Friday, January 25, 2019

Jai Somnath

Jai Somnath

Prabhash Patan is the place at the confluence of three holy rivers (Hiran, Kapila and Sarasvati) flowing into the Arabian Sea, where the Yadavas had killed themselves in infightings. Gandhari’s curse acted upon. Only few Yadavas including Lord Shri Krishna, his elder brother Balram, his grandson Vajra survived. After the ruin of Yadavas, Lord Krishna when was reclining under a Pepal tree at Bhalakatirth, was struck by an arrow shot by a hunter Jara who had mistaken him a deer. Krishna walked down to the confluence of the three rivers and breathed his last in a cave. His body was cremated at the confluence at Prabhas Patan. Subhadra, his sister couldn’t tolerate the shock of his death, threw herself into the pyre. Balaram too died. It was raining very heavily and the sea was in high tides, therefore, the cremation couldn’t complete. Krishna’s corpse was flooded out into the sea and was found out by some Hathyogi Sadhus at Puri. They used it as Akshay Patra and when found it miraculous, placed it and built a temple at Jagannath Puri in Orissa, which is a place of Hindu pilgrimage for centuries. Krishna, Subhadra and Balram died together at Prabhas Patan and are worshipped together at Jagannath Puri. It’s kitchen is the largest in the world, cooking 56 types of Bhoga-Prasada in earthen pots everyday. Dehotsarga of Prabhas Patan and Jagannath Puri are therefore linked by the story of Lord Krishna. 

At this Prabhas Patan, there was a temple of Lord Shiva, the God of Moon, who had relieved Moon from the curse of waning given by his father in law Daksha for loving more to Rohini. The first temple was made of Gold by the Soma and the second was made of Silver by Lord Krishna but except the folklores, no historical evidences had supported the temples made of Gold and Silver. 

Abi Raihan Al-Biruni, who accompanied Sultan Mahmud to India in 1025-26 had quoted the legend of Somnath. Somnath was set up on the sea coast in such a way that the sea water, when high, would cover it at times. He had mentioned the fortress and the treasure not ancient but only 100 years old. It was a temple of large blocks of stone on the sea shore in a such a way that its walls were washed by the waves and the idol remained under water at appointed hours. It was a large edifice, the roof of which was carried on 56 well ornamented columns of teak wood. Out of these, six columns, highly studded with emeralds, rubies and other predacious stones. Other writers had mentioned that it had a pyramidal roof, thirteen storeys high, the top of which was surmounted by fourteen spherical knobs of Gold which glittered in the Sun and were visible from the long distance. It had 10000 villages for maintenance, had 1000 Brahmins to perform rituals, 300 musicians and dancing girls and 300 barbers to shave the pilgrims. The idol was the Linga of Shiva made of solid stone, had thirty rings round it, seven cubits in height, of which two (the Brahma part) were buried in the basement, and about three cubits (the Vishnu part of the Linga covered with Yoni-Jaladhari round) and the the upper round part (of Shiva) in girth. Some Muslim writers equalised the idol of Somnath with the idol of Manat (three Chief Goddesses of Mecca with Lion as their vehicle!) as was worshipped by the Arabs at Mecca before Islam. The story of idol of Manat secretly been transferred to Somnath temple might had inspired Mahmud to attack on the temple. 

According to Ali-ibn-Athir, the historian of Mahmud, he started from Gazani on 18/10/1025, left Multan on 26/11/1025, crossed the Thar Desert and reached Patan in December 1025. The King Bhima-1 fled and took shelter at Kanthkot (Bhachau-Kutch). Mahmud then moved to Modhera and on 6/1/1026 he reached Somnath. The temple was protected for two days but finally on 8/1/1026, Mahmud captured it. He desecrated the temple, burnt to ground and took away jewels, gold and silver ornaments of the temple. 

It was his 17th invasion over India, Mahmud of Gazani (Yamin-ud-Daula Abdul Quasim Mahmud ibn Sebuktegin), attacked the temple of Somnath, destroyed it’s Linga and other idols and put the building under fire, took away booty and returned after a fortnight stay when he Parmar King Bhoja (1010-1055) of Malava gathered a huge army to fight him, to avoid confrontation and save the booty of the loot, he took a safe route of Kutch- Sindh to return but suffered very heavy casualties during the retreat. 

