A Road Trip from Ahmedabad
Right through my school days, the mere mention of Surya Mandir or Sun Temple always conjured up images of Konark Temple in Odisha. I now think it was because Konark Temple is big and spread over a large area and the temple itself shaped like a chariot, which in itself is unique. It was only later in life I came to know about Modhera Surya Mandir, a Sun Temple in Gujarat and a few others. After seeing Modhera Temple’s images on the internet, we made a mental note to drive to this place whenever we went to Ahmedabad.
True to that promise we made to ourselves, when we got an opportunity to visit Ahmedabad, during the kite festival, we included a road trip to explore Modhera Sun Temple amongst other places.
Worshipping the Sun God or Surya Dev
From time immemorial, even during the Vedic period, Sun and Fire were being worshipped as a symbol of energy and life. There are quite a few scriptures that mention the importance of praying to the Sun. So much so, the books talk of 12 different manifestations of Sun called the Adityas and hence many temples were also dedicated to the Sun God or Surya Dev to faciliate worship by the devotees.
Surya Namaskar or Sun Salutation is an elaborate sequence of hand, legs and body movements which are now quite popular when doing Yoga. There are 12 asanas (yoga poses) that complete one cycle of Surya Namaskar. It is said that with each cycle one is expected to chant a mantra dedicated to one of Adityas. With the second cycle, second Aditya, and so on.
Modhera Sun Temple (Modhera Surya Mandir)
Modhera Surya Mandir is located on the banks of the Pushpavati river in Mehsana district of Gujarat at a distance of about 100 KM from Ahmedabad.
It was already noon when we started from Ahmedabad. Generally speaking, we always start early on any road trip, but this day was different . It was the day of Uttarayan and every terrace was crowded with people flying kites. We became kids with our hosts’ kids and were screaming and shouting “Kai Po Che” whenever another’s kite was “cut”.
The green farms on both sides were so soothing and made driving all the more enjoyable, so much so that, we stopped for some time and did some camera work near a mustard field full of yellow flowers.
The drive did not last long, just about two and half hours, which was good speed, considering the traffic and roads conditions.
Layout of Modhera Surya Mandir
The Modhera Sun Temple complex can be divided into three parts. The whole temple lies on East-West axis, almost on the Tropic of Cancer. The Sanctum Sanctorum was designed in such a way that twice every year, on equinox days, the Deity of Sun (not there now) received the first rays of the morning sun.
The holy tank or the Kund, is called Ramakunda or Suryakunda. The steps leading to the water is the first thing that attracts you. There are steps all around and one can climb down from any side. The unique feature is the steps do not going straight down to the water but small flights of steps are positioned sideways, except the last few steps. I think this must be a safety feature. If one slips he falls only a few feet. Good thinking!
The steps are interspersed with several shrines dedicated to various gods, 108 in all. We were in awe to see such a beautiful reservoir in good condition. It is definitely worth spending some time getting down and going around the tank.
A set of steep steps from the holy tank, leads up to a platform on which the second structure, the Sabhamandapam or Rangamandapam, is located. Mandapam in Sanskrit means a pavilion where people may congregate and is standard feature in all Hindu temples. Sabha means a meeting or a conclave and Ranga here may mean entertainment. It was, and still is, a common practice to have dances and music in the temple premises. In fact, a dance festival is organized by Gujarat Tourism in the month of January every year, called the Modhera Dance Festival .
The intricately sculpted pillars and walls, with various dancers, musicians and other characters from the religious books, makes one wonder, how did the artisans achieve this level of accuracy! Each pillar depicts a story from the epics and legends.
Even the domed ceiling is so beautiful, with concentric circles of varying designs.
The last structure is the most important and is actually the temple, Gudhamandapam which includes a hall for the devotees and the main sanctum sanctorum called Garbhagraham, for the idol of the deity, in this case, the Sun God, Surya.
The Sun temple faces east because the Sun rises in the east. This is in departure from the normal direction of almost all other temples, which faces west.
Like in the dance pavilion, there are carvings, sculptures from religious books all around. It is best to take a torch inside as it may be too dark inside, especially if you want to see the dome from inside. Flashing a torch at the dome, you will also find a colony of bats!
The Story of Modhera Surya Mandir, the Sun Temple
We were surprised to learn that Modhera Surya Mandir was older than Konark by over 2 centuries! Built in the year 1026 CE, it was one of the finest examples of temple architecture of that region and period. The current temple was built by King Bhima of the Solanki or the Chalukya dynasty of Gujarat.
As per Hindu Scriptures, there was always a temple dedicated to Sun God here. It is said, as per Ramayana, the King Rama, while returning after killing Ravana, wanted to wash his sins of killing a Brahman (brahma-hatya). He is said to have performed a yagna to cleanse his sins.
The priest helping him perform the yagna belonged to the community Modh. Hence the name Modhera. There are, of course, many stories each as interesting as the other.
All in all, for it was a day well spent at this magnificent Sun Temple complex.
Modhera Sun Temple Illumination
During the Modhera Dance Festival, the temple is illuminated by colorful lights forming a backdrop to the Indian classical dances being performed. Recently, to increase tourism to this place, the authorities light up the whole temple and the tank after sunset. It is just truly spectacular and seen in person to enjoy the scene.
How to reach Modhera Surya Mandir
The nearest Airport is Ahmedabad, which is around 100 KM away.
The nearest Railhead is Mehsana about 30 KM away.
There are regular buses from Mehsana and Ahmedabad.
It takes about 2.5 hours to drive to Modhera Sun Temple from Ahmedabad.
Visiting Hours : 07.00 AM to 6.00 PM. From 6:00 PM to 9:00 PM one can enter the premises to see the illumination but not the temple.
Ticket Price : INR 25 for Indian, SAARC and BIMSTEC citizens. For other foreigners, it is INR 300. Free entry for children below 15 years of age.
Where to stay
Best place to stay would be Ahmedabad, from there Modhera is just a day trip.
Suryanar Kovil, Kumbakonam in Tamilnadu is a few years younger than Modhera Temple and is built in the typical South Indian Temple Architecture.
Sun Temple, Martand in Jammu and Kashmir is the oldest Sun Temple in India built around the middle of the 8th century. Except for the central structure, it is in ruins.
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