THE STORY OF RUDRAMAHÃLAYA
In order to understand
fully the meaning of what was exposed at Sidhpur and the strife it caused,
we have to know what the Rudramahãlaya was, how it came to be built
at Sidhpur and how a Jãmi‘ Masjid was raised on its site and from
its debris. The Report of the Minorities’ Commission provides some historical
background. So does the Note from the Government of Gujarat. But the information
is meagre and leaves a lot to be told. Both of them were dealing with a
“communal problem” and were not expected to give a detailed history of
Sidhpur, the Rudramahãlaya and the Jãmi‘ Masjid.
The Note from the Government of Gujarat gives no information about the historical or religious importance of Sidhpur. The Report of the Minorities’ Commission says that “Sidhpur is a historical town” and that “it was ruled successively by Hindu Rajas and Muslim Sultans.”1 There is no reference to the religious importance of Sidhpur as a place of Hindu pilgrimage. The article by B.L. Nagarch brings out that point when it says that “as the obsequial offerings to the paternal ancestors must be made at Gaya, so corresponding offerings to the maternal ancestors have to be performed at Sidhpur.” Nagarch tells us also that “the ancient name of Sidhpur appears to have been Šrîsthala or Šrîsthalaka” and that “the name of Sidhapur was given to this place in honour of Siddharãja JayasiMha who completed the Temple of Rudra-Mahãdeva in the twelfth century here.”2
The PurãNas regard Šrîsthala as the most sacred spot in the Sãrasvata-maNDala of Gujarat. The Bhãgvata PurãNa associates it with Kardama rishi, who had his hermitage here, and also with Kapila muni, who was born in this place on the bank of the sacred Sarasvati river. It was also known as Vindusara.3 It is said that ANahillapãTaka or ANahillapaTTaNa, the capital of medieval Gujarat before Ahmadabad came up in the first quarter of the fifteenth century, was founded where it was because of its nearness to Šrîsthala.
ANahillapaTTaNa, now known as Patan, was built in AD 745 by Vanarãja, the founder of the ChãvoTkaTa or Chãpã or Chãvdã dynasty. It reached its greatest glory, however, in the reign of JayasiMha (AD 1094-1143), the most illustrious ruler of the Chaulukya or Solãñkî dynasty of Gujarat. Jayasimha was very much devoted to Šrîsthala and visited it often in order to keep the company of sages and saints living at this place. There is a popular legend that JayasiMha defeated and captured Barbara, a demon who was molesting the holy men at Šrîsthala. Barbara, we are told, became his obedient servant and performed many superhuman deeds for him. That is how JayasiMha earned the sobriquet of Siddharãja. He built at Šrîsthala a temple dedicated to Rudra Mahãkãla which became known as Rudramahãlaya or simply Rudramãla. Because of its close association with Siddharãja, Šrîsthala became known as Siddhapura which name was corrupted to Sidhpur in course of time.
The spiritual fame of Sidhpur, however, proved to be its misfortune when Gujarat passed under a long spell of Muslim rule towards the close of the thirteenth century. Thereafter it attracted the attention of every Islamic iconoclast. Its temples were reduced to ruins and its holy men were either killed or scared away. Its spiritual importance had become greatly reduced when MuNhata NaiNasî, the famous historian of Rajasthan, visited it in Samvat 1717 (AD 1660). NaiNasî was at that time the Dîwãn of Mahãrãja Jaswant Singh of Jodhpur who had been appointed the Governor of Gujarat by Aurangzeb in AD 1658. He has left for us a brief description, historical and topographical, of Sidhpur as he saw it. “Sidhpur,” writes NaiNasî “is a pleasant city. It was founded by Sidharão after his own name. He invited from the East one thousand Udîchya BrãhmaNas who were well-versed in the Vedas and gave them seven hundred villages around Sidhpur… He had built a big temple named Rudramãla. That was razed to the ground by Sultãn Alãuddîn. Even so, several temples survive today. Beyond the city, towards the east, there is the river Sarasvarî. A temple dedicated to Mãdhava had been built on its bank. A ghãTa [flight of steps leading to the river] has also been constructed. The temple was destroyed by the Mughals but the ghãTa can still be seen… A Turk has built his bungalow on the ghãTa.”4
Sidhpur was liberated
from the Muslim stranglehold by the Marathas in the first quarter of the
eighteenth century. By the first quarter of the nineteenth, the Marathas
lost to the British and in the settlement that followed Sidhpur was included
in the princely state of Baroda along with Patan. The Marathas made no
attempt to revive Sidhpur as a centre of Hindu pilgrimage. Nor did they
try to restore Patan as the seat of a Hindu government. Neither the spiritual
nor the political capital of Gujarat at one time has retained anything
of a great past except wistful memories.
