Odisha Odyssey Part 2 Konark Sun Temple

Day 3:

The whole family was up and ready well before 8 AM and hit the breakfast buffet. On the menu were Idli, tasty Sambar and terrible Chutnies, sticky sweet Upma, Aloo Puri, toast,eggs, fruit and very good grape juice. It was a couple of Idlis,  a few hundred grams fruit and a pint of fruit juice for me.
We briefly stopped at Bharateshwar, Shatrugneshwar and Laxmaneshwar temples. We had not noticed the Rameshwar temple across the road. The three former temples were smaller compared to the Rameshwar temple. All the random blank stone panels made us guess that these three temples were restored by the ASI. A priest was busy with his morning puja and as expected Bhuwaneshwar rose late during winters. Mr.Bubbly urged us to go across the road to the Rameshwar temple. It looked like another boring with a beggars at the entrance and a few priests inside the temple. We sought blessing from the deity and sought to go around the Prakara. I noticed the typical Vyalas -the lion headed mythical beast with a crouching elephant at its feet. There were the usual Nagas and Yakhas, but what was usual was the carving of amorous couples. Right there on the temple vimana were carvings of amorous couples that a typical south Indian pudic person that I am could not miss. Later I understood that erotica was an integral part of the architecture in that area but that we had not been able to notice it because we had visited some of the temples in dusk and had easily missed the carvings on the vimana. At that point, it bothered me to see such carving in a temple and wondered why would anyone in their right frame of mind do that. I was to get my answers later in Konark

We set out to Dhauligiri. Very soon we drove across the Daya river bed. Mr.Bubby mentioned that Kalinga war took place somewhere on the banks of this river and that the battle field was really vast. Kalinga war was one of the most significant in the history of India, one that led a rare happy consequence. This was the bloody war that made Ashoka realize the futility of wars. The battle happened right where we were. Long long ago, a wounded soldier might have been lying in the hot mid day sun bleeding to death, someone dead might have been there too, right there where we were driving. The roads are now surrounded by emerald green fields. But during the war Daya was supposed to have turned red due to the bloodshed. Cruelty has never been rare in history. But this was one rare time when the emperor realized how futile the war was. He ended up commissioning this rock edict very close to the site of the battle field.
The rock edict now is enclosed in a tiny glass enclosure to protect it from the elements. It is rather tiny and cannot hold more than 5-6 people comfortably at once. I cannot imagine going inside during a hot summer day without significant discomfort. A couple of Japanese tourists were already in the enclosure and we waited our turn. They left once they were satisfied with the umpteen photos that they clicked.
My fingers trembles as we entered the enclosure. I was being transported back in time, right there was a rock edict that was close to two thousand years old. Some one actually took time to carve this edict at the behest of his king on this huge rock, perhaps this is the oldest piece of writing I has come across in my entire life (not counting the Indus-Saraswati seals since they have not yet been deciphered). On the top of the rock we could see the carving of a partial elephant, elephants that symbolized Buddha. Another ASI watchman took us on a tour of the park and offered to take out photos. When we were reluctant for photos, he kept urging us that we ought to take more pictures because we had come all the way from south India spending so much money. I was too overwhelmed to argue with him and posed for more photographs. Looking back at how few photographs we have from the trip, I should be thankful to that old guy.

We then proceeded to Dhauligiri Stupa. A new stupa has been constructed with the help of Japanese. The stupa is just a stupa nothing remarkable but the place is completely touristy. Several shacks typically of tourist places selling everything from cut guavas, fruits to purses to costume jewelry. We soon got on our to Konark via Pipli. We stopped at Pipli and Amma did some shopping.  It was a relatively warm day for January and we were more than happy to be on our way to Konark.
Mr.Bubby had arranged a guide for us in Konark and before heading to the sun temple, we were to go the ASI museum at Konark.

The museum is a clean but small museum considering how important Konark is.  As in the other ASI site and museums a guide or a guided tour would have been a better introduction to what we were about to encounter.  There were Vyalas, god and goddesses, mythical animals, Nagas, Yaksha, beautiful tree nymphs called Salabhanjika etc. But nothing had prepared me to the extent or size of erotic sculptures. The first time I encountered a life size carving of an amorous couple I was stunned. The ones that I had noticed at Rameshwar temple were smaller in size, rather inconspicuous that my sister actually missed noticing them altogether. But here in Konark museum they were too big to be missed. What kind of people made carvings like this? Slightly perturbed at the kind of believers who made erotica a part of their worship, we headed out to lunch OTDC's Yatrinivas. The lunch was not a memorable one. We just had what they could give us at the earliest and headed out to Konark temple.

