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New Light on the Sun Temple of Konarka (An Old and Rare Book)

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Item Code: NAW323
Author: Alice Boner and Sadasiva Rath Sarma
Publisher: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office
Language: English
Edition: 1972
Pages: 393 (Throughout B/W Illustrations)
Other Details 12.00 X 9.00 inch
Weight 1.76 kg
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Book Description

When the ruins of the great temple to the Sun God at Konarka re-emerged from the Jungle in which they had been buried for about three hundred years, they confronted historians and archaeologists with a formidable challenge. Their grandeur and their uncommon features, nay, their very existence in that lonely region raised problems which, in the absence of any extensive documentation on the origin and history of the temple, defied any easy solution. Explanations had to fall back on the aspect of the ruins, on a few copper-plate grants and inscriptions, on the acceptance and interpretation of local legends, providing the base for various ingenious hypotheses.

It is only in recent years that villages around the temple have yielded important historical evidence in the form of palm-leaf manuscripts providing much first hand knowledge on a number of puzzling questions.’ These manuscripts were preserved in religious centres and private houses as the heirloom of people whose ancestors had been directly associated with the history of the temple, Either in some administrative capacity or as priests for the performance of rituals during the construction and afterwards, as long as the temple was in official worship and use. Two main sources for these manuscripts were the families of the ancient landlords of Rupasa Gada and Kila Baydlisbati, whose forbears in the 13th Century had been ‘chief administrators and supervisors on the work-site. Their names constantly occur in these documents, which are copies of records kept during the construction of the temple and during ‘the time when the temple was in worship. As mentioned in the colophons of these manuscripts, "they are copies of a later date, but their original sources are invariably attested.

The copies of the Baya Cakada, the book of Accounts held during the construction of the temple, for instance, are as late as the 19th Century, which shows, that among local people the attachment to this shrine had never been broken.

The practice among possessors of palm-leaf manuscripts in Orissa is to have a fresh copy made about every hundred years, and then to consign the older one to the waters of a giver. This usage known as Jalasayi, meant to prolong the life of a text, obviously also submits Sit to various hazards at the hands of successive copyists. The intervening period would Invariably bring about changes in writing, style and language. A later copyist not conversant with the earlier forms might introduce his own. This may result in various distortions and Confusions. Thus copies made of one original text made at various times and places, as has been the case with the texts translated here, may always present considerable variations or even discrepancies.

All the manuscripts presented in this volume in an English translation were discovered ea careful survey conducted by Padmaégr Pandit Sadasiva Rath Sarma of Puri in thirty-two villages in the Kogiarka area, which took him the better part of eight years. In this survey he has listed 974 palmleaf manuscripts, of which seven are dealing with the subject of the Konirka temple. Three of these, the "Padmatola Kavya," the "Arkaksetra Mahatmya of the Kapila Sarnhita" and the "Padmakgetra Mahatmya," being of a purely literary character have not been included in this publication. The other four here presented are factual con- temporary sources of information on the Sun Temple of Konirka and deal with their subject from different angles. The first, the "Architecture of the Padmakedara Deula," is a survey report, as one would say to-day, on the architecture of the temple and ‘the surrounding shrines, with detailed descriptions of all their parts and illustrated with exquisite drawings. The second, called "Trikala Mahamiy4 Arcana Vidhi" explains the religious significance of the small Mahagiyatri temple within the compound, and shows a full design of the original aspect of this shrine, of the yantras on which it was buili and of the Devi that occupied the garbhagrha. The third text, called "Baya Cakada" is a book of accounts and incidentally a detailed chronicle of the building operations of all the temples. The fourth, called "Padma- kegara Deula Karmangi? is a manual of the ritual established in this temple, a ritual that was in all probability followed for over threehundred years. Three of these manuscripts are written in Karani script and in an antiquated form of the Oriya language. Only the *Trikala Mahamaya Arcana Vidi" is written in Sanskrit and in Oriya script.

These documents, which contain a large amount of circumstantial evidence on the origin and history of the Konirka temple, should be able to remove many doubts, clear certain controversial points and thus dispel various erroneous notions which appear to have gained ground, if one is to judge from publications of recent years: First of all the assumption, that the temple was never finished and given over to worship, and secondly the idea that an edi- fice of this mangnitude could never have been completed in the short time of less then thirteen years without the employment of slave labour. Incidentally they also throw a vivid light on prominent personalities of their time and rescue from oblivion the names of some of the greatest architects and sculptors whom not only India but the world has known.