The Note from the Government of Gujarat says that the Rudramahãlaya was “built by Siddharaja Jayasimha in the 12th century” and that “it had eleven shrines dedicated to Akadasa Rudras.”5 The Report of the Minorities’ Commission repeats this description with the elucidation that “in the centre of this complex was situated the temple and in and around the courtyard were 11 other shrines dedicated to the Rudras…”6 Both of them say that the temple was profusely sculptured and ornamented. But none of them mentions what has survived of the central temple or the surrounding shrines.
B.L. Nagarch gives greater details in his aforementioned article. He writes:
“In about AD 944 Mûlarãja had founded the Rudra Mahãlaya, but as he had to remain busy in invasions and other engagements he could not complete it. This temple fell into ruins during the following centuries. Siddharãja JayasiMha took up the work of reconstruction of this temple on a scale greater than that originally conceived and could not finish the work till his death in AD 1143.
“Rudramahãlaya is the grandest and the most imposing conception of a temple dedicated to Šiva. Only a few fragments of the mighty shrine now survive, namely, four pillars in the north and five in the eastern side, porches of the three storeyed maNDapa. Four pillars in the back of it, a toraNa and a cell at the back remain in situ after being dismantled in the 13th century AD. With its adjacent shrines, possibly eleven, part of which was converted into Jami mosque later in the Mughal period, it must have formed part of a grand conception dedicated to Ekãdaša Rudras.
“Originally it covered an area of 100 x 66 mtrs. The central building itself occupies an area of about 50 x 33 mtrs. The mighty pillars of this temple are the tallest so far known in Gujarat.”7
It is difficult to visualize what the Rudramahãlaya looked like when it stood intact and in all its majesty. No other edifice of a similar conception has survived. We have only some legendary accounts, one of which is from NaiNasî who tells us how the Rudramahãlaya was conceived and constructed. We give below a summary of what he has written at length.
Sidharão, says NaiNasî, saw the Earth in a dream, appearing in the form of a damsel and demanding that she be decorated with a choice ornament. The king consulted the learned men who could divine dreams and they told him that the ornament for the Earth could mean only a magnificent temple. So the king invited architects from every land and they presented to him models of what they could conceive to be the best. But no model satisfied Sidharão and he became despondent. At that time there were two notorious thieves in his kingdom, Khãprã and Kãlã. As they started gambling on the Dîvãlî day, Khãprã wagered that he would give KoDidhaja, the renowned steed of Sidharão, if he lost the game. He lost and promised to the winner that he would procure the steed by the time of the next Dîvãlî day. He wormed himself into the confidence of Sidharão, first as a sweeper in the royal stable and then as a syce of KoDidhaja. The king who visited the stable everyday was very much pleased with Khãprã’s services and spent some time talking to him. One day the king confided to Khãprã his (the king’s) disappointment in the matter of a suitable temple. Soon after, the thief ran away with the horse and stopped for rest only when he reached the valley of Mount Abu. All of a sudden he saw the earth split and a temple came out. Gods and Goddesses staged a play in the temple as Khãprã watched sitting in a window of the divine edifice. He was reminded of Sidharão’s despondence and thought that this was the temple which would meet the king's expectations. He found out from the, Gods that the same miracle would be enacted again on the night of the day after next and rushed back to PãTaNa where he gave a graphic account to the king. The king came to the same spot and saw the temple which fully satisfied him. The Gods told him how to find the master architect who would build a similar temple for him. It took sixteen years to be completed, even though thousands of artisans were employed.8
NaiNasî has included in his chapter on the Rudramãla a poem written in its praise by Lalla BhaTTa.9 The first two stanzas which describe the architecture and sculptures of the temple are as follows:
Fourteen storeys rise above the earth
and seven thousand pillars,
A modern expert
on medieval Hindu architecture has speculated about the Rudramahãlaya
on the basis of what has survived. “The Solãñkî tradition
maintains,” writes Dr. S.K. Saraswati, “a rich and prolific output in the
twelfth century AD which saw two eminent royal patrons of building art
in Siddharãja JayasiMha and Kumãrapãla. With the former
is associated the completion of an imposing conception, the Rudra Mãlã
or Rudra Mahãlaya, at Siddhapur (Gujarãt). Unfortunately
it is now completely in ruins but a picture of its former splendour seems
to have survived in a Gujarãtî ballad which speaks of the
temple as covered with gold, adorned with sixteen hundred columns, veiled
by carved screens and pierced lattices, festooned with pearls, inlaid with
gems over the doorways and glistening with rubies and diamonds. Much of
this is, no doubt, exaggeration full of rhetoric; but the impressive character
of the conception is evidenced by the scanty, though co-lossal, remains.