It is not true that he was a small looter of an unknown village of Afghanistan which had no mark in the history. Gazanavi is a province of Afghanistan and he very bravely, not only capture the seat of power of Gazanavi but had conquered eastern Iran, Afghanistan and annexed Sindh and Punjab and became Sultan of Gaznavid Empire. He invaded India 17 times and defeated the kingdoms of Shahis of Kabul and Lahore, Saffraids of Sistan, Ismailis of Multan, Sukhpala of Bhatinda, Nagarkot, Thanesar, Kashmir, Mathura, Kannauj, Kalinjar, Gwalior, Doab, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Jud. In India, 2% of the population had a right to interpret the law (religion) and 4 % had a right to hold the swords for protection, therefore, the common people were mere spectators during the foreign invasions. However, the tribes came from Greece, Persia, Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan settled over the land of Western India, were identified as semi Kshatriya did fight against the attacks but smaller in number they were defeated. 

Somnath was under the rule of Chalukya (Solanki) King Bhima-I (1022-1064) (grand father of Siddhraj Jaisingh) when Mahmud invaded. He was a powerful king of Gujarat (Anhilvad Patan) extended his Kingdom to present day Gujarat, Saurastra and Marvar. But he was a Vasaal of Malva King Bhoja Parmar. Punjab and Sindh were under the rule of Mahmud Gazanavi. Mahmud was using the fort of Bhatinda as his transit camp while invading India. When the population was scarce, it was easier for him to travel and invade over the the western India. King Bhimdev of Patan (Anhilvad) fled to Kanthkot (Bhachau-Kutch) when Mahmud attacked Patan and Somnath in 1025-26. 

Surprisingly, Hindu sources don’t give any information of the invasion over Somnath by Mahmud Gazni. Once a ruler was declared Sultan by the Calipha, it was mandated for him to destroy idols and temples of the kafirs. It might had been a small event of looting the temple but to receive grandiose titles from the Calipha, he might had exaggerated the size, wealth and religious importance of Somnath. Traditionally, buildings in this part of the land were built with stone base plinth and erected over the wooden columns and beams. Therefore, the description of the temple erected over the 56 columns of teak wood might be correct because the wood structure only could be burnt to ground. 

The first temple at the spot was built in 1st-2nd Century probably by the Lakulisa, the founder of Pasupata cult. The second temple was built of Kanjur stones by the Yadava Kings of Vallabhi around 649. It was said to be destroyed by the Arab Governor of Sindh in 725. The third temple of red stone was built by Gurjar Pratihar King Nagbhatt-II in 815. It was rebuilt-renovated by Chalukya King Mularaj Solanki around 997, that was demolished by Mahmud Gazani in 1026. It was largely a wooden structure over the stone plinth. 

He was Ganda (title) Bhava Brahapati, a Brahmin from Varanasi (Kashi) of Kanyakubja (Kannauj) came from Malava, proposed before the Gujarat King Jaisingh Siddhraj (1092-1142) for rebuilding of Somnath temple, but the King died, therefore, he proposed before the successor King Kumarpala (1143-1172) and with his help, help of Parmar King Bhoja and with the help of the rich ministers and traders, he and his four sons rebuilt the fourth temple of Somanath with large stones in 1169 AD (Vallabhi Samvat 850). It was rebuilt by the support of Soma (the sculptor whose descendants are called Sompura). The inscription mentioned that the building was destroyed by the bad ministers of the Kings. There was no mention of it’s destruction of the temple by Mahmud Gazani. The work of reconstruction was initiated during the visit of Gujarat King Siddhraj Jaisingh to Prabhas Patan but was completed during the rule of King Kumarpala. 

