In the Shivapurana and the Nandi Upapurana, Lord Shiva is quoted as saying, 'I am omnipresent, but I am especially in twelve forms and places.' These places are known as jyotirlingas, and Somnath is the first to be found in the world. Around the linga the moon god Soma built a mythical temple of gold as an ode to Lord Shiva's glory and compassion. Like the waxing and waning moon, and fittingly for a place associated with Lord Shiva's cosmic dance of creative destruction, the Somnath temple has risen unfailingly from repeated acts of devastation.
On Kartik Sud 14 in the Hindu calendar, the day of Shiva's son Kartikeya's birth, a fair is held for four days at the shrine of Somnath. Millions of devotees converge here for these ebullient celebrations on the shores of the Arabian Sea.
According to Puranic legend, Soma, the moon, married 27 sisters, but stubbornly favored one to the neglect of the others. Their father, Daksha Prajapati, therefore cursed him to have his brilliance consumed by the darkness of night. Stricken with grief, the moon went to holy places, trying to alleviate his pain, but to no avail. At last he came here and worshipped Shiva with great devotion for 4000 years. Shiva took pity on him and bade that he should wane in brilliancy for only 15 days in a month, recovering his lost splendor in the following fortnight. Overcome with gratitude, the moon erected a golden temple to Shiva over the previously existing jyotirlinga. As the moon regained his brilliancy, bhas, at this site, it was named Prabhas, which means "the exceedingly brilliant."
The temple came to be known as exceptionally auspicious--people suffering from incurable diseases were reported cured after simply touching the linga. In the Mahabharata, Krishna advised the Yadavas that a pilgrimage to Somnath would absolve them of Durvasa's curse.
Another legend tells that not far from Somnath is a place where Krishna, reclining under a pipal tree, was shot in the foot by a Bhil huntsman named Jara who had mistaken him for a deer. Limping a long way eastward, Krishna was able to reach the bank of the river Hiranya just above the triveni sangam (meeting place of three rivers), and breathed his last in a small cave. His body was taken to the triveni sangam and cremated there. The site where he was shot is known as Bhalka Tirtha, and the site of his cremation, near a temple to Mahakali, is called Dehotsarg.
The first historical temple at Somnath is believed to have been built between 320 and 500 AD. As it grew in importance due to the stories above, pilgrims converged at the temple to offer whatever they could, kings bestowed riches upon it, and the town and temple flourished with great wealth.
The temple was destroyed a few times during its first several centuries, but little details are available about the successive destructions and reconstructions. In the 11th century AD, the Sunni Muslim iconoclast Mahmud of Ghazni (998-1030), sacked the temple and returned to Ghazna in eastern Afghanistan with the temple treasures, including the famed silver gate. Then, after a rebuilding, in 1297 AD Allaudin Khilji's commander-inchief Afzal Khan destroyed the structure. Over the next 500 years, the temple was successively reconstructed and ransacked, by Muzzafar Shah I in 1390, by Muhammad Begda in 1490, Muzzafar II in 1530 and Aurangzeb in 1706.
In 1783 Maharani Ahalyabai Holkar of Indore built another Somnath temple next to the original site, which was in serious disrepair. After Independence, Sardar Patel visited Somnath, was deeply moved by the poor condition of the original temple site, and resolved to renovate it as soon as possible. In 1951, the new temple was constructed on the original grounds, next to the 18th-century construction of Holkar's. The remains of the old temple are now preserved in a museum for public view. The jyotirlinga was installed by then-President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, in 1950 AD. The overall look reminds one of a Solanki temple in the manner of Modhera, due to the efforts of Sardar Patel, whose statue stands outside.
How to get there
By road: Somnath is 79 km from Junagadh and 25 km from Chorwad. State transport buses and private luxury coaches connect various centres of Gujarat to Somnath.
By rail: Somnath is located 6 km from the nearest railway station at Veraval.