Tuesday, 29 July 2014

THE SUN TEMPLE IN KONARK — A HERITAGE SITE

Remains of the Natyamandir. Pic: Nila Tamaraa

The day I went to see the world renowned Sun Temple in Orissa — it rained. As I stood holding an umbrella (which you can rent from the guides and shops out front), the 13th century edifice rose before me, majestically and mysteriously — drenched in rain. 

The main temple. All the four entrances are sealed and sand poured into it to prevent it from collapsing further. Pic: Nila Tamaraa
It was indeed a shimmering Black Pagoda — a moniker bestowed upon it by sailors of a bygone era; men who would sail across the endless Bay of Bengal, in boats big and small carrying spices and dreams; men who would see from the horizon the black Sun Temple rising from the land faraway and know that they were treading the right waves. 

Art, music and love are celebrated here. Pic: Nila Tamaraa
Known as the Konark Temple, the non-believers will tell you that it is one of the most singular achievements of King Narasimha I; and that it took 1200 craftsmen, 12 long years to build it. 

The grounds in which stands the Natyamandir (in the foreground) and the main temple (in the background). Pic: Nila Tamaraa
The believers will say that it was built by none other the son of Lord Krishna. They will also tell you how Krishna was livid when he caught his peeping-Tom-son, sneaking a peek at his stepmother bathing. He cursed him and the young man turned into a leper. The diseased son went to Surya, the Sun God, healer of all ailments (especially of the skin) and pleaded to cure him. Surya did. Konark was Krishna's son's note of thanks to the Sun God.

The basal structure of the dancing hall has women dancers in various dance positions. Pic: Nila Tamaraa
It doesn't matter which story you believe in, but what you cannot deny is the breathtaking magnificence of this once functioning temple and now, the most celebrated ruins in the world. 

Intricately carved stones speak of a time when the divine was not separated from the celebration of life. Pic: Nila Tamaraa
As my bare feet walk the grounds, if I stand still for a moment, I might — if I want to — feel the reverberations of a life gone by; hear the sound of dancing feet adorned with anklets; the melody of music; echoes of laughter and the hum of devotion. For in this temple was worshiped God, art, music, love and life — it is evident in what remains and what has been lost. 
  
One of the seven galloping stone horses. Pic: Nila Tamaraa 
Konark is built in the form of a huge chariot with 24 exquisitely carved stone wheels, drawn by seven galloping horses. Each horse denotes a day of the week and each wheel the hours of a day. The spokes of the wheels serve as sundials and the shadows cast by these can give the precise time of the day.

One of the 24 wheels. Except for one all the other wheels have been are damaged over time.Pic: Nila Tamaraa
The temple imitates Surya riding his chariot across the skies. It is built in such a way that you find the Sun God, who is in the chariot, in the Sanctum Sanctorum. 


The temple is built on the east-west axis on the path of the sun so that the rays of the rising sun fall on Surya in the main sanctum. Locals believe and when that happens, Surya begins his day, riding the chariot across the skies. 

There are numerous free standing sculptures and shrines inside the temple compound
Konark stands in the middle of a 180m X 260m, now manicured lawn and also filled with rosewood and casurina trees. The sea has now receded. A constant reminder of the vagaries of man against nature. 

No dearth of amorous couples here. Pic: Nila Tamaraa
The main temple consists of the main sanctum (229 ft. high) and a worship hall called the Jagamohan. What remains of Konark are the Jagamohan, some parts of the dancing hall or Natya Mandir and the Mayadevi temple.

Top of the Natyamandir is lost to time. What remains is the basal structure. Pic: Nila Tamaraa
In front of the main temple is the dancing hall or the Natyamandir. This is where the temple dancers used to perform dances in homage to the Sun God. The upper part of the mandir has been lost to time. But the imposing basal structure remains. Here, you will find intricately carved figures of musicians and  women in various dance postures.

Mayadevi temple. Pic: Nila Tamaraa
To the left and behind the main temple is the Mayadevi temple. Adorning this temple, said to have been built for one of the wives of Surya, are many stone sculptures of passionate couples.

Pranala (outlet for the sacred oblations) in the form of a crocodile. Mayadevi Temple. Pic: Nila Tamaraa
At the entrance of the temple are two giant lions crushing a war elephant, which are lying atop a human form. 

Lovemaking of all kinds is celebrated in gay abandon in this temple
Konark is a place where stones speak. If man remains silent, he can hear the verses and the stories. The stones are intricately carved with dancing women, gods, goddesses, humans, animals, and the depiction of 16 different types of kissing and 36 forms of pleasure through amorous couples — dance, music, sex….it was all celebrated here.

Amorous couple carved onto the basal structure of the Mayadevi temple
The temple is built of three kinds of stones — Khondalite, Chlorite and Laterite. It is said that these stones are also the reason for the destruction of the temple since Khondalite stones are affected by the saline in the air.

Intricately carved spokes of the wheels
In 1626, the then king of Khurda, Raja Narasimha Dev, son of Purusottam Dev, took away the Sun image to Puri along with two other moving deities - Sun and Moon. Now they are found in a temple in the compound of Puri Jagannath temple.

An orgy carved onto one of the wheels
During the British rule, steps were taken to conserve the ruins. To save the Jagmohan from collapsing, the four entrances were permanently closed, and the interior was filled with sand vertically from the top by drilling a hole and pouring sand through a funnel. The process took three years to complete — from 1901-1904. In 1984 the Sun temple was given World Heritage site status by UNESCO

One of the facades of the main temple

Reaching Konark
From Bhubaneswar airport, Konark is 65 kms.From Puri it is 33 kms. A little more than an hour's drive through picturesque scenery.