In the last post, we had stopped at Chandrabhaga, on the outskirts of Konark. It is now the time to enter Konark town. In fact, Konark is a small village. Despite the large number of visitors there are not many hotels here. Most of the people stay at Puri (36 kms) or the state capital Bhubaneshwar 65 Kms. away. We stayed at the OTDC property very close to the temple. Whilst in Odisha we used the Odisha Tourism Development Authority’s lodgings wherever possible. They were very helpful, despite being a government organization, in making us comfortable. They accommodated our requests for change of booking dates and last-minute bookings from their office at Bhubaneshwar.
The highlight of the place is of course the Sun Temple or what remains of a glorious 13th century structure. The ruins do not appear to represent more than quarter of the original complex.
This temple dedicated to the Sun God was constructed by Narasimha Deva of Eastern Ganga dynasty. Eastern Ganga dynasty was not in the league of the richest dynasties of Indian history but it created this grand monument disproportionate to its power. It is unfortunate that it did not survive longer.
The temple was constructed in the shape of a huge chariot with 12 pairs of wheels, three meters in diameter. The main sanctum of the temple 70 meters in height crashed in 1837 about 500 years after its completion.
What distinguishes this temple from the innumerable others in India is the carvings all around its exteriors depicting explicit sexual acts. This feature attracts all kinds of travelers – scholars, artists etc. There have been numerous interpretations about these carvings and there are numerous theories about the collapse of the main temple but no firm knowledge of the cause of the former and the reason for the latter.
The temple complex used Khondalite stone and iron. The stones perhaps from the collapsed portion of the temple are seen everywhere in the compound. Some of them have been moved to a museum compound behind the temple.
The local guides sometimes inform you that these explicit sexual scenes were intended at promoting sexuality with a view to increase population which had been decimated by the notorious Kalinga war. This is blatant misinformation. The great Kalinga war was fought in 261 BC, about 1500 years before the temple was constructed.All in all, this is a beautiful piece of architecture even the quarter of it which survives and has the unique (with some others) feature of the erotic scenes being carved on the wall. It would make things simpler if we accept this.
Here are some more erotic sculptures:
From Konark as per the original plan we need to move in the northerly direction to the port city of Paradip. However, we decide on a detour to visit two small villages on the western side to have a look at two different art forms being practiced there.
The first one is called Raghurajpur. This village of 100+ houses seems to be inhabited entirely by artists – painters, sculptors, engravers, dancers etc. But what brings fame to the village is the ancient art of ‘Pattachitra’. Patta in this context means the leaf of the fond of the Borassic palm, flattened and dried. Chitra means picture. The artisans have been creating paintings on single palm leaves or more commonly on a combined set of leaves, using organic colours of vegetable origins. It is said that this has been going on for more than 2000 years.
This art form has also inspired another form wherein multiple leaves stuck over one another are used to cut designs and pictures using knives.
Painting on Tussar silk is also practiced in the village apart from carving stone idols in the locally available stone.
The themes in all the three art forms is either the members of Hindu pantheon, the scenes from the ancient texts and, on the secular side, the immediate environment or a combination of these three.
In the year 2000 the village was declared a Heritage Village and perhaps at this time the village received a fresh coat of paint or rather (mural) paintings which continues till now.
A short 27 Kms. north of Raghurajpur is located another village or a small town called Pipili.. This small place has carved an admirable niche for itself in a commercial art form. The town specializes in applique art on fabric. The streets are a riot of attractive colours and designs.
This art form is supposed to have started in the 12th century mainly for decorating the ‘Raths’ or chariots and the ceremonial umbrellas for the annual ‘yatra’ of Lord Jagannath at Puri. This tradition continues but the art form has spread to other applications like pillow covers, decorative wall hangings etc.
Traditionally the motives of Peacocks and Elephants are the dominant themes. Other themes are also seen. Also seen is the use of mirrors which is a variation on the traditional cloth and stitch regimen.
Here are some more of the creations:
We return to OTDC Konark for the night halt and prepare ourselves for the next leg of the journey. On the way back we come across this procession of a deity being carried in a palanquins and are reminded that tomorrow is the festival of Holi, the festival of colours.
We also found these fresh mushrooms being sold on the roadside. They are in a different and colour and shape from what we get as Button Mushrooms in the cities. Perhaps they are a wild variety.
We start the next day with a visit to the Archaeological Museum located next to the OTDC complex and just behind the Sun Temple. The museum appears to have been set up to preserve the ancient artifacts of Odisha with particular emphasis on the Sun Temple. Many of the stones forming part of the temple are stored in the compound of the museum.
The drive from Konark to Paradip is 105 Kms long and is not along the coast. The coastline here appears to be undeveloped. The only place worth visiting appears to be the Jagatsinghpur Reserve Forest. We decide to skip this because of concerns about availability of accommodation.
We choose the road which passes through a number of villages and plantations. Among the crops grown in the area is the famous paan- the betel leaf. This crop is grown fully covered on all sides to protect is from sunlight which appears to be detrimental to its grown.
The stems of the Jute plant are used extensively in making these structures. the variety of Paan grown in western India is a climber which prefers the tall trees to cling on. Here the variety grown ( generally called Calcutta Paan) is a vine growing about 2 meters tall.
The place where we make a stopover is the shrine of Maa Sarala at Sarala Peeth, Kanakpur. This is a major shrine in the area and is close to the junction where the small country road joins the Cuttack- Paradip Highway.
Goddess Sarala is also known as Vak Devi, the goddess of knowledge and wisdom in which case she competes with Goddess Saraswati for the honour.
Another version places her as a Vaishnavite icon in the form of an aunt to Lord Krishna.
Another version depicted at several places within the temple complex is the Mahishasurmardini, the Maata in the Shakti or Shakta traditions.
The iconography gets more confusing when you see a depiction of the Goddess as a consort of Lord Shiva, thus spanning the Shiva-Vishnu divide. This is almost sacrilegious. We are told that both Bilva Patra and the Tulsi Patra are used in the temple.
Sarala Maa is represented in the temple complex in two, four and eight armed versions and is also claimed by the Tantrik traditions. It does not make any difference to the Feral Rock Dove who is equally comfortable with Shaivite (above) and Vaishnavite (below) incarnations of the goddess.
A massive dose of confusion is added with the suggestion that Sarala Maa represents a Mahayana Buddhist deity. This claim is supported by the fact that in the 8-arm version the goddess holds three unmistakable items associated with tantrik Mahayana Buddhism – Book, Veena and Bell.
We leave Sarala Ma to her destiny or destinies and make our way out of the town and towards the road to Paradip. On joining the highway, we stop at a small roadside eatery for lunch.
We have rice and fish and then the owner insists that we should some of his delicious sweets made of milk and sugar.
Before we reach Paradip we come across this beautiful sculpture in water by the side of the highway. We have not been able to ascertain its significance until now. Hope to be enlightened soon.
Text by Suryakiran Naik
Pictures by Suryakiran Naik & Veena Naik
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