Page images

army, is perfectly Egyptian, narrow at the top and widening towards the base; and the broad lintels, richly carved with leaves and flowers, that constitute the principal ornaments around it, are obviously of the same date, design, and origin as the re-edification. Five domes once rose majestically above these sculptured walls, only two of which now remain : and the roof is supposed to have sustained considerable injury from the conduct of a Nuwaub, who converted it into a battery of heavy ordnance, for the protection of the harbour of Verawul against piratical intrusion. All approach to the smaller subhas is completely interrupted by fragments of pillars, broken cornices, mutilated sculptures, and rude blocks of stone, whose former positions it would be now impossible to point out; but the emblems graven on them obviously belong to the worship of Siva, which succeeded that of the Sun, the earliest object of adoration at this long-known scene of sanctity. "I found the temple,” says a European traveller,

deserted, desecrated, a receptacle for kine, the pinnacle to its spring from the cella demolished, and the fragments strewing the ground.” The exterior circumference of the whole building is 336 feet, its extreme length 117, and its greatest breadth 74.

[ocr errors]
[graphic][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][merged small]

The interior consists of an entrance vestibule, a hall or munduft, a second vestibule, and a sanctuary—the whole surrounded by a colonnade, beneath which was a spacious ambulatory. The great hall extends ninety-six feet in length, having a width of seventy, and includes an octagon, formed of pillars and architraves, collected from the fragments of the more ancient edifice; and above this area rises a splendid dome thirty-two feet in diameter, and having a height of thirty feet from the floor to the spring of the concave. The sustaining pillars, which are all richly sculptured, and formerly adorned the lesser subhas and encircling colonnade, proving unequal to the weight of the incumbent dome and roof, would have sunk under the load, had not vousoirs been introduced to strengthen them. The stylobate is divided into compartments, filled with sculptured heads of horses, elephants, griffins, Bacchantes, belonging to the worship of Siva, and groups of nymphs engaged in the mystic dance, typical of the movements of the spheres. The floor was paved with black marble, but the flags are much broken and injured, not by the action of human feet in so many centuries of time, but from the falling of large fragments from the roof and dome. The second vestibule, which was an interruption of the grand colonnade, is now choked up with rubbish and large masses of masonry that have fallen into it, so that the cella, or sanctum, a square chamber, twenty-three feet in length by twenty in breadth, is entered with much inconvenience. This vestibule was formerly vaulted, and on one of the supporting columns is an inscription recording the visit of a Hindoo architect, some few centuries ago. The recess appropriated to the idol, or image, a symbolic lingam, or Phallus, is not now distinguished; but a niche in the western wall, looking towards Mecca, indicates the site of the Moslem rostrum which Mahmoud “ The Destroyer” had set up. The remaining parts of the ponderous roof are supported by rows of pilasters of various shapes, flat with brackets, and plain architraves; some of them are sculptured, others plain; and the latter are believed to have been cased with gilded copper, and adorned with precious stones, in the age of Mahmoud Ghuznavi.

From the admixture of Moorish with Hindoo architecture observable here, the transmutation which the fabric has undergone is clearly indicated—the “ Faithful” not having taken much pains to obliterate the former features of idolatrous worship. The first appropriation of this very ancient temple was most probably in honour of the great luminary of our system—“Somnauth” signifying “ Lord of the Moon;" it was afterwards a Bhuddist temple; but a close examination of its ground plan, or ichnographic section, clearly identifies it with the worship of Siva, being precisely similar to those of Lakhna Rana at Cheetore, and many other temples of that sect. There is no doubt that the space now covered by the Moorish dome, rising from an octagonal pedestal, was once the multangular base of a gigantic conical tower, like those of Karnaruc, Juggernauth, Bhobaneswur, and elsewhere on the Indian continent, a shape common to all Brahminical temples in the present day. Upon the conquest of India the famous temple of Somnauth was converted into a Musjid : the faithful were in their turn expelled, and, the idolatry of the natives, with British sanction, may be again revived, on a spot that lias been consecrated to divine worship since the first records of historyperhaps of time.

