Somnath, also known as Prahbas Patan, is famous for its ancient Somnath Temple and is currently being developed as a home-tourist holiday resort. Here you can combine the business of visiting one of India’s most revered temples with the pleasure of basking on an unshaded but lovely beach. Somnath Temple, the main tourist magnet, has one of the 12 sacred jyotirlingas (Shiva shrines) and is extremely old. Legend has it that the first temple on this site was built by Somraj, the Moon God, after Shiva kindly cured him of consumption. This first structure was built of gold. Subsequent versions were of silver (donated by Ravana); of wood, donated by Krishna to mark the spot where he ‘lost his body’; and of stone, by Bhimdev.By the 6th century AD, Somnath was the richest temple in all India. Its wealth was so great that when the acquisitive Mahmud of Ghazni descended on it in 1024, even his vast caravanserai of elephants, camels and mules couldn’t take it all away. What he destroyed was probably the first historically recorded version of the temple, built in the 1st century AD. Over the following 700 years, Somnath Temple was built up, knocked down, and rebuilt. Finally, after Aurangzeb the Mughal iconoclast set his demolition team on it in 1706, the builders gave up and left it in ruins. Only in 1950, under the auspices of S.V. Patel whose statue you can see outside, was the temple finally restored. This present version is an interesting, if not quite successful attempt at a modern Hindu temple incorporating traditional styles.
For comfort, visit Somnath between November and February. After that, it’s too hot. Festival-lovers will enjoy Kartika Poornima (November-December), a vibrant village fair and performing arts gala, with lots of folk theatre, dance and chanting of vedic hymns. Also worth a visit is the big festival of the year, Mahashivratri (February-March), patronised by thousands of pilgrims from all over India. Both celebrations take place at the historic temple.