New Delhi: The Sompuras of Ahmedabad, the family behind some of India’s most famous temples, including the Akshardham and Somnath temples of Gujarat, will now see their vision materialise in Ayodhya in the form of the Ram Mandir, whose construction is expected to start next month.
The family claims to have designed at least 131 temples in India and abroad — including the Swaminarayan temple in London, and a few others in the US — over 15 generations. The Ram Temple project is being handled by two of the youngest members of this clan, Nikhil (55) and Ashish (49), under the wings of their father Chandrakant (77), who now works from home due to his age.
According to Ashish, Nikhil’s elder son has also made a start in the family business.
“We have been doing this over (15) generations. My father Chandrakant Bhai Sompura designed Gujarat’s Somnath Temple (reconstructed after India’s Independence) with my great-grandfather.”
Asked if they know the first temple built by their ancestors, Ashish replied in the negative. “The Sompura family has been designing temples for the last 15 generations. It is not new to us, and that is why it is difficult to tell who designed the first temple or which one was the first to be designed.”
Passed through generations
Chandrakant Sompura started learning the ropes of temple design, including the nuances of Vastu shastra, as a child from his grandfather Prabhashankar Sompura, said Ashish.
“My (great) grandfather Prabhashankar designed the Somnath temple. He has written 14 books on the Shilpa shastras. He had been awarded the Padma Shri,” he added.
Chandrakant’s father Baldev Sompura died in an accident at the age of 51.
After years in the thick of things, Ashish said, Chandrakant now guides them from home, while he and Nikhil attend the meetings of the Shri Ram Janmabhoomi Teertha Kshetra Trust, which was set up to oversee the Ram Temple construction.
“My elder brother Nikhil and I have been engaged in temple construction and design work. Our elder brother’s son has also joined us now,” he added.
“Our father is 77 years old but he continues to work. He works from the home office every day,” he said. “He sees whatever we design and also offers suggestions. Usually, we sit with him after breakfast to seek his inputs. At the moment, there are eight ongoing projects. We are also working on the famous Devasthan Pavagadh in Gujarat.”
‘Working on Ram Temple since 1989’
It was in November 2019 that the Supreme Court set the stage for the construction of a temple at the disputed Ayodhya site where Lord Ram is believed to have been born.
The court’s nod followed a bitter years-long campaign that included the demolition of the Babri Masjid, built at the site by the eponymous Mughal ruler, in 1992. The Sompuras say they have been in talks with the Vishva Hindu Parishad (VHP), the Hindu right-wing body that has been at the head of the Ram temple campaign, for the design since 1989.
“We have been associated with the VHP regarding the design of the temple since 1989. We have been doing temple construction work for the Birla family for generations. They were the ones who introduced us to Ashok Singhal of the VHP,” Ashish said. “Our work has been limited to designing the temple. It was the job of the VHP to pay for the materials and the labour costs.”
Ram Mandir design — ‘Nagara’ style, 366 pillars
Explaining the essence of the design, Chandrakant Sompura said the temple has been modelled in keeping with the ‘Nagara’ style — one of the three primary architecture systems that govern temple construction in India, the others being Dravidian and Basar — and adheres to the principles of Vastu shastra.
“This (Nagara) style is prevalent across north India but not in south India. The sanctum sanctorum of the temple is in the shape of an octagon. The perimeter of the temple is circular,” he added.
Famous examples of the Nagara style of temple construction include the Somnath shrine in Gujarat. Its distinctive characteristics include a tower that gradually curves inwards, as opposed to the pyramidal towers of the Dravidian school. Basar is a combination of the two.
The Ram Temple design has been tweaked from the one proposed 30 years ago. Instead of two storeys, the temple will now have three storeys. The length, width and height of the temple are now 360 feet, 235 feet, and 161 feet, respectively.
“The core structure of the Ram Temple has been kept the same as it was in the proposed model,” said Ashish. “Another floor is being added by increasing the height of the temple by 33 feet. Apart from this, five domes will be built in three places. A total of 366 pillars will be built in the entire temple — there will be 160 pillars on the first floor, 132 on the second, and 74 on the third. The sanctum sanctorum will be octagonal,” he added.
PM Modi is expected to attend a scheduled bhoomi pujan — a ceremony to mark the beginning of construction — in Ayodhya on 5 August.
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