30 September, 2006

Sun Temple -- Konark

The worship of Sun in India is several centuries old.The Sun God is referred to as Surya or Aditya. The Vedas are full of hymns describing the Sun as the source and sustainer of all life on earth. Several temples in India enshrine Sun as the principal deity.The grandest temple dedicated to Sun God is at Konark.

The Sun temple at Konark was built by Ganga ruler Narasingha Deva to commomorate his victory over the muslim rulers. During his reign he recorded at least three victories over the muslim invaders. The black granite of this structure earned the name 'Black Pagoda' from the 17th C European sailors who must have seen it from the sea.

The fame for this temple had spread far beyod the limits of Orissa in the 16th C. Abul Fazal, the famous chronicler of the court of Akbar wrote "Even those whose judgement is critical and who are difficult to please stand astonished at its sight".

The Ganga dynasty had a militia of 300,000 men with 50,000 foot and 10,000 horses and an elephant regiment of 25,000 strong. The priest at the Jagannatha temple were renouned for their physical prowess and excercised in the religious gymnasia. The higher posts in the army were held by the priestly Brahmin caste. Narasingha himself was renouned for his valour. This combined with the impressive military history, supports the theory that the temple was a colossal tower of victory, erected to the Sun God thanking him for his earthly representative's (King Narasingha Deva) victory over the dreaded Muslim. The profusion of carvings on and around the temple depicting military subjects, seems to confirm it.

King Narasingha was also known as "Langulia" -- "one with a tail". It is also possible that he built the temple as a supplication to Surya to remove a spinal swelling of some sort.

No one really knows why a temple was built here, but there are many legends that account for its appearance. The most popular legend is that 'Sambha' the son of Krishna built the temple here. Sambha was very handsome and he was proud of it. One day he made the mistake of ridiculing Narada, a celebrated sage who was not renowned for his looks. He decided to take revenge on Sambha.

He lured Sambha into a pool where his step mothers were bathing. Krishna was furious and cursed him with leprosy. When he realised it was Narada who had lured him there, Krishna advised his son to worship the Sun God and hope for a cure. After a penance for twelve years, he was finally cured. Sambha built a Sun temple at that spot. It was called "Konark" --"Kona" meaning "corner" and "Arka" meaning "Sun"; hence "corner of the sun".

The entire temple has been designed in the form of gigantic chariot of the Sun God, taking him across the heaven. On days close to the equinox the Sun would shine at dawn or sunset on the Sun God in the temple, before the idol was removed. The temple has 24 wheels; each with 8 spokes and exquisite carvings. 7 horses drag the chariot. The 7 horses represent the 7 days of the week and the 24 huge wheels represent the hours of the day.Some believe that the wheels represent each month in the Hindu Calendar with the spokes being one of the part of the Hindu day (the wheels represent the 24 fortnights of the Indian year)

The decorated wheels act as the sun dials. Each wheel consists of 8 spokes that indicate 8 'praharas' of the day, one prahara being equal to 3 hours of time. The hub of the wheel casts shadow on the spokes indicating time.

Konark is not an isolated monument but a whole complex of temples. There is the main temple which is a combination of several structural elements like the chariot with the 24 wheels, a platform with a porch, the 'bhoga mantapa', 'nata mantapa' and the Mayadevi temple. Though the main sanctum is in ruins, the 'nata madapa' is in tact.

Sensuous Odissi dance poses are found in the sculptures. Traditionally the classical dance form of Odissi was performed as Mahari or Devadasi dance in temples dedicated to lord Jagannatha and also at the Konark sun temple.

With social and political changes in the country and also the supression of the dance form by the British authority the classical dance form moved out of the temples. Young dancers called 'Gotipuas' performed dances outside the temple premises.

This beautiful sculpture at the entrance to the temple is known as "nara gaja simha" (man elephant lion). The sculpture comprises of a man being crushed by an elephant that in turn is being crushed by the lion.

