A study of the available historical accounts of the once famous Multan Sun Temple (now in Pakistan)
The Silent Pages of History have a lot in store to explore for the connoisseur. Important Landmarks of earlier ages have totally been wiped off the map with the onslaught of time; and so much so that even to recover the details or traces of what once existed, the reliance one can place is only on available historical accounts or archaeological reports. Indian history is replete with examples of such lost cities, palaces, forts, temples and dynasties, which were once a part of the mainstream imagination and reverence. The Sun Temple of Multan was one such landmark, of which no physical trace survives to the day. If one today searches on Google to learn about the history of the non-existent Multan Sun Temple, one is likely to get some details. But its exact location is nowhere mentioned on any map of Multan. It was Cunningham, who first in 1853 identified the exact location of the Temple from the accounts of earlier writers like Istakhri, Ibn Haukal and Idrisi. Cunningham has shown the exact location of the Sun Temple on a Plate (ASI Reports, Vol. V) which contains the sketch map of the ancient fortress of Multan.
|Cunningham’s Plate showing the site near Jami Masjid in Multan Fort|
Post the lamentable partition of India in 1947, the city of Mulasthana or Multan today lies in Pakistan. Once upon a time, the city of Multan was highly revered by the ancient Indians for its sanctity. Derived from the Sanskrit term Mula Sthana, it meant the ‘original abode’ and housed a massive Sun Temple, which was visited by pilgrims from different parts of India. An effort has been made here to compile and study the known historical references about the most famous Sun Temple of India, of which no traces are presently left. It however exists in the earlier writings and thus in the shared memories of the Indian sub-continent. The very name of Mulasthana indicating it as being the original abode signifies its importance as one of the most revered cradles of ancient Hinduism. Today as a student of Indian History and culture, one may have the utmost desire of visiting Multan for the purposes of study, travel or pilgrimage, but truly and sadly it is not freely accessible to most Indians. Multan was on the pilgrims’ itinerary since times immemorial, and was described with very high regard in several Mythological and religious accounts. Physically Multan today may be inaccessible to the Indian traveler, but the bonds of Multan with the rest of India still exist in the books of History, in mythology and in the realms of popular culture.
Multani Mitti still used as a purifier !
Whenever in the 1980’s as a small child I happened to visit villages in Bihar, I found people using a very soft type of clay which they called as Multani Mitti (clay of Multan) to wash their hairs, and also found it to be quite effective as a hair cleanser. In those years, the commercial shampoo was being slowly introduced in these remote villages as an alternative to the more natural way villagers were used to maintain hygiene. Most surprisingly, even though the source of the clay seemed to be local, it was called as Multani mitti or the ‘clay from Multan’. I wondered where Multan was located in India, and what was so special about its clay which must have been regarded as a purifier and thus sacred. As I grew up I figured out that Multan though located in the Indian sub-continent was no longer a part of India. The mystery of Multan and its importance always fascinated me to read more about it. I have a desire to travel to Multan, whenever the opportunity descends, to see the present state of one of the most famous ancient travel destinations.
Multan in History and Mythology
Cunningham mentions that the ancient fortress of Multan, is situated four miles from the left of the Chenab river. Originally it stood on an island in the Ravi, which changed its course several centuries earlier and in 1872 joined the Chenab 32 miles above Multan. He mentions that during the high floods the waters of the Ravi still flowed down their old bed, and he had noticed that the ditches of Multan were filled by the annual overflow of the river. A reading of the Chachnama shows that in the 8th century, the river Ravi still continued to flow. In 1864, Cunningham sank several wells in the fort, out of which the findings from one just outside the temple of Prahladpuri, were very interesting. The dug out remains displayed human activity on the site from at least 400 B.C. The two chief discoveries were the great masses of ashes and burnt materials at two different depths. The upper one was nearly 3 feet in thickness extending from 15 feet down to nearly 18 feet. Two feet of this deposit consisted of red ashes overlying a thinner layer of black ashes from 6 to 9 inches thick. This was not a small deposit limited to the area of the well, as it was found to extend on every side as far as could be traced with safety. Cunningham ascribed these to the period of Muhammad bin Kasim’s conquest of Multan in 712 A.D. The other similar deposit was of 2 feet thickness of ashes and burnt earth, found at a depth of 30 to 32 feet, which he ascribed to the period of Alexander’s capture of the capital city of Malli i.e. Multan. He mentions from earlier accounts of Diodorus, Curtius and Arrian, that the Macedonian soldiers were enraged by Alexander’s dangerous wound and thus had massacred the whole garrison. The remains may bear a testimony to the same.
