Modhera Sun Temple is a gem gifted to us by our ancestors. This is the oldest Sun Temple in India, built around 1026-1027 AD. The temple showcases not just beautiful sculptures but also tells us about advanced engineering knowledge of our ancestors. I would share the beauty & history of this temple in my next article and stick to the engineering part of ancient India here especially the earthquake Resistant Engineering.
This temple is situated at Mehsana district of Gujarat and the area falls under seismic zone IV. It has faced many historic earthquakes. But even though it got destroyed by plunderers, earthquake did no damage to the structure. Around 70s this temple restoration work was done by Government but all those new restoration parts got destroyed during 2001 severe Gujarat earthquake. The Old structure remained intact.
The temple has been built using locking system to make it earthquake resistant. The whole temple has been built without the use of any lime, cement, mud or any such thing as adhesive. Each stone slab has been interlocked with the adjoining ones in appropriate grooves and sealed with seasoned wood. The Temple was plundered by Ghazni & Khilji and those destroyed pieces shows the proof of this locking system. Here’s one from a broken wall.
The temple made with lime stone slabs, were joined in a unique way. Groves were made in the stone slabs as given below. Each stone slab has been interlocked with the adjoining ones in appropriate grooves and then sealed with seasoned wood.
Too many columns (pillars) and their unique construction is another earthquake resistant feature of the temple. The temple has three parts, the kund, the hall and the main temple sanctum and the latter two have many columns. Let’s take the Assembly Hall (Sabha mandap) first. The assembly hall of the temple has in total beautifully carved 58 columns. Each column represent each week of a year. This high number of columns helps to transfer load to the foundation. Top of it these columns are all well connected with the slabs. Connections well spread out so as make maximum load transfer.
Coming to Guda Mandap or the main temple sanctum (Garbagriha), it has in total 18 columns. The Garbagriha has a beautiful ornately carved dome. There are 8 columns taking the load of this dome. Rest of the ten columns are around it and connected to these 8 main columns by beams thus transferring the load to the foundation. The joints are well connected.
Besides these there’s something else also added as decoration to the pillars which acts as earthquake resistant. All the main columns of the temple are connected by artistic connectors. They at glance seem to be just decorative part of the temple. But when you see their placing, you realise those are all on the main columns, outside and inside the temple. They all are strategically placed and not on all the pillars/column.
Besides these earthquake resistant features, the temple has few other engineering feats mostly related to mathematics and astronomy. The main sun temple is on a plinth that is designed like an inverted lotus. Lotus is a flower that responds to the sun rays and lives only for the time sun rays are there. On top of lotus petals is a panel carved with Elephants called Gaj-petika. The number of elephants carved is exactly 365 denoting 365 days of a year. Whole sculpture was done with such great precise calculations!
The temple is a brilliant example of the planned engineering based on the planetary position of the planets and the Sun. Modhera Sun Temple is located exactly on Tropic of Cancer (23.5836° N, 72.1401° E). We all know Tropic of Cancer latitude being 23.5 degrees north. The sanctum temple is so designed that on the days of equinoxes i.e. 21st March and 21st September, the first rays of sun fall on the idol of Sun in Garbhagriha.
The Surya Kund, the first part of this temple is another architectural wonder. The kund do looks like stepwells of this region. The steps around the kund and all the 108 small tiny shrines built around is a treat to the eyes. They are all in such perfect symmetry. A large rectangular steeped tank with inestimable number of stone steps proportioned into an astounding pattern of geometric design is indeed amazing. I won’t say “How could they do this without modern science that we have now”. Who know, maybe they did have far better scientific knowledge, maybe equivalent to our current knowledge!!