The guide explained to us that
"The man in the sculpture represents us. Born as free men we roam the world and acquire all the wealth. The elephant symbolises the wealth. Obsessed with wealth we commit sins. This wealth (elephant) crushes us. With wealth man acquires power. The lion symbolises the power. This greed for power will consume our wealth and finally crush and destroy us."

Lions gates are an important feature of Orissan architecture. Lions are installed at the entrance of temples. The lions have big sharp noses and thick moustaches.

Besides the sculptures of the 'Devadasis' there are also sculptures depicting scenes from every day life. The picture on the left (above) depicts a lady waiting for her husband to return home from work.

The picture on the left depicts a quarrel between a mother-in-law (the woman on the left with her hand on the hip) and her daughter-in-law.

The guide interpreted the picture on the left as a woman seeking the help of a dog to clean up after birthing a child. I am not sure if that is what the sculptor intended it to be.
Three different kinds of stones were used in the construction of the temple. Chlorite was used in the door-frame;laterite in the foundation, staircase and the centre of the platform. Khondalite was used elsewhere. It is of poor quality. None of these are available locally. The stones were smoothly finished and then fitted together. Designs were cared on them only after that.

The main idol of the Sun God on which the sunrays used to fall in the morning was removed by some Portuguese navigators. There are three images of the Sun God positioned to catch the rays of the sun at dawn, noon and Sunset.

The sun rays at dawn fall on the first image (top left), on the image at the centre at noon and the rays fall on the image at dusk on the image on the right.

The guide told us that we had to sit for a while in front of the image that catches the sun rays at dawn. This is to please the Sun God that represents the infant Sun. Children often demand attention from everyone; and this image is no different. If you do not pay him all the attention that he seeks, he will be angry! The image that catches the sun rays at noon represents the "youth". The God sits on his horse in the evening as he will be tired after a whole day's job. The sculptors had some imagination!

Of the 22 subsidiary temples that stood in the temple complex, only two remain to the west of the tower: The Vaishnava temple and the Mayadevi temple. The temple of Chhaya devi and her idol are in a desecrated state. The picture above shows one wall of the Chhaya devi temple.

The Hindu mythology syas that for several yugas Aditya was without a wife or a sister and he revolved around the earth once everyday. This made him hot and wild tempered. Brahma realised the reason for the agitation and created Gayathri as his sister. This pacified Aditya. He married Samgnya and their combined influence calmed Aditya.

Samgnya's marriage to Aditya was a love marriage but his heat terrified her. Then Gayatri suggested to leave behind her shadow (Chhaya) to function as Aditya's wife and go back to her parents' house.

When the Sun God discovers the deception, he goes to his father-in-law's house to find out what happened to his wife Samjna. His father-in-law Tvastr explains that his daughter found the Sun too bright to bear. Then the Sun God allows Tvastr to put him on his cutting lathe and shear away the excess brilliance until the Sun becomes beautiful again. Surya then reunites with his wife Samjna.

The picture on the left (above) is from the temple of Chhaya devi. The image on the right is Chhaya devi.

The guide then showed us another structure that he said was the shrine of Goddess Maya devi. He also told us that she was the second wife of Sun God. I haven't really found any evidence on the internet that supports his theory of the Sun God having two wives:). But the guide told us some wonderful stories and he also showed us the entire temple complex.

The temple of Konark is also known for figures of amorous couple. Liberal representation of such erotic figures was a fashion of not just the Hindu temples, but also Jain and Buddhist monuments.

It is believed that erotic sculptures are helpful in warding off the anger of natural calamities. It is described that the obscene sculptures were meant to rouse in the minds of the visitors a sense of what is sensual, therefore avoidable and a sense of what is spiritual, therefore desirable.

