The Somnath Temple located in the Prabhas Kshetra near Veraval in Saurashtra, on the western coast of Gujarat, India is the most sacred of the twelve Jyotirlings (lingas of light) symbols of the God Shiva. It is mentioned in the Rig Veda Somnath means "The Protector of Moon God". The Somnath Temple is known as 'the Shrine Eternal', as although the temple has been destroyed six times it has been rebuilt every single time.
The following extract is from “Wonders of Things Created, and marvels of Things Existing” by Asaru-L Bilad, a 13th century Muslim geographer. It contains the following description of Somnath temple and its destruction:
“Somnath: celebrated city of India, situated on the shore of the sea, and washed by its waves. Among the wonders of that place was the temple in which was placed the idol called Somnat. This idol was in the middle of the temple without anything to support it from below, or to suspend it from above. It was held in the highest honor among the Hindus, and whoever beheld it floating in the air was struck with amazement, whether he was a Musulman or an infidel. The Hindus used to go on pilgrimage to it whenever there was an eclipse of the moon, and would then assemble there to the number of more than a hundred thousand. They believed that the souls of men used to meet there after separation from the body, and that the idol used to incorporate them at its pleasure in other bodies, in accordance with their doctrine of transmigration. “The ebb and flow of the tide was considered to be the worship paid to the idol by the sea. Everything of the most precious was brought there as offerings, and the temple was endowed with more than 10,000 villages. There is a river (the Ganges) which is held sacred, between which and Somnat the distance is 200 parasangs.
They used to bring the water of this river to Somnat every day, and wash the temple with it. A thousand brahmans were employed in worshipping the idol and attending on the visitors, and 500 damsels sung and danced at the door–all these were maintained upon the endowments of the temple. The edifice was built upon fifty-six pillars of teak, covered with lead. The shrine of the idol was dark. hut was lighted by jeweled chandeliers of great value. Near it was a chain of gold weighing 200 mans. When a portion (watch) of the night closed, this chain used to be shaken like bells to rouse a fresh lot of brahmans to perform worship.
“When the Sultan Yaminu-d Daula Mahmud Bin Subuktigin went to wage religious war against India, he made great efforts to capture and destroy Somnat, in the hope that the Hindus would then become Muhammadans. He arrived there in the middle of Zi-l k’ada, 416 A.H. (December, 1025 A.D.). “The king looked upon the idol with wonder, and gave orders for the seizing of the spoil, and the appropriation of the treasures. There were many idols of gold and silver and vessels set with jewels, all of which had been sent there by the greatest personages in India. The value of the things found in the temples of the idols exceeded twenty thousand thousand dinars.
(Elliot’s footnote: The enormous treasures found at Somnat have been a theme of wonder for all who have written on that conquest.) “When the king asked his companions what they had to say about the marvel of the idol, and of its staying in the air without prop or support, several maintained that it was upheld by some hidden support. The king directed a person to go and feel all around and above and below it with a spear, which he did, but met with no obstacle. One of the attendants then stated his opinion that the canopy was made of loadstone, and the idol of iron, and that the ingenious builder had skillfully contrived that the magnet should not exercise a greater force on anyone side-hence the idol was suspended in the middle. Some coincided, others differed. Permission was obtained from the Sultan to remove some stones from the top of the canopy to settle the point. When two stones were removed from the summit the idol swerved on one side, when more were taken away it inclined still further, until at last it rested on the ground.”
According to the legends, Soma, the moon God built the temple in gold, Ravan in silver, Krishna in wood and king Bhimdev of Anhilwad in stone. Soma constructed the temple as a gesture after Lord Shiva cured him of his illness. This illness was caused by his father-in-law Daksha Prajapati's curse. Daksha cursed him to wane as he was infatuated with Rohini and was neglecting the other 26 wives, all 26 of whom were the daughters of Prajapati. It is said that Brahma advised him to build the temple in honour of Shiva.
The present temple is the seventh temple reconstructed on the original site. The first temple of Somnath is said to have existed before the beginning of the commmon era. The second temple, built by the Yadava kings of Vallabhi in Gujarat, replaced the first one on the same site around 649.
In 1024, Mahmud Ghazni raided the temple from across the Thar Desert. Ghazni believed due to a dream that he had that the Pre Islamic Arabian goddess Manat was the focus of Somnath Temple. Turko-Persian chronicles indulge, a major poet of the eastern Islamic world, Farrukhi Sistani, who claims that he accompanied Mahmud to Somanatha, provides a fascinating explanation for the breaking of the idol. This explanation has been largely dismissed by modern historians as too fanciful. According to him, the idol was not of a Hindu deity but of a Pre-Islamic Arabian goddess. He tells us that the name Somnat (as it was often written in Persian) is actually Su-manat, the place of Manat. From the Qur'an that Lat, Uzza and Manat two were destroyed, but Manat was believed to have been secreted away to Gujarat and installed in a place of worship. According to some descriptions, Manat was an aniconic block of black stone, so the form could be similar to a lingam. This story hovers over many of the Turko-Persian accounts, some taking it seriously, others being less emphatic and insisting instead that the icon was of a Hindu deity.During his campaign, Mahmud was challenged by Ghogha Rana, who at the ripe age of 90, sacrificed his own clan fighting against this.
The fourth temple was built by the Paramara King Bhoj of Malwa and the Solanki king Bhima of Gujarat (Anhilwara) or Patan between 1026 and 1042. The wooden structure was replaced by Kumarpal who built the temple of stone.
Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, then Home Minister & the first Deputy Prime Minister of India took a pledge on November 13 1947 for its reconstruction for the seventh time. A mosque present at that site was shifted few miles away. It was completed on December 1 and President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad dedicated it in the service of the nation. The present temple was built by the Shree Somnath Trust which looks after the entire complex of Shree Somnath and its environs.
The temple is situated at such a place that there is no land in between from Somnath seashore to Antarctica. Such an inscription in Sanskrit is found on the ARROW-PILLAR erected on the sea-protection wall at the Somnath Temple. The Darshani Gates of the Golden Temple in Amritsar are the Somnath Temple Gates, which were brought back by the army of the mighty Jat-Sikh King Maharaja Ranjit Singh from Afghanistan.
In 1951 Dr. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of India, who performed the Jyotirling-Pratishthapan ceremony of the new Temple said, "The Somnath Temple signifies that the power of creation is always greater than the power of destruction."