The Somanatha Temple

The Somanatha Temple

The Somnāth temple is the first of the ‘12 Jyotirlingas’ (earthly representations of Lord Shiva). The temple is located on the Western coast of Gujarat, near Junagadh at the ‘Prabhāsa Kshetra’ in the Saurāshtra (also known as Kāthiyāwār) region. It is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Gujarat and India.

Front view of the Somnāth temple in Prabhās Kshetra

Somnāth in the Hindu sciptures

The first reference of Somnāth occurs in the Mahabharata, wherein it is alluded to as the ‘Prabhāsa region’, in which the moon worshipped Lord Shiva. Somnāth is also mentioned in other Puranas, such as the Shiva Purāna. The Prabhāsa Khanda portion of the Skanda Purana, describes Somnāth and its legends. The ‘Sparsha Linga’ is described as an effulgent Linga (impersonal form of Shiva to be worshipped) beneath the ground, which was later worshipped and consecrated by Soma/Chandra – the moon.

Inner sanctum (Garbhagriha) of the Somnāth temple containing the ‘Sparsha Linga’

The Legend of Somnāth

According to the Puranas, Chandra (the moon) was married to the 27 daughters – the Nakshatras (constellations) of Daksha Prajapati. He favoured Rohini over the other wives. Due to his favoritism, Daksha cursed him to lose his all his lustre. With Rohini, Chandra came to Prabhāsa to worship the Lord Shiva through his Linga. Lord Shiva rectified his curse, and blessed him to wax for the former half of the month, and wane for the latter half of the month. The city was named as ‘Prabhāsa’ as the moon regained his lustre here. The Linga named ‘Somnāth’ to refer to Lord Shiva as the ‘Lord of the Moon’. Lord Brahma, installed the ‘Brahmashīla’ (foundation of the Shiva-Linga), and paved way for the construction of the temple. At the behest of Chandra and the other deities, Shiva decided to reside at Somnāth eternally, in the form of ‘Someshwara’ (Lord of the Moon). Chandra is emblematic of dynamic social activism. Through his redemption by self-realisation (symbolised by Shiva), Chandra exemplifies the traits of a true ‘Karmayogi’ (perfection through action), by: being immersed in action, shown in the ‘waxing of the moon’, yet being detached from the fruits of action by offering one’s efficiencies to society, shown by the ‘waning of the moon’.

Prajāpati Daksha curses Chandra to lose his radiance, as he favours Rohini over the other ‘Nakshatra’ sisters

Historical records of Somnāth

Throughout its history, Somnath has been an important economic center in South Asia. Being on the coast, this city had a structured port, connecting to both Africa and West Asia. Between 641-644 AD, the Chinese scholar – Hiuen Tsang – visited the Somnath, and remarked of its dense population and its tremendous progress in economic and religious activities. This was also noted by the traveler ‘Marco Polo’ in the 13th century. The 7th century writer, Dandin, in this Dashakumaracharita, recounts the tale of a wealthy trader, who possessed many ships, from Somnath. In the 11th century, The Arab writer Jaun-ul-Akbar of describes Somnath as, ‘On the coast of Hindustan lies a big city named Sammath; it is as important to Hindus as is Mecca to Muslims.’ This firmly establishes the religious significance of the Somnath temple in Hindu traditions.

Somnāth: The coastal temple and ‘city of ports’

Architecture of Somnāth

The expertise of the ‘master masons of Gujarat’, the Sompura Salat Brahmin community, is observed in the Chalukya (Kailas Mahameru Prasad) style of temple architecture. The temple is divided into three prominent regions: the Garbhagriha (inner sanctum), Sabha Mandap (temple front) and Nritya Mandap (dancing hall).

The Sabha Mandap (temple front)

At the top of the temple, there is a 15 metre ‘shikhara’ (temple peak). The ‘kalasha’ (urn) on the peak weighs 10 tons, and the flag-pole is 8.2 metres high.

The ‘shikhara’ (temple peak) and the ‘kalash’ (urn)

The speciality of this temple is its ‘uninterrupted sea route’ (Abadhit Samudra Marg). An inscription on the ‘Bānastambha’ (arrow pillar), on the sea protection wall, is found. It states that, in a straight line of 9936 kilometres, from the coast of Somnath to Antarctica, there is no land to be found in between at that specific longitude. This is a testament to the phenomenal geographical and mathematical insight of the ancient Indians, and the tactical placement of the Shiva-Linga. Magnificent Indian art adorns the exterior of the temple, with meticulous designs and carvings. The ‘Jyotirlinga’ installed on the ‘Brahmashīla’ is 1.22 metres high and is covered with sandalwood.