According to mythological legends, Multan is said to have been founded by Kasyapa, the father of Hiranya Kasyapa, after whom it was named Kasyapapura. This oldest name of Multan was preserved upto Abu Rihan Al Beruni, who visited India in the early 11th century. Cunningham mentions that the spoken form of the name was Kasappur, which he believed to be the same as the Kaspapuros of Hekatues, the Kaspaturos of Herodotus, and the Kaspeira of Ptolemy. Abu Rihan has mentioned the other names of Multan as Hansapura, Bhagapura and Sambapura, which appear to have been descriptive names, Hansa and Bhaga being synonyms of the Sun or Aditya. The worship of Sun Temples in India is very ancient and is traceable to the times of the Rigveda. In the Mahabharata, the Pandava ruler Yudhisthira is believed to have conducted a yagya where he was directed to build 12 Sun Temples at different locations in India. In another mythological legend Samba, the son of Krishna is said to have made 12 Sun temples across India, including the one at Multan to be cured of leprosy. The reason why Multan became so famous and revered is not fully understood. Why it was called as Mula Sthana or the original abode is also not fully understood, however, it has been interpreted as having been the original abode of Vedic culture.
The Multan Sun Temple in History
The History of the Multan Sun Temple is very interesting in that though having been divested of all its past splendor, gold and other valuable property by the Arab conquerors of Multan in 712 A.D., it still managed to have survived the effects and had continued to be a major Hindu pilgrimage destination respected for all its sanctity till its first destruction and conversion by the Shiaite Karmatians towards the end of the 10th century. The Shiaite occupation was soon reversed after the attack of the Mahmud of Ghazni in 1005 A.D., and the Shiaites were finally displaced by Mohammed Ghori around 1175 A.D. Soon after the visit of Abu Rihan, who could not find any temple there, the Sun Temple was rebuilt and restored. As is available from the contemporary accounts, the Sun Temple again regained its eminence as the most important Hindu place of pilgrimage and continued so till 1666 A.D., after which it suffered its final destruction by the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. No trace of the Temple was left when Multan was occupied by the Sikhs in 1818 A.D. The Jami Masjid which was probably built by Aurangzeb was also destroyed in an accidental explosion in 1848. The temple was however lost forever. Several references in historical timeline, which are not all available at one place, have been reproduced here for the benefit of the reader.
Historical Descriptions of Multan by foreign travellers
Between the years 629-645 A.D., the Buddhist pilgrim Hieun Tsang travelled throughout India, and in 641 A.D., crossing through the Sindh province he reached the province of Multan, which he described as MU-LO-SAN-PU-LU (MULASTHANAPURA). In his accounts, he has described the country of Multan as being about 4000 li (667 miles) in circuit, with the capital town being about 30 li (5 miles) round. It was even then very thickly populated, with rich and fertile soil and was dependent on the kingdom of Cheka (Tse-kia) i.e. Taki. The climate was soft and agreeable, and the people were simple and honest in their manners, loved learning and honored the virtuous. The greater part of the population sacrificed to the spirits i.e. followed the Vedic religion, and only few were Buddhists. He found about 10 Buddhist monasteries, with a few priests and mostly in ruins. Importantly he found 8 Deva Temples, with dwellers from various sectaries. He described the temple dedicated to the Sun as very magnificent and profusely decorated.