They consist of groups of columns of the pillared maNDapa, which
seems to have been in more than one storey, and had three enterance porticos
on three sides. The surviving foundations suggest
that the conception with the usual appurtenances occupied a space nearly
300 feet by 230 feet. In front there stood a kîrti-toraNa
of which one column still remains. From the dimensions the Rudra Mãlã
seems to have been one of the largest architectural conceptions in this
area. The rich character of its design is fully evident in the few fragments
The Jãmi‘ Masjid
The Note from the Government of Gujarat says that “the temple was destroyed and three shrines in the eastern flank of the temple were converted into a mosque but there is no evidence as to the date of conversion.”12 The Report of the Minorities’ Commission gives more details about the destruction and conversion of the temple. “This temple,” says the Report, “seems to have been destroyed partly by Ulugh Khan in AD 1297-98 and partly by Ahmadshah in AD 1415. Some of the cubicles and a number of pillars on the Western side of the temple, it would appear were later converted into a mosque. The prayer hall of the mosque so converted has three domes. In the Western (Qaba) waft of the mosque Mimbar and Mehrabs were provided by using the doors of the shrines which were then filled with debris. The exact date of conversion of this part of Rudramahalaya complex is not known. However, according to inscriptions at the entrance it appears that the mosque known as Jama Masjid, was constructed during the reign of Aurangzeb in 1645.”13
B.L. Nagarch, on the other hand, writes that “the inscription fixed in the modern entrance gate to the mosque mentions the construction of shops by Ali Askari in Adil Ganj and there is no reference to the mosque.”14 Moreover, Aurangzeb was not the ruling Mughal monarch in 1645, having ascended the throne thirteen years later in 1658. The “temple remains” discovered inside the mosque also go to show that at least that part of the structure was built not long after the Rudramahãlaya was demolished. The Minorities’ Commission, it seems, has relied upon some local tradition about Aurangzeb having built the mosque. Aurangzeb did live in Gujarat in 1645 when he was appointed Governor of that province by Shãh Jahãn. He also destroyed Hindu temples in Gujarat as is evident from his firmãn dated November 20, 1665 which says that “In Ahmadabad and other parganas of Gujarat in the days before my accession (many) temples were destroyed by my order.”15 It seems that somewhere along the line several stories have got mixed up and Aurangzeb has been credited with a pious deed he did not perform at Sidhpur, not at least in respect of the Jãmi‘ Masjid built on the site and from the debris of the Rudramahãlaya. What might have happened is that some major repairs to the Jãmi‘ Masjid were carried out while he was the Governor of Gujarat and at his behest. The subject needs examination with reference to records, if any.
Nor do we find a specific mention of Sidhpur or the Rudramahãlaya in the available accounts of Ulugh Khãn’s invasion of Gujarat. The Minorities’ Commission has made a mistake in giving the date of the invasion as AD 1297-98. The correct date is 1299.
