The beach at Chandrabhaga near Konark was a dull grey blanket when I reached there early in the morning, eyes half shut, mind still on “where-is-my-filter-coffee” mode. What ever happened to the “famous” East Coast Sunrise that I woke up at 5 a.m. for? The rain. That is what happened. Who has heard of rain in February? Where are we living, for heaven’s sake? In London? *end of rant*
Chandrabhaga wore a deserted look, a few early morning types wetting their feet tentatively in the angry waters, creating enough noise to make up for their lack of numbers. I walked away from the group towards the fishing hamlet between the narrow road and the sea. I found small groups of fishermen sitting on their haunches, staring at the sea with desperate eyes. Are you not going in to the sea, I asked one of them in Hindi. I don’t know if he understood my words, but he followed my hand pointing to the sea, and pointed towards the sky in return. Both hands up, a sign of despair.
I stood staring at the waves for a few minutes, mind a peaceful blank, unmindful of the cold wind playing havoc with my already sore throat and aching ears. The sea, in all its dreary tones, was still magnetic. As I headed back to the car park, the sun was just peeping out and the boats standing desolate on the shore suddenly seemed to get a life of their own. I turned back and saw a few of the fishermen already heading out into the sea. Good luck to them.
By the time I reached the temple at Konark, the sun had resumed its game of hide-and-seek and the skies were again colorless and pale. I seem to have a talent for choosing the most dismal days in the year for visiting the most beautiful places in the country – just perfect for that washed-out background in the photographs.
Admittedly, no sun is not the best way to visit the sun temple. But for all the dullness in the sky, the temple stands tall and majestic, inspiring awe without any effort.
I hired a guide to show me around the temple, eager to know more about its history and keen on not missing out the finer details. The guide starts off with the story that all such monuments have – about when and how it was built. Twelve hundred workmen toiled at it for twelve years, using up twelve year’s worth of state revenue to build this magnificent temple. And as a fitting climax, a twelve year old master craftsman fixed the kalash at the top of the temple, a feat none of the other older more skilled workers could achieve – and jumped to his death into the sea, protecting the honor of the clan. To this day, the child’s sacrifice haunts the temple, no puja has ever been carried out there. It stands proudly, much of it in ruin as a reminder of the grandeur that was. Even today, in all that ruin, there is a profusion of carving all around the temple, intricate and astonishing in detail. Animals, people, clothes, jewellery, even emotions and feelings… seeing them, one understands what made Rabindrabath tagore enthuse – here the language of stone surpasses the language of man…
It is believed that the temple was originally constructed right on the shore, till the sea receded a couple of kilometers sometime in the past. European sailors were said to use this black pagoda as a navigational point in the sea. The temple, as is well known, is dedicated to the sun god, Surya who resides there (says my guide) with his two wives Chhaya and Sandhya. The scorching, all-powerful sun with his soft, gentle consort – shade and evening. Heat and cool. Life and stupor.
And that is what Konark is all about. The never ending cycle, the ever moving rhythm of life. The East-West axis of the temple shaped like a chariot on twelve pairs of immense wheels, the rays of the sun following the circumference of the temple as the day progresses. The lower part of the temple walls carved with images of elephants and horses – for the child to enjoy. Right on top, where the gods anyway reside, are carvings of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, for the aged to look at.
The middle part, at eye level – for the young – is full of erotic carvings – man and woman, intimacy and togetherness, procreation, recreation. As natural and joyful as life itself. My guide spares no pains to point out the spicier carvings to me – lesbian, woman with animal, group sex – see, he tells me, all this has existed in India centuries ago. Foreigners take these ideas from us and they make films out of these. Chalk up one more for Global India.
Another recurring motif throughout is that of victory-defeat. Just as you are about to climb the steps to the natyamandapa, you are greeted by two statues ofn either side of the steps. There is a lion (signifying power), riding an elephant (connoting wealth), which is in turn trampling a man (standing for justice). What this means, my guide is unable to explain – is it to acknowledge and accept that justice wil be trampled upon by might and wealth? Or is this a metaphor for the eternal food chain… or is it meant to remind all visitors about the ephemeral quality of life?
Right towards the end of our tour, my guide points out this carving of a woman standing by the gate – she is all dressed up and waiting for her husband. He adds for good measure, in those days, women used to wait for their men. Nowadays, often men have to wait for the women to come back home.
I think of my husband waiting for me back in Bombay and feel a quick pang. I pay the guide his fee and head towards the exit when I stop. I want to go back for another round, this time on my own, just to take in the magnificence of it. Standing in the shadow of the temple, watching the huge wheel intently, it is almost possible to feel it move, taking you back in time with it. Close your eyes, and you can hear the waves crashing aginst the walls of the temple, eroding the sandstone slowly through the centuries.