Sardar Patel visited Junagadh in November 1947 after the state of Junagadh formally joined Indian Union. Jam Saheb and Kakasaheb Gadgil who were prominent citizens of Junagadh accompanied Sardar during this visit. Jam Saheb has recounted his memory of Sardar’s visit to Somanath on 12 November 1947 in the following words:
We then went down the steps to the sea. Sardar then took some water from the sea in his hands. He said to me, ‘My ambition is fulfilled’. We silently returned and entered the temple. All his worries were gone and a new light was reflected on Sardar’s face.
Kakasaheb describes it as follows:
We went to Junagadh. From Junagadh, we went to Veraval and on kartik shuddh padya, the New Year Day of Samvat 2004, we visited Somnath. We saw the temple. While Sardar and I were having a little walk on the beach, I said to the Sardar, ‘I think the Government of India ought to re-build this temple.’ He said, ‘Well, go ahead.’ Then we came to the temple and there in the presence of about 500 people, I announced: ‘The Government of India has decided to re-build this temple and install the deity. This Government has come to fulfill and not to destroy. The age of reconstruction is now on.’
Jam Saheb made the first contribution to the restoration/rebuilding of Somanath temple by publicly announcing a donation of one lakh rupees and the Junagadh administration promised Rs. 51,000. Sardar Patel in his public speech said,
On this auspicious day of the New Year, we have decided that Somanatha should be reconstructed. You, people of Saurashtra, should do your best. This is a holy task in which all should participate.
Acharya K M Munshi visited Somnath in January 1948. He visited the temple and made certain observations about the state of the temple:
Some of the old structures – garbagriha (inner shrine), part of the pradakshina marga (the circumambulatory passage), antarala (the intermediate corridor) and the gudha mandapa (central hall) with its three domes were all there. The gudha mandapa was partly covered by a mosque-like dome. The pillars were connected by sculptural brackets in lintels, now partly broken. The pillars in the central ashtansha (eight-divisioned area) of the gudha mandapa stood thirty-five feet apart from each other. Remnants of the shikhara (spire) of the temple lay to the west. The sculptured images were found preserved at a few places. There were courses with disfigured images at the place where the garbagriha was connected with the mandapa. In the north there were horizontal courses of the mahapitha comprising elephants, horses and men. Above it was a course of kumbha but in broken condition. Some upper courses were also preserved on the south side. Pillars of the front door, one pillar of the south door and the outward pillars of the pradakshina marga were also standing. A part of the floor of the mandapa as well as the garbhagriha had been broken up. Outside the gudha mandapa was the flooring of the 'Meghanada Mandapa' constructed by Bhimadeva II.
The Archeological Survey of India (ASI) conducted a thorough survey/excavation and identified different layers of temple structures. Various idols, carvings of dancing poses, inscriptions and circular base of Shiva lingam were found in the excavations.
There were voices from some quarters that the remains of the ruined temple should be maintained as an ancient monument, not to be rebuilt as a temple. Sardar Patel unambiguously silenced such views when he told the ASI,
The Hindu sentiment in regard to this temple is both strong and widespread. In the present conditions, it is unlikely that, that sentiment will be satisfied by mere restoration of the temple or by prolonging its life. The restoration of the idol would be a point of honour and sentiment with the Hindu public.
Further, experts opined that given the state of the ruined structures restoration was next to impossible. So it was finally decided that a grand new temple would be rebuilt. The reconstruction was sponsored by the Government of India, but as per the suggestion of Mahatma Gandhi, the Government decided not to make any monetary contribution to rebuilding of the temple. A trust was formed in January 1949, with the following objectives:
- Rebuilding and maintenance of the Somnath temple
- Renovation of Dehotsarga - where Krishna parted with his body
- General improvement of the neighborhood to maintain sanctity
In addition to the above, as in the tradition of great temples being centers of learning, Acharya K M Munshi suggested that an All-India Sanskrit University and a goshala be constituted under the trust and make Somnath a cultural center, which was accepted.
By end of 1949, about 25 lakh rupees had been collected for the temple restoration work. The Government of India and the Government of Saurashtra approved the rebuilding on 15 March 1950.
The foundation stone for rebuilding of temple was laid on 8 May 1950 by His Highness Jam Saheb. A silver Nandi was consecrated to mark this. The temple in ruins was pulled down on 19 October 1950.
A canard was set afloat that the Saurashtra government intended to spend a huge amount of money on the reconstruction and though it was denied by the Chief Minister of the State, it was played up in certain sections of the press. It was at this time that the Jam Saheb wrote a letter to Indian diplomats to send a pinch of soil, a few drops of water and twigs as were required for the prescribed ritual for installing a jyotirlinga, from the respective countries to which they were accredited, so that the reinstallation might symbolise the unity of the world and the brotherhood of men.
At least one of the diplomats, Mr. Panikkar felt that his secularism was in danger of being misunderstood and complained about it to the Prime Minister. This issue then met some political storm with some members raising concerns in the cabinet meetings. Jawaharlal Nehru told K M Munshi,
I don’t like your trying to restore Somnath temple. It is Hindu revivalism.
Munshi produced all the relevant documents which were associated with rebuilding of temple. In his reply to Nehru, he wrote,
Yesterday you referred to Hindu revivalism. You pointedly referred to me in the Cabinet as connected with Somnath. I am glad you did so; for I do not want to keep back any part of my views or activities... I can assure you that the ‘Collective Subconscious’ of India today is happier with the scheme of reconstruction of Somnath sponsored by the Government of India than with many other things that we have done and are doing.
The intention to throw open the temple to harijans has evoked some criticism from the orthodox section of the Hindu community. However, the objects of the Trust Deed make it clear that the temple is not only to be open to all classes of the Hindu community, but, according to the tradition of the old temple of Somnath, also to non-Hindu visitors. Many have been the customs which I have defied in personal life from boyhood. I have laboured in my humble way through literary and social work to share or reintegrate some aspects of Hinduism, in the conviction that that alone will make India an advanced and vigorous nation under modern conditions.
It is my faith in our past which has given me the strength to work in the present and to look forward to our future. I cannot value India’s freedom if it deprives us of the Bhagavad Gita or uproots our millions from the faith with which they look upon our temples and thereby destroys the texture of our lives. I have been given the privilege of seeing my incessant dream of Somnath reconstruction come true. That makes me feel – makes me almost sure – that this shrine once restored to a place of importance in our life will give to our people a purer conception of religion and a more vivid consciousness of our strength, so vital in these days of freedom and its trials.
V P Menon who was the adviser to States Ministry wrote to Munshi,
I have seen your masterpiece. I for one would be prepared to live and, if necessary, die by the views you have expressed in your letter.
The installation ceremony of lingam was set on 11 May 1951. Then President Dr. Rajendra Prasad installed the new deity in the presence of huge concourse of people who had gathered from all parts of the country. The President said in his address,
It is my view that the reconstruction of the Somnath Temple will be complete on that day when not only a magnificent edifice will arise on this foundation, but the mansion of India's prosperity will be really that prosperity of which the ancient temple of Somnath was a symbol. The Somnath temple signifies that the power of reconstruction is always greater than the power of destruction.
The temple construction was done in the Chalukya style of architecture. Built with sandstone, the shikara (dome) of the temple is 15m high and has a 8.2m flag post on top. It is only historical justice that the temple built by Kumarapala in 1164 CE was also built with sandstone.