd, dedicated to Parashuram near the Triveni Ghats.
There is a life size statue of Parashuram inside the temple. It is an unusual depiction as it shows him having the bow and arrow instead of the real weapon associated with him, which was a Parashu (battle axe).
Parashuram has a unique status among the Avatars as he has been associated with most of the epic events across diverse time zones in ancient India. Apart from his early exploits in Treta Yuga where he donned the role of a relentless crusader for establishing Dharma, he is associated with Ramayana where he appears at the point when Rama strings and breaks the mighty bow of Shiva at the Sita Swayamvar.
In the Mahabharata he fought with Bhisma and later he imparted the knowledge of advanced weaponry to Karna. It is intriguing to note that he was present at widely differing time zones and there is no mention in any scriptures or in any of the associated folk lore about his death or going back to the Vishnu Lok.
Other pilgrimage locations:
There are other shrines in the vicinity of Triveni Sangam and the Dehotsarg temple complex. One such ancient temple is the Sun temple situated on a small mound. One needs to walk along a side passage to reach this temple, where the Sun is worshipped as the main deity.
Inside the Sun temple:
On one side in the sun temple, there is a shrine of a Nag, snake. It is a unique symbolism where the snake is depicted as a deity on its own, instead of along with a Shivling. It is guarded by the usual Nandi on the outside.
Near the sun temple there is Hingalaj Mata cave complex where Pandavas worshipped the Devi.
The local lore maintains that this chamber was created by the Pandavas in one day. The steps are really narrow and one has to really squeeze oneself to enter the chamber. It is a wonder how it would have accommodated the Pandav Brothers (unless they were really famished due to their frequent travels to these faraway lands).They were present in this area for some time during their 13 year period of exile from Hastinapur. These are intriguing sites and leaves one imagining as to how the Pandavas must have roamed far and wide across the whole countryside leaving their footprints and memories with local population everywhere.
The stairs lead to a chamber of worship around 4 feet high. There is a vermillion symbol of Hingalaj Mata inside this chamber.
Adjacent to this area, alongside the road, stands the Kamnath Mahadev Temple. This is associated with the story of Opening of Shiva’s third eyes to destroy Kama Dev, hence it is called as Kamnath Mahadev. There is a water tank associated with healing powers inside the temple complex.
This is the place where Adi Shankaracharya is supposed to have meditated for a long period during his travels throughout the holy landscape of India.There is a cave which is supposed to be the exact location of his meditations.
Conclusion: There are very few locations in India with such diverse linkages with ancient events. Across ages the devout pilgrims have flocked to Somnath as it is considered a spiritually charged place. Presence of the Jyotirling, representing the time at the very start of the universe, the confluence of the three rivers (Triveni) near the seashore, and the fact that this is the place directly associated with the advent of Kaliyug (generally accepted to have started at the time of the death of Lord Krishna), makes Somnath one of the most reveredplaces of pilgrimage in India. Much before the concept of recorded History began, Parashuram came here to gain peaceafter his long campaign against the wayward kings. Even Krishna, who established and ruledin Dwarka, chose this place for his departure from this world. Adi Shankaracharya, who traversed the whole of India to rekindle spirituality, also spent time here in meditation. It is no wonder that Somnath has a special place in the heart of the pilgrim and the tradition of Pilgrimage to this Holy place has continued with unabated enthusiasm.
This article was first published in Pragyata.