The Sun Temple in Modhera village lies a short drive away from Mehsana in Gujarat. The River Pushpavati flows beside it. The temple was built in 1026 AD, in honour of the Hindu sun God – Lord Surya. Sun worship goes a long way back in the Indian subcontinent, and the Solanki dynasty were considered to be descendants of the Sun God.
This was only the second sun temple to be built in the country, after Odisha’s Konark Temple, and has many a legend associated with it. The temple underwent plunder by Mahmud Ghazni, but even what remains today does not fail to impress. It serves no religious purpose and has no main idol left, but the marvellous architecture draws a significant number of visitors each year.
The first thing that strikes you is the grandeur and opulence of the structure, which sits on a high platform. Spires may be missing from this temple, but the majestic ‘Torana’ arches more than make up for it.
No space has been left undecorated, even on the exterior walls of this temple. The sandstone walls are full of carved sculptures that feature various Hindu deities including Shiva, Parvati, and Vishnu as well as flowers, birds, and animals – a mesmerising testimony to the skilled work of the artisans.
The sanctum’s exterior also has carved images of Lord Surya, portrayed wearing long shoes and a belt, which is similar to that of Gaya’s Dakshinaarka Temple. The sculptures, pillars, main entrance, and the surrounding gardens combine to create an enthralling sight even before you set foot inside the temple.
Modhera’s Sun Temple was designed such that it has three distinctive sections:
- Guda Mandap (Main temple): This is the sanctum sanctorum, supported by a lotus-base plinth and where the Sun God’s idol originally stood. It is designed to catch the rays of the sun during the equinox (March 20 and September 23). The sun’s rays would fall on the statue of Lord Surya, carved entirely out of gold, and illuminate the entire space. The idol was looted by Mahmud Ghazni, but the architectural brilliance can still be seen.
The Tropic of Cancer is known to pass through the Modhera Sun Temple and legend has it that the deity once had a massive diamond piece that reflected the sun inside the temple complex. The walls here also have carvings depicting the human life cycle of birth and death as well as 12 different facets of the Sun God for each month.
2. Sabha Mandap: This area is a hall with four open sides and beautiful arches. But the most striking feature here are the 52 pillars, each featuring intricately carved scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as the life of Lord Krishna. The 52 pillars were built to represent the 52 weeks of the year.
To get to the Guda Mandap, you need to go through this spectacular hallway, so expect to spend some time admiring the impressive work that has stood the test of time. Local guides and priests sometimes have many an interesting story to narrate about the scenes depicted on the pillars.
3.Surya Kund: This is perhaps the most attractive feature of the temple. A deep stepped tank located in the front of the temple, this kund was earlier used for storing pure water that devotees would clean themselves with before every temple visit. There are 108 mini shrines chiselled on the numerous stone steps of this beautiful tank, each dedicated to various Hindu Gods in their different forms – making this part nothing short of a historic art gallery.
Winters are the best time to visit the region as the weather is pleasant. The Modhera dance festival in the third week of January has various cultural performances held against the backdrop of the Sun Temple.