The forgotten and the old. The wise and the experienced. In the world of technology and advancement, let us take a look at one of the most gorgeous and simplistic monuments of India. The Konark Sun Temple is situated in Odisha. This pride of India was built in the 13th century in the year 1250 by King Narasimhadeva I. He was a powerful monarch and warrior of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty and he successfully defeated the Muslim forces of Bengal who constantly threatened the Eastern Ganga dynasty's rule over his kingdom of Kalinga.
This temple is dedicated to the Sun god, Surya, and was once almost a 200 feet tall building! Due to repeated damage to the property, it now stands at around 100 feet tall. Why is this Konark Sun temple such an important monument of India if it is in ruins? Well, good question. Let us take a deeper look into the significance of the monument and its architectural representation.
The word ‘Konark’ is actually a combination of two Sanskrit words. Kona means corner or angle and arka means the sun. This literally tells us that this place is the angle at which the sun appears. The temple is dedicated to the Sun God and it was even built in such a way that it faced the sun directly. It is designed in the form of a huge chariot which is being dragged by seven horses. The chariot is dedicated to that of Surya and the seven horses depict the seven days of the week. Therefore, a popular belief is that this temple shows the passage of time. When viewed from the sea during dawn or sunset, it looked as if the horses were carrying the sun on its chariot.
This temple was also known as “Black Pagoda'' as legend has it that when European sailors first spotted the monument, it appeared as a black, tiered tower from afar. The temple served as a significant trading port for European and Portuguese traders for export and import. According to the historian James Harle, this temple had two main purposes - the dance mandapa and the great temple (deul). Sadly only the mandapa seemed to survive while the deul had collapsed.
The architecture of this temple is admired to this day. The architectural style adopted here is called nagara. This style of architecture had a plain square ground that contained a sanctuary and an assembly hall. In terms of elevation, there is a huge curvilinear tower (shikhara), inclining inwards and capped. The unique feature of this temple is that there is an iron plate between every stone and iron beams were used to construct the higher floors of the temple. A magnetic stone known as Lodestone, was used to create the peak high point of the temple and it was said that this stone will allow the monument to survive every harsh weather condition. It was also believed that the unique arrangement of the main magnet along with the other magnets will cause the main idol of the temple to float in water. However, this was all hearsay and does not have any scientific proof.
This temple also finds a representation on the Indian currency. Have you all ever looked closely at the monetary notes of India? Yes, sure Gandhi Ji is represented on the note but on the INR 10 note, you will find the Konark Sun Temple depicted on the reverse side.
While the real reason for the damage to the Konark temple is unknown, there are popular theories behind it. Many historians believe that the temple collapsed due to its incomplete structure. The 200 feet high temple remained incomplete due to the death of their king. The main Sun Temple was built from three stones; chlorite to make doors and frames around the images, laterite to make platforms and staircases and khondalite to make the remaining parts. A geologist observed that the khondalite stone is very easily disintegrated and withers fast over time. Perhaps, that may be one of the reasons for its ruin.
Plate 3 from James Fergusson's 'Ancient Architecture in Hindoostan'
Another theory has to do with the magnet at the top of the temple. Others say that it did not protect the temple from weather conditions, in fact, it caused huge damage and the magnet disturbed the compass of all the sailors in that area, so the Portuguese invaders stole that magnetic stone. The displacement of the lodestone led to total imbalance and so the Konark temple fell down. But there is no historical record either of this event or the presence of such a great lodestone at Konark.
The most popular theory of the major damage to the Konark Sun temple is that relating to Kalapahad. According to texts, Kalapahada broke most of the images that were kept in Odisha temples; even though it was said that Konark Sun temple was unbreakable because of its thick stone walls, Kalapahada managed to break in.
The Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) is working hard to make sure that this monument is preserved and still in a condition for worship. In order to take good care of the monument, the ASI has taken steps such as cleaning of the surface by paper pulp method, consolidation and strengthening of stones wherever needed, plantation of trees in the surrounding area to prevent mechanical erosion by wind action, removal of water by installing pumping sets, and periodic biocidal treatment for control of vegetative intrusion. To fill in the gaps of the disintegrated stones, they have replaced that with plain stones to ensure structural stability.