THE SPELLBINDING SUN TEMPLE
King Bhimadeva I, who ruled the Saurashtra region in the 11th century AD, is said to have built the beautifully carved Sun Temple at Modhera, north of Kathiawar, between 1026 AD and 1027 AD. Built in front of a rectangular tank (which has small shrines at three of its sides), Modhera is a precursor of the Sun temple at Konark .
The similarity between the two is evident in that the idols were installed to be naturally lit by the sun. In the case of Modhera, the icon was placed so that it was bathed in light at the time of the equinoxes.
The large, stepped, stone kund with recesses for small images of subsidiary deities, leads up a staircase to a torana, with fine, broad-based pillars sans their joining arch. The now spireless shrine, built on a raised platform, is entered through a great, octagonal, pillared pavilion carved in the lavish fashion favoured by the Solankis. At a distance, the pillars give the appearance of solid mass.
The whole structure is outclassed by the incredible rectangular step tank or 'Surya Kund', a majestic 100 sq metre rectangular pond, with interesting shrines, said to total 108 in all, the auspicious number of flowers on a garland. Larger shrines to Vishnu, Ganesh and the Natraj incarnation of Shiv in Tandav stand on 3 sides of the Surya Kund, with the 'Sabha Mandap' of the principal temple soaring on the fourth side, to remind you that this is the domain of the Sun God.
Close up, they produce exactly the opposite effect, so finely carved and full of detail are they. As in other Surya temples, the carvings are predominantly of female attendants. Rows of frames carved out on each pillar hold graceful dancing figures as well as the plump gana-s or yaksha-s that seem to hover around the gods.
A separate structure from this pavilion is the closed mandapa beyond it leading to the Pradakshina path and Garbha Griha. The temple may once have had more than one level but in its state of ruin it is difficult to tell. Recurring images of the sun god appear at important positions throughout the structure, especially on the 'dedicatory block above the mandapa doorway'.
In Modhera too, as in Kashmir, the representation of the Sun God seems to indicate a foreign model for the figure is clothed for cold weather in boots and cloak, unfamiliar to Gujarat. However, the main idol, and his sunken garba griha, are lost to us forever. It is fortunate that his chariot pulled by seven horses was drawn from the rubble around the temple before it could be further ruined.
Although the temple's shikhar is missing, the spires of the small 'kund' temples are an indication of what it might have looked like. Even though probably more curvilinear than those of Konark or Khajuraho, Modhera's spire followed the basic Nagara pattern of vertical lines meeting at a point directly above the garba griha.
In front of the temple is a colossal tank, which was once known as Surya Kund or Rama Kund .The tank has a series of carved steps leading to the bottom. Several miniature shrines adorn the steps of the tank - which is an art gallery in itself.
Modhera is now the site of several dance and cultural festivals. The sun temple and the ambience here provide a majestic backdrop for the exhibition of performing arts.
HOW TO GET THERE
Air: Nearest airport is Ahmedabad .
Rail: Nearest railway station is Mehsana.
Road: State transport buses and private luxury coaches connects various centers of Gujarat. It is situated 119 kms. from Ahmedabad via Mehsana.
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