On one sunny morning when a few of us could manage to get together we visited a couple of tourist attractions in Gujarat. A couple of hours drive to the north of Ahmedabad are the Sun Temple at Modhera, Mehsana district, and the Rani ni Vav, a Stepwell, in Patan district.
Sun Temple, Modhera
I had visited the Sun Temple at Modhera many years ago, but at that point it seemed like a dilapidated structure. But with Gujarat’s emphasis on making the state a tourist destination, the Sun Temple had a new look. The structures were well maintained and the gardens around it were lush green. I have also visited the Sun Temple at Konark, Odisha, which is a magnificent structure. Sun Temple at Modhera is not quite so magnificent. but is definitely worth a visit.
Sun Temple, Modhera is said to have been constructed by Bhima I of the Solanki dynasty, as per the plaque at the Temple during 1026-27. Wikipedia reports Bhima I of the Chalukya dynasty. The Temple has three components, the Shrine, Garbhagriha, the Hall, Gudhamandapa and the Sacred reservoir, Ramkund or Suryakund.
The Shrine, Garbagraha, is said to consist of two cells one on top of the other. The one on top has collapsed. It probably housed the deity, which no longer exists. The Sanctum sanctum of the Shrine is locked and there is no light inside. We strained to see what was there expecting to see some image or fresco of the Sun God. But we peered and peered. but could see nothing. I took a couple of photos with a flash and could see nothing. All we figured was that there was a deep well, perhaps due to the two cells collapsing on one another! We were very disappointed! The Shrine was much note interesting from the outside, with its intricate carving the stone pillars and walls.
The Gudhamandapa was a much more interesting structure than the Shrine. It had intricate carvings outside. The inside had a series of pillars, all of which had intricate carvings of Surya and different aspects of the Sun in different months. To the untrained eye, I must say we were unable to distinguish these images.
The Kunda, Ramkund or Suryakund, was an interesting structure with a flight of steps leading into it from the Gundhamandapa. In fact, the rectangular reservoir or tank had flights of steps from all sides. The tank probably had a spring underneath in ancient times, which would have kept the water fresh, like water in a well. But now, with the sinking water table in the region, the water was not quite fresh. It has a greenish tinge to it. Around the tank were sculptures of various deities. The two main shrines on either side had sculptures of Nataraja and Shitala Devi. There was a sculpture of Lord Ganesha. It is said there is a stepwell and steps leading to down into it. Two pillars standing separate to the west probably holds the entrance to the stepwell. We failed to explore it. Never mind, next time!
Rani Ki Vav, Patan
A short drive from the Sun Temple took us to the Rani Ki Vav, Stepwell, in Patan district. It is a massive structure with seven floors below the ground, said to be one of the largest stepwells in the region. Rani (Queen) Udayamati, wife of Bhima I, of the Chalukya dynasty, is said to have built it in his memory. It was built on the banks of the Saraswati river and was submerged by floods, till it was rediscovered and excavated in the 1940s by the then Baroda State.
The Rani Ki Vav is an impressive structure built seven floors under the ground level. The end of it the structure is the well, which originally had a round wall around it. Now, as we can see at the extreme end of these picture, the well on the top floors is open. There are very intricate carvings on the walls.
There were also depictions of various avatars, reincarnations, of Lord Vishnu. Kalki, the last avatar of Lord Vishnu who is yet to come. Kalki is seen on a horse, as it is forecast that the Last avatar would come mounted on a white horse. There are sculptures of other avatars of Lord Vishnu, Viraha, the boar avatar, and Vamana, the dwarf avatar.
Various avatars of Lord Vishnu were sculpted on the side walls as one walked down the steps of the stepwell. Mythology depicts Kalki, considered the last avatar, as coming on a white horse. There were sculptures of Kalki on a horse and Varaha, the boar avatar of Lord Vishnu.
What caught our fancy was the Dwarf avatar of Lord Vishnu, who is supposed to have taken this form to destroy the Asura, demon, Mahabali! A strong battle of words ensued among my friends at the site of the Vav on this interpretation. The North Indian companions believed this version of the Asura Mahabali. The Mallu (Malayali) friend strongly disagreed. The Malayalis from Kerala state believe that during the reign of King Mahabali Kerala was a prosperous country flowing with milk and honey. Every year Kerala celebrates the festival of Onam to remember the happy times during the rule of Mahabali.
The story goes that the gods in heaven were jealous of King Mahabali’s popularity and decided to send Lord Vishnu as a nondescript dwarf to Kerala to destroy him. Mahabali was performing the Ashwamedha Yogananda to celebrate his victories and was distributing gifts. Vamana appeared and asked for a gift of three steps of land, which was granted. Vamana immediately transformed into Vishnu’s giant Trivakarna form. Mahabali who was a devotee of Lord Vishnu understood that this was Lord Vishnu. Vamana took the first step and covered the entire heaven, the second step covered the entire earth and for the third step Mahabali offered his head to Lord Vishnu. Vamana stepped on Mahabali’s head and crushed him down to Patala, hell. However, Mahabali his devotee Lord Vishnu he granted him a wish to return to earth every year. It is the return of the benevolent King Mahabali that the Malayalis of Kerala celebrate each year as Onam.
And so ended our trip to the Sun Temple and Rani ki Vav. I highly recommend a visit to these sites in Gujarat.