Thursday, November 12, 2009

Konark Sun Temple - part 1

The highlight of the trip was the Sun Temple in Konark. Located about 60 km from Bhubaneswar, this 13th century temple is deservedly on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. Dubbed the Black Pagoda by sailors who had frequent shipwrecks along the coast, the temple is in the shape of a massive chariot, pulled by seven galloping horses (one for every day of the week) whose mission is to carry the Sun God across the sky. Only parts of the horses remain, but the twenty-four wheels each of which are 3m high are in remarkable condition. The horses and other parts of the many structures at Konark were victims of a Muslim army sacking in the 15th century.

A long walkway leads up to the temple, emphasizing the importance of the scene and causing increased anticipation as if one was coming to visit a king. Reaching the temple, the wait was not in vain. Here before me was a structure with a profusion of carved images and scenes of varying sizes and subject matter, all seemingly wriggling with life. The sheer volume of images could easily cause one to become overwhelmed and lose focus on anything, but for those that take the time to actually look and see, the details are a treat for the eye. You could close our eyes and snap away with your camera and get a wonderful picture no matter where you photographed. Here one will find dancing figures and those playing instruments, whose details give us a glimpse into the jewelry, clothing and hairstyles of the day. Throughout the temple one can see vividly erotic scenes based on the Kama Sutra including sexual acts – sometimes between a man and woman, one man and several women, with animals, and more. One theory is that the erotic art was meant to symbolize the ecstatic bliss enjoyed by the soul when it unites with the divine. Just next to some of these erotic scenes are more calm carvings of snake goddesses.  Other scenes are more of everyday life – a woman leaving for pilgrimage, another washing her hair, playing instruments, and fondly caressing a bird. Others are more religious, including images of various Hindu cults – an indication of religious tolerance at the time for different sects. Our guide pointed out the court scene – a relief carving depicting the king being presented with a giraffe – an indication of the maritime trade with Africa. Another shows a king seated on an elephant, leading a discussion to nobles & priests whose elephants and horses stand below. Lining the base of the temple platform are friezes of hunting scenes, military processions, elephants uprooting trees, attempts to capture elephants, rows of athletes, ladies cooking, and other everyday life scenes.

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