Eroticism occupies almost all segments of Konark temple. The amorous couple, the perfect female figures in seductive poses and their bewitching smiles have made Konark a feast for the eyes of all visitors. Konark stands unrivalled in the domain of romantic art. In the words of Rabindranath Tagore -- " The language of man is here defeated by the language of stone"...

23 September, 2006

Craftmen's village, Ramachandi, Chandrabhaga -- Fishing Village

It was now almost a week since the private bus owners had gone on strike in Orissa. We asked the warden in Puri hostel, if he could help us hire a taxi to go to Konark. He was very helpful. He sent his employee to find a reliable auto driver to drive us to Konark. We bargained for 650/- Rs that also included the money that we had to pay the driver to stay overnight at Konark. He promised to return at 3 O' Clock. It was 9:00 AM and we went to Lord Jagannatha and Gundicha mandir hoping to return by 3 PM.

We visited both the temples, had our breakfast, shopped for souvenirs and still managed to retun to the hostel by 12:00 PM. It was raining and we couldn't go to the beach either. We sat in the hostel waiting for the auto driver. Thankfully, the driver came to the hostel by 2:00 PM.

We left for Konark at 2:10 PM. We stopped at a nearby petrol station to fill the fuel. When we reached the outskirts of Puri town we saw a large plot of land filled with knee deep water. The driver explained to us that the ground serves as a bus station. Government buses from states other than Orissa park their buses here overnight and also the private tourist buses are allowed to park at a nominal fee. The ground is also used by the campers during Puri Rath Yatra.

Since the private buses weren't plying, a lot of villagers were waiting besides the road for some means of transport. To make the matter worse, it was raining. Our driver stopped the auto and offered to drop a woman and her son off at the next village. The woman and the kid sat with the driver in the front.

We then entered the reserve forest area. Driving through the forest was a nice experience. We didn't see any animals, but spotted a few colourful birds. Unfortunately, my camera was packed in the backpack and I couldn't photograph them. We stopped at a craftsmen's village. There were beautiful stone sculptures. The driver explained to us that there was demand for the sculptures even in the state of Andhra Pradesh.

We spent about 20 minutes admiring the beautiful sculptures.The driver informed us that he would drive us to Ramachandi next. The woman and her son were still with us and it didn't seem to me that they stayed someplace nearby. I invited the little boy to sit with us at the back. The woman still sat with the driver in the front. We drove for another 10 Kms and reached a village. The woman and her son got off. She reluctantly handed some money to the driver but he refused. We drove to Chandrabhaga next.

Chandrabhaga is a beautiful little beach situated on the confluence of the river Khushabhadra and Bay of Bengal. Ramachandi the presiding deity of the Konark region is worshipped here.

According to a legend, the temple of Goddess Ramachandi was to the south east of the Konark Temple. Suleman Kalapahad a muslim ruler attacked Konark and destroyed the sun temple. He then came to the Ramachandi temple to destroy it. Goddess Ramachandi dressed as a maid servant (maluni) and told Suleman to wait at the door till she returned with water for the Goddess. Kalapahad waited for a long time and when the Maluni did not return, he entered the temple. The throne of the goddess was empty. He suspected that the Maluni had carried away the idol of the Goddess with her. He went in search of the maluni and reached the banks of the river Khushabhadra. He saw the goddess floating in the river. He was unable to cross the river as it was flowing in full spate.

Another legend says that Goddess Ramachandi appeared as a old woman and served Kalapahad with cold water to quench his thirst. When the King drank water he looked up and didn't find the old woman. The idol in the temple had disappeared too.

The goddess appeared in the dream of a Panda (priest) and advised him to build a temple for her on the banks of river Khushabhadra. Accordingly, the priest built a temple for the goddess near the sea shore.

Chandrabhaga -- Fishing Village

According to a myth, the Sun God is believed to have sought a beautiful maiden named Chandrabhaga. Sadly though, the affection was not returned. This drove the Sun god crazy. He suffered humiliation and in utter despair he chased her right up to the shore. Chandrabhaga drowned herself in the sea. In rage and remorse Chandrabhaga's father sage Sumanyu cursed the Sun god that the temple would fall into ruins.

