The sun shone too bright to bear. But the majestic and the intricate architectural marvel that Konark is, tempts one to explore more and more.
One is welcomed by the nata-mandap at the entrance, the splendid Kalinga stone carving taking you into an invariable length of moment of awe in those carvings of amorous couples. The temple is designed as the rath, a chariot, of Surya Deva, the Sun God. The attention given to twelve large wheels, seven horses, Aruna (the chariot puller), the elephants, lions and such more sculptures adding to the grandeur of Surya’s procession. The temple complex has further smaller temples of Mayadevi and Chhayadevi. The importance of the temple to travellers from the sea is also intriguing, as the temple earlier stood on the banks of Chandrabhaga River which changed its course over time.
The Temple, the Story and the Loss
The temple construction is atributed to King Narsimhadev I of Eastern Ganga dynasty over the span of 1238 to 1264 CE. The wheels of the temple are sundials which can be used to calculate time accurately to a minute including day and night. The legend has it that the collapse of the original 70m vimana (sanctum sanctrum) was caused by removal of the strong magnetized rod at the centre which was keeping the temple structure erect. The strong magnetic waves interfered with the ships’ compass and resulting in the removal by foreign shipmen. However, the date of the collapse is not known, though the sightings from different accounts predict it to be around the middle of the 19th century.
There is a peculiar story too associated with the head architect, Bishu Maharana and his son. Owing to the sanctity of the place, the chief architect had to proceed with the construction work even though he wasn’t convinced with the sandy soil of the area. Later, when the construction was almost complete, the masons faced just one problem, Kalasa, the top most structure couldn’t be placed properly. It is then his 12-year-old son came to meet him and resolved the issue by finding an architectural fault. When the Kalasa was put, the masons feared the King’s wrath of considering them not efficient enough for not recognizing such a mistake. On this, the Chief architect’s son, Dharmapada committed suicide from the top of the temple to let the credit go to them. The story may not be true, but it surely adds up to the interesting aspect.
It is advised to visit the Archealogical Museum first before heading towards the Sun Temple, as there are chances that without the information one might find oneself at the loss if understanding for what is being portrayed or how unique this UNESCO heritage site is. Further, the instructions and boards explaining on the minute details or the story behind the temple are terribly missed.
The Conservation Story
This excitement to explore comes to a halt when one looks at the board asking to stop and turn to the other side, the board at the entrance of the main temple compound owing to the restoring process under way in the internal areas. The bamboo poles mar the site off its beauty. What is left is only the half.
These structures are centuries old, have been through the tough times of storm, lightning, and at some cases even earthquakes. However symbols of strength and agility they may be, a need for restoring is felt. And such a need to restore the history, art and aesthetics is required here too where destruction owes more to manhandling. The question comes, should the heritage site be closed for public for a designated time to speed up the process? With no people around, the workers’ efficiency will increase, and so will the management. The complex, heavy semblance of the bamboo poles on the northern side of the temple pose a threat to any tourist who mistakenly, or out of adventure hits into this forbidden area. Apparently, such measures of closing a monument for a while for restoration have been taken worldwide. Problem here comes with the heavy restoration to be done here in Konark.
Interestingly, the conservation story of Konark has become another historical timeline in itself. The conservation of the 13th century temple was proposed in 1806. The timeline runs from one organisation, one magistrate to other; some of them making grave mistakes.
In 1950, the Government of India appointed a committee of experts on archaeological conservation, engineering, art, architecture, geology and chemistry for the preservation of the monuments. What followed were the sculptures receiving chemical treatment to remove the vegetation growth from them, major structural reforms, working on the mistakes committed by previous restoration works, making the Bhoga-mandapa and Mayadevi temple watertight, restoring missing stones, and pointing open joints.
The Jagamohon audience hall is what people see today. It is around 54% of the main temple in height. Scared by the brunt that the time had stood through different times, the restorers sealed all four doors and filled sand in the inner space. In 2008, it was decided to study the area more technically after an expert team from Delhi visited Konark and inspected the entrance temple, which was filled with sand since 1903. Also important here are the guidelines that the department follows while restoring, trying to conserve all the original pieces.
The Temple sans Worshippers
The centre and the state government are taking vigorous steps to conserve and restore the temple, only at a pace which seems too slow. A closure of the monument might evoke some controversy, and it might not even be the best suited way out, but certain steps must be taken. The eastern and western front have till now been restored quite well, while the surrounding area too has been developed. Though, the nava-graha, the Chhaya temple, the carvings of deities, their amorous positions, give a peek in the yore when enormity was the spice of life, the temple doesn’t have a sign of being once an area of worship. The marvel is its architrave; it looks like a marvellous temple structure sans a God. In contrast, it seems God abandoned the place in a hurry, thus no worshippers. Five main deities can be seen here: Sun, Indra, Vishnu, Shiva and Brahma.
Heritage is not just the carvings, not just the artistry; it is the whole ambience with relation to the time. With initiatives like Konark festival, and the restoring actions taken more effectively, hopes sail high– hopes of Konark becoming an important township, a centre for international tourists, a study of the Indian heritage, and the significance and glory being resurrected. And finally, a place which seems more reside-able by God.