Sculpting ancient tales

Modhera temple

Historic monuments, legendary temples, diverse ethnic cultures, pristine beaches and exotic wildlife have all made Gujarat an upcoming tourist destination. During my recent trip to the state, I planned to experience a slice of this culture. After relaxing for a couple of days at Ahmedabad, I began exploring the wonders. And what a nice way to start with a day trip to an ancient temple known for its artistic splendour ?

I headed to Modhera, a peaceful town, some 100 km from the capital. On my way, I decided to get a taste of Gujarati cuisine and stopped at Mehsana to binge on the state’s signature dish, dhokla. The yellow cake actually looked like our own upma compressed into cubes.

Temple splendour

At Modhera, all I could see were deserted streets with a tuck shop here and there. I followed the path to the temple and saw the structure emerging, like an artistic model amidst the vast courtyard of green. A self-styled guide soon tagged along and began his commentary, while I took a few minutes to behold the breathtakingly beautiful temple and capture a few frames.

With a history of nearly a thousand years, the temple dedicated to Sun God is indeed archaic. During the 11th century, the Solanki dynasty was at its peak and built numerous artistic temples in the region. Worshipping the elements of nature was also in practice those days. The surroundings of Modhera, on the banks of Pushpawati, with a dense forest, also had a religious significance, as it was here that sage Vasishta asked Lord Rama to perform a yagna to absolve the sin of killing Ravana. Later, this spot was chosen by King Bhimdev to build a temple dedicated to Surya, the Sun God. Built in 1026 AD, it was a lavish effort with a focus on architectural extravagance.

The temple itself comprises three parts, namely, the Suryakund, the Sabhamandap and the sanctum sanctorum. Suryakund, also called Ramakund, is a large rectangular tank with pyramid-like steps going down to water level. Standing at the edge of the tank, we could see a countless number of small niches with various images of gods. The flow of architecture with rows of steps alternating with tiny shrines is captivating.

Entering the Sabhamandap, which more or less looks like the main shrine, I was treated to an array of wonderfully carved pillars and arches. We admired in awe the intricately chiselled life-like images of gods, dancers and celestial women. I learnt that the 12 niches represented the different aspects of Sun for 12 months of the year. The sanctum, which used to have a golden image of Sun God on a chariot pulled by seven horses, was where the first Sun rays of the equinoxes fell. When invaders attacked the temple, they looted the wealth and defaced some of the sculptures. Walking around, I found the temple exterior resplendent with finely sculpted images. With the whole temple raised on a lotus shaped platform, the entire monument dazzles in symmetry and style. It symbolises a passion sculpted in stone. I wondered what the temple would have been like when it reigned in glory in the bygone days.

After the visual treat at Modhera, I headed to see the famed step well of Rani ki Vav in Patan. The town, which was the first capital of Solanki rulers, had hundreds of temples and lakes. As most of them are in ruins now, the big draw here is a magnificent step well called Rani ki Vav. Built by Rani Udayamati in memory of King Bhimdev, it is a 100-foot-deep rectangular well, which can be reached with the help of seven tiers of wide steps. The highlight of this subterranean monument is the grandiosity of the sculptures. Descending the steps, I was pleasantly surprised by the innumerable figurines of damsels and gods in friezes and pillars at each pavilion.

Heading back by sundown, I mused over the architectural excellence etched in stone, and the experience was etched in my memory.

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