Another version of the legend narrates that Sun god soght the beauty of a Sea-maiden and chased her. After chasing her up to this place, she is said to have disappeared into the sea.

A river by the same name is supposed to have existed 3Kms from the Konark temple, where, as another legend goes, Shamba, the son of Lord Krishna prayed to Sun God for 12 years to be cured of leprosy. Though only a small lake now exists here, religious festival (Chandrabhaga mela) is held here in memory of Shamba's successful penance.It is believed that whoever takes bath in Chandrabhaga will be cured of leprosy and bareness.

Bishnu Maharana's artistic vision conceived the 13th C stone marvel at Konark. Bishnu's 12 year old son, Dharmapada (Dharma) a prodigy, meets his father for the first time after years of absence from home. He accomplished the task of crowning the monument with the cupola after numerous unsuccessful attempts by Bishnu and his 1200 masons. King Langula Narasimhadeva had set the dead line of Magha Saptami for the masons. Dharma's joy of having saved the crew from certain death for not completing the task before the dead line was short lived. The King learns the truth and commands Bishnu to single out the achiever. Dharma throws himself from the pinnacle into the swirling waters of the Chandrabhaga river below.

According to another legend, Sibei Santara was the chief architect of Konark temple. Chandrabhaga was chosen as an ideal site for the construction. The spot was so deep that the king had to stockpile hundreds of cart loads of boulders into it. The sea waves would wash them away within no time. Radhaba, a legendary sea fish is said to have devoured all the stones. The operation was suspended for a while until a suitable alternative could be found.

Once Sibei was passing through a village at night. An old woman invited Sibei and offered a plate of hot porridge. Sebei dipped his fingers in the middle of the plate and burned them. The old lady told him not be like Sibei. Sibei had not revealed his identity until then. The old lady narrated the obvious shortcomings of the plan to build up a foundation at the centre of the sea instead of starting it from a corner. Sibei learnt from his mistakes and tried afresh and succeeded in his endeavour.

The Hathigumpha (at Dhauli) inscriptions of Kharavela(1st C BC)infers to the existence of a navy. It also indicates that Ashoka (Maghadhan emperor) invaded Kalinga to acquire the sea ports as Maghadha did not have a port of its own. The Tugu rock inscription of western Java says that a river by name Chandrabhaga was regulated by a canal. Though there is no river now, a small lake by the same name exists.

The fishing community in Chandrabhaga consists of almost entirely the migrants from Andhra Pradesh. They have lived here for a very long time but they do not have any land rights. The local government intends to make Chandrabhaga a tourist spot and repeatedly evicted the community from their homes and destroyed their dwellings. The villagers were given some land elsewhere and permitted to construct their homes on the new land. The cyclones came just as things were settling into a routine and destroyed everything...

A small bridge leads you to the village or rather it used to lead you to the village. It was broken when we went to Orissa in the month of August 2006. It still probably is!

We had to reach Konark before the temple complex closed at 6:00 PM and it looked like it would start pouring any minute.So we dropped the visit to Chandrabhaga light house from our itinerary and drove to Konark.

19 September, 2006

Walking the streets of Puri

We went to Jagannatha mandir and Gundicha temple on August 15th 2006. Since we knew we couldn't take the cameras inside the temple premises, we kept them in the hostel and went to the temple. We planned to go back to the temple the next day and take pictures.

We were up and ready, early the next morning. My friend wanted to play in the sea for a while before we went to the temple. Though I am not fond of playing in water, I didn't mind strolling on the beach. The beach was just about 100 Mts from our hostel. But it was raining cats and dogs. I wasn't too disappointed, but my friend was. We waited in the hostel for the rain to stop. After a while, it stopped raining and we grabbed our raincoats and cameras and went to the beach.