Describing the activities at the Multan Sun Temple, Hieun Tsang mentioned:- “The image of the Sun-deva is cast in yellow gold and ornamented with rare gems. Its divine insight is mysteriously manifested and its spiritual power made plain to all. Women play their music, light their torches, offer their flowers and perfumes to honour it. The custom has been continued from the very first. The kings and high families of the five Indies never fail to make their offerings of gems and precious stones (to this Deva). They have founded a house of mercy (happiness), in which they provide food, and drink, and medicines for the poor and sick, affording succor and sustenance. Men from all countries come here to offer up their prayers; there are always some thousands doing so. On the four sides of the temple are tanks with flowering groves where one can wander about without restraint.”
The above account sounds like a very familiar description of any famous Hindu pilgrimage site. This seems to be the first foreigner’s account of the erstwhile splendor of the Sun Temple of Multan. Hiuen Tsang has referred to the untraceable antiquity of Sun worship at the site in 641 A.D., and stated that it continued from the very first. Abu Rihan relates that the temple and the statue of the Sun, which existed just before his time, were said by the people to be 216,432 years old. Cunningham has doubted this antiquity and based on the account in the Chach-nama of Jibawin as noted below, he has placed the founding of the temple to around 500 A.D., and has tried to identify the founder Jibawin as the ruler of Sindh named as Diwahij or Devajarit. That it occupied a very important place in the life of all Indians, is further exemplified in the writings of the early Arab travelers in the 7th to 8th centuries, some of which I shall describe below.
An extract from Futuhu-L Buldan of Ahmad Ibn Yahya Ibn Jabir Al Biladuri (9th century) describes the Arab capture of Multan and how the Arabs succeeded in gaining a lot of Gold in the ancient temple’s chambers. It mentions “Muhammad advanced to Alsaka (probably Alor), a town on this side of the Biyas, which was captured by him, and is now in ruins. He then crossed the Biyas, and went towards Multan, where in the action which ensued, Zaida, the son of Umur, of the tribe of the Tai, covered himself with glory. The infidels retreated in disorder into the town, and Muhammad commenced the siege, but the provisions being exhausted, the Musulmans were reduced to eat asses. Then came there forward a man who sued for quarter, and pointed out to them an aqueduct, by which the inhabitants were supplied with drinking water from the river of Basmad. It flowed within the city into a reservoir like a well, which they called talah. Muhammad destroyed the water-course; upon which the inhabitants, oppressed with thirst, surrendered at discretion. He massacred the men capable of bearing arms, but the children were taken captive, as well as the ministers of the temple, to the number of six thousand. The Musulmans found there much gold in a chamber ten cubits long by 8 broad, and there was an aperture above, through which the gold was poured into the chamber. Hence they call Multan “the frontier of the House of Gold”, for farz means “a frontier”. The temple (budd) of Multan received rich presents and offerings, and to it the people of Sind resorted as a place of pilgrimage. They circumambulated it, and shaved their heads and beards. They conceived that the image was that of the prophet Job, – God’s peace be on him!” Cunningham relates that the reading of the name of the idol must have been obtained by the change of Adit to Ayub, which in Persian characters would be very slight.
