Odisha Odyssey-II .... Konark Sun Temple

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March 28th 2016
Published: March 28th 2016
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The new day, the new route and the new destination ….. Jagannath Puri.

In the early hours, we bid farewell to Panthanivas, Barkul and headed straight towards Balugaon, the fishermen’s village. The local fish markets, especially in the fishermen colony have always excited me. The curiosity and anxiety to get a peek at the Balugaon fish market drew us to the interiors. The narrow road leading towards the fishing jetty was lined with the houses of fishermen. The large courtyards had facilities for storage of fish in large insulated boxes. On the day of our visit, the market appeared to be deserted and there was absolutely no trading activity. Something was amiss. For some strange reasons, the market was closed that day and we had to retreat with a sheer disappointment.

From the railway underpass, we touched the NH-5. The total distance to be covered was about 100 km and we expected to reach Puri by noon. The NH-5 had constant movement of heavy goods vehicles ferrying consignments between port cities on the Eastern coast. In comparison, the number of passenger vehicles was very low in the morning hours. After driving for about an hour, we followed the road signboard to take a right turn on smaller New Jagannath Road. The milestone indicated that we still have 45 more km to log. A number of villages en route had similar characteristics and composition. The school children trekking or cycling was a common sight. At crossroads, small eateries were the meeting points for the local. The life seemed a very laidback affair. As we were nearing Chandanpur, the driver informed that we will be crossing Sakshigopal Temple, and suggested we take a stop and seek blessing. We needed to stretch our limbs and the advice perfectly suited the situation.

The environment surrounding the temple was very similar to any other Hindu temple … florists, pooja material, pandas, scattered footwear, beggars seeking alms et all. This medieval temple, constructed in the Kalinga style of temple architecture, had a life-size statue of Lord Krishna, with his trademark flute. It was carved from the rare imperishable stone called Braja by King Vajranabha (the grandson of Lord Krishna). It is said that the temple originally did not have a statue of Radha. It was felt inappropriate and incomplete without Radha, by Lord Krishna’s side. A statue of Radha, was therefore, brought from North India, and installed on the left. To add the local touch, Radha is clad in the traditional Odisha saree here. The combination of idols looked stunningly beautiful. Many legends associated with Sakshigopal exist. The temple has a special reverence amongst the newly wed couples. The pandas, as expected, were a very dominating force and were dictating dos and don’ts to the pilgrims.

After a brief refreshment break, we proceeded towards Panthanivas, Puri. This OTDC Resort has a vantage location and situated right on the Chandrabhaga beach, yet little away from the Marine Drive. The reception had typical characteristics of the government managed tourist facility. With due completion of the check-in formalities and signing the Visitors’ Register, we were allotted rooms on the second floor. Since we had the online booking the process was much simpler. The rooms seemed to have been recently renovated, fresh coat of paints applied and looked clean and spacious.

The bags were kept on the rack and I entered the washroom. Crash. The least expected had happened. With the gentle impact of the door, a big wall tile fell down with a thud, but narrowly missed my right foot. Before I could comprehend as to what was happening, half-a-dozen tiles fell one-after-another like a pack of cards. As a reflex action, I saved myself by backtracking. The washroom was full of debris of broken tiles. I was fortunate to have escaped a major injury. The frantic calls made to the reception evoked no response. I rushed personally to the reception to summon the manager and to report him of the mishap. Upon persistent pleading, he agreed to come up to the room to inspect and assess. With a blank facial expression, he very calmly said, none can harm you friend in this land of Lord Jagannath. I had no words to say but in the heart of heart, thanked Lord Jagannath.

Apparently, in order to utilize the unspent renovation budget for the fiscal, the renovation work was completed in an utmost hurry. The contractor had done a very shoddy job. Neither the right grade nor the appropriate quantity of cement was used to bond the tiles with the walls. Seldom, the bureaucrats are held accountable and the contractor’s work gets audited. The result was there for all to see.