It was soon after the year 2000 that Mahmoud, Sultan of Ghuzni, or Ghazni, after the manner of Hercules, commenced his twelve expeditions into Hindostan, and it was in 1024 that he made that memorable attack on Somnauth, which Oriental writers have commemorated in such glowing language. His public pretext was the acceptance of a challenge contained in an ancient prediction, “ that if ever a Moslem, however powerful, should profane the shrine of Somnauth with his presence, he would instantly become the victim of his presumption”—his private and real inducement was, probably, the report of boundless treasures which were to be found there. Setting out with a native army 50,000 strong, with 30,000 Turkestan volunteers, and 1900 elephants, he soon appeared before the walls of Puttun, and summoned its inhabitants to surrender. The city herald, however, quickly answered “ that their idol had brought the Moslems there for the purpose of confounding and delivering them into the hands of their enemies." Perceiving that surrender was not probable, Mahmoud caused a general assault to be made, which had the effect of thinning the walls of their defenders, and producing much consternation amongst the inhabitants. The latter had recourse to their idol, and, during the time of their prostration before it, the enemy made a second attack, more vigorous than the first, and attempted to scale the walls. Disturbed and dismayed by loud shouts of Allah! Allah! Allah!

-city, stream, and shore
Resounded Allah! and the clouds which close,

With thickening canopy, the conflict o'er,
Vibrate to the Eternal name. Hark! through

Ail sounds it pierceth, “ Allah! Allah! Hu!”. they hastened from the temple to the ramparts, and by the most determined efforts succeeded in repelling the besiegers. In all momentous events the number three appears to be associated with the success of one party or ruin of the other; and it was on the third day, and when Mahmoud was about to make a third assault, that an army coming to relieve the city appeared in sight. The Sultan holdly advanced and gave them battle; but perceiving a crisis, when victory seemed for an instant doubtful, he sprang from his horse, prostrated himself on the earth, and implored the favour of his prophet. The effect of this imposing spectacle upon his troops was immediate, and such as he anticipated : returning to the fight with loud shouts and renewed courage, they fell with fury on the Hindoos, nor desisted before they laid 10,000 dead upon the field, and put the remainder to shameful flight. A defeat so complete destroyed the hopes of the besieged, who now abandoned their homes, and sought safety by retreat, some escaping overland, others taking to their boats; both parties, however, being pursued, and unsparingly butchered by the victors.

The conqueror entered the city in triumph, and advancing to the object rather of his cupidity than his glory, beheld a superb structure, sustained by fifty-six rich pillars, each the pious offering of a rajah. Approaching the great stone idol, he aimed a blow with his iron mace at its head, but, missing the precise spot, struck off a piece of the nose. The fragment, by his order, was separated into two parts, and carried to Ghuzni, where one of them was placed in the threshold of the great mosque, the other at the entrance to his own palace. Two more frag subsequently knocked off, were forwarded to Medina and to Mecca. Hindoo writers deny these statements, and assert that the idol, aware of the violent disposition of Mahmoud and his mercenary motives, on the fall of Putten, retired into the ocean. The trembling Brahmins are said to have offered ten millions sterling if the conqueror would spare the idol, urging that the destruction of an image of stone would not convert the hearts of the Gentoos, and that the sum they promised might be dedicated to the relief of the faithful. “ Your arguments,” replied the Sultan, " are specious and strong; but I am desirous of being looked on by the eyes of posterity as a destroyer of idols, not as a dealer in them.”

Repeating his blows, one of them broke open the belly of the image, which was hollow, and disclosed a quantity of diamonds and rubies and pearls, of far greater value than the ransom offered by the Brahmins explaining very sufficiently their devout prodigality. Some estimate of the treasures of Somnauth may be formed from the extent of its possessions, and multitude of attendants. It was endowed with a revenue of two thousand villages ; two thousand Brahmins were consecrated to service of the deity, whom they washed each morning and evening in water brought from the distant Ganges; the subordinate ministers consisted of three hundred musicians, three hundred barbers, and five hundred dancing-girls, conspicuous for their birth and beauty. Amongst the spoils carried to Ghuzni was a chain of gold, 400lbs. in weight, which hung by a ring from the roof of the building, and supported a great bell used for summoning the people to prayer ; besides some thousands of images, of various shapes and sizes, all made of gold or silver. * Having annihilated, as he supposed, the whole fraternity of Somnauth priests, Mahmoud turned his steps towards his native land; but being led by his guide through a desert of burning sands, his troops began to fall around him, victims to thirst and frenzy. Suspecting the fidelity of his conductor, he caused him to be put to the torture, and, by these cruel means, extorted a confession, that, being the only survivor of the sacrilegious massacre at Somnauth, and having nothing more that was valuable in life, he resolved, if possible, to avenge the fall of his countrymen, and die, if detected, in that glorious effort.