The Story of the Invasion of Multan by Muhammad bin Kasim is narrated in detail in the Chach-nama (or Tarikh-I Hind wa Sind) written first between 712-753 AD (translated from Arabic to Persian by Muhammad Ali bin Hamid bin Abu Bakr Kufi, in the time of Nasiru-d din Kabacha.) Extracts from the Chach-Nama mention the following :-
“Conquest of Sikka Multan by Muhammad Kasim
When he had settled affairs with Kaksa, he left the fort, crossed the Bias, and reached the stronghold of Askalanda, the people of which, being informed of the arrival of the Arab army, came out to fight. Rawa, son of Amiratu-t Tafi, and Kaksa headed the advanced army and commenced battle. Very obstinate engagements ensued, so that on both sides streams of blood flowed. The Arabs at the time of their prayers repeated “Glorious God” with a loud voice, and renewed the attack. The idolaters were defeated, and threw themselves into the fort. They began to shoot arrows and fling stones from the mangonels on the walls. The battle continued for seven days, and the nephew of the Chief of Multan, who was in the fort of that city, made such attacks that the army began to be distressed for provisions; but at last the chief of Askalanda came out in the night time, and threw himself into the fort of Sikka, which is a large fort on the south bank of the Ravi. When their chief had gone away, all the people, the artisans, and merchants sent a message to say that they were subjects, and now that their chief had fled, they solicited protection from Muhammad Kasim. He granted the request of the merchants, artisans and agriculturists; but he went into the fort, killed four thousand fighting men with his bloody sword, and sent their families into slavery. He appointed as governor of the fort Atba son of Salma Tamimi and himself with the army proceeded towards Sikka Multan. It was a fort on the south bank of the Ravi, and Bajhra Taki, grandson of Bajhra (daughter’s son), was in it. When he received the intelligence he commenced operations. Every day, when the army of the Arabs advanced towards the fort, the enemy came out and fought, and for seventeen days they maintained a fierce conflict. From among the most distinguished officers (of Muhammad Kasim) twenty-five were killed, and two hundred and fifty other warriors of Islam were slain. Bajhra passed over the Ravi and went into Multan. In consequence of the death of his friends, Muhammad Kasim had sworn to destroy the fort, so he ordered his men to pillage the whole city. He then crossed over towards Multan, at the ferry below the city, and Bajhra came out to take the field.
Muhammad Kasim fights with the ferry-men
That day the battle raged from morning till sun-set, and when the world, like a day labourer, covered itself with the blanket of darkness, and the king of the heavenly host covered himself with the veil of concealment, all retired to their tents. The next day, when the morning dawned from the horizon, and the earth was illumined, fighting again commenced, and many men were slain on both sides; but the victory remained still undecided. For a space of two months mangonels and ghazraks were used, and stones and arrows were thrown from the walls of the fort. At last provisions became exceedingly scarce in the camp, and the price of even an ass’s head was raised to five hundred dirama. When the chief Gursiya, son of Chandar, nephew of Dahir, saw that the Arabs were nowhere disheartened, but on the contrary were confident, and that he had no prospect of relief, he went to wait on the king of Kashmir. The next day, when the Arabs reached the fort, and the fight commenced, no place was found suitable for digging a mine until a person came out of the fort, and sued for mercy. Muhammad Kasim gave him protection, and he pointed out a place towards the north on the banks of a river. A mine was dug, and in two or three days the walls fell down, and the fort was taken. Six thousand warriors were put to death, and all their relations and dependants were taken as slaves. Protection was given to the merchants, artisans, and the agriculturists. Muhammad Kasim said the booty ought to be sent to the treasury of the Khalifa; but as the soldiers have taken so much pains, have suffered so many hardships, have hazarded their lives, and have been so long a time employed in digging the mine and carrying on the war, and as the fort is now take, it is proper that the booty should be divided, and their dues be given to the soldiers.
Division of plunder
Then all the great and principal inhabitants of the city assembled together, and silver to the weight of sixty thousand dirams was distributed, and every horseman got a share of four hundred dirams weight. After this, Muhammad Kasim said that some plan should be devised for realizing the money to be sent to the Khalifa. He was pondering over this, and was discoursing on the subject, when suddenly a Brahman came and said, “Heathenism is now at an end, the temples are thrown down, the world has received the light of Islam, and mosques are built instead of idol temples. I have heard from the elders of Multan that in ancient times there was a chief in this city whose name was Jibawin, and who was a descendant of the Rai of Kashmir. He was a Brahman and a monk, he strictly followed his religion, and always occupied his time in worshipping idols. When his treasure exceeded all limit and computation, he made a reservoir on the eastern side of Multan, which was a hundred yards square. In the middle of it he built a temple fifty yards square, and he made there a chamber in which he concealed forty copper jars each of which was filled with African gold dust. A treasure of three hundred and thirty mans of gold was buried there. Over it there is a temple in which there is an idol made of red gold, and trees are planted round the reservoir.” It is related by historians, on the authority of Alf bin Muhammad who had heard it from Abu Muhammad Hindui that Muhammad Kasim arose and with his counselors, guards and attendants, went to the temple. He saw there an idol made of gold, and its two eyes were bright red rubies.
