Sandy beaches, Sun Temple and Erotic Sculptures at a place dedicated to Sun
Orissa is blessed with a lot of sun and sand. And for those looking for a good relieving smoke, or external stimulants for internal reflection, the government runs a shop selling versions of Cannabaceae in the capital.
Bhubaneshwar, the capital still gives the feel of a quaint, rustic city where time has stopped and modernity is yet to catch up. This is coming from someone who landed in Orissa from Mumbai. Konark, a UNESCO world heritage site is about an hour’s drive away situated close to the shore of Konark beach. Konark’s name is derived from Kone (Cone/angle) and Arka (the sun) and thus dedicated to Sun God. Also known as “Black Pagoda” due to the black stones used in its construction, the sailors of yore used it as a landmark.
According to legend, Prince Sambha, Krishna’s son was cursed to be a leper. His obeisance and prayers to the Sun God followed by a bath in Chandrabhaga river, which ran through Konark helped him cure the disease. Ever since the place assumed significance as a holy place for Sun worship and healing properties of Chandrabhaga river. The river has dried up now.
The temple was commissioned by King Narasimhadeva in 13th century. The site was chosen due to the significance of the healing properties of the lake, and the prayer centre for sun devotees. The temple brought a lot of artisans from across the world who laboured on it for 12 long years. Huge stone blocks were carved out and they in turn were interlocked using iron bans in the structure. To keep the stone and metal intact, the crown stone contained a giant magnet. As per legend, post construction of the temple, it was discovered he crown stone could not be put unless the rest of the structure could be dismantled. With the temple nearing completion, none of the architects could find a way out. The only solution was to climb the top of the temple, put the stone, and fall to certain death in the river below. The chief architect was worried as the king had ordered beheading of 1200 workers if not completed by the next day. The day of the deadline, the workers were relieved as the crown stone was finally in place – all rejoiced except the chief architect. The architect’s 12 year old son – Dharmapada who had come to visit him had saved the lives of 1200 workers and their families at the cost of his own.
The temple itself was constructed in the form of a chariot with 24 wheels ( for 24 fortnight’s ) being driven by 7 horses (signifying the days of the week). The upper portion of the wheel signifies day whereas the lower one signifies night. The entrance to the temple has a statue of a man under an elephant, which is under a lion (NaraGajaSimha). Several interpretations exist but the most common is with the growth of money and worldly power (elephant) in man, his power and pride (lion) also grow, finally crushing him. Another interpretation of the same is Hinduism (lion) dominating over Buddhism (elephant) and both the religions dominating over man. It has also been interpreted as spiritual power (lion) overcoming worldly power (elephant) and man is at the mercy of both. A fourth interpretation is Sun god (lion) overcoming Indra, the god of rain whose mount is an elephant.
As reinforced by the guide a system of magnets, which held the temple together. The most powerful being the magnet in the crown stone. The stone structures had iron content and bands in them. The locals allege the deity of the Sun god in the main sanctum was floating in air without any support, using the top magnet, and a set of reinforced magnets and iron bands around the temple. The statue itself had iron content.
The current state of ruins of the temple is attributed to the absence of the crown stone. Some suggest that the temple was invaded by Mughals who also destroyed the crown stone. Another theory is that Portuguese sailors discovered that the strong magnet interfered with their navigation , rendering their compasses useless. As a result, they destroyed the crown stone, which led to a disintegration of the entire structure.
Restoration work is ongoing. Exquisitely carved structures surround the temple. As per the guide, STP – Segmentation, Targeting and Positioning was followed keeping in mind the audience was the general public. Horses and elephant carvings at the foot of the temple were for young children. Sculptures in kama poses, and figures of women which adorn the wall are for youth. Spiritual figures present at upper elevation are for older people.
A vast majority of the sculptures at eye level and a little higher comprises of amorous couples (triples and quadruples in some cases) in different positions, women with varying poses. Allegedly, after finishing the brahmacharya or student stage, the student was asked to come to pay respects to the Sun God. The amorous figurines were meant to titillate him so that he would embrace the grihasthya or householder stage. Those who were unaffected by these figurines were given the choice of sannyasa by the guru.
“All forms of marriages are depicted – monogamy, polygamy, polyandry,” the guide explained. He cited the examples of polygamy for Krishna and polyandry for Draupadi, and pointed to a set of sculptures. Polygamy and polyandry have been depicted as threesomes. Clearly in the Mahabharatha it was mentioned Draupadi slept with one husband and reserved herself for him through the year. He also pointed to a set of sculptures which had two women indulging each other – “Lesbians!:, the guide pointed out “Indian society was so forward thinking at that point.” “Self sex “, he exclaimed pointing to another sculpture which showed a woman in a squatting position with some kind of object in her hand.
It was interesting though that there was no sculpture depicting gay sex or men masturbating, especially when the latter is a far more frequent (what I did hear from my friends of the opposite sex). Probably the Indian sculptors assumed all men were heterosexuals. The primary target audience in this case was definitely straight men. Lesbians, women masturbating, angel’s threesome and a devil’s threeway. “The women were very strong then also, and dominated men at times”, the guide went on to show a panel which depicted infidelity. The wife was beating the husband with a stick and a small bob of a lady head at the background. Apparently the husband went to meet his mistress infuriating the wife.
Besides kama poses, a panel also depicted a king riding on an elephant being received by another with his subjects. The panel also depicted a giraffe. The guide explained that the kings of that time had visited Africa, with the giraffe being proof of the same.
The wheels of the temple serve as sundials. Tiny beads have been carved along the inner periphery of the wheel. Each bead represents 1.5 minutes, the sundial – being the axle of the wheel. The wheel itself has been divided into 8 sections and each section divided into a further half. Each section depicts what an individual/ couple can do during the day. Apparently the wheels cater to both married and unmarried women and men, couples etc. depicting when they should have food, take bath, have sex and in which positions etc.
Here’s another interesting story which I heard : Apparently, you’ll have dark sheep in families of repute and prominence as they were not conceived at the right time. So, it is best to conceive during the morning/ dawn as compared to dusk. The ancient kings would also consult astrologers to determine the best time to conceive with their wife / wives.
“How about for old people ?”, I asked. “There”, he pointed to a section above the first and second level of the temple. Spiritual figures were at a level very high up. The older folks when they come they look directly at the statue of sanctum sanctorum, with devotion in mind. The spiritual figures at the top were keeping that in mind, their vision more skyward. Temples of Chaya and Mayadevi, wives of the Sun god are also present in the vicinity.
The sheer magnanimity of the temple; the intricacy, imagination & detailing of the sculptures, accurate depiction of time, orientation, and even the open attitude to art and life – The ancient Indians were truly ahead of their times.