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Sun Temple of Konark: Heritage in freezes

"Every inch of the structure, adorned with fine patterns and carved figures in unsurpassed grace and beauty with romantic expression, represent by themselves the culmination of artists search for ultimate in the aesthetics of temple architecture. The temple is an assembly of delicately executed freezes in their exquisite proportions."

Sujata Mahapatra : June 2, 2007

Sun Temple of Konark

If you ever visit Orissa, Sun Temple of Konark must have a place in your touring agenda. The complex that reflects the extraordinary craftsmanship of Orissan sculptors is now under the virtual control of Archaeological Survey of India (ASI). The basic objective behind handing it over to ASI is better conservation and maintenance of the complex.

Lakhs of tourists visit the site every year and ASI makes crores of rupees from the visiting fees. ASI has made 1.11 Crore in 2004 which went up to 1.18 and 1.40 crore in the consecutive years. In the current year 2007, the revenue is expected to go up as every year the number of visiting foreign tourists is increasing.

In terms of conservation, the carved portions of the temple are replaced with plain stone slabs day by day. If the practice goes like this in the name of conservation, one day the complex would be talking about the magnificent monument without any artifacts in it.

On the other hand, tourists are not getting basic facilities near the complex that is essential for a comfortable viewing of the Sun Temple. Making such a huge amount from the monumental complex, ASI should have managed to have some kind of civic amenities like urinal and refreshment rooms near the complex. But it seems, like profit monger private conservation organisations, ASI is engaged in only business without displaying its responsibility for the conservation and propagation of heritage.

Built during the rule of Langula Narasimha Dev, this 13th century AD monumental edifice would possibly be a memoriam of one of his victory although many legends are there to justify the construction of the temple that is exquisitely designed to resemble a gigantic chariot with seven horses harnessed in the front of the entrance hall to carry the Sun God “Surya” across the heaven. The thematic sculptural decoration of the entire temple into a sun chariot itself is the novelty, a dramatic innovation.

The Chariot has 12 pairs of huge exquisitely sculpted wheels representing the twelve months of the year, each with two lunar fortnights. Seven charging horses represent the seven days of the week where as, eight spokes of each wheel represent the eight praharas in a day. Carved arts on the spokes narrate various activities of the diurnal round. The Temple symbolizing the march of time is indeed a creative presentation of a scientific concept. The massive structure sits in isolated splendour amid the sand dunes touching the ocean that was once very close to its base.

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Until fairly recent times the Sun temple was still close enough to the sea to be used as point of navigation for European sailors who referred to it as the Black Pagoda. Little of the original structure remains now. The sanctum and its towering spire are no more. What has survived the ravages of time are the front hall with its great pyramidal roof called Jagmohan and the Nata Mandap or Dance Floor.

Every inch of the structure, adorned with fine patterns and carved figures in unsurpassed grace and beauty with romantic expression, represent by themselves the culmination of artists search for ultimate in the aesthetics of temple architecture. The temple is an assembly of delicately executed freezes in their exquisite proportions. On the parapets of the pyramidal roof of the Jagmohana or prayer room rise huge free standing larger than life size figures of celestial musician girls, playing drums, flutes, cymbals and strings accompanying the sun god through his never ending tour across the sky.

The lassie damsels and series of amorous sculptures make the sun temple a kind of miracle that elevates one to a new spiritual plane. One can see everything from peace and agriculture to war and struggle, men, women and children, an almost endless variety of animals from elephants to a foreign species like giraffe, saints and profligates, sinners and holy men, courtesans and courtiers, warriors and curd sellers, fantastic creatures such as flying horses, monsters that are half elephant half lion, men and women kissing and bussing, and the endless riches of good and varied life with a balanced inclusion of dance, music and festivities. The plan is grandiose.

Even the surviving parts of the temple are among the world’s most impressive - the most moving monuments. In fact, this stunning masterpiece produced by the artists of Orissa is a detailed document reflecting the society of its time and is the comprehensive lexicon of classical Odissi dance form. The spell of this endless rhapsody of sculpture is so great that the visitor is unable to view the work with a critical eye. As a tribute to the artists who documented everything of their society in friezes, Orissa Tourism organizes a festival full of colour and mood during the first week of December every year at the open air theatre adjacent to the monumental complex of Konark.

The other attraction of the site is the sea beach at Konark which sees the flood of devotees from across the country on the seventh lunar day of the month of Magha in Indian Calendar that usually comes in January-February in the western Calendar. Thousands of Visitors come on the very day for a dip in Chandrabhaga – the choked up mouth of river Chitrotpala that worked as the main route for transportation of huge stone pieces to the temple site.

The sun temple of Konark is a kind of miracle, the last kick of a great baroque art, the peak of development of sculptural and monumental art in Orissa that bears the untold language of the artists who dared to create this stupendous structure for the mankind that is marked as a monument of world heritage.



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