Reflection of Muhammad Kasim
Muhammad Kasim thought it might perhaps be a man, so he drew his sword to strike it; but the Brahman said “O just commander, this is the image which was made by Jibawin, king of Multan, who concealed the treasure here and departed. Muhammad ordered the idol to be taken up. Two hundred and thrity mans of gold were obtained, and forty jars filled with gold dust. They were weighed and the sum of thirteen thousand and two hundred mans weight of gold was taken out. This gold and the image were brought to the treasury together with the gems and pearls and treasure which were obtained from the plunder of the city of Multan.
It is said by Abu-l Hasan Hamadiani, who had heard it from Kharim, son of Umar, that the same day on which the temple was dug up and the treasures taken out, a letter came from Hajjaj Yusuf to this effect :- “My nephew, I had agreed and pledged myself, at the time you marched with the army, to repay the whole expense incurred by the public treasury in fitting out the expedition, to the Khalifa Walid bin Abdu-l Malik bin Marwan, and it is incumbent on me to do so. Now the accounts of the money due have been examined and checked, and it is found that sixty thousand dirams in pure silver have been expended for Muhammad Kasim, and up to this date there has been received in cash, goods, and stuffs, altogether one hundred and twenty thousand dirams weight. Wherever there is an ancient place or famous town or city, mosques and pulpits should be erected there; and the khutba should be read, the coins struck in the name of this government. And as you have accomplished so much with this army by your good fortune, and by seizing fitting opportunities, so be assured that to whichever place of the infidels you proceed it shall be conquered.
Muhammad Kasim makes terms with the people of Multan
When Muhammad Kasim had settled terms with the principal inhabitants of the city of Multan he erected a Jama Masjid and minarets, and he appointed Amir Daud Nasr son of Walid Ummani its governor. He left Kharim son of Abdu-l Malik Tamim in the fort of Brahmapur, on the banks of the Jhailam, which was called Sobur (Shore?). Akrama, son of Rihan Shami was appointed governor of the forts of Ajtahad and Karur. He dispatched the treasure in boats to be carried to Debal and paid into the treasury of the capital. He himself stayed in Multan, and about fifty thousand horsemen, with munitions of war, were under his command.”
Later accounts about the temple and the city of Multan only reaffirm that the Sun Temple had retained its prominence despite the town having been under Muslim rule, with the majority of the population having taken to Islam. The Sun Temple was still being visited in large numbers by pilgrims from all over India, and the proceeds from the temple’s earnings served as a good source of revenue to the ruler of Multan. Moreover, the very threat of destruction of the temple by the ruler served as a bulwark for the ruler to protect himself from the advances of the powerful hindu rulers of Kannauj and Delhi. An extract from Salsilatu-t Tawarikh of the Merchant Sulaiman with additions by Abu Zaidu-l Hasan, of Siraf (Sulaiman around 851 AD, Abu Zaid around 916 AD) mentions “The idol called Multan is situated in the environs of Mansura, and people come on pilgrimages to it from many months distance. They bring thither the Indian aloes called al-kamruni, from Kamrun, the name of the country in which it grows. These aloes are of the finest quality. They are given to the ministers of the temple for use as incense. These aloes are sometimes worth as much as two hundred dinars a mana. The aloes are so soft that they will receive the impression of a seal. Merchants buy them of the ministers of the temple.”
Another extract from Muruju-l Zahab of Al Masudi (around 940 AD) “Multan is one of the strongest frontier places of the Musulmans, and around it there are one hundred and twenty thousand towns and villages. In it is the idol also known by the name of Multan. The inhabitants of Sind and India perform pilgrimages to it from the most distant places: they carry money, precious stones, aloe-wood, and all sorts of perfumes there to fulfill their vows. The greatest part of the revenue of the king of Multan is derived from the rich presents brought to the idol of the pure aloe-wood of Kumar, which is of the finest quality, and one man of which is worth 200 dinars. When the unbelievers march against Multan, and the faithful do not feel themselves strong enough to oppose them, they threaten to break their idol, and their enemies immediately withdraw.”