Deciphering, translating and interpreting such technical documents in an antiquated script and language obviously presents considerable difficulties, The spelling of words is not always reliable and varies from one copyist to another. Still greater vagaries are met with in the writing of ciphers, which may take several different forms in one and the same manu- script. Furthermore many technical terms employed in these texts are obsolete and confronted the translators with problems for whose elucidation other contemporary texts had to be scruti- nized, or explanations obtained from representatives of a still living religious or professional tradition. These explanations are given in notes or in the Appendices at the end of the book, where a Glossary of the specifically Orissan terms is added.



The great temple to the Sun God at Konarka in Orissa is even today, after the collapse of the main tower and a number of reckless depredations, a conspicuous landmark on the coastline of Orissa. For miles around the pyramidal roof of its majestic porch dominates the flat sky-line of coconut palms and casuarina trees, and in its solitary grandeur this temple ruin still is an eloquent testimony of a glorious and mysterious past.

What a tremendous impact on the imagination of the inhabitants of the surrounding villages and the whole country the erection of this temple must have exerted, may be gauged from the fact that legends about the temple and its builders are still very much alive. Yet the temple was abandoned as a ruin in the jungle more than three centuries ago !

The first visit to the temple ruin by an outsider is recorded in the Madala Paiiji, the chronicle of the Jagannatha temple in Puri, in the fascicle ( nathi ) No. 34 of Vira KiSora Maharaja ( 1737-1793 A.D. ), which contains a personal report of Baba Brahmacari, the Guru of Sheo Bhatta Sathe, Deputy of the Mahardstrian Dynasty then governing Orissa, the Bhonslas of Nagpur.

"I, Baba Brahmacart, heard from areliable person that near the ocean was a ruined temple to the Sun God. Having myself great devotion to the Sun God, I wished to see the temple. For my expenses Chimanji gave me 200 gold coins. With Kotha-karana Nilambara Pattanayaka and attendants I set out on two elephants onthe dagamt day of Phalguna Sukla paksa in the 12th anka* of the Raja. We travelled along the sea-shore and crossed two rivers. We did not see a single house on the way, so that I started wondering how a temple could have been built in a place without any human habitat or any human being. Suddenly, from a distance of one kroga ( 2 miles ) we perceived a stone hillock, and that was the temple. Having read in the Pract Mahatmya and in the Padma Purana about the religious importance of this temple I was very eager to sec it. We reached there in the morning of the ekadagi day. Hidden in the jungle the temple appeared small, but on approaching it, I was astounded to see its size, and I wondered how such a large temple could have collapsed. All the stones that were lying about showed beautiful carvings. The compound wall was like those of Mogul forts, but all broken. There were such mountains of sand that one could hardly detect the wall. Kothakarana knew this much, that according to the Madala Pafiji the wall was more than 12 hasta (cubits) high. First I thought the temple was that in the southern corner ( the Thakurani temple ), but then I realized that a bigger temple stood by its side. To my great sorrow I learnt that an image of the Devi, which stood in the smaller temple had been carried away by villagers for their own worship. Under such circumstances, what could one do ?

" I called one hundred men from the Golara and Kaniya villages. With the help of these men I started liberating a very beautiful pillar that emerged by hasta from a heap of stones and was wound around by creepers. When after two days the pillar was cleared, I realized that a pillar of this kind had never been seen in the whole of Bharatavarsa. Then we started cutting our way towards the portal of the temple, because I hada great desire to sce it. We came across many snakes and godhis ( giant lizards). The first thing we saw was an arch with very beautiful carvings, in the middle of which appeared the head of a Strya image. At every step we trod upon images. I picked up a black stone with a beautiful figure seated on a deer which appeared to be that of Vayu’s consort. There also I discovered the head portion of a lion. Facing the Aruna pillar there were two lions on the ground which I had dug out from the passage. When I reached the broken portal, I looked inside. When looking inside I heard some noises and felt afraid. I saw very long iron beams hanging across and four big ‘pillars standing. I went inside between the pillars towards the garbhagrha. There were so many stones piled one upon another that one could hardly recognize anything. But on the inner portal, just as on the outer portal, there were very beautiful door-jambs. Near to those I saw some fresh blood, This frightened me and I left the place. But I gave orders to my men to take out the piija-image, whose hands and nose were broken. After five days’ work they brought out the image. Ihad had a mind to reconstruct the temple with the help of the Maharastrian Raja, but I understood that it was quite impossible. Seeing its condition I lost hope that the temple could be rebuilt in the same way it was standing on its southern and western side. Therefore I thought that it was better to carry away some of the images. The pillar was placed on three bullock- carts in a row and was carried away, together with the 18 pieces of the pedestal. From the bardndi of the small temple we got the image of a Babaji, an image of Krsna of one and a half cubits, an elephant-procession of one and ahalf cubits, a Vayu Patni, a Narasitnha Deva and ten other images. After sending all these to Purusottama ( Puri ) I left the place with great pain in my heart. Why, I thought, had not the ocean swallowed all these stones? From the Karana I heard that one Keshomaru, a Hindu, had carried away the dhvaja-padma.* I thought he must have been a Raksasa. After returning to Purugottama, I kept all these images on the roof of the Bhoga mandapa ( of the Jagannatha temple ). The image of Raja Narasixhha and that of Narasitnha Deva I kept in the mukha§ala of the Laksmi temple.** The Vayupatni and the image of the Babaji I sent to the Hanuman temple,*** for which Ihad great devotion. I could not do anything further and that gave me great sorrow. From this report the condition of the temple can be understood." (signed ) on Caitra Trayodas ;