There is, however, no doubt that Ahmad Shãh I (AD 1411- 43), the Sultãn of Gujarat, destroyed the Rudramahãlaya and raised a mosque on the site. “Soon after his return to Ahmadabad,” writes S.A.I. Tirmizi, “Ahmad marched to Sidhpur, which was one of the most ancient pilgrim centres in north Gujarat. It was studded with beautiful temples, some of which were laid low.”16 A.K. Majumdar is more specific. “Ahmad Shãh like his grandfather,” he says, “was a bigot and seized every opportunity to demolish Hindu temples. In 1414, he appointed one Tãj-ul-Mulk to destroy all temples and to establish Muslim authority throughout Gujarat. According to Firishta, the task was ‘executed with such diligence that the names of Mawass and Girass (i.e. Hindu zamindãrs) were hereafter unheard of in the whole kingdom.’ Next year Ahmad attacked the celebrated city of Sidhpur in north Gujarat where he broke the images in the famous Rudramahalaya temple and converted it into a mosque.”17
poetic account of what Ahmad Shãh did at Sidhpur is available in
Mirãt-i-Sikandarî, the history of Gujarat, written
by Sikandar ibn-i-Muhammad alias Manjhû ibn-i-Akbar in the first
quarter of the sixteenth century. “He marched on Saiyidpur,”18
writes the historian, “on Jamãd-ul-Awwal in AH 818 (July/August,
AD 1415) in order to destroy the temples which housed idols of gold and
He marched under divine inspiration,
the Sultãn was free from Saiyidpur, he marched on Dhãr in
AH 819 (AD 1416-17).”22
The destruction of Hindu temples and their conversion into mosques was, as we shall see, a normal occupation for most of the Muslim rulers in medieval India. What adds a touch of pathos to the destruction and conversion of the Rudramahãlaya is that its builder, Siddharãja JayasiMha, had become known to the Muslims as a protector of their places of worship in Gujarat. Many other Hindu rulers provided the same protection to their Muslim subjects, as is evident from the presence of Muslim populations and religious establishments in all leading towns of western, southwestern and northern India long before these towns were sacked and occupied by Islamic invaders. K.A. Nizami has devoted a long essay to this subject and named Lahore, Benares, Bahraich, Ajmer, Badaun, Kanauj, Bilgram, Gopamau and Koil (Aligarh), etc., in this context.23 Other sources point to Muslim presence in the towns of Bengal, Bihar, Rajasthan, Gujarat and Maharashtra. The doings of Siddharãja JayasiMha have, however, found place in a Muslim history. Jami’u-l Hikãyãt, written by Muhammad ‘Ufî who lived at Delhi in the reign of Shamsu’d-Dîn Iltutmish (AD 1210-36). The writer was a great collector of anecdotes regarding persons, places and events. He wrote:
“Muhammad ‘Ufî, the compiler of this work, observes that he never heard a story to be compared with this. He had once been to Kambãyat (Cambay), a city situated on the sea-shore, in which, a number of Sunnîs, who were religious, faithful, and charitable lived. In this city, which belonged to the chiefs of Guzerãt and Nahrwãla,24 was a body of Fire-worshippers25 as well as the congregation of Musulmãns. In the reign of a king named Jai Singh, there was a mosque and a minaret from which the summons to prayers were cried. The Fire-worshippers instigated the infidels to attack the Musulmãns and the minaret was destroyed, the mosque burnt, and eight Musulmãns were killed.
“A certain Muhammadan,
a Khatîb, or reader of the Khutba by name Khatîb ‘Ali, escaped
and fled to Nahrwãla. None of the courtiers of the Rãî
paid any attention to him, or rendered him any assistance, each one being
desirous to screen those of his own persuasion. At last, having learnt
that the Rãî was going out to hunt, Khatîb ‘Ali sat
down behind a tree in the forest and awaited the Rãî’s coming.
When the Rãî had reached the spot, Khatîb ‘Ali stood
up, and implored him to stop the elephant and listen to his complaint.