Siddhraj Jaisingh had removed the pilgrimage tax. When Siddhraj Jaisingh won Malva, he desired to have pride of Sanskrit seat of literature in Patan like King Bhoja’s seat of literature in Malva. Acharya Hemchandra wrote the grammar of Sanskrit and Prakrit similar to the grammar of King Bhoja. The Siddh Hema Shabdanushashan was his great work covering six Prakrit languages and was a precursor of Gujarati language. He had composed 3.5 crore verses. The successor King Kumarpala was a Shaiv but under the influence of Acharya Hemchandra, moved towards Jainism. When Acharya Hemachandra went to the inauguration function of the temple with the King Kumarpala, to removed the doubts that he didn’t respect Hindu Gods, he bowed before the Lingam and chanted the verse: Bhava Bijankaura-janana Ragadyam Kshayamupagata Yasya, Brahma va Vishnu va Haro Jino va Namastasmai. (I bow down to him who has destroyed the passions like attachment and malice which are the cause of the cycle of birth and death; whether he is Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva or Jina).

On the plinth of the fourth temple, the fifth temple was erected and expanded during the rule of King Bhima-II (1206 AD). It was destroyed by Alaf Khan, the general of Alka-ud-din-Khilji in 1299. Karna Vaghela was the King of Gujarat and his Minister Madhav (a Nagar Brahmin) invited Alla-ud-din Khilji to Gujarat to take revenge on King Karna, who enamoured of his brother’s wife and had killed the husband and appropriated the wife. The 6th temple was repaired-rebuilt by Mahipala the Chudasama King of Junagadh in 1308 and the lingam was installed by his son Ra’ Khengar. The independent Sultan of Gujarat Zaffarkhan built a mosque in the temple in 1393. The temple was converted into a mosque by Gujarat Sultan Mahmud Begada (Fatehkhan) who conquered Junagadh with the help of Jadejas of Kutch. The Chudasama King Ra’Mandlik (of Narsinh Mehta time) embraced Islam, the linga was removed from the temple and it was converted into a mosque in 1469. In 1669, Aurangzeb issued the farman to destroy the temple, but that might had not been carried out. Again in 1701, Aurangzeb ordered the governor of Gujarat Prince Azam to destroy the temple beyond possibility of repairs. After the destruction of the temple in 1706, Mughal power was at decline and Hindu power rose by Shivaji knocked the doors of Saurastra with the victorious shouts of Har Har Mahadev. Marathas continued raids over Gujarat. Sher Khan Babi was the Deputy Governor of Mughal Empire at Junagadh.  Ahmedabad was won by Marathas in 1753 and 1759, but in the meantime, East India Company emerged as great political power. Somnath temple went into the commands of Babi Nawabs under the suzerainty of the Gaekvad of Baroda. The right to control and manage the  Somnath Temple was vested in the Gaekwad. Ahalya Bai Holkar built a new temple in the campus and the linga was placed in a secret underground shrine in 1783. Mahadji Sinde brought back the silver gates of the temple from Muhammad Shah of Lahore after defeating him in 1782-83, but when was not allowed to put them back, they were placed in the Mahakaleshwar Temple of Ujjain. Later in the year 1820, when the suzerainty over Saurastra was transferred to the British, the Nawabs became active to impose tax (Chille) and restrictions over the pilgrims of the shrine. Baroda state objected to it but the British authorities sided with the Nawab. 

When India became independent on 15/8/1947, the Nawab of Junagadh Muhammad Mahabat Khan -III, after execution of the instrument of accession, acceding Junagadh to the Dominion of Pakistan on 15/9/1947, ran away to Pakistan on the day of Dashera 24/10/1947. Junagadh was then acceded to India through Arazi Hakumat agitation and police action. The Diwan of Junagadh Shah Nawaz Bhutto wrote to the Regional Commissioner Rajkot to give assistance to preserve law and order on 7/11/1947, army entered and Junagadh was acceded to India on 9/11/1947. The accession was approved by the referendum of the people of Junagadh on 24/2/1948. 

