Sun Temple, Modhera and its adjoining monuments

Date de soumission : 13/12/2022
Critères: (i)(iv)
Catégorie : Culturel
Soumis par :
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
État, province ou région :
Gujarat State, Mehsana District
Coordonnées N23 35 0.7008 E72 7 58.602
Ref.: 6627


The origin of practice of Sun worship in India is evidently found in the Vedic scriptures of Hindu religion signifying the millennia old tradition. Modhera is sometimes called Mundera, the original settlement of the Modha Brahmans and is fabled to have been given them as a Krishnarpana on occasion of marriage of Ram and Sita. They acted as the gurus to the Modha Vaniyas. The Jain acharya, Hemchandra, was of the Modha Parentage. The outstanding Sun Temple at Modhera is located on the left bank of the river Pushpavati, a tributary of river Rupan in Becharaji Taluka of Mehsana District of Gujarat.

Architectural features

The temple, built of in Maru-gurjara architectural style, consists of the main temple shrine (garbhagriha), a hall (gadhamandapa), an outer hall or assembly hall (Sabhamandapa or rangamandapa) and a sacred pool (Kunda) which is now called Ramakunda. The Sabhamandapa does not form part of the main body, but it is a distinct structure placed a little away in front of the main temple shrine. The main temple shrine and the Sabhamandapa are built on a paved platform and the kunda lies in their front. This east facing temple is built of bright yellow sandstone.

The Main Temple shrine

On plan the shrine (garbhagriha) forms a rectangle with the projection on eastern and western sides and two projections each on the northern and southern sides. It measures 15.78 m X 7.83 m and is almost equally divided into 'garbhagriha' and 'gudhamandapa'. The four outer corners of the temple are broken by recesses and projections, where the main corner 'karna' is more strongly pronounced than both the side 'pratirathas'. On the eastern side of the shrine several steps lead up to a small porch. Through this porch the only entrance of the temple is reached. The pair of pillars separates a narrow vestibule – ‘mukhamandapa’ from the main hall – gudhamandapa. Eight pillars arranged in an octagon form the central domed chamber, over the gudhamandapa. This is separated from the garbhagriha by a row of four pillars, which forms a small antechamber – antarala with a slightly raised floor in front of the cella entrance. The garbhagriha is 3.35 m square inside and has a pradaksinamarga formed by a passage between its own walls and the outer walls of the temple. From inside, the shrine walls are severely plain. The doorway is however sculptured with figures or Surya seated in panels and surrounded by dancers. On the elevation, the temple is divided into three basic parts- pitha, mandovara and shikhara (which no longer survives). The whole structure is raised on a high plateform (pitha), above which is the main wall (mandovara), consisting of two parts known as vedi-bandha and jangha. The pitha is decorated with rows of elephants, men and warriors in various heroic actions, processions, etc.

The wall above this basement has a profile with shapely mouldings. It is adorned with large panels, following an orderly progression. The wall moulding called mandovara, begins with a 'kumbha', a pitcher, with a broad undecorated band on its lower part, but itself ornamented with a row of oval discs. Over this is ‘kalasa’ surmounted with a broad band, decorated with chaitya-windows, called "kevala". Next is a similar projection called manche and separated by a thin fillet is the paneled face of the wall called 'jangha'. This is decorated with figures of gods, the arrangement being such that figures of Surya are more prominently placed than those of the others. Besides there are smaller panels containing dancers etc. Surya figures have been sculptured in the niches round the pradaksinamarga, as well as outside in three niches in each side of the three windows of the shrine wall. Surya is shown in these sculptures as standing, with two arms, bearing lotuses and driven by seven horses. Over every triangular pediment consists of a chaitya-window called ‘Udgam'. The moulding above this consisting of projecting bands of chaitya-window and kirtimukha is called malakval. Over this is topmost member of mandovara, the principle cornice called chhajli. The wall was crowned with the shikhara, of which no remains are left to judge its shape.