We took up the matter with the deserving firmness and demanded that we be immediately shifted to a better room. Fortunately, there were few vacant rooms available in a higher category offering much better sea view. The rooms were tastefully decorated and had brand new upholstery & furniture. The manager used his discretionary authority and accommodated us in those rooms on a higher floor, without any additional charges. As our luggage was being shifted, we reached the restaurant on the ground floor for the much needed lunch. The quality of the lunch was not all that great and nothing more could be written about. It catered to the basic needs.

By keeping our siesta to the bare minimal, we embarked on our journey to Konark. The Puri-Konark Marine Drive passes through Balukhand - Konark Reserve Forest. The one-hour, 40 km drive was through thick of a forest along the Bay of Bengal. The stretch has sandy beaches, coastal dunes, and groves of Casuarina trees. It has been a home to Blackbuck Antelopes.

There wasn’t any necessity for the driver to inform that we have reached Konark. Like any other tourist landmark, photographers, with their cameras and mini-printers, were displaying photographs of tourists in the backdrop of the Sun Temple. Their efforts to solicit business hardly bore any fruits. With the advent of cellphone cameras, their business has witnessed a sharp decline. The vendors selling Picture Post-cards, guides and legends, were hoping to sell their stuff. There were not many takers. Young girls were urging the tourists to buy colorful beads, earrings, hair clips and bindis. There were quite a few shops selling typical touristy stuff – Plastic & Jute Bags with Sun Temple printed on them, T-Shirts, belts, toys, decorative pieces made of shells, key-chains, beads, etc. The black-stone replicas of the sun temple wheels, in various sizes were available in plenty. The only successful enterprise was Tea & refreshments stalls, which had a constant flow of customers. The remarkable feature of this touristy market was, they were organized in a row. The area was kept very clean befitting the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the famous landmark in the vicinity. We walked from the distantly located car park, wading through the flow of tourists moving in multiple directions, to the main entrance.

The name of Konark has been coined by an amalgamation of two words--Kona meaning corner and Arka meaning the Sun. Therefore the Sun god worshipped in Ark Kshetra is called Konark.

The ASCI Entry Ticket permits the tourists to enter this 13th century, temple dedicated to Sun god. This architectural masterpiece, in the shape of a gigantic chariot, having elaborately carved stone wheels and pillars was originally constructed at the mouth of Chandrabhaga River. However, over a period of time the water line has receded. The trees like casuarina were planted facing the sea for protection from sand- laden winds. The structure, built using Khondalite rocks, follows traditional Kalinga architectural style. The East orientation ensures that the first rays at sun strikes the principal entrance. Its imposing dimensions and faultless proportions, as also the harmonious integration of architectural grandeur with elegance were the notable features.

Majestic in conception, the solar chariot has twelve pairs of ornate stone wheels of 3 meters diameter each. The wheels of this solar chariot were the sundials used for calculating the time, accurately to a minute including the day and the night. The twelve wheels symbolize the twelve months of the year.Each wheel consists of a central hub and sixteen spokes, out of which eight are broad and eight thin. The eight broad spokes represent, eight parts of the day,
12-Wheels 12-Wheels 12-Wheels

Representing 12-months of a year
known as ‘Asta Prahar”. The hub and spokes were intricately carved and sculpted with numerous figures and motifs. The spokes of the wheels were chiseled in such a way that they were broad at the center like that of a diamond, which tapers at the ends. The spokes were exquisitely carved and ornamented with floral, creeper and foliate motifs. The center of the spokes has figures of gods, goddesses, dancers and humans in erotic amorous poses. The beautiful carvings of birds, animals, foliage and the mythological creatures break the monotony and render a distinctive appeal. Seven galloping horses (three on the northern side and four on the southern side) pull this huge and colossal chariot. These horses represent seven days of the week.