Extract from Kitabu-l Akalim of Abu Ishak Al Istakhri (951 AD) tries to mention the idol in a detailed manner. It states “Multan is a city about half the size of Mansura. There is an idol there held in great veneration by the Hindus, and every year people from the most distant parts undertake pilgrimages to it, and bring to it vast sums of money, which they expend upon the temple and on those who lead a life of devotion. The temple of the idol is a strong edifice, situated in the most populous part of the city, in the market of Multan, between the bazaar of the ivory dealers and the shops of the coppersmiths. The idol is placed under a cupola in the midst of the building, and the ministers of the idol and those devoted to its service dwell around the cupola. In Multan there are no men either of Hind or Sind who worship idols except those who worship this idol and in this temple. The idol has a human shape, and is seated with its legs bent in a quadrangular posture on a throne made of brick and mortar. Its whole body is covered is covered with a red skin like morocco leather, and nothing but its eyes are visible. Some believe that the body is made of wood, some deny this; but the body is not allowed to be uncovered to decide the point. The eyes of the idol are precious gems, and its head is covered with a crown of gold. Is sits in a quadrangular position on the throne, its hands resting upon its knees, with the fingers closed, so that only four can be counted. When the Indians make war upon them and endeavour to seize the idol, the inhabitants bring it out, pretending that they will break it and burn it. Upon this the Indians retire, otherwise they would destroy Multan.”
One can imagine the form of the idol that was placed in those times, and the excitement that it would have generated. It is interesting to note the change in the description by Hieun Tsang of the statue as being of yellow gold and studded with gems to the above one in which only the eyes are visible. Whether it was the same statue being described, or was the statue changed after the conquest of Kasim, is left to imagination.
Another extract from Ashkalu-l Bilad of the Kitabu-l Masalik Wa-l Mamalik of Ibn Haukal (written in 976 A.D. (as per Cunningham), who was contemporary of Istakhri) statesb“Multan is about half the size of Mansura, and is called “the boundary of the house of gold.” There is an idol here which is held in great veneration by the Hindus, and every year people from the most distant parts undertake pilgrimages to it, and bring vast sums of money, which they expend upon the temple and on those who lead there a life of devotion. Multan derives its name from this idol. The temple of the idol is a strong edifice, situated in the most populous part of the city, in the market of Multan, between the bazaar of the ivory dealers and the shops of the coppersmiths. The idol is placed under a cupola in the centre of the building, and the ministers of the idol and those devoted to its service dwell around the cupola. In Multan there are no men, either of Hind or of Sind, who worship idols, except those who worship this idol and in this temple. The idol has a human shape, and is seated with its legs bent in a quadrangular posture, on a throne made of brick and mortar. Its whole body is covered with a red skin like morocco leather, and nothing but its eyes are visible. Some believe that the body of the idol is made of wood; some deny this; but the body is not allowed to be uncovered to decide this point. The eyes of the idol are precious gems, and its head is covered with a crown of gold. The hands rest upon the knees, with the fingers all closed, so that only four can be counted. The sums collected from the offerings of the pilgrims at the shrine are taken by the Amir of Multan, and distributed amongst the servants of the temple. As often as the Indians make war upon them and endeavour to seize the idol, they bring it out, pretending that they will break it and burn it. Upon which the assailants retire, otherwise they would destroy Multan. There is a strong fort in Multan. Prices are low, but Mansura is more fertile and populous. The reason why Multan is designated “the boundary of the house of gold” is, that the Muhammadans, though poor at the time they conquered the place, enriched themselves by the gold which they found in it.”
