My first introduction to Konark was when I was a kid of 9 years. A group of family friends had decided to go on an outing to Konark via the Marine drive. Even as a child the stillness, the tranquil beauty of the drive- lined by sultry sand, sturdy trees and bushes trying to veil the sun kissed ocean behind- enticed me. At one point in the journey, the trees had made way to reveal the sea in its full glory. The small troupe of picnickers could not help being pulled by the call of this titillating beauty of nature. We stopped our vans and got down. Our parents warned us to be careful of the spiky seeds and thorn scattered on the beach, as we rushed out, jumping over the small hills and rolling down the sharp troughs of sand. The father’s ran behind heaving shouting, and trying to keep pace. I cannot forget the ocean in all its elements, its color- the purest of blue. When we got tired of the euphoric play with wind, sand and sea, we diverted our attention to the hollow trucks and dried pieces of cashew-nuts scattered on the beach. One of our parents grabbed this opportunity of momentary quiet to tell us about the amazing stories of Konark, our main destination. I heard wide eyed, about the fascinating stories the adult spun out about the Sun Temple. Yes, at that point in life they appeared as magical stories.
Overlooking the magnificent expanse of Bay of Bengal- perched on the yellow radiance of Chandrabhaga beach, stands the Black Pagoda. Konark derives its name from” Kona”, meaning corner and “Arka” , meaning Sun. The Sun temple of Konark is a spectacular monument depicting an inimitably and exquisite poetry on stone. A testimony of the glorious era of King Narasimhadeva-1- the sanctorum remains today as a living realism portraying the ornate architectural style, expertise and splendor of the Kalinga School of Indian temple art. The temple was conceived after 12 long year of absolute penance by 1200 master craftsmen. Built from black granite the grandiose structure is hailed as one of the most sublime monuments of India, for its impeccable proportion and colossal dimension. King Narasimhadeva- 1 ordered the construction of the monument in praise of the Sun God -who is deemed as the primal source of all life. The Temple portrays the chariot of the Sun God about to proceed in its first flight. The chariot has twenty four horses and seven wheels. The artistic flair and mentality in depicting the seven days of a week (the seven horses) and the twenty four hours of a day (the 24 wheels) is fascinating. The temple is constructed to align with the south west axis of the sun. The Pagoda bathed in warm glare of sun rays shone brightly and served as a landmark for ships in the nearby sea. The ravages of time echo across its length and breath, but etchings of the masterpiece remain intact in the Mukhasala(entrance canopy) and the Natya Mandir. An interesting piece of information about the architectural proficiency of the Sun temple is that-the stones are not stuck together by cement or lime stone. Instead the granite pieces are so polished that a single drop of glue(lakha) is adequate to hold it together. Intricate designs, tapestries, animal figurines and amorous human forms adorn every inch and corner of the temple. The architectural sonata of the Sun temple replicates the alluring postures and beauty of Oddisi (classical dance form of Orissa). Every year the union between architecture and performing art is rejuvenated when the Konark Dance festival is held from December 1st to the 5th. Recognizing the unparalleled magnificence of Konark the UNESCO declared it as a World Heritage Site. Many a legend lay hidden in the depths of the magic spun by these stones. The first Oriya to get a Padmashree Pt. Sada Shiv Rathsharma has excavated many of the theories surrounding Konark in his book titled ” Sun Temple of Konark”. Some of them are, the legend of Kalapahad and that of the powerful Lodestones which could destroy the compass of the ship at sea. However there is one Legend that is both gripping in its intensity and poignant in its irony.
The soil condition at the construction site disgruntled the chief architect Bisu Maharana. However the Kings (Narasimhadeva 1) will and the sanctity of the site left him with no other option. Legend has it that when King Samba (son of Lord Krishna) entered the bathing chambers of Krishna’s wives he was cursed, and became afflicted with leprosy. As per decree he was freed from this ailment when he bathed in the waters on the North Eastern Coast of Puri and worshipped the Sun God for 12 long years. Bisu Maharana along with his 1200 craftsmen had signed on the dotted line that they would stay at the site till the completion of the structure. Thus began the arduous 12 long year journey of these skilled architects who etched on stone, as the poet Rabindranath Tagre put it a “language of stones” that surpassed “the language of man”. Bisu Maharana had left home when his wife held Dharmapada in her womb. Dharmapada grew up listening about the craftmenship of his father and studying the theories and books of architecture left behind by his famous father. On his twelveth birth day he asked for a gift from his mother. He asked her leave to go and see his idol, his father. The father and son were swept by a surge of emotions to see each other for the first time. However in these moments of ecstasy Dharmapada became aware of the looming disquiet and tension. The structure was complete and stood grand on the soil of Chandrabhaga. The powerful magnets used in construction of the temple displayed an unprecedented architectural marvel-the throne of the king was made to hover in thin air. Yet despite all efforts certain defect in the design prevented the architects from installing the “kalasa” or key stone at the apex of the temple. The king, as frustrated by the delay had ordered the task to be completed before dawn the next day-else the 1200 craftsmen were to be beheaded. Dharmapada stepped up to the occasion and used his theoretical knowledge to craft a design of” kalash” to fit the temple top. Among the jubilation and applause a murmur floated in the air- if the king finds out about the remarkable feat of a 12 year boy, what would be the fate of the skilled architects. When the first beams of the sun kissed the curvilinear sculptures of Konark, the people discovered the life less corpse of the 12 year old prodigy. It is said that Dharmapada sacrificed his life to preserve the dignity of the 1200 workers who had labored under the hot sun, away from their families. What had transpired in the mind of this child remains a mystery. Hinduism considers suicide as a grave sin. But the enormity of the sacrifice of a young boy faced with adverse circumstance, in a time when the Kings word was the law, is at once poignant and overwhelming.