The complex consists of with a lofty Vimana; the hall, (presumably over 68 m. high), Jagamohan, a sanctum sanctorum (30 square meters and 30 meters tall) and a detached Nata-Mandir (hall of dance) in the same axis. Due to weak soil, Vimana caved in in the late 19th Century. It has superb images of the Sun god in the three projections and revered as miniature shrines. The Jagamohan and Vimana, together stand on a common platform studded with an intricate decorative ornaments and sculptures, of a highly erotic type. Over the period of time, the Vimana and the Nata Mandir have lost their roofs

The roof of the Jagamohan, consists of horizontal tiers grouped in three stages with life-size female sculptures of matchless charm and delicacy adorning each stage. It was surmounted by two stupendous crowning members and produced a picturesque contrast of light and shade. Its grandeur and structural propriety was truly unparalleled.

The unique feature of this temple was the presence of iron plates between every two stones and usage of massive iron beams in construction of the higher floors. A 52-ton magnet was used to create the peak of the main temple. It was said that the entire structure has tolerated the harsh conditions especially of the sea because of this magnet. Previously, the unique arrangement of the main magnet along with the other magnets caused the main idol of the temple to float in air. These magnets were considered to be a cause of disturbances to the navigational aids and compass of the ships selling in the Bay of Bengal. In the colonial period, the magnets were taken away by the British rulers to get the magnetic stone

On either side of the entrance, two huge lions were placed. Each lion was shown crushing an elephant. Beneath each elephant lies the human body. Lion represents the pride and elephant represents the wealth. The sculptures signify as to how both these flaws can consume a human being.

In the surrounding area, there were ruins of few other temples associated with Lord Vishnu. Some of the ruins have been removed from the complex and were displayed in various museums, including Konark Museum of ASCI. The Arun Stambha, the 10.26 meter tall, pillar made of monolithic chlorite was removed from the entrance and placed at the Sinh Dwara (Lion Gate) at the Jagannath Temple. This pillar was dedicated to the Aruna, the charioteer of the Sun god. Currently there are no idols in the temple and it is believed that the worship in the temple ceased somewhere in 18th century. The current structure has survived the natural batter and the destruction by evil rulers for centuries.

Though the worship and religious rituals have been stopped, an annual cultural event, devoted to classical Indian dance forms, called Konark Dance Festival is
Konark Sun Temple Konark Sun Temple Konark Sun Temple

Wheels of the Chariot
held every December in the backdrop of the sun temple. This festival promotes the diverse Indian dance heritage as well as tourism to Odisha. Tourists and connoisseur of arts from world-over converge here for the festival. During our visit the “Light & Sound” show was not being conducted and we were told that it is likely to be started soon.

Upon exit, we visited Panthanivas at Puri for light refreshments. It has tourist accommodation and is located right opposite the Sun temple. The restaurant on the ground floor catered to the visitors with some good dishes.

It was an early evening and we had a lot of time at hand, we decided to take a stroll at Chandrabhaga beach. The beach was illuminated by high-mast lamp. The domestic tourists, who do not have any exposure to the sea, visit this beach to watch the roaring sea with amazement. The food carts were serving local chats, ice creams and munchies. Other than the sound of passing vehicles and waves lashing the beach, it was quite peaceful under the starlit sky. Away from the buzz of city, the environment was comforting. We did not realize how the time flew by.

We drove back to the Puri in less than an hour. Along the Marine Drive within the Puri city, there was heavy traffic. The hordes of pilgrims, either arriving or departing from Puri, were walking on the street with their bags in tow. The Marine Drive was lined with a number of tourist resorts and hotels with glowing signboards. The town had a vibrant atmosphere and quite lively even at that hour. We picked up some ‘spirits’ for the night and returned to our abode.

With familiarization about the pace of room service, we ordered our meals before we proceed to our rooms. Surprisingly the dinner was served within a very short time. It consisted of rice, dal and carb curry, which turned out to be quite tasty. The meaty white crab in the coastal Odisha has a distinctive succulent taste and we developed some sort of an addiction for it.

Little stroll after the dinner, breathing fresh air flowing from the beach, was reinvigorating. The music played by the nature, through the symphony of the waves, was soothing to the ears. The day was well spent …. Looking forward to spiritual tomorrow.

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