My cousin Stenna and I were getting bored totally. I was at her house at Ahmadabad, where she was studying at the Gujarat National Law University. So, she planned to go out of the city to get rid of the boredom and stress….
We were driving to Modhera, nearly two hours north of Ahmadabad in Gujarat. The Sun Temple Modhera, at Modhera in Gujarat, is a temple dedicated to the Hindu Sun-God, Surya. It is situated on the bank of the river Pushpavati, 25 km from Mehsana and 102 km from Ahmedabad. It was built in 1026 AD by King Bhimdev of the Solanki dynasty. In the present times, prayers are not offered in this temple. This temple is now under the supervision of Archaeological Survey of India. It was a little out of the way of our planned drive to Dwaraka, but unfortunately, because of my craze towards the ancient architectural works and sculptures and of course, arrogance, I didn’t want to miss a chance to see a sun temple older than the one at Konark and that which is situated on the tropic of cancer.
Soon, we pulled over at what seemed like a typical Archaeological survey of India (ASI) monument. Tourist buses, stalls selling food, drinks and trinkets, lined like a fence on either side of the gate. Nothing was immediately visible as we walked over to get our admission tickets. The moment we entered the gate, we were struck by the magnitude of the complex. We were greeted by vast stretches of green with a well-marked pathway heading toward the main temple. The path led us to the ASI museum. Just ahead of this, on our right, we saw the rectangular bathing tank or Surya Kund. All four sides of the tank have intricate steps, reminiscent of Gujarat’s famed step wells. These are reflected in the still water, reminiscent of an Escher painting of a mending staircase.
The Surya Kund is the first of the three distinct components of the temple complex. To the west lies the sabha mandap or the primary hall and beyond is the main temple – all laid out as on an east-west grid. The temple complex, which is built on the tropic of cancer, is designed such that the first rays of the sun fall on the main idol at the time of the ‘equinoxes’ .An equinox occurs twice a year, around 20 March and 22 September. It is the day when daytime and night are of approximately equal duration.
The Surya Kund itself is graced by a variety of small shrines- placed between the numerous pyramidal steps. Literature alludes to 108 shrines though only a few remain intact. The distinctive goupuras on the southern and northern edges of the rectangular tank, give us the sense of grandeur of the tank in its heyday.Intricate stone carvings of the Hindu deities such as Vishnu and Shiva are enshrined between the steps at corners of the Surya Kund.
We walked halfway down the northern side of the tank and made our day down to the center of western edge. Steps lead up to the Sabha Mandap, an octagonal hall between the water tank and the main temple. At the top of the steps were the remnants of the huge arch or Toran that lead to the main hall, the Sabha Mandap. There are 52 pillars in the hall, denoting the 52 weeks in a year.Every pillar, including the Toran, is intricately carved. Staring with a simple octagonal base that showcases a small deity set in an arch on each face, the pillars are formed of geometrical patterns surmounted by exquisitely carved dancing nymphs, above which octagonal panels display scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. At the center of the hall is an arched ceiling carved like an inverted lotus flower. The detailing is marvelous- it took my breath away.
Beyond the Sabha Mandap, is the main temple or the Guda Mandap, which is no longer used. The absence of the main idol, believed to be a golden Surya on his chariot, in no way distracts the beauty. The exterior walls of the temple are replete with carving- including the twelve postured of Adithya or the sun-god. Like many other temples in India, the walls depict divine as well as the daily lives of people, including a good deal of erotic sculpture. The temple complex is being well maintained by the ASI, with some renovations done in the recent times. For the historically inclined, the on-site museum has numerous sculptures and other stone work on display.
The temple’s workmanship reminds us of the Dilwara temple in nearby Abu with its ornamental work on the roofs and pillars. After the day well spent, we left the temple reluctantly and my cousin started loving sculptures and paintings of good artistic value.