Ancient stepwells in Gujarat: Modhera Sun temple & Rani ki Vav

Posted on May 14, 2019 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

sun temple modhera

 

I think most people who visit India for the first time would head to The Golden Triange for Rajasthan and Agra, whereas Gujarat seems less popular with first-time visitors. I have no question about the beauty and splendidness of Jaipur and Taj Mahal, but I also think that Gujarat is vastly underrated and hasn't been promoted enough to foreign visitors. Before my trip, I knew nothing about this state and had never heard of the archaeological sites in the region, hence I was very pleasantly surprised during my visit.

There are many impressive archaeological treasures in this region, including stepwells, which are common in West India and parts of Pakistan. Basically, stepwells are wells or water tank in which the water is collected and reachable by descending a set of steps to the water level.

Surya Kund stepwell is an ancient stepwell at Modhera Sun Temple. Built on the bank of Pushpavati river, the Modhera Sun Temple is a Hindu temple dedicated to the solar deity Surya built in the 11th century by King Bhima I of the Chaulukya dynasty. The temple complex is divided into different parts; the first one is the Surya Kund stepwell, the others are Garbhagriha (main shrine) located inside Gudhamandapa (shrine hall) and Sabhamandapa (assembly hall).

 

sun temple modhera

Surya Kund Stepwell

sun temple modhera

Surya Kund Stepwell

Surya Kund Stepwell

 

Besides water storage, Surya Kund Stepwell was also used for religious ablutions before praying to the Sun God. The stepwell has 108 miniature shrines carved inside, since the number '108' has long been considered a sacred number in Hinduism and yoga.

Both the shrine hall and assembly hall are beautifully decorated from the exteriors to interiors. The Sabhamandap is open from all sides and it is supported by 52 intricately carved pillars which denote the 52 weeks in a year. The carvings show various episodes about the life and times of Lord Krishna. Although I am not very familiar with all the gods and goddesses in Hinduism, I was quite blown away by the craftsmanship here.

 

sun temple modhera

sun temple modhera

sun temple modhera

sun temple modhera

 

The Garbhagriha was designed so that the first rays of sunlight would shine onto the image of the Lord Surya at the equinoxes which happen twice a year – around 20 March and 23 September. This light would then bounce off the walls to illuminate the entire sanctum sanctorum. And on summer solstice day (June 20-21), the sun would shine directly above the temple at noon casting no shadow. What surprised me is the ingenuity of the engineers who were able to calculate and built this temple so precisely over 1000 years ago. It reminds me of the ancient temples that I visited in Egypt, and causes me to wonder if our advanced technology is actually helping us or making us more stupid!?

Interestly, the temple is also famous for its erotic sculptures, which seems odd in modern day India. But before the 13th century, India was very liberal and open about sex. Sex was considered a holistic act and was taught as a formal subject. Kama (sexual desire) was considered to be part of the four human goals of life. The other three goals were: Dharma (moral life), Artha (material gains and means of life), and Moksha (the release from the cycle of life and rebirths). Again, are we regressing or advancing? It is quite debatable.

 

sun temple modhera

sun temple modhera

sun temple modhera  sun temple modhera

sun temple modhera

 

Besides the Modhera Sun Temple, there is another stunning archaeological site constructed around the same time in the nearby Patan. It is the Rani ki Vav stepwell, built in memory of Bhima I by his widowed queen Udayamati. Construction started around 1063 and took 20 years to complete; its architecture and sculptures are similar to the Sun temple.

Rani ki vav is considered as the finest and one of the largest example of stepwell architecture in Gujarat. It was built in the Maru-Gurjara architecture style, and it reflects the mastery craftsmanship of that period. In 2014, the stepwell was added to the list of UNESCO's World Heritage Site, but for some reason, the Modhera Sun Temple has yet to be listed.

Flooded by the nearby Saraswati river and silted over, the stepwell was buried underground for centuries until the 1940s. Aftre a major excavation by carried out by the Baroda State, the restoration of the stepwell took place from 1981 to 1987.

 

Rani ki Vav

Rani ki Vav

Rani ki Vav

Rani ki Vav

Rani ki Vav

 

It is hard not to be overwhelmed by the scale and beauty of this stepwell. There are four levels and measures approximately 65 metres (213 ft) long, 20 metres (66 ft) wide and 28 metres (92 ft) deep. The stepwell is designed as an underground shrine or inverted temple, and it is highly ornamented. There are 212 pillars in the stepwell and more than 500 intricately carved sculptures depicting Hindu gods and goddesses; the Buddha; men and women; monks, priests and laity; animals, fishes and birds including real and mythical ones; as well as plants and trees, Here, the Buddha is depicted as Avatar of Lord Vishnu, alongside with some erotic maidens, which demonstrates the liberal attitude of that period.

It saddens me to think that our world today is in such a depressing state. We are destroying our planet day by day in the name of technology and economy. Maybe ancient wisdom and culture can help us to find our way out of our global crisis. History will always repeat itself, not because of our stupidity, but because we never learn from our mistakes.

 

Rani ki Vav

Rani ki Vav

Rani ki Vav

 


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Art, Architectural conservation, India, Archaeology, Indian art, Gujarat and was tagged with architecture, temples, Architectural conservation, India, Gujarat, Indian art, archaeology, Unesco World Heritage Site, stepwell

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