This article is authored by Ms Tanya Chaudhary, currently volunteering with CSP. Tanya is a political science student at Hindu College, University of Delhi.
A land of ancient heritage and history, India has some of the best architectural and spiritual sites to sojourn in. Travel to temples and other sacred places generates about 20 percent of the total revenue of India's tourism industry.
‘kuch din to gujariye Gujarat mein’ and ‘khushboo Gujarat ki’ are taglines that instantly transport us to the scenic appeal of Devbhoomi (Holy Land) of Gujarat
This article looks into how the culture and grandeur of Gujarat’s Pilgrimage-Architecture acts as an informal or soft influence that shapes travellers’ perceptions about India.
Source (Bhuj - there exist about 4000+ temple town sites like this in Gujarat)
MODHERA AND THE AURA OF GOLD
One of the most popular pilgrimage places in India is the ancient township of Modhera or Dharmaranya in Gujarat, celebrating the cultural marvels of 1026 AD India. The Sun Temple here is dedicated to the deity Surya, a symbol of life and vitality. While the sanctity of the site attracts many domestic visitors; among the ASI protected monuments in Gujarat, Modhera Sun Temple attracts the highest number of foreign tourists. Well, it isn’t a surprise given the picturesque appeal of the temple!
Among the ASI protected monuments in Gujarat, Modhera Sun Temple attracts the highest number of foreign tourists.
Source (Sun Temple in Modhera, Gujarat)
Verlag and Munchen in The Sun-Temple at Modhera : a monograph on architecture and iconography describe the hi-tech architectural nomenclature of this historic site. Its entrance facing East allows the rays of the sun to penetrate through the open-pillared hall having 52 pillars, representing the 52 weeks of a year. On an equinox, the first sunray would fall directly over the diamond placed on the murthi of the Sun God, believed to be made of pure gold and is situated in the garbhagriha.
The elegance of Sun temple’s proportions built in the Maru Gujarati style of architecture is also brought forth by Elizabeth Landon’s illustration about ‘Hindoo and Mahommedan Buildings’. The setting of this site is reflective of the practices of ancient India where the monumental remains of Gudha and Sabha Mandapa were the big halls built for religious and emergency gatherings; the Kund was a stepped water reservoir built to store holy water for religious processions. The iconography on the 52 pillars is believed to be carried out by the Solanki artisans to portray scenes from epics like Mahabharata and Ramayana.
The Modhera temple is situated at the Mehsana district of Gujarat which falls under seismic zone 4. Although the temple has faced multiple earthquakes, there has been no visible damage to the structure of the temple. The temple architecture shows that it was built unqiue locking system. Interestingly, lime, cement or mud has not been used to build this temple. Each stone slab interlocks with the adjoining ones in appropriate grooves and has been sealed with seasoned wood.
These construction arrangements signify the progressive ancient Indian knowledge of architectural symbolism, and their successful attempt to create sacred spaces to pay homage to the Indian ethos.
Modhera is soon to be developed as Gujarat’s first solar-powered village. The light of Surya continues to light up Modhera to date.
A few kilometers away from Modhera, lies Rani-ki-Vav, a richly sculpted stepwell that has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage site. The step well was built using the complex technique of subterranean water architecture with accurate proportions, thus rendering it stability and longevity. The perfect proportions of the stepwell and impressive designs of spiritual murthis, built somewhere in the 11th century CE strengthens the engineering achievements of early India. This is a testimony of our ancient scientific prowess and artistic achievements.
Source (Rani-ki-Vav, located at the banks of River Saraswati in Patan, Gujarat)
Owing to its architectural marvel, Rani-ki-Vav has been prominently featured in the 100 rupee Indian currency note as well.
THE SUNKEN CITY OF DWARKA AND MARINE TOURISM
Blessed with a large coastline, the state of Gujarat became a gateway to carry out extensive sea trade in the Indian Ocean in around 3700 BC. A research study by the National Institute of Oceanography (NIOC) corroborates the existence of a maritime trade link between Gujarat (specifically the Dwarka city, a 10,000-year-old spiritual city found 120 feet underwater on the western coast of India) and the ancient Middle East.