Plan of the open pillared hall, the Sabhamandapa is derived from a square. The hall has entrances at its four sides, i.e., on its western, southern, eastern and northern sides. From the present entrance, four parallel running pairs of pillars lead towards the centre of the hall, forming an octagon which supports the central dome. Externally the mandapa is most beautifully decorated. Each of the four sides is into a series of mouldings. The pitha or adhisthana is smaller than that of the shrine. The padma, in this case is more richly decorated than the shrine. The wall mouldings are different. There is a band, separated above the narathara, filled with panels of gods, dancers. Over this is the wall proper decorated with large vertical panels of gods and goddesses and slabs of stone with floral design. This moulding is said to correspond to the jangha of the mandovara. The cornice above this supports a member called kaksasana which slopes outside and on the inner slope forms a bench-rest asana which runs round the interior of the hall. Over this was the roof in the shape of a stepped pyramid. The interior of this roof was formed by a ceiling, rising in tiers, which rests on pillars arranged in an octagon. The pillars of the hall are of two kinds - short, resting on the wall, and supporting the roof and pillars with tall columns which rise directly from the floor. First kind of pillars have a square shaft for about half of its height, then comes the vase, after which the shaft becomes octagonal and is surmounted with a capital. In the second kind of pillars the shaft rests on a square of octagonal base. This is called ‘kumbhi'. Each of its faces is adorned with a triangular ornament or a niched-god. On the walls, small flat ceilings and lintels of the Sabhamandapa are depicted with scenes from the Ramayana.


At the temple site two gateways are found in situ and fragments of a third one lie nearby. The first one stands between the tank and the dancing hall and the second one is placed on the north-eastern corner of the site near to the slope leading down to the riverbed. The 'kirtitorana', a triumphant arch, which stands in the front of Sabhamandapa, only has the pillars while the pediment and the torana have disappeared. The mouldings and decorations of these are similar to those of the Sabhamandapa and the pillars through the kirtitorana, a flight of stairs lead to the ‘Kunda’ now called RamaKunda.


In front of the temple is the large pool or ‘Kunda’ known as Suryakunda measuring 175 ft. north-south and 120 ft. east-west which is approachable through a grand flight of steps for ablutions comprising a sheet of water contained within a rectangular arrangement of platforms and terraces interspaced with shrines of various sizes and shapes. Small pyramidal stairways which are arranged in staggered rows, lead from one terrace to the other. On the small landings of each of these stairways there is a very low semicircular step (ardhachandra). Framed niches with images are found also on the faces of the stairways of the second terrace. The western side of the tank is flanked with flight of steps and permit access to the dancing hall. The shrines are all facing the tank. They consist of a square cella (garbhagriha) and tower (shikhara). At the four corners of the upper terrace, small detached shrines are erected.

Sculptural Features

Sculptures of noteworthy iconography are found at the temple primarily of the panels of the large figural frieze (angha) on the window balustrades (vedika), on the entrance doorframe, on the cella doorframe, and here and there in the inner walls. The utmost life-sized figures in the central niches or the panels belong to three groups of deities: the Adityas, the Lokapalas, and the Devis. The twelve Adityas are arranged around the western part of the cella. Except for only a few differences these figures are identical with one another, and their iconography corresponds exactly to that of Surya. They stand in samabhanga position upon a pedestal of seven prancing horses. Between the boot-tips of the deities, the charioteer Aruna is found holding reins in one hand and raising the other hand above his head. The attributes of the Adityas are full blown lotuses. The ten Lokapalas are placed in the main comers (karmas) of the temple and in the deep niches of the northern and southern walls. Of the ten deities nine are Lokapalas, being the established group of eight (Indra, Agni, Yama, Nirrti, Varuna, Vayu, Kubera, Isana) and a surplus Indra. The tenth figure represents an ichnographically interesting deity who has three heads, three arms and three legs. The twelve Deities are grouped around the eastern part of the temple that is around the assembly hall. All of them stand in tribhanga on a lotus pedestal, which often is flanked by human figures. In the other niches and corners occur figures of Siva and Vishnu in various forms, Nagas, etc.

