The Sun Temple of Modhera is an ancient Hindu temple located in the Modhera village of Mehsana district in the Indian state of Gujarat. The temple is dedicated to the Hindu god Surya (the Sun) and was built in the 11th century during the reign of the Solanki dynasty.
The Sun Temple of Modhera is considered one of the finest examples of Hindu architecture in Gujarat and is a prime example of the Solanki style of temple architecture. The temple is known for its intricate carvings and sculptures, which depict scenes from Hindu mythology, as well as its impressive stepwell, which was used for religious ceremonies and as a source of water.
Despite facing significant damage over the centuries, much of the temple’s original beauty has been restored and it is now a popular tourist destination in Gujarat, attracting visitors from all over the world.
No worship is offered now and is a protected monument maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India.
The temple complex has three components:
- Gūḍhamanḍapa, the shrine hall
- Sabhamanḍapa, the assembly hall
- Kunḍa, the reservoir.
The halls have intricately carved exteriors and pillars. The reservoir has steps to reach the bottom and numerous small shrines.
History of Sun Temple
The shrine proper of the Sun Temple was built during the reign of Bhima I of the Chalukyas dynasty. During 1024–1025, Mahmud of Ghazni invaded Bhima’s kingdom, and a force of around 20,000 soldiers unsuccessfully tried to check his advance at Modhera.
Historian A. K. Majumdar theorizes that the Sun Temple might have been built to commemorate this defense. On a block in the western wall of the cella, there is an inscription “Vikram Samvat 1083″ upside down carelessly marked in Devnagari script which corresponds to 1026-1027 CE. No other date is found.
As the inscription is upside down, it evidences the destruction and reconstruction of the cella. Due to the position of the inscription, it is not firmly considered as the date of construction. On the stylistic ground, it is known that the Kunda with its corner shrines was built earlier at the beginning of the 11th century. The inscription is rather regarded as the date of destruction by Ghazni instead of the construction.
Soon after Bhima returned to power. So the temple proper, the miniature, and the niche shrines in the tank were built shortly after 1026 CE. The dancing hall was added much later in the third quarter of the 12th century along with the gateways, the porch of the temple proper, and the doorframes of the temple and the cella during the reign of the Karna.
The temple is built at 23.6° latitude (approximately near the Tropic of Cancer). The place was later known as Sita ni Chauri and Ramkund locally. The temple is the Monument of National Importance and is maintained by the Archeological Survey of India.
The architecture of Sun Temple
The temple complex is built in Māru-Gurjara style (Chaulukya style). The temple complex has three axially aligned components:
- the shrine proper (garbhagriha) in a hall (gudhamandapa),
- the outer or assembly hall (sabhamandapa or rangamandapa), and
- a sacred reservoir (kunda).
The Sabhamandapa is not in continuation with Gudhamandapa but is placed a little away as a separate structure. Both are built on a paved platform. Their roofs collapsed long ago leaving behind a few lower-most courses. Both roofs are 15′ 9″ in diameter but are constructed differently. The platform or plinth is inverted lotus-shaped.
Gudhamandapa and Garbhagriha
The Gudhamandapa measures 51 feet 9 inches by 25 feet 8 inches. It is almost equally divided into Gudhamandapa, the hall, and Garbhgriha, the shrine proper. Both are rectangular in plan with one projection on each of the smaller sides and two projections on each of the longer sides.
These projections on the smaller sides form the entrance and the back of the shrine. The three projections of the outer wall of Gudhamandapa had windows on each side and the east projection had a doorway. These windows had perforated stone screens; the northern is in ruins and the southern is missing.
Pradakshinamarga is formed by the passage between the walls of Garbhgriha and the outer walls of Gudhamandapa. The roof of the passage has stone slabs carved with rosettes. The Shikhara of it no longer exists.
The Garbhagriha, the shrine proper or sanctum sanctorum is square measuring 11 feet from the inside. The shrine had two cells; a cell below the level of the upper cell. The floor of the upper cell is now fallen which once housed the image of a deity. The seat of the image is now in a pit. The lower cell was probably used for storage.
The walls inside the shrine are plain and the outer wall is decorated. The doorway has carved figures of seated Surya in panels surrounded by dancers and amorous couples. All figures are mutilated and the images on the door lintel are destroyed.
The sanctum sanctorum is designed in a way that the first rays of the rising sun lit up the image of Surya during solar equinox days and on summer solstice day, the sun shines directly above the temple at noon casting no shadow.
The outer walls of the shrine are highly decorated. The base and walls of the shrine and hall are divided into several stretches with unique carvings. the Pitha or adhisthana, the base has two square members called Bhat followed by a cyma recta carving (lower part convex and upper part concave). It is followed by Padma or padmaka, the molding in form of an inverted lotus. The next is antarita, a fillet or an astragal with a sharp edge between two recesses. Above this is patta having thin molding called chhaja at its lower edge. The next is another chhaja separated by the neck, alinga. The next broad band, patti, is gajathara carved with elephants. The following band narathara has figures of men with different attitudes.
Mandovara or wall moldings
Mandovara, the wall moldings start with kumbha, a pitcher. It has a broad undecorated band at the lower part while the middle part is decorated with oval discs. It is followed by kalasha, a pitcher. The next is a broad band with chaitya-windows called kevala followed by a similar called manchi. These two bands are separated by a deep band. There is a thin fillet above which the major paneled face of the wall called jangha exists.
These panels are adorned with figures of gods but the figures of Surya are placed more prominently than others as the temple is dedicated to him. Other panels are decorated with dancers and other figures.