Cunningham mentions that shortly after the visit of Ibn Haukal, Multan was captured by the Karmatian chief, Jelem, the son of Shaiban, when the priests of the temple were massacred, the statue of the Sun God was broken to pieces, and the temple itself was constructed into a mosque. (Reinaud – Memoire Sur P Inde, p. 249). As the Karmatians were Shias, their success extended the wrath of the great Sunni champion, Mahmud of Ghazni, and Multan was recaptured in A.D. 1005. Mahmud restored the old masjid of Muhammad bin Kasim, which had been neglected by the Karmatians, and gave up their mosque to vulgar uses. (P 255) But these sectarians again entered Multan, and were not finally ejected until A.D. 1175 by Muiz-ud-din-bin-Sam. (Eliot Vol II, P 293).
When Abu Rihan (Al Beruni) visited Multan, neither temple nor statue was in existence, and he wrote :“A famous idol of theirs was that of Multan, dedicated to the sun, and therefore called Aditya. It was of wood and covered with red Cordovan leather; in its two eyes were two red rubies. It is said to have been made in the last Kritayuga. When Muhammad Ibn Alkasim Ibn Almunaibh conquered Multan, he inquired how the town had become so very flourishing and so many treasures had there been accumulated, and then he found out that this idol was the cause, for there came pilgrims from all sides to visit it. Therefore, he thought it best to have the idol where it was, but he hung a piece of cow’s flesh on its neck by way of mockery. On the same place a mosque was built. When the Karmatians occupied Multan, Jalam Ibn Shaiban, the usurper, broke the idol into pieces and killed its priests… When afterwards the blessed prince Mahmud swept away their rule from those countries, he made again the old mosque the place of Friday worship.”
The Temple and its statue were however soon restored by the religious zeal of the Hindus; and when Idrisi wrote his geography, about A.D. 1130, the worship of the Sun-God of Multan was as flourishing as ever. His description of the temple and its idol is very minute and interesting, although some parts of it seem to have been borrowed from the accounts of his predecessors.
The extract from Nuzhatu-L Musthak of Al Idrisi (born in Morocco towards the end of 11th century) mentions “Multan is close upon India; some authors indeed, place it in that country. It equals Mansura in size, and is called “the house of gold.” There is an idol here, which is highly venerated by the Indians, who come on pilgrimages to visit it from the most distant parts of the country, and make offerings of valuables, ornaments, and immense quantities of perfumes. This idol is surrounded by its servants and slaves, who feed and dress upon the produce of these rich offerings. It is in the human form with four sides, and is sitting upon a seat made of bricks and plaster. It is entirely covered with a skin like red morocco, so that only the eyes are visible. Some maintain that the interior is made of wood, but others deny this. However it may be, the bosy is entirely covered. The eyes are formed of precious stones, and upon its head there is a golden crown set with jewels. It is, as we have said, square, and its arms, below the elbows, seem to be four in number. The temple of this idol is situated in the middle of Multan, in the most frequented bazaar. It is a dome-shaped building. The upper part of the dome is gilded, and the dome and the gates are of great solidity. The columns are very lofty and the walls coloured. Around the dome are the dwellings of the attendants of the idol, and of those who live upon the produce of that worship of which it is the object. There is no idol make it the object of a pious pilgrimage, and to obey it as a law. So far is this carried, thus, when neighbouring princes make war against the country of Multan, either for the purpose of plunder or for carrying off the idol, the priests have only to meet, threaten the aggressors with its anger and predict their destruction, and the assailants at once renounce their design. Without this fear the town of Multan would be destroyed. It is not surprising, then, that its presence secures divine protection. Being ignorant of the name of the man who set it up, they content themselves with saying that it is a wonder. Multan is a large city commanded by a citadel which has four gates and is surrounded by a moat. Provisions are abundant, and the taxes are light, so that the people are in easy circumstances. It bears the name of “the house of gold Farkh,” because Muhamad bin Yusuf, brother of Hajjaj, found forty bahars of gold (a bahar weighs 333 minas (mina = about 2 pounds)) concealed there in a house. Farkh and Bahar have the same signification. The environs of this city are watered by a little river which falls into the Mihran of Sind.”
