The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, January 16, 2000

Sunset for the Sun Temple?
By Amardeep Bhattal

THE historic Sun Temple at Konark in Orissa, estimated to be over 700 years old, though a protected monument, today faces a serious threat to its existence. The super cyclone, which ravaged the state recently, causing large-scale destruction of life and property, also wreaked havoc on the green cover around the temple, thereby leaving it exposed to the vagaries of weather. The salty sea winds, which did not touch the temple earlier due to the green cover, will now hit the temple directly and may cause serious harm to the stone of which it has been built.

Sun temple, KonarkSources reveal that during the cyclone, the temple was flooded with sea water which rose as high as 1.50 metres. Broken trees and branches littered the compound although the temple itself escaped the fury of the storm.

The temple, which is located 65 km south-east of the capital city of Bhubaneswar, is protected as a United Nations World Heritage Site. A stone inscription within the complex reads: "Sun Temple, Konark, has been inscribed upon the World Heritage List of the Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage. Inscription on this list confirms the exceptional universal value of a cultural or natural site which deserves protection for the benefit of all humanity."

  The Sun Temple is among the most vivid architectural treasures of India. Referred to as the 'black pagoda' by the Europeans, the existing porch or jagamohana and other structures in the complex are magnificient, and attract tourists from all over the world. Built by King Langula Narasimha Deva in the 13th century, it is said to have taken 16 years for completion with as many as 12,000 masons deployed on the job.

The temple was conceived as a gigantic solar chariot with 12 pairs of exquisitely ornamented wheels,drawn by seven horses. The temple comprised a sanctum sanctorum with a lofty sikhara (now lost) jagamohana or front porch and an attached dance hall, all in the same axis. Every aspect of human life has been portrayed through sculptures which include dancers, musicians, scenes of love, hunting etc. A significant section includes erotic art and the carvings can be seen both on the inner as well as outer surfaces.

One of the 12 ornamental wheels at the baseThe temple was plundered in 1830, by the Raja of Khurda who removed precious statues to his own fort 100 km away. It was only in 1906, that the first tentative steps were taken to reclaim the ruins but in recent years ,substantial renovation work was carried out by the Archaeological Survey of India to give it a fresh look.

However, in the absence of the protective green cover, the salty sea winds may damage the porous 'khondalite' rock beyond repair and the stones may ultimately crumble into bits with the passage of time. If that happens, the temple, which has stood on the Orissa coast for centuries, may soon meet the fate of other invaluable monuments that have faded into oblivion mainly due to human indifference.