Mahmoud left, as his viceroy at Somnauth, a prince, named Dabishleen, who restored the temple promptly, in consideration of the vast revenue derivable from its pilgrim-tax ; and the poet Sadi, who visited the shrine at least two centuries after the sultan's death, gives the following account of his adventure, in a poem commencing with the words —“ I saw an idol at Somnauth, jewelled like the idol Munât in the days of superstition and ignorance.” Wondering at the folly of live people paying adoration to a senseless and motionless mass of matter, Sadi ventured to express his sentiments to an attendant priest. Enraged at the effrontery and impiety of the poet, the reverend man summoned his fraternity, and threatened immediate punishment if he did not retract his expressions and

Oriental mythologists attribute to the idol Somnauth the province of adjudging to departed souls the bodies appointed for their future residence, according to the doctrine of transmigration. The same writers consider the ebb and flow of the ocean as nothing more than a mark of its adoration towards their favourite idol.

acknowledge his crime. Sadi very artfully extricated himself by averring, that he only uttered such doubts for the purpose of giving the priests an opportunity of more fully confirming his belief in their idol. This was readily promised; but, in order to enjoy the great prerogative, it was necessary that Sadi should continue in the act of worship during the whole night, and at morning he would perceive the idol raise one of its arms in the act of supplication. Just before sunrise, at the sound of a deep-toned bell, the idol raised its monstrous arm, to the inexpressible delight of worshipping thousands; while Sadi, creeping behind the image, discovered a servitor concealed, and tugging manfully at the rope which regulated the miraculous movement. The convicted servitor fled, but was pursued by Sadi, who now felt that his life would inevitably be forfeited should the priesthood lay hold of him; so, coming up with his vietim, he pitched him head-foremost into a well, and threw in after him several ponderous stones. Escaping from Somnauth and from Hindu, Sadi returned to Persia, and published the disgrace of the “Lord of the Moon.”

The situation of Somnauth has occasioned its comparison with the temple of the Sun at Kotah, called the Black Pagoda, which also stands upon a promontory washed by the waves of the Eastern Sea, in the Bay of Bengal; and Asoka's selection of rocks on the high road to each, for the promulgation of his edicts, would seem to indicate that both enjoyed in his day a corresponding celebrity; and that, from the great resort of pilgrims, the approaches to them afforded the surest means of causing his doctrines and injunctions to be universally known.

Tradition alone asserts that the gates of sandal-wood which hung at the principal entrance of the temple, were carried away, amongst the spoils or trophies of Mahmoud's twelve expeditions, to Ghuznee, and ultimately placed in the entrance to his grand mausoleum, three miles distant from that city. It can easily be understood, from the least reflection upon the character of the hero, why he would have plundered the hoarded treasures of the temple, but it does not so clearly appear, in the absence of all written record of the fact, why a prince of such insatiable avarice would have felt desirous of possessing two wooden valves, and for no other purpose than to adorn a tomb. The calculations and passions of the avaricious are seldom extended to prospects beyond the grave. That such was his real character the concurrent testimony of Oriental writers establishes beyond all doubt. Gibbon, one of the most accurate as well as eloquent historians, writes: “Avarice was the only defect that tarnished the illustrious character of Mahmoud the Guznevide, and never has that passion been more richly satiated. The Orientals exceed the measure of credibility in the amount of millions of gold and silver, such as the avidity of man has never accumulated : in the magnitude of pearls, diamonds, and rubies, such as have never been produced by the workmanship of nature.

Yet the soil of Hindostan is impregnated with precious minerals: her trade, in every age, has attracted the gold and silver of the world : and her virgin spoils were rifled by the first Mahometan conquerors. His behaviour, in the last days of his life, evinces the vanity of these possessions, so laboriously won, so dangerously held, and so inevitably lost. He surveyed the vast

« PreviousContinue »