Apparently the Ravi still flowed past Multan as Idrisi states that the environs of the city were watered by a little river which fell into the Mihran of Sindh. But from his description of a little river, it is probable that the change in the main course of the Ravi had already taken place, and only a small branch of the river reached Multan. The account of Kazwini significantly mentions that the great mosque was near the temple, i.e. in the middle of the Multan fort. An extract from Asaru-L Bilad of Zakariya Al Kazwini (written around 1263 to 1275 AD) mentions “MULTAN – (Kazwini quotes Istakhri at some length, but gives additional particulars from other writers.) Mis’ar bin Muhalhil (942 AD) says that it is the last city of India bordering on China. It is a large fortified and impregnable city, and is held in high esteem by the Hindus and the Chinese, for it contains a temple which is for them a place of worship and pilgrimage, as Mecca is for the Muhammadans. The inhabitants are Musulmans and infidels, but the government is in the hands of the former. The infidels have a large temple there and a great idol (budd). The chief mosque is near this temple. Islam prevails there, and its orders and interdicts are obeyed. All this is related by Mis’ar bin Mulhahil. The same author says that the summit of the temple is 300 cubits (zara) and devotees are around the temple, and there are no idol worshippers in Multan besides those who dwell in these precincts (kasr). The ruler of Multan does not abolish this idol, because he takes the large offerings which are brought to it, and disburses certain sums to the attendants for their maintenance. When the Indians make an attack upon the town, the Musulmans bring out the idol, and when the infidels see it (about to be) broken or burnt, they retire. Ibnu-l-Fakih says that an Indian came to this idol, and placed upon his head a crown of cotton, daubed with pitch; he did the same with his fingers, and having set fire to it he staid before the idol until it was burnt.”
The next account of the Sun Temple is provided by the French traveler Thevenot who visited the place in 1666 A.D. Cunningham mentions “The only other description of Multan that I am aware of, is the brief account of the French traveler Thevenot, who visited the place in 1666 A.D., in the early part of the reign of Aurangzeb, before he had begun his bigoted persecution of the Hindu religion.” The temple of the Sun God was still standing, and the idol is described as being clothed in red leather, and having a black face, with two pearls for the eyes. Thevenot mentions “At Multan there is another fort of Gentiles, whom they call Catry. That town is properly their country, and from thence they spread all over the Indies; but we shall treat of them when we come to speak of the other sects: both the two have in Multan a Pagod of great consideration, because of the affluence of the people, that came there to perform their devotion after their way; and from all places of Multan, Lahore and other countries, they come thither in pilgrimage. I know not the name of the idol that is worshipped there; the face of it is black, and it is clothed in red leather; it has two pearls in place of eyes; and the Emir or Governor of the country, takes the offerings that are presented to it.”
The final destruction of the Sun temple is attributed to the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb in the 17th century. In 1818, when the Sikhs took possession of Multan, there was not a trace left of the old temple, and in revenge they turned the tomb of Shams-i-Tabrez into a hall for the reading of the Granth.
In 1853, when Cunningham first visited Multan, the very site of the temple was unknown. He however found its true position as indicated by the De-gate of the Multan fort and from the De-drain as the former must have led to the Dewal and the latter emerged from it. In 1853, the road from the De-gate led up to the Jami Masjid, and the drain led directly from it. However in 1848, the Jami Masjid, which had been turned into a powder magazine by the Sikhs, was accidentally blown up. Cunningham mentions that he noticed that the ruins in 1853 were on a high ground in the very middle of the Multan Fort, which agreed with the position for the Sun Temple as described by the early writers like Istakhri, Ibn Haukal and Idrisi.
I am making efforts to learn more about the history of the several Sun temples that existed in history. The accounts left by Hieun Tsang and different Arab travelers in the 7th to 8th centuries tell us about the importance of the Multan temple as it then existed. Sun Worship has been an important aspect of most ancient civilizations. The most sacred mantra in Hinduism i.e. the Gayatri is dedicated to the Sun. The Chhath Puja which involves prayer and fasting to worship the Sun, has since times immemorial been the most popular religious event in Bihar and continues to this day, only reiterating the importance of Sun worship in earlier ages.