I am back with my first post of 2017. I wish you had a great start to the new year and welcomed it by enjoying to the fullest. My first destination of 2017 is a ruined 12th century temple in Puri district of Odisha – The sun temple of Konark.
Konark Temple is an eerie place to visit. For some, its nothing more than a ruined temple while for those with an artistic insight, its a thing of beauty, a subtle combination of science, art and spirituality. Built in 1255 by the Ganga dynasty rulers, the temple had stood firm at its place for about eight centuries and what remains today is only a glimpse of the magnificent workmanship of the sculptures of the bygone years. No one has appreciated its beauty; neither the Europeans who desecrated it nor the democratic governments that followed. UNESCO has been charitable by recognizing it as a world heritage site. Today the restoration work is in full flow under the supervision of ASI. However what they are claiming as restoration, unfortunately, is actually a replacement. Over half of the stone pillars and walls which were once adorned with exquisite stone carvings have already been replaced with plain stone slabs. What they are conserving is a tourist destination and not the original architectural masterpiece. But can we really blame them?? Although they started after the damage was beyond repair but still, they have been trying to save everything they can.
How to reach? Buses and private taxis from Puri and Bhubaneswar
Best time to visit? October-April
Entry Fee? Rs.10 for Indian, SAARC and BIMSTEC nationals, Rs.250 for other nationals
I went to Konark for a family outing on a weekend. I had been to Konark earlier but it had been about eight years and I only had a faint picture of it in my mind. I was very excited to visit the marvel of my home state but that soon dissipated. The Konark temple had changed since I last saw it and what I saw on the day was appalling. Most of the actual temple walls were replaced with plane slabs with large iron rods and frames piercing them. It looked more like an under construction temple than an icon of national pride. While the Hoysala temples of South India had a reason of being attacked and demolished by the Muslim invaders, Konark temple had no such excuses for its dilapidated condition. It was purely down to the neglect of authorities with foreigners playing their part as well.
Konark was built in shape of a large ornate chariot of Surya (the Sun God). It has twelve pairs of intricately carved wheels and seven galloping horses in the front (only one of which is now intact). Each of these wheels was designed as a sundial and time can be predicted from it with a precision of about 2 minutes. If you hire a guide on a bright sunny day, they demonstrate the time calculation. The wheels even have features predicting the season. There are other exemplary floral and geometric carvings that embellish the precincts of the Konark Temple. Other sculptures adorning the temple’s exterior include deities, mythic animals, erotic sculptures, nagas, gandharvas and musicians.
Just beyond the porch is a double staircase that leads to a statue of Surya dev. The beautiful statue is carved of green chlorite stone. Surya dev can be seen wearing high riding shoes and is accompanied by his charioteer Aruna, at his feet. From here you can climb down into the remains of the inner sanctum, where the deity was originally consecrated.
In front of the temple, there are two lions sculptures crushing elephants underneath them. They are known as the Gajasinghas. An elephant is crushed by a lion while the elephant crushes a human under his trunk. It represents that pride (lion) subdues power (elephant) and power/pride ruins a human.
It is believed that Konark temple had a large magnet in it which used to drag the European ships to the shore and cause shipwrecks. It also deflected the compass dials due to its strong magnetic field. Due to its dark colour and strong magnetic power, Konark is referred to as “The Black Pagoda”. In 1901, to save the jagamohana of the temple from possible collapse, the four entrances were permanently shut and the interior was filled with sand vertically from the top by drilling a hole and pouring sand through a funnel. Recently there have been efforts to excavate the sand and open the jagamohana to the visitors. When the temple was desecrated, the Surya idol and the 33 feet Aruna Stambha were taken to the Jagannath temple at Puri where they are still worshiped.
As a history lover, the Konark sun temple definitely attracted me. Those who visit the Jagannath Dham in Puri should visit Konark as well. There aren’t many tourist destinations in Odisha so Jagannath Dham and Konark rank first and second respectively in top attractions of the state.
Overall it was a day well spent. I wish ASI protects Konark from further deterioration and this marvel stands clutching to its remaining glory for ages to come. Travel and Spread Love.