Sardar Patel went to Junagadh on Diwali day on 12/11/1947, and next day on the new year day of Vikram Samvat 2004, he visited Somnath along with Jam Saheb and K.M. Munshi and gave consent to rebuild the temple. K.M. Munshi, then in the presence of 500 people announced the decision of the GoI to rebuild the temple. Jam Saheb announced the donation of ₹1 lakh. Shamaldas Gandhi of Junagadh administration declared ₹51000. Sardar Patel then addressed the public meeting in Ahalya Bai Temple and declared the reconstruction of Somnath temple. 
Govt of India approved the project but following a suggestion of Gandhiji to keep the Govt treasury away for making any religious buildings, the Trust was formed in October 1949. With the first donation or ₹1 lakh by the Jam Saheb, about ₹25 lakh collected by December 1949. The Trust Deed was approved on 15/3/1950. Jam Saheb laid the foundation stone of the 7th Temple of Somnath on 8/5/1950. The old temple was pulled down on 19/10/1950. The pranpratishtha of Shivlinga (installed from the top) was performed by the first President of India Dr Rajendra Prasad on 11/5/1951. The garbhagriha of the temple was completed in 1957, the Sabha Mandapa was completed in 1970 and finally the Nritya Mandap was completed in 1995 and the temple was dedicated to the nation by the then President Shankar Dayal Sharma on 1/12/1995. 

Today, the Temple has regained it’s glory, where millions of pilgrims are coming everyday and praying the Jyotirlinga, Lord Shiva. The Trust is slowly covering the stone temple with gold plates to protect it from the sea winds and also to showcase the great glory of Lord Shiva and Hinduism. 

Har Har Mahadev.

Jai Somnath

25 January 2019

1. K.M. Munshi, Somnath, The Shrine Eternal, Shree Somnath Trust (1951)

Friday, January 4, 2019

Exciting trip to Gurudongmar Lake in winter

Exciting trip to Gurudongmar Lake in winter

Teesta river originates from two sources: Tso Lhamo Lake (17490ft) of Zemu, Kamgtse/Pauhunri glaciers; and Gurudongmar Lake (17800 ft) of Kangchengyao glaciers situated in a high plateau area of North Sikkim near the International border with China. The Gurudongmar Lake freezes, the day temperature -25 degree Celsius and oxygen level of the area goes down to 2%, therefore, it is an adventurous tour for the tourists to make in winter. Uncertainty of weather with snowfall and high winds is another challenge the tourists have to face. Therefore, the entire route from Mangan to Lachen to Thangu to Gurudongmar keeps the tourists in guess whether they will make it or not. As the locals moved down to Gangtok, the companions of hope at the time of emergency are the army men located at regular intervals in transit camps.

The journey starts from Gangtok at around 9-10 AM. As one needs permission of the police authority, the passes are collected by the agent/driver in the morning by submitting photos and photo ID. After 30 kms, the drive is along the river Teesta from Rangrang. One may stop at the North Sikkim District HQ at Mangan or at the meeting point of two Teesta, one stream from Lachen and another from Lachung at Chungthang is a beautiful place to stop and take pictures. Thereafter, there is a drive upward where you watch the mountains covered with snow and the frozen streams making the environment decorative with their crystal clear looks. The Teesta to the left moves to right at the cross over bridge at Chautila valley.

North Sikkim is famous for the cultivation of big cardamoms, the spicy flavour of non veg foods and biryans. It is the gold of north Sikkim, can be sold at a very high price in off season.

It is a journey of watching plants, trees, and whites and colourful flags on the roadsides. They use flags of five colours to perform pooja for a new house or for other purposes. Flag Red is for Fire, Blue for water and river, Green for the flora and fauna, Yellow for the earth and White for the peaceful living of all. They do havana (yajya) and offer cereals etc, during pooja like Hindus.

White flags over poles in long line are too common to see in Sikkim. They are for the deceased. Their death rituals are very lengthy, tiring and expensive. The Lamas perform rituals. They break the waist bones and knee joints of the dead body and place it in Buddhasana (sitting posture) and then packed it into a wooden box with ice and herbs. Then they check the astrological muhurta for the cremation and direction to move out the body from the house. The waiting time may be for a week. The family has to cook and serve meal to all present for all those seven days. The lama decides who can and can’t touch the dead body. On the day of muhurta, the dead body is moved out of the house, pulled out with a rope if the house is at upstairs, from the decided direction removing window or a wall if it is not auspicious to move out from the main door. The box of the dead body then taken to the top of the hill where it is placed upon a funeral pyre and then set on fire. The lamas will continue performing the ritual for the smooth travel of the Soul to the God. There are rituals for the 3rd, 7th, 21st, 49th days to be performed one after another. Total 108 poles with white flags are erected. The rituals will go on for a year and thereafter, to be continued for three years replacing the white flags yearly. Lamas are paid for their services. The money they spend on charity and Sada schools. The cost of funeral may vary from ₹70,000 to ₹3 lakh depending upon the economic conditions of the family.