The Bānastambha (arrow pillar) at the sea-protection wall

Destruction and Reconstruction

The Somnāth temple extends over three regions, its effervescent shikara glowing over its domain. The initial construction of the temple alludes to the revered intellect of the ancient Indians, with specific markers and precisely detailed architectural manifestations located throughout the temple. However, with its magnanimous beauty, came with a very grave price: places of worship in the Indian subcontinent were subject to invasions.

Prior to Somnāth’s first invasion, the temple was surrounded by antiquity. The carved stone pieces, bricks, the idols of Lord Shiva and various other deities had been dated back to the 6th and 7th century. Somnāth is believed to have been carved by the moon itself, featuring a waning and waxing pattern eminent on the temple. What is eerily poetic about the waning and waxing movement is that it symbolizes the deconstruction and reconstruction of the Somnāth temple, as if it predicted these events were a “natural” part of its life cycle.

The first invasion of the Somnāth temple was in 1026 CE. The Mahmud of Ghazni had raided the surrounding area of what is considered modern-day Gujarat, and broke the idol central to the Somnāth temple. During the time of its invasion, King Bhoj (the ruler of the area around that time), gathered resources and made sure to instill a reconstruction by 1050 CE; it is noted that a Swarna Tula ceremony (practiced by those of Hindu faith) was conducted in 1045, indicating the completion of the first reconstruction. Between this time period and the late 13th century, Somnāth did not face any major attacks against its stature, however it did receive a wide-set of reconstructions. Kumarapala (the emperor of Gurjaradesha in 1150) instilled a strong-fort wall to the north and south ends of Somnāth, as well as rejuvenated the entire town; the Bhava Brihaspati placed gold pinnacles on the temple as well. However, the time period of peace for Somnāth soon came to an abrupt halt in 1297, when general Alaf Khan marched to the area of Kathiyawar, and destroyed the illustrious foundations of the temple; it soon faced reconstruction once again.

The invasions conducted upon Somnāth were largely Islamic in conquest, and the stretch of attacks from 1026 to 1753 were namely by the Mughal regime, in hopes to deface the religion of Hinduism in light of Islam. In the 14th century, All-Ud-din Khilji attacked the temple of Somnāth; it was then restored by the King of Junagadh, Mahipala. Later in the 14th century, Zaffarkhan (the governor of Gujarat) exacerbated the issue of deconstruction by building a mosque within Somnāth; his attempts to convert the Hindus in the area to Islam failed, as they found a way to revolt Zaffarkhan and attain independence. What is interesting to note is that Akbar, the Mughal ruler in 1573, did not attack the Somnāth temple, but simply annexed the temple to his empire; it is the only instance in times of Islamic conquest that the temple was safe. Akbar is noted as ‘Akbar the Great‘ in modern-day historical texts, as he advocated for co-existence of Hindus and Muslims (this is evident in Kashmir as well); this does not, however, excuse the attacks done in the name of their religion.

In the last sets of invasion, the ruler that tended to the totality of Somnāth’s beauty was Aurangzeb. This Mughal ruler was no stranger to destruction of temples dedicated towards the Hindu deities: his rule encompassed the destruction of Somnāth beyond repair, as well as destructions of many other temples in the Indian subcontinent. After the Mughal rule had ended, Somnāth saw peace till British rule; while it did not face any destruction, the sites of pilgrimage were blocked off and restricted until India’s freedom in 1947.

Reconstruction after the various sets of destructions took time and energy from its architects, but the major theme it alludes is something to be noted. Constructed by the moon as it is said, the features of the lunar cycle can be alluded towards its reconstructions and destructions, consisting of waning, waxing, a new and a full moon. Even after the independence movement in India, the Somnāth temple eventually saw a full moon, it attained peace and it shines bright with every passing day. Its current reconstruction effects, pushed by Mahatma Gandhi during the Independence movement, the cabinet of Prime Minister Jawarhlal Nehru in the 1950s, as well as efforts by the current Prime Minister Narendra Modi shows the meaning of the Somnāth temple; its rich history stemming from the Mahabharat conveys the beauty of the temple and its ties to Lord Shiva.

