Saturday, February 5, 2011

Saurashtra & Kutch : History


One of the greatest cluster of Jain monuments in Gujarat can be seen at Palitana, near the east coast of Saurashtra, where one of the most impressive temple complexes in India is situated on a sacred mountain summit, the Shatrunjaya hill.The temples are set in nine enclosures called Tuks, set on two ridges of the pinnacle, and some of the best works of Jain temple architecture can be seen in the Khateshwar tuk. The view of the temple cluster, with its massed domes and shikhars reaching out to the sky, against a backdrop of hilly countryside and the river Shatrunnnjaya is one of the greatest sights you can hope to see during a tour of India. The historic 863 temple complex has exquisite carvings, jewelled idols and detailed architecture, and an awesome aura of devotion.

In the granite hills near Palitana, Sihore was the capital of the Gohil Rajputs in the 17th century, and being the rulers of a prime coastland often faced battles and skirmishe with neighbouring rulers. Sihore Darbargadh was built to defend Gohilwad from the Kathi darbars of the Kathiawad hinterlands. The main palace inside the fortifications has a carved wooden facade and the rooms inside have wall paintings depicting historic battles and other subjects. From the fort terraces can be seen the granite hills, which provided superb natural defences for Sihore Darbargadh, and hilltop watchtowers from where warnings could be flashed to the inhabitants of the town. The Gohils moved their capital to Bhavnagar and commissioned European architects like Sir William Emerson, whose other works include Calcutta's Victoria memorial, to built their palaces and public buildings.

West of Palitana is Mt Girnar, which rises 3660 ft over MSL on the outskirts of Junagadh city. The 12th century temples on the summit are exquisitely carved and superbly designed. Near the foot of Mt Girnar are relics of another religion, Buddhism, which like Jainism preached non-violence. The edicts of emperor Ashoka, the Mauryan ruler who helped spread Buddhism throughout south and south eastern Asia in the 3rd century BC, have been inscribed on basalt rock enroute from Girnar to Junagadh. The hills around Junagadh have Buddhist cave complexes dating from the rule of the Kshtrapas. One of these is in the Uparkot fort, which rises from a hill over Junagadh city. The Uparkot was believed to be a walled citadel upto the 5th century AD and again during Chudasama Rajput reign from the 9th to the 15th centuries. The fort has a high wall strengthened by bastions, with a huge moat inside the walls, granaries large enough to withstand a long siege, a Rajput palace that the sultans partially converted to a mosque after their conquest of Junagadh, Ottoman canons, and two imposing stepwells. The Mughals conquered Gujarat from the sultans and their subhas(governors) of Sorath were based in Uparkot fort. After the decline of Mughal power, the subhas founded their own dynasty, taking on Babi as their last name, and became the Nawabs of Junagadh. During their reign, Junagadh saw the rise of numerous buildings including palaces, the imposing Baha-ud-din college, the old maqbara and the fun-fairish 19th century mausoleum complex. A selection of their howdahs, palanquins, textiles and furnishings can be seen at the Durbarhall museum.

South of Junagadh is Somnath, well known for its temples. The Somnath temple is believed to have been built by Gods and their avtars(incarnations) but the earliest recorded phase in the history of Somnath's Shiva temple is the 10th century Solanki reign of Gujarat. The temple was subjected to plunder and destruction by invaders over the centuries, and each time the resilient devotees restored it to its former glory. The present temple building was renovated in 1950.

AD under the leadership of Sardar Patel. Near the temple is the Prabhas Patan museum which houses architectural fragments and sculptures from the original temple of Somnath. A Sun temple, lord Krishna cenotaph and the Ahilya Holkar temple are other devotional monuments of Somnath. Lord Shiva, while stating he was omnipresent, mentioned that Somnath was one of his 12 important abodes, the reason the shore temple here is revered as a Jyotirlinga.

Like Somnath, Dwarka is one of the important Hindu shore temples, attracting millions of pilgrims. From the architectural viewpoint, an interesting temple is the Rukmani mandir, dated to the 12th and 13th centuries. Marine excavations indicate the presence of an ancient city, submerged by the sea.

Among the oldest temples extant in India are Ghumli, Gope and Bileshwar in the hills of Barda, between the coastal cities of Porbandar and Jamnagar. These temples date from the 7th to the 12th centuries and have interesting detailing. The Vikia vav at Ghumli is among Saurashtra's most impressive step wells.

Kutch is another region that has impressive Hindu temples at Kera, Kotay and Bhuvad , Jain temples at Badreshwar and Naliya, and shore temples at Koteshwar, most of them dated to the 10th-13th century period. The Jadeja Rajputs became the major power of Kutch in the 16th century and over a period of four centuries forts and palaces were built in their state. One of the grandest of these palaces is the Aina mahal in the Darbargadh complex, which was embellished by Ram Singh, an artisan shipwrecked in Europe.

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