Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Somnath and Ayodhya: What Is the Difference

Somnath and Ayodhya: What Is the Difference: "By David Frawley

Somnath is one of the most important Hindu sacred sites, relating to Lord Shiva, who is worshipped as the Supreme godhead. Its history goes back to the Vedic era and to the Mahabharat. Its great temple was first destroyed by the Afghani invader, Mahmud of Ghazni, in the eleventh century. It was one of the first great Hindu temples attacked by invading Muslims and its destruction left a great scar on the psyche of Hindus.

Meanwhile Mahmud was hailed throughout the Islamic world as a second Mohammed and his smashing of Somnath was lauded in the Sufi poetry of Attar, Sanai and Omar Khayyam. These poets equated Somnath with the temples to the pagan goddess Al-Manat destroyed by Mohammed and viewed its destruction as the 'will of Allah' and the 'enlightened march of Islam.'

The Hindus rebuilt the temple several times, but the Muslims destroyed it again. The temple was last destroyed by the Mughal tyrant, Aurangzeb around 1700. Aurangzeb, as history records, was a brutal ruler who left a trail of genocide and destruction, mainly aimed at converting Hindus. Aurangzeb built a mosque on the site of the Somnath temple, using some columns from the temple, whose Hindu sculptural motifs remained visible.

Under the guidance of the political leader Sardar Patel and KM Munshi (who founded Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan), the temple was restored around 1950. Mahatma Gandhi also approved of the retaking of Somnath but did not live to see it happen. Recently the President of India, Shanker Dayal Sharma, performed the Kalash pratishthan of the temple's Nritya Mandap and dedicated the temple to the nation.

Hindu leaders, particularly the VHP (Vishva Hindu Parishad), have been asking for the restoration of three great Hindu holy sites whose temples were destroyed and replaced with mosques. These are Ayodhya (Ramajanmabhumi or Ram's birthplace), Mathura (Krishnajanmabhumi or Krishna's birthplace), and the great Shiva temple of Kashi Vishwanath in Varanasi. The restoration of Somnath should be examined to see whether these other proposed restorations are valid.

There is some debate today that Ramajanmabhumi or Krishnajanmabhumi cannot be reclaimed because no one can prove that Rama or Krishna, who lived thousands of years ago, were actually born there. Those who restored Somnath were not asked to prove the history of Somnath thousands of years ago before restoring the temple. The tradition itself was enough to warrant the restoration.

Why was Somnath restored and not the others? Because Sardar Patel was a Gujarati (Somnath is in Gujarat) and he unfortunately died in 1950, preventing him from taking similar action for other Hindu sacred sites. Nehru, for whom Patel was the main rival, was not in favor of the restoration of Somnath and he effectively blocked the restoration of the other sites, particularly Ramajanmabhumi.

It is hypocritical to separate Somnath from the other three sites. If Kashi and Mathura cannot go back to the Hindus, then the taking of Somnath was illegal. If the destruction of Babri Masjid was a dastardly act, so was the demolition of the Somnath mosque. If Hindu political leaders, like the President, will not go to Ayodhya for worship, they should not go to Somnath either.

On the other hand, if Hindus can reclaim Somnath, they can reclaim the other three sites. In fact of the four sites, it can be argued that the most important is Krishnajanmabhumi, because Krishna is probably the most important Hindu religious figure. Kashi Vishwanath Shiva Temple is also at least as important as Somnath.

Kashi comes first as the city of Shiva. Because Somnath was destroyed first, it gained a greater nostalgia, but not because it is a more important site than the others. The reclaiming of Somnath hence demands the restoration of these other sites.

If Indian political leaders like Sardar Patel could reclaim Somnath and remain good secular leaders that the nation still honors, so can Indian political leaders today. If Somnath can be dedicated to the nation, so can the other sites. If Somnath is a matter of national pride, then certainly Ayodhya and the others deserve to be as well. If a legal process could be created to reclaim Somnath, a similar process can be created to reclaim these other three sites.

If Hindus honor Somnath, they should not look down upon attempts to restore Ayodhya, Mathura and Kashi, but, on the contrary, help accomplish this aim.