Somnāth lit up by the moon

Conclusion

Finally, the moon’s curse at Somnāth has ended. Somnāth no longer waxes and wanes, but has had its brilliance restored. It shines brightly, as pilgrims flock the site in thousands daily, proving the strength of devotion towards Lord Shiva and the ‘Mecca of the Hindus’. This site teaches us the importance of Tejasvitā (brilliance) in our activism (Kartritva) as shown by the moon. With each passing day, the beauty of Somnāth shines ever-so brightly: the golden shikara reflecting the rays of both the Sun and the Moon. Similar to the changes in the lunar cycle, the invasions and reconstructions that Somnāth has endured is an ultimate testament to the sheer gracefulness of the temple; Somnāth is a beautiful ode to Lord Shiva himself. The illustrious beginning, climactic middle, and brilliant end of the invasions of Somnāth temple is quite poetic in historical nature, reminding us that in spite of times of peril, Dharma truly obtains peace.

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws carry a potential death sentence for anyone who insults Islam. This is mainly used as a tool to persecute minority faiths and unfairly target minorities.

Origin of Blasphemy Laws

This Law was first collated by India’s British rulers in 1860. The purpose was to contain religious strife between Hindus, Muslims, Christians and Sikhs across British-ruled India. It protected places of worship and sacred objects and made it a crime to disturb religious assemblies, to trespass on burial sites, and to deliberately insult religious beliefs of any person, punishable by up to ten years in prison. Source (https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/resources/idt-sh/Asia_Bibi)

The law was further expanded in 1927, time when British India was under a time of political tension and antagonism between different communities, hence the law was tightened.

Meaning of Blasphemy Law under British Rule

British law was enacted in 1860, and dictates it a crime

  • To disturb a religious assembly,
  • Trespass on burial grounds,
  • Insult religious beliefs
  • Intentionally destroy or defile a place or an object of worship.

The maximum punishment under these laws ranges from one year to 10 years in jail, with or without a fine.

Pakistan Blasphemy Laws inheritance

After Partition of Undivided India on August 14th, 1947, Pakistan came into existence. Pakistan inherited these laws but under the military government of General Zia-ul Haq, between 1980 and 1986, several clauses were added to the laws. His main agenda was first to “Islamicise” these Laws and second to separate the Ahmadi community legally. Although Ahmadis have already been declared non-Muslim in 1973, from the main body of Pakistan’s overwhelmingly Muslim population.

Under General Zia-ul Haq dictator military rule, during the 1980s new blasphemy laws were created, expanded and enacted in several installments.

In 1980, making derogatory remarks against Islamic personages was made an offense, carrying a maximum punishment of three years in jail.

In 1982, Dictator added another clause prescribed life imprisonment for the “willful” desecration of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

Finally, General Zia-ul Haq introduced the clause “295-C” which dictates “The use of derogatory remarks against the Prophet Muhammad a crime punishable by death, or life imprisonment”. And there was only one politician in Pakistani Parliament who opposed it. His name was Muhammad Hamza.

In 2009, the same year Asia Bibi was arrested, Politician Hamza who lives in his old constituency, the Punjabi city of Gojra, made international headlines after a series of attacks targeted the city’s biggest Christian settlement.

                                                                                                 Muhammad Hamza

 Pakistan Blasphemy Law, Description and Penalty

PPC Description Penalty
298 Uttering of any word or making any sound or making any gesture or placing of any object in the sight with the deliberate intention of wounding the religious feelings of any person. 1 year’s imprisonment, or fine, or both
298A Use of derogatory remarks etc., in respect of holy personages. 1980 3 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
298B (Ahmadi blasphemy law) Misuse of epithets, descriptions and titles etc., reserved for certain holy personages or places, by Ahmadis. 26 April 1984 3 years imprisonment and fine
 298C (Ahmadi blasphemy law) Aka Ordinance: f a Muslim, or preaching or propagating his faith, or “in any manner whatsoever” outraging the religious feelings of Muslims, or posing himself as a Muslim. 26 April 1984 3 years imprisonment and fine
 295 Injuring or defiling places of worship, with intent to insult the religion of any class Up to 2 years imprisonment or fine, or both
295A Deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs. 1927 Up to 10 years imprisonment, or fine, or both
295B Defiling, etc., of Quran. 1982 Imprisonment for life
 295C Use of derogatory remarks, spoken, written, directly or indirectly, etc. defiles the name of Muhammad or other Prophet(s) 1986 Mandatory Death and fine (Feb. 1990)

Trial must take place in a Court of Session with a Muslim judge presiding.

