Saturday, April 2, 2016

The Chariot of the Sun

The magnificent stone structure of the Konark Temple in Odisha is an architectural marvel

Kuldip Dhiman

No matter how good it may look in pictures, the true measure of a place’s grandeur can be felt only when one actually goes there. This is true of the Sun Temple at Konark in Odisha. It is the feel of the architectural material, the location, the local sky, and the sounds that makes all the difference.
Odisha’s king Narshimhadeva, the first of Eastern Ganga dynasty, decided to make this huge temple complex consisting of four temples dedicated to the Sun god in 1255 AD. The site chosen by the architects was in the north-eastern corner of Puri, one of the four sacred dhams. ‘Kona’ means ‘corner’ and ‘ark’ means ‘the Sun’, hence the name Konark.  It is 35 km from Puri and 65 km from Bhubaneswar.
Statue of the Sun god
Nearly 1,200 workers took 12 years to complete this magnificent stone structure. It stands by the sea where stones were not available, so they got these from Khandagiri and Udayagiri, 64 km near Bhubaneswar. The stones were transported on wooden rafts that were carried by the current of the Chandrabhaga river. Instead of using bonding material such as limestone, the architects fixed metallic rivets in the stones and interlocked them.
The temple is made in such a way that can interest people from all stages of life. At the bottom of the temple are carvings of 1,600 elephants and horses for children. For the young, there are plenty of statues depicting 64 types of lovemaking. And for the old, there are the images of gods and goddesses.
A sculptural panel
The first section of the complex is called Natya Mandir or Nrityashala. It depicts 128 types of dance styles through 758 sculptures. All these statues are carved out of a single stone. Some of the important statues depict Shiva doing the Tandava, Krishna engaged in a leela, and Kubera, the lord of wealth. There are also several panels depicting the epics and the Puranas.
One of the wheels of the chariot
The Natya Mandir has three entrance points. These were designed in such a manner that rays of the sun reached the suspended statue of the Sun God in the main temple. Originally, it was 90 feet high, but 42 feet from the top have got destroyed. The big temple behind is called Prarthana Mandir. It was 140 feet high, but now it is only 127 feet high.
The Konark temple is designed in the form of the chariot of the Sun god. It has 24 wheels and seven horses. Twelve wheels represent 12 months of the year. According to the Indian calendar, each month has a Shukla paksha and a Krishna paksha, so the other 12 wheels stand for them. Seven horses represent the seven colours of the sun’s light, and the seven days of a week.
Each wheel has eight spokes. In the Indian time system, the day is divided into eight pahars comprising three hours each. The wheels served as a sun dial. One can tell the time accurate to a minute by observing the shadow of the axel falling on the rest of the wheel.
Talking about the magnificence of the main temple, Bheem Sen Malla, an experienced ASI Guide, says, “The main temple was behind the Prarthana Mandir. It was 227 feet high but got destroyed. There are three theories about how it got destroyed. One view is that there was a huge magnet on top of it which controlled all the iron rivets in the structure. A statue of Surya Bhagwaan made of panchadhatus remained suspended in air because of the magnet. In 1498, Vasco da Gama established ports, and in the 16th century, the Portuguese came here to do business. The compasses of their ships used to get disturbed by the magnetic energy, so they took out the magnets of the temple, which destroyed the temple. The second explanation is the region was struck by a super cyclone. Third explanation is it was destroyed in the Muslim invasion of 1568. However, no one can say with certainty why it got destroyed.”
In the far left corner of the complex is a structure where one of Krishna’s sons by the name Sambu meditated. It is said he was suffering from leprosy. To cure himself, he bathed in the Chandrabhaga river, prayed to the Sun for 12 years and finally got cured.
One whole day is required to properly see the Sun temple. And while in Konark, one must find time to visit other temples nearby such as Rameswar, Chitreswara, Tribeniswara and Utpaleswar known for Shivalingas, and Ramachandi Rudrani, Khileswari, Charchika and Chitreswari, the other incarnations of Goddess Durga.