Justification de la Valeur Universelle Exceptionnelle

Architecture and sculptures developed greatly in Gujarat since early times. Many dynasties, such as the Chavdas, Solankis, Vaghelas, as well as wealthy Jaina merchants founded innumerable temples, lakes and stepped wells and embellished them with sculptures through the centuries. Due to this patronage a distinct style of architecture developed in Gujrat. Amongst hundreds of small and large temples of Gujarat, temples built by the Solankis are more prominent than other dynasties. They built Saiva, Vaisnava, Saura, Sakta, Jaina temples, monasteries and also excavated large reservoirs. The important examples of architecture of the Solanki dynasty include Rani ki Vav, Sahastralinga reservoir at Patan, Rudramahalaya at Sidhpur etc. The most famous amongst them is the Sun Temple, Modhera that represents the outstanding creation of Maru-gurjara architecture style; and was a model for the later temples. Apart from these the Solankis also built many other monuments, but only few of them are survived.

The Sun Temple, Modhera dedicated to Surya dev (The Sun God), is one of the remarkable gems of temple architecture in India and the pride of Gujrat. This temple impresses not only with its architectural structure and technological achievements as in position of the temple against to Sun; but also in particular with its sculpture decoration, representing true artistic mastery. It is an exemplary model of Maru-gurjara architecture style of the 11th century of western India under the patronage of the Solanki dynasty. The age of the temple may be inferred from its style belonging to the reign of Bhimadeva I (1022-1063 CE). The position of the temple on an elevated mound facing due east is such that the rising sun at the equinoxes would shine straight through the Sabhamandapa doors into the shrine. It displays an amazing profusion of magnificently carved images of gods and goddesses, flowers and leaves, birds and animals, on its interior and exterior. In this temple the Main shrine belongs to kund; probably it is also an exceptional example of a distinctive form in association of temple and Suryakund in western area of architectural structures.

Besides above the Sculptures are also the principal reason that Modhera is exceptional and famous in all over the world. The exterior of the temple walls has been profusely covered with sculptures. And in this case, it may be observed that the mouldings and sculptures on the walls of the mandapa are arranged in horizontal bands, whilst on the shikhara they follow vertical lines. The monotony of a simply horizontal arrangement, too, is avoided by the vertical lines of projecting and recessed faces. The horizontal lines, under the play of light and shade on the vertical faces of varying prominence, give the whole a crisp and sparkling effect, difficult of attainment by other arrangements. Main shrine belongs to kund; probably it is a unique feature compared to the area around.

The sculptures of Sun Temple, Modhera are truly marvelous. In particular, the outer walls are adorned with hundreds of figures of various sizes. The walls from base to top are decorated with small and large carvings. Between the hall and the shrine, these walls are adorned with thirty-four large panels and can be further divided into three groups based on the deities represented. The first group represents twelve Adityas, in the second group are twelve goddesses (Gauris), and the third group consists of ten figures, eight of whom are Dikpalas or “protectors of directions of space” and the remaining two are other related deities.

The Adityas are aspects of the Sun God. The Sun God along with his twelve manifestations (corresponding to the cycle of twelve months in a year) have been worshipped since the Vedic times. On the walls of Modhera, the Adityas are placed on twelve large panels on the shrine walls. They are standing frontally, and each has two arms with lotuses in the upraised hands; they wear a coat of arms, tall boots and a special waist cord known as avyanga. They are flanked by the same two attendants who flank the Sun God, namely Dandi and Pingala; and they ride a seven-horse chariot like the Sun. In comparison with outer walls, the inside less ornamented, which is a characteristic of Indian temples. The twelve Adityas on the inner walls of the hall have the same iconography like on the outer walls.

The associated structure Surya-kunda, also known as Ram-kunda, is under the east face of the Sabha-mandapa, from which a broad stair leads down to the water’s edge. Between the kunda and the rangamandapa, there are imposing ceremonial free-standing gates (toranas), often erected in front of temples in western India. Their design consists of two tall columns divided into many horizontal and vertical bands decorated with ornate figures, scrolls, animals etc. and spanned by ornate beams and other architectural members.   

