If you’re idea a a good travel experience is to explore a culture’s ancient monuments and religious sites, then a visit to the Sun Temple at Modhera, in Gujarat India, is well worth your while. Dedicated to Surya (a sun god – surprise, surprise), this stupendously carved temple and water tank was built in 1026 by one of the kings of the Solanki dynasty. Although it’s nearing it’s millennial birthday, this stunning beauty has all the vitality and character of youth.
The temple was actually destroyed by Moghul invader Alauddin Khilji during the 14th century. But by ‘destroyed’, what I mean is that some of the images of the gods on the temple walls and the main deity were deformed. The temple itself wasn’t razed, and therefor much of the ornate, nearly full-relief sculpture remains.
Although the Sun Temple at Modhera conforms in some ways to Northern Indian temple design, and has a clear, Solanki signature, There are some unique characteristics. For one thing, the temple was angled very carefully so that on the equinoxes each year, the first rays of the sun came through the eastern doorway to illuminate the image of Surya, located in the gharbagriya or ‘inner sanctum/womb-chamber’ of the temple.
The complex is also made up of 3 distinct parts: A stupendous step well tank with 108 mini shrines, (called the Suryakund); a pillared hall for gatherings, called a Sabha Mandap which is actually a separate structure from the main structure with it’s inner sanctum, called the Guda Mandap.
The Sabha Mandap (pillared hall) is well worth spending some time – and hiring a guide! -for. The 52 carved pillars represent the 52 weeks in a solar year. Each pillar is extensively carved with detailed images representing scenes from Hinduism’s epic tales, the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and Krishna Lila.
Like the temples of Khajuraho, the Sun Temple at Modhera also has some erotic sculpture, although by comparison, these images are few and far between. There’s a lot of speculation and argument over the point and purpose of erotic imagery on Hindu temples of this period. One of these arguments is that ideas about sex during the period in which these temples were build were quite different than they are today. Sex, back then, may have been seen as an act of fertility and the supporting of life. The image here is not one of erotica per se (yes, the truly erotic are couples in the act of copulation – sometimes in highly bizarre and gymnastic poses). I’ve included this one simply because it’s beautiful and because I didn’t take any pictures of the ‘real deal’ on this trip – sorry 🙁
Best time to Go
Any time is a good time to visit Modhera, but if you want to get a sense of its glorious past, a great time to visit would be during the annual dance festival held there. This is the time when classical dancers from different parts of India come to perform, with the temple as their backdrop. The Festival is organized by the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat. The festival is held every year during the 3rd week of January, and lasts 3 days.
While you’re There …
Ready to visit the Sun Temple at Modhera? Be sure not to miss some of the other incredible sites of Gujarat, like the plentiful supply of wildlife sanctuaries, wild, Asiatic lions at Gir National Park, An Old City tour of Ahmedabad and Gandhi’s home, the Sabarmati Ashram.
JN Rao Tours – Uttej Rao and his experienced team can help you with all of your planning – both within Gujarat State and around the entire country. Having used their services, I can say without hesitation that they’re friendly, trustworthy and understand the needs and expectations of western travelers in India.
Accommodations that are clean, safe and friendly (both located in Ahmendabad) include: The Fern Hotel, a 5-star, eco-friendly high-rise with attentive service, luxurious rooms and many eco-friendly amenities (including plenty of bamboo for walls and furnishings); and the charming, Keys Hotel Cama, with a lower price point and simpler but squeaky clean accommodations.
For more information on tourism in Ahmedabad, please visit the Tourism Corporation of Gujarat.