India // Gujarat //

Veraval and Somnath

Midway between Porbandar and Diu, the fishing port of Veraval is the jumping-off point for trips to Somnath, 5km east, whose temple is one of the twelve jyotrilingams of Shiva. Its shrines to Vishnu and connection with Krishna – said to have lived here with the Yadavas during the time of the Mahabharata – make it equally important for Vaishnavites.

SOMNATH consists of only a few streets and a bus stand – even its famed sea-facing temple is little to look at, despite its many-layered history. Legend has it the site, formerly known as Prabhas Patan, was dedicated to Soma, the juice of a plant used in rituals and greatly praised for its enlightening powers (and hallucinogenic effects) in the Rig Veda. The temple of Somnath itself is believed to have appeared first in gold, at the behest of the sun god, next in silver, created by the moon god, a third time in wood at the command of Krishna and, finally, in stone, built by Bhim, the strongest of the five Pandava brothers from the Mahabharata epic. The earliest definite record, however, dates the temple to the tenth century when it became rich from devotees’ donations. Unfortunately, such wealth came to the attention of the brutal iconoclast Mahmud of Ghazni who destroyed the shrine and carried its treasure off to Afghanistan. The next seven centuries saw a cycle of rebuilding and sacking, though the temple lay in ruins for over two hundred years after a final sacking by Aurangzeb before the most recent reconstruction began in 1950. Very little of the original structure remains and, although planned in the style of the Solanki period, the temple is built from unattractive modern stone. The main pujas are held at 7am, noon and 7pm. An architectural museum north of the temple, contains statues, lintels, sections of roof pillars, friezes and toranas from the tenth to twelfth centuries.

Somnath’s museum, across from the bus stand, is loaded up with seaworthy artefacts. Tongas and rickshaws gather outside the bus station, ready to take pilgrims to temple sites east of Somnath. Most important of these is Triveni Tirth, at the confluence of the Hiran, Saraswati and Kapil rivers as they flow into the sea. Before reaching the confluence, the road passes the ancient Surya Mandir, probably built during the Solanki period and now cramped by a newer temple and concrete houses built almost against its walls.