We bumped into a man in blue who we assumed was the security guard of the place but he turned out to be the guide Mr.Bubby has arranged for us. It turned out to be a very good idea. We would not have learned about the Sun temple by ourselves or with the help from Wiki. He ushered us into the temple complex explaining that once the seashore was right next to the temple but now the has receded about three kilometer away from the temple.  The path that lead to the temple has shops hawking the usual touristy stuff, miniatures of sun temple, miniatures of Jagannath and assorted trinkets.
The sheer size stuck me as we came closer to the temple. From afar it did not look much but we walked and walked and the temple appeared bigger and bigger. I was not expecting a temple of this proportion at all. Out first step was at the stairway to the Mantapa, on wither sides were statues of an elephant crushing man and in turn crushed by lion. After introducing us to various interpretations of the statue we proceeded further. The Mantapa is beautifully decorated with carved panels depicting  life as it was during those days including men, women, children, old people, squabbles, travelers, pet and others. Many of the panels were not well preserved, perhaps when the sea was close by these rocks had to weather storms and deluges from the corrosive saline water. Common motifs were again the Salabhanjika, Nagas and Vyalas.

The main temple is in partial ruins. The sanctum which was taller and perhaps more splendid than the remaining Jagamohana has long collapsed.  It was originally build to look like the chariot of sun god with twenty hour wheels , twelve on either sides being pulled by seven horses. The wheels are huge and very ornate. Very few wheels are preserved completely. Here is a picture of one of them.

The wheels can also be used as a sun dial which can measure time accurately to the minute. We were all awestruck that something of this quality and magnitude was constructed so far in time.

Then there were the sculptures of beautiful women in dancing poses reminiscent of Belur Shilabaalaki. The Belur version is slightly older than Konark temple but way more refined and more ornate. But then Belur being inland perhaps did not have to face the wrath of saline sea or hurricane with potential to send 30-40 feet high waves breaking on to the temple. Given what all the Sun temple must have withstood it is still in remarkable condition.

After the sanctum collapsed sometime in late 19th century only the smaller Jagamohana was left standing. But it was in a fragile state that conservation experts of the day decided to fill the inside of the temple with sand and rocks so as to support the roof. Kalinga design indeed used to be very different from the temples I am familiar with in that they used big iron beams placed horizontally over pillars placed in the corners of a rectangle (may be square). On these Iron beams were placed slabs of rocks, which tapered inwards till the slabs from all sides converged at the very top. Back in South India bigger temples were constructed with Pillar base ,covered with stone slabs. Some times the slabs were held in place with huge iron staples. Also most South Indian Vimans narrows as we go up and design elements stick to the perimeter of the vimana tier. But Kalinga design has this unique element where incredibly huge sculptures jut out  from one of the tiers in the vimana.

Currently the Jagamohana is being restored and there is scaffolding on the sides. The scaffolding actually marred the beauty of the evening, one day I wish to go there once the scaffolding is all removed. 
The door jams and lintel at the doorway of Jagamohan is make of ornate green chlorite stone and entry inside is prohibited. What can be seen is the stone that is stuffed inside. It is a pity that a greand monument like this should be in a condition like this. The temple was raided by medieval Islamic marauding armies sometime in 15-16 century just a few hundred years after it was completed. The raids and natural elements hastened the collapse of the temple. What remains is the wonder of our ancestors ingenuity, their scientific bent of mind and their effort to preserve their way of life carved in the reliefs all around. It is indeed their 'ithihasa' composed in stone.

While we sat on the stairway of the Jagamohana admiring the art and science behind the temple, there was a spectacle behind us. A group of Caucasian Odissi dancers were touring the temple and decided to pose for pictures posing in Bhongima (Odissi poses). Even as the tour leader directed the pose and position, a group of tourists gathered around them gawking, armed with their phones and cameras too. At one point there were more people around this group of women than anywhere else in the monument.

Every evening there is a sound and light show, something in while a family member was associated with. But we could not stay for long. We were to stay in Puri that night, so we had some distance to catch. Enroute to Puri we stopped briefly at Chandrabhaga beach. The sea deceptively appears calm but is notorious for its rip tides. Unfortunately the beach was rather dirty. It was just a preview of what was in store for us.  The evening as the day because to slip into the darkness of dusk, we go to witness the sad side effect of irresponsible tourism.

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