The figures of Surya are prominently carved on three niches of the shrine proper as well as on each side of three windows in the outer wall of Gudhamandapa. The figure of Surya is in a standing position with two arms holding lotuses and driven by seven horses. It has some Persian influences.
Every figure in the panel has a small cornice over it surmounted by a triangular pediment consisting of a chaitya-a window which is called udgam. The next projecting band with chaitya-window and kirtimukha is called malakval. The topmost is the major cornice called chhajli.
This is followed by shikhara which no longer exists. The Vimana had horizontal geometrical and figurative bands which rose to create Mount Meru-like shikhara. The central spire had Urushringa, the miniature shrines. It is judged by the shrines on the steps of Kunda.
The Mandapa, a hall was roofed by a dome that probably rose concentrically. It is supported by eight principal pillars below arranged in an octagon, four pillars in front of the shrine proper, and two each in the recesses of windows and doors.
Sabhamandapa or Rangamandapa, the assembly hall or dancing hall is a parallelogram in plan with rows of pillars opening entrances on each side diagonally. The extensively carved exterior has a series of recessed corners giving an impression of its star-like plan of it. There are 52 intricately carved pillars.
Madhusudan Dhaky has suggested that the sabhamandapa may have been later added based on style and construction.
The pitha is almost similar to the Gudhamandapa but smaller as two courses of fillets are skipped. The padma is carved richly here with floral ornamentation. h3
Above the Narathara, there is a band with sculptures of dancers and gods known as rajasena. The next is vedi which corresponds to jangha of mandovara adorned with large panels of gods, goddesses, and floral designs. The next is a cornice called asinot. It is followed by kakshasana which slopes outwards and forms the back-rests of the bench, asana which runs around the hall. There are sensual figures on it interrupted by rail patterns.
Ceiling and Torana
The roof was in the shape of a stepped pyramid but it no longer exists. Inside, the walnut-shaped ceiling rises in tiers and has numerous floral girdles. It is 23 feet high. It is supported by pillars arranged in an octagon. These pillars have stilts that support the lintels. Torana or the decorated cusped arches arise from the lower brackets of the pillars and touch the lintels in middle.
There are two types; semicircular and triangular. The semicircular arches have cusped arches with tips while triangular arches have a round apex and wavy sides. Both types have a broad band decorated with figures and tips which are now defaced and damaged. The lower brackets have Makara which gives the name of Makara-Torana while the decoration gives the name chitra-torana.
The pillars of Sabhamandapa and Gudhamandapa are of two types-
- short pillars, rest on the walls and support the roof
- tall pillars rise from the floor
The shaft is square to half of its height followed by the vase and then followed by an octagonal shaft. It is surmounted by a capital and a bracket. The square part has a floral design in a circle on each side of the face. The vase is decorated similarly on its corners. The octagonal part has four bands; the topmost has kirtimukha. The capital has three annulets.
They arise from a square or octagonal base, kumbhi, with triangular ornamentation on each face. Above it is kalasha. It is followed by a deep band and the next is kevala decorated with chaitya-windows. the next is kirtimukha. The next is a triangular pediment with chaitya-windows.
The next is the beginning of the shaft. It is first decorated with standing figures, mostly dancers, on all eight faces enclosed in ringed pilasters. The next band with scenes of men and beasts is separated from it by the round pillow-like band. It is followed by a still smaller band with sixteen standing human figures separated by small annulet below. The next is a band of leaves. Then the shaft becomes circular and had three or four bands having a row of male warriors, lozenges, circles, and kirtimukha at last. The kirtimukhas are separated by chain and bell ornamentation.
It follows capital similar to small pillars crowned with makara brackets of eight stilted pillars and dwarfs in the rests. the eight stilted pillars have one more shaft and a similar type of capital which is crowned with brackets of volutes and pendant leaves.
The panels on the Gudhamandapa are adorned with Surya centrally which indicates that the temple is devoted to Surya. These images wear strange West Asian (Persian) boots and belts. The other corners and niches are decorated with figures of Shiva and Vishnu in various forms, Brahma, Nāga, and goddesses. The depicted scenes on small flat ceilings and lintels of sabhamandapa are from epics like Ramayana.
There was a kirti-torana, the triumphant arch, in front of sabhamandapa. The pediment and torana no longer exist but two pillars remain. The molding and decoration are similar to that of the walls of sabhamandapa and pillars. There were two more kirti-torana on each side of the kunda of which only one exists without the upper part.
Kunda, a tank or reservoir is known as Ramakunda or Suryakunda. The flight of steps through kirti-torana leads to the reservoir. It is rectangular. It measures 176 feet from north to south and 120 feet from east to west. It is paved with stones all around.
There are four terraces and recessed steps to descend to reach the bottom of the tank. The main entrance lies on the west. There are steps to reach from one terrace to another on a right angle to the terrace. These steps are rectangular or square except for the first step of each flight of steps which is semicircular. Several miniature shrines and niches in front of the terrace wall have images of gods including many Vaishnavite deities and goddesses such as Shitala.
The stepwell on the west of Kunda has one entrance and two pavilion towers. It is moderately ornamented. The door frame has lotus and leaves and the ruchaka type pilasters indicate it belongs to the 11th century. The small mandapa above the ground level and located on the second kuta of stepwell may belong to the tenth century.
Modhera dance festival
The Tourism Corporation of Gujarat organizes an annual three-day dance festival known as ‘Uttarardha Mahotsav’ at the temple during the third week of January, following the festival of Uttarayan. The objective is to present classical dance forms in an atmosphere similar to that in which they were originally presented.