Victims of Pakistan Blasphemy Law

                        Christians Shama (L) and Shehzad (R) were accused of desecrating the Koran and killed by a mob

For decades, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP), the voluntary organization has been documenting blasphemy cases in Pakistan. The Commissions states that the majority who are booked under Blasphemy laws are Muslims, very closely followed by the Ahmadi community.

However, another organization called the National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) shows different data. Its report says that a total of 1540 have been booked under this law.

Data provided by National Commission for Justice and Peace (NCJP) shows a total of 776 Muslims, 505 Ahmadis, and 229 Christians and 30 Hindus have been accused under various clauses of the blasphemy law from 1987 until 2018. (Source: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-48204815)

The vast majority of these cases were lodged for the desecration of the Koran and fewer for blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad.

But facts are that Pakistan minorities figure so prominently in the blasphemy cases which clearly shows how the laws are unfairly applied. Additionally, the laws are used often to settle personal scores and have little or nothing to do with religion.

Those who are mere accusation of blasphemy is enough to make someone a soft target for Jihadi hardliners, as is defending those accused of blasphemy or even for those who are calling for the laws to be reformed.

Pakistanis People prospective  of its country Blasphemy Laws

It is believed that the vast majority of Pakistani people support Blasphemy laws and also the fact that blasphemers should be punished, but very little has an understanding of what the religious scripture says as opposed to how the dictator codified this law.

Conversely, many in Pakistan, where literacy rate is just 58% from the previous 60% (Source: https://nation.com.pk/24-Feb-2019/alarming-literacy-rate ) and 40% of the population lives below Poverty line from 31.3% in June 2018, as per Pasha in an article that first appeared in Business Recorder (Source: https://tribune.com.pk/story/2115274/2-millions-fall-poverty-line/ ) believed the law, as codified by the military regime of General Zia-ul Haq back in the 1980s, is straight out of the Koran and therefore is not man-made.

Pakistan Prominent Leader who raised voice against Blasphemy Laws  

In 2011 when Salman Taseer Punjab Governor, a prominent critic of the blasphemy law, was assassinated by his bodyguard in 2011, Pakistan’s population was divided and Jihadi hardliners hailing governor killer as a hero.

                          Salman Taseer, the Punjab governor who tried to reform the laws, was assassinated in 2011

On March 2nd, 2011, another Pakistani Leader Shabazz Bhatti Religious Minorities Minister, a Christian, was also shot dead in Islamabad just after a month Taseer was killed because he also spoke out against the laws.

When Mumtaz Qadri, the bodyguard who killed Punjab Governor Taseer, was executed in 2016, he was treated as Hero and thousands of Hardliner Jihadi turned out for the funeral.

Hurdles in amendment of Pakistani Blasphemy laws

Although many popular Pakistan secular parties Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Pakistan Muslim League (PML) always have blasphemy laws amendment on their agenda but none progress has been made principally because of sensitivities over the issue, and no major party wants to antagonize the Hardliner Jihadi parties.

Sherry Rehman a member of the ruling Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), introduced a private bill to amend the blasphemy law in 2010. Her bill sought to change procedures of religious offenses so that they would be reported to a higher police official and then the cases heard directly by the higher courts. Although this changed bill was passed on to the parliamentary committee for vetting but was finally withdrawn in February 2011 under pressure from religious forces as well as some opposition from other political groups.

The current Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan had also vowed to defend the country’s strict blasphemy laws in the run-up of the 2018 general election which he finally won in October 2018.

Pakistan’s top advisory body on religious affairs Council of Islamic Ideology (CII), headed by Qibla Ayaz, in an interview in February 2019, stated that no government will ever be ready to make changes to the blasphemy law due to fears of a backlash even though they have it on their Election Manifesto. And, the status quo is still in place till date.

He further mentioned that he had advised Pakistan’s Ministry of Law and Justice to suggest penalties for misuse of this law. And the law department has yet to make any recommendations in public.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!