Linguistic Analysis of Somnatha
The word Somanatha is a composite of two independent words: Soma and Natha. Some historians mentioned that the word Soma in Somanatha was originally Shobha, that means beauty in Sanskrit, but the word has been changed into Soma due to frequent use and over time, while the word Natha means owner, lord or possessor, thus, ‘Shobha Natha’ became Somanatha that is the owner of the beauty. Perhaps, the name was given because the temple or the city was a symbol of beauty(1) due to the abundant offerings and money that flooded to it from all parts of Indian subcontinent by its devotees of Indian people including the kings and princes.
However, Al-Beruni mentions another explanation for the word Somanatha, concluding that it was attributed to the moon, he says: “Soma is the moon and Natha means the lord, thus Somanatha means the lord of the moon.”(2)
Was Somnatha of a Miraculous Nature ?
It is said that Somanatha remained a center of myths and false beliefs across its history, people believed that Somanatha had a miraculous nature. Dayananda Saraswati (1824 –1883 A.D.) was asked about the miracles ascribed to Somanatha as was mentioned in his book Satyarth Prakash: “Question: See, Somanatha rested above the ground, which was a great miracle. Is it false also? Answer: Yes, it is false. Listen to me. There were magnets above and below of the idol, as a result of their attraction, the idol was hanging in the air without any visible support. When Mahmud of Ghazni raided it, the false miracle became unmasked when the roof was broken it fell sown on the earth and the priests and devotees faced humiliation. Also the Hindu army was hundreds of thousands of strong men who were defeated by only ten thousands of Muslim fighters.”(3)
In fact, we do not care here if the miracle of Somanatha temple was a false or true, myths or fact. That was not the cause of its raid by Mahmud. The real motive behind it was that the remnants of the defeated coalition army which entered the temple and used it as a shield and fort to attack the armies of Mahmud of Ghazni.
In addition to that, the temple was a hub for the enemies of Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni, including Brahmins of Mathura and Thanesar as well as it was a refuge of Qaramitians and Isma`ilis of Sindh, Iran and Gujarat, who conspired day and night against Mahmud of Ghazni. This was the basic motive that led him to attack the temple, as there was no other way to fight those plotters.
Suppose if there are fighters in a temple who use it as shield and inflict losses upon your army, what will you do? Will you wait or will you raid it?
Furthermore, the Brahmins had propagated and spread amongst the people by all ways and means that the idol of Somanatha was angry with the idol of Thanesar and Muthra that is why Smonath consented to the acts of Mahmud of Ghazni and did not prevent him from destroying it. But now, when Mahmud and his soldiers intended to raid Somanatha itself, the idol of Somanatha is going to eliminate them within a moment since it is the king of all idols, the sea itself comes to worship it during some fixed days. Somanatha was located on the coast of the sea, and the water was extended to Somanatha because of the lunar tide that is a common and natural phenomena. But the priests and spiritual leaders made people to believe that the sea comes to worship the idol of Somanatha.(4)
Five hundred volunteer girls were dedicated to serve this idol on the permanent basis that belonged to wealthy families of princes and kings. The temple included two thousand priests of Brahmins to organize the activities of worship, offerings and religious services.
We have already mentioned that the remnants of the Indian coalition army fled the fighting and entered the temple. Furthermore, the devotees of Somanatha believed in the superiority of Somanatha over other deities and idols that were worshiped in northern India. Also the worshippers of Somanatha always degraded and demeaned the devotees of other idols, attributing the calamities and defeat of the people of northern India to the weakness of their gods and inabilities of their deities. So the people of northern India incited the king Mahmud to demolish the idol which was a source pride for its devotees in Gujarat and a cause of humiliation for its opponents to expose their false belief and blind-following to Somanatha taking the revenge of their continuous degrading and disgracing.(5)
The king Mahmud heard of the false propaganda and rumors by priests that the defeat of northern India at his hands was due to the anger of Somanatha with the idols and deities of northern India. They believed that if Sultan Mahmud only neared to the Somanatha with his army he will face a humiliating defeat. When he heard such myths and fairy tales, he intended to abolish such assertions.
