Wednesday, July 13, 2022

The Reconstruction of the Somnath Temple

Somnath Temple
On 9 November 1947, four days after the princely state of Junagadh joined India, Sardar Patel announced that the Indian government would reconstruct the Somnath temple at the same spot where it stood in ancient times. Jawaharlal Nehru and several leftist intellectuals advised that Somnath should be reconstructed as a secular historic monument, not a temple. 

In Chapter 6, “The Ayodhya Movement,” of his book My Country My Life, L K Advani has devoted 10 pages (page 342 to 351) to describing the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple. Advani notes that Patel rejected the idea that Somnath should be a secular historic monument; he was firm about reinstalling the jyotirlingam in Somnath and making it a place of worship. 

Patel argued: “The Hindu sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and widespread… it is unlikely that this sentiment will be satisfied by mere restoration of the temple or by prolonging its life. The restoration of the idol would be the point of honor and sentiments with the Hindu public.” (Page 347, My Country My Life, by L. K. Advani).

Nehru was unhappy with Patel’s decision to reconstruct the Somnath Temple as a place of worship. He believed that the temple project was antithetical to India’s secularist ideal. But the Nehru cabinet had to approve the project because Patel had taken a firm stand. In his book L. K. Advani points out that the project was “fully supported and blessed by Mahatma Gandhi.” 

After Patel’s death in 1950, Nehru started voicing his disapproval of the Somnath project openly. K. M. Munshi, minister of food and agriculture in the Nehru government, was heading the official committee that was supervising the temple’s reconstruction. Due to Nehru’s opposition, Munshi was practically isolated in his mission. In a cabinet meeting, Nehru berated Munshi: “I do not like your trying to restore Somnath. It is Hindu revivalism.” (Page 348) 

Munshi refused to be cowed down. On 24 April 1951, in a letter to Nehru, he wrote: 

“Yesterday you referred to Hindu revivalism. You pointedly referred to me in the Cabinet as connected with Somnath. I am glad you did so; for I do not want to keep back any part of my views and activities… I can assure you that the ‘Collective Subconsciousness’ of India today is happier with the scheme of reconstruction of Somnath sponsored by the Government of India than with many other things that we have done and are doing.” (Page 348)

In his letter’s concluding paragraph, Munshi attacked Nehru’s conception of secularism and talked about the importance of the Somnath Temple: 

“It is my faith in our past which has given me the strength to work in the present and to look forward to our future. I cannot value India’s freedom if it deprives us of the Bhagavad Gita or uproots our millions from the faith with which they look upon our temples and thereby destroys the texture of our lives… this shrine once resorted to a place of importance in our life will give our people a purer conception of religion and a vivid consciousness of our strength, so vital in these days of freedom and its trials.” (Page 348-349)

The reconstruction of the Somnath temple was completed in May 1951. At Munshi's request, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, India’s first president, agreed to inaugurate the temple and ceremonially install the jyotirlingam. But Nehru and many leftist intellectuals were vehemently opposed to the presence of the head of state in a religious ceremony. Dr. Rajendra Prasad rejected their objection and kept his promise to inaugurate the temple.

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