It may not be erroneous to assert in the new century and that too in circa 2022 that the ancient Temple of Somnath has risen like a phoenix, from its own ashes and rubble. Not to go far, the temple and the region has witnessed years of bloodshed, violence and destruction.
In the 13th century after 1290, Alla-ud-din-Khilji destroyed the temple. But soon after the Chudasama king of Junagadh, Mahipala repaired it. Later in the 14th century – between 1325 and 1351, the Linga was installed by Mahipala’s son Khangar. In subsequent period, Zaffar khan destroyed the temple yet again and also built a mosque in Somnath.
Much later in historical space, in 1701, prince Mohammad Azam was ordered by Aurangzeb to destroy the temple “beyond possibility of repairs” as recorded by an illustrious devotee of Lord Somnath and intellectual K M Munshi. But by then – in fact starting with 1675 – Hindu leaders in west and south including illustrious Shivaji, Rajput chiefs and Sikh Gurus were ready to fight the Mughal tyranny and imposition of Islam.
In the 20th century, after India’s independence the temple was repaired under personal supervision of Iron Man Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. After Patel perhaps only two Indian leaders took persistent interest in Somnath temple – President Dr Rajendra Prasad and Morarji Desai as the Prime Minister in the 1970s. Desai was the chairman of the trust.
It is worth mentioning that in January 2021 Prime Minister Narendra Modi was unanimously chosen as the chairman of the trust, which manages the sacred Somnath Temple at Prabhas Patan town in Gujarat’s Gir-Somnath district. L K Advani, Amit Shah and J D Parmar became Trustees.
Somnath Temple is the first among the 12 holy Shiva Jyotirlingas in India and it finds reference in ancient texts from time immemorial Skanda Purana, Shreemad Bhagavad and Shiva Purana.
It stands tall at the shore of the majestic Arabian ocean. The temple and its region holds a special significance in the national consciousness of the independent India.
Over time, the place has become a famous tourist destination, attracting lakhs of devotees from various parts of India and the world.
Somnath Temple now consists of Garbhgruh, Sabhamandap and Nrityamandap with a 150-feet high Shikhar. The Kalash at the top of the Shikhar weighs 10 tons and Dhwajdand is 27 feet tall and one foot in circumference.
The Gujarat government, and the Centre, under PM Modi, are also pushing tourism as a major job creating avenue.
On April 11, 2022, the Central Government through an order of the Income Tax department ordered that the Somnath Temple managed by Shree Somnath Trust (PAN: AAATS9555Q) would be treated as a place of public worship and donors would get tax exemptions.
Local tour operators in Rajkot and Somnath are delighted over some of these initiatives including a whopping investment made in terms of Rs 111 crore, sometime back, to boost infrastructures.
“Travel to Gujarat now offers a bouquet of offers for visitors. You have the forests, religion and civilisation, the sea and a lot more. There is a lot of scope for spiritual quest,” remarked one tour operator Kantibhai Karamchand in Rajkot.
The state of Gujarat has other spots of religious tourism as well and they are getting good attention and adequate investments for developing infrastructures. In turn, these are revenue earning places and also provide marketing avenues to sell local handicrafts and other products.
Of course, the tea vendor Akash Chakroborty from West Bengal in Somnath does not forget to mention about the inauguration of a New Circuit House on Jan 21, 2022 by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“Modi ji speaks well everywhere but his speech on that day was like a stellar performance. We felt proud about Gujarat and the Hindu religion. There was excitement. I was overwhelmed when he said each one of us in Somnath, those who serve tourists, are actually brand ambassadors of our civilization. PM said Somnath and its common people are now symbols of both our heritage and development,” says Chakraborty.
The Central Government has already promoted Somnath under the PRASHAD scheme. More funds would be flowing in through another much acclaimed project called Iconic Destination Development Scheme. Under this, 19 special iconic destinations would be benefitted including Somnath and the likes of Hampi in Karnataka and the famous Konark sun temple in Odisha.
Earlier this year, Chief Minister Bhupendra Patel visited Somnath Trust-run Gaushala and Chandanvan in Prabhaspatan.
The Trust has also decided to plant 11 lakh trees in the Gir Somnath district as part of environment service