There weren't many people on the beach as the sky was filled with dark clouds and it looked like it would rain the whole day. We strolled on the beach for a while. We had heard that Puri beach was better than the Gopalpur beach. But all we saw on the beach that day was rotten leaves that had floated with the rain water, plastic bags, stinking food dumped by the tourists and garbage that had flowed into the sea. The warden later informed us that the main beach was at least about half a kilometer from the hostel.

There were a few "pearl" vendors trying to sell off some cheap imitation of the pearls as real ones. Some older men were actually buying them! Just when we thought it had stopped raining... it started pouring again :(. That ended our early morning walk on the beach :(.

We went back to the hostel to wait for the rain to stop so that we could go to the temple again and take some pictures. We hadn't noticed the Sand sculpture of Lord Ganesha in front of the hostel when we left for the beach in the morning. But now that we had to wait until the rain stopped, we had sufficient time to notice things and that was when we spotted this sculpture. Probably one of the members attending the 'art of living' course organised at the hostel had sculpted this.

The downpour gradually turned into a drizzle and we took a cycle rickshaw to Gundicha mandir. We took few pictures of the temple and also bought some books at the temple book store. I purchased 'Purushottama Kshetra' by Ramachandra Mishra. We had asked the cycle rickshaw to wait for us for a while and then take us to Jagannatha mandir. It was still drizzling and the cyclewallah had covered his head with a cloth. I was feeling bad for making him wait in the rain. I purchased the book quickly and waited for my friend to join me.

Since we hadn't eaten our breakfast we asked the cyclewallah to take us to 'Nandan' restaurant. The restaurant was situated on the same street as Gundicha and Jagannatha mandir.

The rickshaw stopped at an unusual signal. The signal had boards that read 'STOP'. The traffic policeman would then place a card that read 'MOVE' covering the 'STOP' signal to allow the traffic in one direction. The number of vehicles on that road were so few that there was no need for a signal to control the traffic.

There was just another person besides us in the hotel. His mobile was ringing incessantly; but he seemed to be least bothered. Either he didn't realise that the mobile was ringing or he wasn't deliberately receiving the call. It seemed highly unlikely that he didn't realise the phone was ringing. Finally the man picked up the phone after it rang for almost ten minutes.

There is a temple right beside the hotel. We guessed that it was a Jain mandir and were expecting to see the images of Mahavira or the thirthankaras.

But when we peeped in, we realised that the temple wass dedicated to Radha and Krishna. There was also a cradle in the corner, in which was placed an image of 'Bala Mukunda'.

We then went shopping for few souvenirs to gift our family and friends. I spotted a house that had some unusual design patterns on the way to the temple of Jagannatha.

Our next stop was at the temple of Lord Jagannatha. We photographed the temple from outside. A helpuful local walked up to us and said we should see the temple from the top of the library as we would get a better view from there. Probably he imagined we were non-Hindus (Non-Hindus are not allowed in the temple) and so couldn't go into the temple. We thanked him for the information and said we had already been to the temple the previous day and we had returned to take some pictures.

While I was photographing the temple, a concerned temple guard walked up to us and asked if we were people from the press. He probably got this idea seeing a huge handycam in my friend's hand and a noticeably large camera in my hand. We said we weren't from press and also assured him that we only wanted to take some pictures for our personal collection. He was satisfied and walked away.

We returned to the hostel to wait for the auto driver to take us to Konark. The private bus operators were still on strike and so there were no buses. There weren't any government buses either :(. The taxi drivers too didn't seem to be taking advantage of the strike. With no buses or train, and the taxis quoting a high fare we didn't have much of a choice :(. The hostel warden had helped us find a reliable auto driver who would take us to Konark, and also show us some interesting picnic spots enroute to Konark. We bargained for 650/-Rs which we felt was too much to pay for 35Kms one way. But with no other means of transportation, we had no option :(.