He then placed in his hand a kaîsda, which he had composed in Hindi
verse, stating the whole case. The Rãî having heard the case
placed Khatîb ‘Ali under charge of a servant, ordering him to take
the greatest care of him, and produce him in court when required to do
so. The Rãî then returned, and having called his minister,
made over temporary charge of the Government to him, stating that he intended
to seclude himself for three days from public business in his harem, during
which seclusion he desired to be left unmolested. That night, Rãî
Jai Singh, having mounted a dromedary started from Nahrwãla for
Kambãyat and accomplished the distance, forty parasangs, in one
night and one day. Having disguised himself by putting on a tradesman’s
dress, he entered the city, and stayed a short time in different places
in the market place, making inquiries as to the truth of Khatîb ‘Ali’s
complaint. He then learnt that the Muhammadans were oppressed and slain
without any grounds for such tyranny. Having thus learnt the truth of the
case, he filled a vessel with sea-water and returned to Nahrwãla,
which he entered on the third night from his departure. The next day he
held his court, and summonning all complainants he directed the Khatîb
to relate his grievance. When he had stated his case, a body of the infidels
wanted to intimidate him and falsify his statements. On this the Rãî
ordered his water-carrier to give the water pot to them that they may drink
from it. The Rãî then told them that he had felt unable to
put implicit confidence in any one because a difference of religion was
involved in the case; he had himself therefore gone to Kambãyat,
and having made personal enquires as to the truth, had learnt that the
Muhammadans were victims of tryanny and oppression. He said that it was
his duty to see that all his subjects were afforded such protection as
would enable them to live in peace. He then gave
orders that two leading men from each class of Infidels, Brahmans, Fire-worshippers
and others should be punished. He then gave a lac of Balotras26
to enable them to build their mosque and minarets. He
also granted to Khatîb four articles of dress. These are preserved
to this day, but are exposed to view on high festival days. The mosque
and minaret were standing until a few days ago.”27
2 B.L Nagarch, op cit., p. 395.
3 Nundo Lal Day, The Geographical Dictionary of Ancient and Medieval India, third edition, New Delhi, 1971, p. 38.
4 Muñhatã NaiNasîrî Khyãta, Jodhpur, 1984, Vol. 1, pp. 261-62. The passage quoted has been Translate from The original in MãravãRî language.
5 The Fourth Annual Report, p. 141.
6 Ibid., p. 130.
7 B.L Nagarch, op.cit., p. 395.
8 Muñhatã NaiNasî, op.cit., pp. 258-61.
9 Ibid., pp. 262-63.
10 The reference is to the Bull who according to Hindu mythology supports the Earth on his horns.
11 R.C. Majumdar (ed.), The History and Culture of the Indian People, Vol. V, The Struggle For Empire, Third Edition, Bombay, 1976, pp. 595-96.
12 The Fourth Annual Report, p. 141.
13 Ibid., p. 130.
14 B.L Nagarch, op. cit., p. 395.
15 Quoted by Jadunath Sarkar, History of Aurangzeb, Vol. III, Calcutta, 1972 Impression. p. 285.
16 Mohammad Habib (ed.), A Comprehensive History of India, Vol. V, The Delhi Sultanat, First Reprint, New Delhi, 1982, p. 853.
17 R.C. Majumdar (ed.), op. cit., Vol. VI, The Delhi Sultanate, Bombay, 1960, p. 158.
18 The Islamic name of Sidhpur, unless it is a mispronunciation on the part of the historian. As we shall see in this study. Muslim rulers had Islamicized practically every important place-name in India.
19 Applied to Zoroastrians of Iran to start with, the term ‘fire-worshippers’ mars later of, used for idol-worshippers in India.
20 The BrãhmaNas wearing the sacred thread.
21 A kind of costly wood.
22 Translated from the Hindi rendering in S.A.A. Rizvi’s Uttara Taimûra Kãlîna Bhãrata, Aligarh, 1959, Vol. II, pp. 268-69. Strangely enough, this poem has been omitted Iron the English translation by Fazlullah Lutfullah Faridi published from Dharampur and recently reprinted (Gurgaon.1990). The English translation says, “In AH 818 (AD 1416), the Sultãn attacked Sidhpur and broke the idols and images in the big temple at that place and turned the temple into a mosque” (p. 14).
23 Mohammad Habib, op. cit., pp. 137-42.
24 The Muslim pronunciation of ANahilwãDa.
25 “The word in the original is Mugh which has been generally accepted to indicate the Zoroastrians or fire-worshippers, but Prof. S.H. Hodiwala, Studies in Indo-Muslim History (Bombay, 1939) pp. 72-73, thinks it may refer to Jains” (Epigraphia Indica-Arabic and Persian Supplement, 1961, p. 5n).
26 Unit of a silver currency at that time.
Elliot and Dowson, History of India as told by its own Historians, Vol.
II, pp. 162-64. ‘Ufî expresses surprise at the Hindu King’s behaviour
because such behaviour was inconceivable for a Muslim. According
to the Islamic norm, a king is expected to destroy rather than restore
other people’s places of worship.