The Sultan Mahmud began his journey from Ghazni, Afghanistan on the 10th of Sh`aban in 415 A.H., 17th October, 1024 A.D. and arrived Multan on the 15th of Ramadan, 415 A.H., 20th November 1024 A.H., then he traveled from Multan to Gujarat. In fact, this operation was necessary in order to protect his state from the plots and political intrigue of the king of Gujarat which was a center of evil activities against Sultan Mahmud. The king of Gujarat and his supporters themselves violated the sanctity of the temple because they made it a place of intrigues and political plans instead of a place of worship and adoration. The Indian king fled the city when he feared of his defeat on the hand of Mahmud of Ghazni. When they managed to enter the city, some Indian people stood on the wall and shouted: “Your death brought you here, no one of you will escape safe, and the Somanatha will eliminate you all within a second.” They were fully convinced that the deity has supernatural powers and the king Mahmud would be defeated miraculously. The king Mahmud ordered his army to throw arrows on the fighters inside the temple who were more than ten thousands, fearless and courageous fighters. The fighting lasted for two days, they stood bravely in front of Mahmud, who was attacked from behind by two Indian Kings Dabashalim and Paramdev of neighboring cities with forty thousand fighters. It was a very critical condition for the king Mahmud. However, he prayed Allah (Glory be to Him) asking for help. He divided his fighters into two groups, one of them continued fighting with the warriors of Somanatha and other fought Dabashalim and Paramdev and their 40000 brave men, and thus he defeated both fronts of the fighters successfully. Most of the historical accounts agree that Sultan Mahmud broke the idol of Somanatha but did he did not harm any ordinary citizen, rather, he treated them with mercy, kindness and tolerance.(6)
Some historians mentioned that the temple was not destroyed but was raided as deduced from the memoirs of the King Kadamba the ruler of Goa, who visited the temple in 1038 A.D. Romila Thapar mentions on the authority of some historians that the temple of Somanatha was not destroyed, only the idol was broken and the temple was desecrated and was restored and renovated immediately after his mission had finished and it returned to become a place of worship.(7)
Perhaps, the king Mahmud himself ordered to repair and reform the temple after the campaign was completed because it became in his rule. This also confirms that Mahmud of Ghazni did not raid the Somanatha temple for any religious zeal; he raided it only to eliminate the terrorist elements that used it as shield and fort.
There was no animosity between Hindus and Muslims in India during the Islamic rule, the Somanatha temple was not destroyed completely; it was merely raided for the above-mentioned reasons. The whole story of demolition and destruction of the temple by the king Mahmud is fabricated and imaginary. It was fabricated by English colonists to create an atmosphere of enmity and hatred between Muslims and Hindus in order to make them believe that Muslim rulers terrorized Hindus for centuries, forcing them to convert to Islam and destroyed their temples, to instill feelings of hatred and anger towards Muslims to make them believe that the British just came to India to save them from the clutches of the Muslim rulers to consolidate their occupation. Thus, Hindus would render their thanks and appreciation for colonial rule.
Unfortunately, we find some contemporary historians rely on the literature prepared by the occupiers, without questioning its authenticity.
Anyway, we can summarize the motives that led the king Mahmud to raid the temple of Somanatha in following points:
The First: The remnants of the Indian army who entered the temple seeking refuge in the temple and used it as a fort and shield to attack the king Mahmud. It was a key reason for raiding the temple.
The Second: The temple was a centre of political conspiracy of Qarmatians who were bitter enemies of Sultan Mahmud. The priests were the first who desecrated the temple when they allowed them to abuse the place of worship. This is also among the reasons that justified the attack on the temple.
The Third: The Hindus of north India who did not believe in Somanatha and worshipped their own gods and idols and were belittled and disgraced by the devotees of Somanatha asked the Sultan to demolish the idol to expose their true faces.
The Fourth: The king wanted to reveal to the people in a practical way that the idol can not protect himself then how can it protect others? If he could not defend himself, how would it defend others?
The Fifth: The idol was hanging in the air without any visible support due to the magnetic attraction, while people believed it as sort of divine miracle. So, the King wanted to show the people the secret of this idol.
The Sixth: As I have mentioned in the light of historical sources that he did not destroyed the whole temple he only removed the idol as it was enough to abolish the false belief of the people.
The Seventh:It is also said that the peasants residing in the outskirts of Somnath complained to the King Mahmud that the priests of the temple wrong and loot their prosperity on the name of Somnath, they force them to give their daughters to serve the temple, throwing them into prostitution. They requested the King seeking his help. This led the King to chase the priests of the temple. Thus, the King was required to raid the temple. He entered and captured all its money and wealth and distributed them amongst the oppressed farmers of Somnath.(8)
(1) Durgaprashad, Tarikh Gulistan – e- Hind, Queen Press, Sandhela, Hardui, India 1897, p.24.
(2) Al-Beruni, India, publication of Hyderabad, Deccan 1957, p.178.
(3) Dyanand Sarswati, Sithyarth Prkash, an authentic Urdu translation by Pundit Rimaldas, Arya Patr 1899, p.428-429.
(4) Qasim Farishtah, Tarikh –e- Farishtah, Urdu translation by Muhammad Fida `Ali, Othmaniyah University, Hyderabad, Deccan 1926, vol.1, p.101.
(5) Moulana Akbar Shah, A’inah Haqiqat Numa, Hamdard Press, India, p.192.
(7) Romila Thapar, Somanatha: The Many Voices of a History, first published in Viking by Penguin Books, India 2004. P.78, 79.
(8) See:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UEjWI-RcAis. (Last accessed on 10-2-2014)