Thursday, May 22, 2008


Somnath is Acharya Chatursen’s historical novel based on the seventeenth barbaric invasion of Mahmud of Ghazni on the Somnath Temple in Gujarat. The novel itself is largely fictitious with little relation to reality. But then, when one gets to the fifty page afterword one realizes the social and political environment in which the novel got written and hence the ‘message’ and ‘purpose’ of the novel.

The novel was first published in 1954. According to Chatursen, the idea about writing the novel first came to him thirty years before that (sometime in 1920’s) when he first visited Gujarat. At that time he did write the opening paragraphs of the book and these reek of the ‘historical fantasy’ style that Chatursen is a master of. (Historical fantasy is the name I’ve given to the style of writing Chatursen presents in Vayam Rakshamah and Vaishali Ki Nagarvadhu.) However, Chatursen tells us that he was unable to write the novel at that time and took a very long break.

Time progressed and things happened. The Indian people struggled for their freedom and it was granted to them in August 1947. What followed was perhaps the largest immigration in the history of mankind. Two religions which had somehow cohabited side by side suddenly forgot centuries of shared history and became blood enemies. It was in such environment that Chatursen returned to Somnath.

Mahmud Ghazni’s invasion was, to Chatursen, a metaphor for the interaction of Hinduism with Islam in this subcontinent. Somnath, therefore, speaks of Islamic jehad, its barbarism and inhumanity. But it also speaks of the ills of the Hindu society, its barbarism and its inhumanity too. Chatursen’s characters are not Hindu or Muslim but humans – people who are products of their time and place and people who had choices. Some of them made the good ones and others made the bad ones.


  1. hmm...sounds interesting!
    I just wonder.....there must hav been a HUGE difference between the plot (even if it was a rough one) with which chatursen started writing and the one that was served...

  2. Yes. Unfortunately unlike the west these things about Indian literature are now lost. Another loss to lament. :( I wish someone had interviewed Chatursen about it.