Baba Brahmacari Kothakarana Nilambara Pattanayaka Another report in the Vira Kigora Fascicle ( nathi ) No. 21 of the Madala Paiiji gives a few more names of images that Baba Brahmacari had taken away to Purusottama. They are:

The Ratha sitnhdsana image with hands broken ( the Puja image, the most important piece )

The Navagraha stone from the southern portal ( now above the portal of the wall enclosing the Gundica temple compound in Puri )

Six Kanya images in sandstone (two or three still kept in the Gupdica temple in Puri )

A Narasitnha Deva image from the side of the Sambapitha ( see plan ) One large Mithuna image

One Caturanga mtrti ( war scene ) in chlorite A still later report on an attempt at unearthing the temple is found in the fascicle

{ nam ) No. 41 of Raja Divya Sirhha Deva ( 1793-1798 A. D. ):

"Raja Divya Sirnha Deva wanted to unearth the Konarka temple and for this purpose gave 2000 mogul tamtkas ( silver coins ) to Dewan Bbramara Pattanayaka. He tried for three months, but did not succeed. So he only brought away six female figures two and a helf hasta ( cubits ) high, an image of a Babaji and also a head of one of the musicians from the roof of the mukhagala The image of the Babaji he kept in the Hanuman temple and the Sakhi (female) figures in the Gundica temple One Dama Maharana who had gone along with them for the excavation set up the head ona temple in his mohalla ( quarter). The Raja was taken prisoner by the Firingis ( British ) and this work was stopped." (See Colophon of Ms. No. 2 of the Baya Cakada.

These were—to our knowledge—the earliest recorded attempts at unravelling the mys- tery and at salvaging the great temple of Konarka which had been swallowed by the jungle and was facing utter destruction. They were written only about one hundred years after the collapse of the great monument and about one hundred years before the chance discovery of its ruins by the British, who then occupied the country.

The only existing description of the temple by an eye-witness who saw it when it was still whole is the often quoted report in the Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl.* He was full of admiration and said: "Even those whose judgement is critical and who are difficult to please stand astonished at its sight? Then he gives a fairly correct description of what he saw, but attributes the creation of the temple to one Raji Narsingh Deo, whom he supposed to have lived 750 years before his time. This was in about 1580 A. D. (See Pl. Nos. 2 and 6 ).

When Smeuixa visited Konarka in 1824 only a small section of the vimana ( temple-tower ) about 120 feet in height was still standing, which gave the temple, when seen from a distance the appearance of a ship under sail. The same section was seen by Fsrcusson in 1838, as testified by the drawing published as an engraving in his book Picturesque Ilustrations of the Architecture of Hindustan (Plate 7a). He also saw the Eastern portal almost intact, as shown—though incorrectly drawn—in an_ earlier engraving ( Asiatic Researches, XV. 1825). The projecting side walls of the portal were still standing with the pillars that supported the arch above it. Also the Navagraha lintel and the sculptures above it were stillin situ. Inthe meantime, however, the pillars which Babaji Brahmacari had seen standing in the interior of the mukhaSala towards the end of the 18th century had apparently tumbled down.

That the artistic excellence of this temple was immediately recognised by its dis- coverers is attested by the words of Fsravsson which accompany his drawings: "The temple itself is of the same form as all the Orissan temples and nearly of the same dimensions as the great ones at Bobhanegvar and Puii,** it surpasses, however, both these in lavish richness of detail, so much so indeed, that perhaps I do not exaggerate when I say that it is, for its size the most richly ornamented. building—externally at least—in the whole world." And again: "Taken altogether, this building may be considered as one of the best specimens of Indian architecture as an exterior, though in Upper India there are infinitely finer interiors. There is altogether so much consonance in the parts and appropriateness in the details, that the effect of the whole is particularly charming."

**Contents and Sample Pages**

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