Mumbai Memoir: Orissa Diary Part I- Seeking blessings from the Sun God at Konark
Being a travel buff, its always fun to explore places even on a work trip. Late last year, when I was invited to conduct a workshop & lecture at Xavier Emlyon Business School (an Indo-French Business college) at Bhubaneshwar, Orissa (State in the East of India) I was excited as in the same trip I could execute 2 things what I love very much- teach & travel! After a very satisfying 1 full day workshop-lecture based on Applied Psychology in Sport Management, it was travel time the next day onwards. Hiring a self-drive car from Orissa’s capital Bhubaneshwar, I headed towards Konark on a Sunday afternoon.
Konark is well known for its Sun Temple, which is a UNESCO world heritage site. As I drove through the country-side of Orissa, I could see the landscapes covered with paddy (rice) fields. Some rice fields were triple the area of footballs fields! It was amazing feeling to see so much of open space with so much of ‘agriculture’ around! It’s a very rare thing for a Mumbaikar to witness such greenery and space! With child-like enthusiasm I gazed the countryside as I stopped to click some photographs of the fields. Bhubaneshwar- Konark distance is 66 Kms which takes around 1 hour 45 mins to reach there. Since I was not in a hurry to reach Konark I took a bit longer than 2 hours to reach the Sun Temple. After buying an entry ticket I started exploring the Sun temple and its premise. The very first sculpture which drew my attention were the ‘simha-gaja’ (Lion-Elephant) stone sculptures at the entrance of the temple. An aggressive Lion is mounted over an elephant and the elephant is crushing a human under it. The sculpture is symbolic of ‘how human ego has to detach itself from ‘power & pride (Lion- the vehicle of Goddess Durga) and wealth (Elephant-the vehicle of Goddess Lakshmi) to pursue spiritual upgradation and to fully receive divine blessings’. It is a reminder to each human entering the temple to stay humble and modest while seeking the blessings of the Sun God.
The very first time I saw the structure of the temple I was mesmerized with the view. The real sun setting in the backdrop of the Sun temple was a sight to remember! I looked at my watch and noticed that the sun was setting at 4:45pm, which is very early for a Mumbaikar! Then I realized that I was in the East of India were the sun set time is earlier than the West coast of India, where Mumbai is located. Thereafter I thought of making the best use of the daylight as I could sense that dusk would arrive in no time. I am glad that I could experience all the areas and artefacts present in the premise of the temple.
The Sun temple is situated on a structure in the shape of a horse chariot. Since, 13 century CE, the 100-foot high chariot along with the horses has been carved from one single stone! It is believed that King Narasimha Deva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty in 1250 CE commissioned the best sculptors of those times to build this temple. Though unfortunately, due to the vagaries of time the temple today has got dilapidated and currently the Archaeological Survey of India office has taken over its restoration. The wheels of the chariot have various motifs and themes which is worth studying. A lot of thought has gone into creating the symbolism in all the sculptures around. The temple motifs have educational and philosophical values. Daily chores of the people of the 13th century, the values prevailing in those times and also erotic themes adorn the spokes of the chariot wheels. It seems that the King wanted the temple’s exterior aesthetics to be a medium of art, culture, education and entertainment too.
As the sun set into the Bay of Bengal, I was all set to experience the ‘Sound and Light’ show that highlights the history, philosophy and significance of the creation of the Sun temple. The visual content of the show is projected over the exterior of the Sun temple, which is brings the past to life. There is a nominal fee to view the show, which includes the cost of hiring headsets and a radiowave based transmitter for hearing the audio content of the show. It was amazing to see vibrant colours and hear the mythology associated with the Sun temple’s creation. It is believed that because of his arrogance and extreme pride in his handsome looks, Lord Krishna’s son Sambha was cursed to suffer from a skin disease. The only way the curse would be taken away was by praying to the Sun God. A simple temple thus was built on the site of the present-day Sun temple for Sun worship. Later King Narasimha Deva I, reconstructed the temple with grandeur which today is monumental of India’s cultural legacy. As I bid good-bye to the Sun temple I reflected as to how Sun is still worshipped in India for curing skin diseases and science too confirms that Vitamin D found in the morning Sun rays is indeed beneficial for skin and other health issues. In earlier times religion and science were united, today they have been separated. But in India certain religious practices indirectly incorporates science in one’s lifestyle. Gratitude and prayers to the source of healing & survival certainly helps one seek the benefits and makes us empowered. That’s why probably, in the Hindu beliefs of India, every ‘survival resource’ is given God or Goddess status. The symbolism thus helps the common man value the resources around and make the best of it.
As I came out of the Sun temple premise, I noticed that there is a state-of-the-art Konark Archaeological Museum that showcases various aspects of the Sun temple and related artefacts. The audio-visual session in the end concludes all what one has witnessed about the Sun temple. The museum is supported by Indian Oil Foundation. It was worth a visit to the museum before I set for Puri that night. On my way to the car I purchased ‘meetha paan’ (a local sweet betel leaf food) which was artistically made by an enthusiastic vendor. As I drove to Puri on the pitch dark road, flashback of the day ran in my mind’s eye. The sight of the setting sun outside the Sun temple was indeed a mesmerizing moment. I realized it is the first time ever that I physically saw ‘God’ when I visited a temple!
Photo Courtesy: Shraddha. C. Sankulkar