Studying the culture and enjoying the company of river flow, valleys, streams, falls and mountains when you reach Lachen at 4.30 PM, the hotel receptionist welcomes you with a welcome Cherry Brandy drink. A little seep of brandy surely gives some warmth in a cold weather of minus degree temperature. It becomes dark at 5 PM, outside temperature reaches -18 degree Celsius and waiting for Dinner till 7.30 PM ignite hunger, therefore, whatever is served, turns delicious. The room heater can’t heat the room but a double bed electric mattress is a great relief, provided there is electricity or a generator is on.

Next day morning, one has to start at 5.30 AM as it is a day long journey of 9-10 hours to go and come back from Gurudongmar. The polite hotel staff serves you bed tea at call time and pack up breakfast to brunch on the way and keep your lunch ready when you return.

Vehicle can go to the zero point upto the Gurudwara near the lake provided the approach road is not covered with snow. Crossing Kalep at 7 AM, Thangu (12000 ft, -19 degree) may be a spot to stop for a cup of tea at 7.20 AM, but in the absence of natives, Army transit camp only can serve, if you have some access to them. And if you are lucky to get a company of an Army Gypsy from Thangu, then you are surely in safe mode traveling to the last mile near the lake.

As you travel high on the zigzag roads, somewhere covered with snow, it is a watchful and alert journey for the driver to perform till the end. Going upward, the vegetation reduces to nothing but still can see herds of yaks, few musk deers and few wild goats grazing around. Yaks graze yasagampu half grass half insect, that carries high nutritional value, increases longevity and stops ageing. Therefore, milk and meat of Yaks are expensive. Churpi made of yak milk is an expensive delicacy.

The dogs of Himalayas are very bulky and scary. They can hunt human, therefore, beware, when stop for a natural call. The flowers of the State tree Rhododendrons are missing in winter. Frozen Teesta and mountains covered with snow are the common pictures all around. Golden rays of Sun over the mountains add strength and warmth to the journey making the pictures of nature HD.

Chomo Yummo mountains to the left, mark the journey, from here, Lhasa is just 350 kms away. The MacMohan line (1914 Simla Convention) and 23 Cans are located to guard and patrol from both the sides. Indian and Chinese soldiers treat each other on national days. Chinese treat Indians on 1st January, 1st August and 1st October. Indians treat Chinese on 26th January, 15th August and Diwali. Indians are better host treat them with 2-3 varieties while they serve only burgers!

There is a helipad spot (16600 ft) just 6 kms before the lake for the VIP landing. Last 2 kms road to the lake is covered with snow, therefore, the vehicle with chain on wheels only can move further. One has to walk down the last mile watchfully of the surface covered with snow and guarding oneself from the chilled winds. It is an examination of one’s physical and mental strength together. Once reached to the lake at around 9.30 AM to 10 AM, it’s bingo. Weather, thereafter is very windy and risky with a very low level of oxygen (2%). Life may be on risk thereafter. South to the lake is the Kangchengyao glaciers, and east to it is the Dorjeela mountain. The glaciers and the frozen lake shines white under the bright Sun, therefore dark goggles only can give comforts to enjoy the white beauty of nature at that height.

Gurudongmar Lake is a religious place for the Buddhists and Sikhs. Buddhists in Sikkim are the followers of Vajrayan sect of Buddhism. Their Guru Padmashambhava (Guru Rinpoche) the incarnation of Lord Shiva has visited the lake and  blessed the frozen lake to melt so that the locals get pure drinking water in winter. Shikhs claimed that Guru Nanakdev while returning from Tibet visited the lake and blessed it to water. They had built a Gurudwara near the lake but the matter then went into dispute as the Lamas objected their claim. The Gurudwara is closed thereafter. There is an old small structure of a monastery to the other side of the lake visible from the Gurudwara spot.

After taking few pictures of the lake and glaciers, and watching the spot of Teesta river origination, one may conclude the exciting trip and start the return journey. The route is now familiar. Tourists generally move to Lachung and stay overnight to make a trip to Yumthang Valley and Zero Point next day.

1 January 2019
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