Some Mesopotamian texts also mention boats from Meluhha (the present day Indian provinces of Kashmir, Punjab, Himachal Pradesh, New Delhi, Haryana, Rajasthan and Gujarat). used to be docked at the ports in Gujarat. The evidence of maritime activities comes from the discovery of a large number of stone anchors found in the submerged city of Dwarka.
This ancient city of Bhagwan Krishna, Dwarka, is one of the maritime marvels of India attracting numerous pilgrims and enthusiasts from all across the globe. It’s grandeur has been described by the poet Magha as,
The yellow glitter of the golden fort of the city in the sea throwing yellow light all round looked as if the flames of Vadavagni came out tearing asunder the sea.
The archaeological debris of the township also indicates that it was extremely well-planned, consisting of elaborate grids of roads, beautiful gardens, artificial lakes, residential and commercial blocks, and sandstone walls.
Archaeologists opine coastal erosion to be the catastrophe that submerged the city underwater. Today, Dwarkadhish, Nageshwar Shiva and Rukmini Temples are the main shrines celebrating the legacy of the submerged city of Dwarka. NIOC also confirmed that the general description of Dwarka mentioned in various Indian epics and other literary works matches with the coordinates of the ruins extracted from the site.
Dr. SR Rao, who supervised the Marine Archaeological Unit to carry out the study at Dwarka said, “The discovery of the legendary city of Dwaraka which is said to have been founded by Sri Krishna, is an important landmark in the history of India. It has set to rest the doubts expressed by historians about the historicity of Mahabharata and the very existence of Dwaraka city. It has greatly narrowed the gap in Indian history by establishing the continuity of Indian civilization from the Vedic Age to the present day."
In 2017, the foundations of a bridge between Okha and Beyt Dwarka were laid down, to promote tourist inflow and other developmental works. Owing to the lack of touristy infrastructure here, the Okha-Bet Dwarka Bridge Project undertaken by the government, whose foundations were laid in 2017 promises to connect the history and culture of the island of Bet (the place in Dwarka known as the home of Lord Krishna) to the whole of the world, giving a boost to India's cultural tourism.
The Scuba Diving and Snorkeling activities offer a chance to the tourists to dive into the underwater city of Dwarka. The waters of Dwarka also provide for an adventurous interaction with beautiful coral reefs, numerous fish species, along with glimpses of dolphins, turtles, and whales.
The splendid Shivrajpur Beach offers an excellent site for birdwatching, dolphin spotting, watching a sunset, and taking a long breezy walk.
ASI’s efforts to explore Dwarka via Maritime Archaeology for the very first time is providing novel facts about India’s long-lost history and dispensing scientific affirmations to classical Indian literature, The majestic underwater heritage associated with Dwarka thus continues to attract tourists, pilgrims, archaeologists, and scientists.
THE ANCIENT SPIRITUAL LAND OF SOMNATH
Another magnificent pilgrimage site is that of Somnath (mentioned as prabhas in ancient Indian literature) situated at the Triveni Sangam - the meeting point of Kapila, Hiran, and Saraswati rivers in the Saurashtra zone of Gujarat.
Source (Rig Veda believes the Triveni Sangam to be the place where Hindus can attain moksha, be released from the Karmic cycle of rebirth)
The site signifies the ‘golden age’ of Gujarat as Somnath’s earliest temples are believed to have existed over 2000 years ago. The Somnath temple was demolished and rebuilt several times, and finally, the modern-day Somnath was rebuilt in its original place in 1995. The temple houses one of the 12 Jyotirlingas, a manifestation of Shiva. Buddhist, Jaina, Shaiva, and Muslim, all communities conjointly existed here.
Source (present-day serene and symmetrical Somnath stands as an architectural pillar of Indian glory)
The Prabhas Patan Museum at Somnath houses the ancient artefacts of various temples that once existed here along with art treasures and spiritual paintings spanning different eras.
IIT Gandhinagar is set to employ GPR investigation to gather more insights into the possibility of three archaeological structures being buried under this Hindu Pilgrimage site. The artefacts to be explored from the study are anticipated to provide clarity into the chronology of eras and enhance our knowledge about India’s ancient pilgrimage practices. There are also some plans underway to develop Somnath Temple Town, to boost tourism activities in Gujarat.
The socio-cultural aspect of spirituality associated with Gujarat tourism surely makes it a relevant travel-leisure destination of India which promises to offer ceaseless cultural amazement to its visitors!