Criterion (i): The Sun Temple, Modhera dedicated to Surya dev (The Sun God), represents a masterpiece of human creative genius. It is one of the remarkable gems of temple architecture in India and the pride of Gujarat. This temple impresses its architectural splendour and technological achievements like the position of the temple on a mound facing due east is such that the rising sun at the equinoxes would shine straight through the Sabhamandapa doors into the shrine that represents the meticulous planning as well as understanding of the solar movement. This feature is the one which not so prominent in earlier Surya temples in India.  The temple in particular with its sculpture decoration, of true artistic mastery of craftsmanship and figurative expression. It is an exemplary model of Maru-gurjara architecture style of the 11th century of western India under the patronage of the Solanki dynasty. It displays an amazing profusion of magnificently carved gods and goddesses, flowers and leaves, birds and animals, on both its interior and exterior. In this temple the Main shrine belongs to kunda making it an exceptional example of a distinctive form of association of temple and an elaborate water structure found nowhere else in the region.

Criterion (iv):  This temple is remarkable not only for its fine proportions and aesthetic appeal but also for harmonious integration of its plastic embellishment with architectural scheme. The basement of the temple represents number of mouldings which is much more elaborately carved and ornamented. The wall portion of the temple contains several panels of Surya, ashtadikpalas, different forms of Gauri and dancing apsaras, musicians and amorous sculptures. Lord Surya stands in samabhanga pose, on a chariot drawn by seven horses, with two full-blown lotuses held in his hands. Sculptures of Surya also occur on the architraves of the door jambs of the garbhagriha and Sabhamandapa. The main shrine at Modhera has Samatala type of ceiling with elaborate floral and figural motifs carved. In the Sabhamandapa, four ceilings represent the scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata.  Considering all its features, it is an outstanding example of a building having remarkable architectural and technological significance in the history of this nation.

Déclarations d’authenticité et/ou d’intégrité

The Sun Temple, Modhera has maintained its originality in terms of their original form and design. Various attributes of this temple including the material, structures, sculptures, ornamentation and narratives are being maintained in their original form and material. Further, the location and setting of this temple and surrounding structures are maintained at their original location, on the left bank of river Pushpavati with a torana at the eastern side entrance of the nrityamandapa with an oblong kunda in the front. During the reign of Solanki King Bhimdeva-I (1022-1063 A.D.), this area attained its greatest splendor, widest extent and highest prosperity. There are many archaeological remains still present like fortification, gateways, wells, tanks, temples, tombs and mosques scattered around this area which prove its authenticity and collaborates writings of contemporary chronicles. The temple consists of three separate elements: (1) The Main Temple complex, including sanctum with ambulatory, lateral transepts and porch, (2) a detached Sabhamandapa with a torana in front, and (3) a large rectangular tank decorated with numerous miniature shrines. All these elements are in a good state of preservation and whenever required restoration and conservation work is being carried out keeping the originality of the temple structure and building material. The National Policy for Conservation, 2014 of the Archaeological Survey of India guides the entries conservation protocol of the heritage.

The essential attributes and features of this Sun temple that relate to its Outstanding Universal Value have remained intact and they display integrity in form of material and form. Within the protected area of the temple lies all the structures and sculptures along with the dislodged sculptures that remain preserved in-situ representing the quintessential qualities of architectural form, design and sculptural relief. Further, the protected area includes all such areas that have the potential to reveal any unexplored archaeological remains. Management of tourists and climatic condition including varying amount of rainfall and eroding agents have been dealt with respect to its integrity. Further, the whole temple complex is preserved, protected, conserved, and managed by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) through Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act (1958) amended and validation in 2010 and Rules and The National Policy for Conservation, 2014 of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Comparaison avec d’autres biens similaires

The Sun temple at Modhera is an outstanding piece of human architectural deftness and artistic value. It occupies a pre-eminent position among temples and other architectural products of the medieval period in the western geo-cultural regions. As in rest of India, architecture of medieval period in the Gujarat region also saw the culmination of the architectural efforts of previous periods. During this period, the Maru-gurjara style of architecture is represented by the monuments of the Solanki dynasty which revealed a definitive maturity. The Sun temple of Modhera is the earliest of such temples which set trends in architectural and decorative details, proportions and interrelationship of different structures representing Solanki style at its best. Thus, the temple occupies a unique position in the art milieu of the western region during early medieval period.

Comparison with other similar properties includes partially similar properties, World Heritage properties in India and World Heritage properties in other countries. Details are given below:

Indian Heritage properties

Temple at Konark and Modhera are in good condition at present. In India, Sun worship has a millennia old history. Many temples were constructed dedicated to Sun God. Along with the 8th century CE Martand Sun Temple in Kashmir and the 13th century CE Sun temple at Konark, this temple forms invaluable link in the history of diffusion of the practice of Surya worship in India, which originates in Kashmir during the 8th Century CE finally reaches towards the eastern and western ends.

However, the Sun temple at Modhera is different from the one in Kashmir and the other important such temple at Konark near the seashore of Bay of Bengal in terms of their architectural features, materials and site plans. Architecturally, Sun temple at Konark represents the culmination of Kalinga style of architecture. Martand temple is based on Kashmiri architecture with a blend of Gupta and Gandhara architecture and used stone. On the other hand, the temple at Modhera is based on Maru-gurjara style of architecture and used mainly sandstone as the building material. Further, only this temple out of these three has a kunda of extraordinary aesthetic and artistic creativity, in front of it.

World Heritage properties in India

Khajuraho group of temples are the existing World Heritage Sites from Central India, which are also built in the Nagara style of temple architecture. Khajuraho group of temples served as the epicenter of the temple construction and its proliferation in North India. These group of temples are famous for their sculpture art-work embellishments in exterior and interior and lofty shikharas.

The temples were built during the Chandella dynasty, which reached its apogee between 950 and 1050. Only about 20 temples remain; they fall into three distinct groups and belong to two different religions – Hinduism and Jainism. The temples of Khajuraho are known for the harmonious integration of sculptures with their architecture. The temple of Kandariya is decorated with a profusion of sculptures that are among the greatest masterpieces of Indian art. The composition and fineness achieved by the master craftsmen of these temple gave a rare vibrancy, sensitivity and warmth of human emotions in the temples.

The group of monuments at Pattadakal, in Karnataka, represents the high point of an eclectic art which, in the 7th and 8th centuries under the Chalukya dynasty achieved a harmonious blend of architectural forms from northern and southern India. An impressive series of nine Hindu temples, as well as a Jain sanctuary can be seen there. One masterpiece from the group stands out the temple of Virupaksha, built c. 740 by Queen Lokamahadevi to commemorate her husband's victory over the kings from the South.

World Heritage properties in other countries

In Cambodia’s Northern Province of Siem Reap, Angkor is one of the most important archaeological sites of Southeast Asia. For several centuries Angkor, was the centre of the Khmer Kingdom. With impressive monuments, several different ancient urban plans and large water reservoirs, the site is a unique concentration of features testifying to an exceptional civilization. The temples such as Angkor Wat, the Bayon, Preah Khan and Ta Prohm, are the example of Khmer architecture closely linked to their geographical context as well as being imbued with symbolic significance. The architecture and layout of the successive capitals bear witness to a high level of social order and ranking within the Khmer Empire. Angkor is a major site exemplifying cultural, religious and symbolic values, as well as containing high architectural, archaeological and artistic significance.

Royal Palaces of Abomey, Benin

The Royal Palaces of Abomey are the major material testimony to the Kingdom of Dahomey which developed from the mid-17th century in accordance with the precept enunciated by its founder, Wegbaja, “that the kingdom shall always be made greater”. Under the twelve kings who succeeded from 1625 to 1900, the kingdom established itself as one of the most powerful of the western coast of Africa. The site of the Royal Palaces of Abomey covers an area of 47 ha, and consists of a set of ten palaces, some of which are built next to each other and others which are superimposed, according to the succession to the throne. These palaces obey the principles relating to the culture Aja-Fon and constitute not only the decision-making centre of the kingdom, but also the centre for the development of craft techniques, and storage for the treasures of the kingdom. The site consists of two parts since the palace of King Akaba is separated from that of his father Wegbaja by one of the main roads of the city and some residential areas. These two areas are enclosed by partially preserved cob walls. The palaces have organizational constants because each is surrounded by walls and built around three courtyards (outer, inner, private). The use of traditional materials and polychrome bas-reliefs are important architectural features. Today, the palaces are no longer inhabited, but those of King Ghézo and King Glélé house the Historical Museum of Abomey, which illustrates the history of the kingdom and its symbolism through a desire for independence, resistance and fight against colonial occupation.