Konark temple conservation demands urgent attention
The World Heritage Day is celebrated on April 18 to educate people about protection, preservation and propagation of world heritage. World heritage refers to those monuments and sites which have shaped, influenced, or represent the most impressive achievements of human societies. World heritage sites are those which illustrate the best of human achievements such as the pyramids of ancient Egypt, The Great Wall of China, Konark temple in Odisha, etc. World heritage is the shared wealth of humankind. Protecting and preserving this valuable asset demands collective efforts of the international community.
The theme of the day for 2014 is Heritage of Commemoration. It provides an opportunity to present those constructions that have been intentionally created with the purpose of commemorating an event, a person, an idea, etc.
The Sun Temple at Konark is a pinnacle of Indian temple architecture and the most magnificent architectural achievement undertaken in India till date. The temple was a technological wonder. The builders had a comprehensive knowledge of astronomy and architecture. The temple was built in by King Narasimhadeva I (AD 1236-1264) of the Ganga dynasty and dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya. Due to its architectural excellence, it has been inscribed as a World
Heritage Monument since November 2, 1984.
The temple was designed as a chariot with 12 huge carved stone wheels and seven stone horses around its base. The horses were conceived in such a way that it gives the impression that the Sun God himself drives this chariot. The temple complex was located in a walled enclosure of about 260m x 160m.The complex consists of Vaishnav Temple (superstructure collapsed), Maya Devi Temple, Sun Temple (superstructure collapsed), Jagamohana (Intact), Aruna Pillar (now in front of Jagannath Temple, Puri), Natamandapa (superstructure collapsed), kitchen (only basement existing).
Towards the end of the 16th century or early in the 17th, Muslims apparently attacked and damaged the temple complex causing violation of the sanctity of the temple and, thus, it was abandoned as a place of worship. Over the next centuries, the temple was no longer used and maintained and it suffered from structural deterioration, sand drift and robbery and the main temple collapsed. Due to human negligence, the masterpiece of art and sculpture fell into ruins.
That the decay and collapse was gradual is substantiated by A Stirling, who visited the site in 1825 AD. He mentions that the temple still stood, even in 1848; a corner of the Rekha Sikhara remained to a considerable height. The standing corner of the tower was further recorded by James Fergusson in 1837 AD who estimates its height as nearly 45 m and Kittoe in 1838 AD who estimates the height between 24 m and 30 m. This solitary remnant of the main temple also fell in October 1848 due to a strong gale. However, in course of time the main temple collapsed. Rajendra Lal Mita while visiting the temple in 1868 and Hunter in 1870 have recorded eyewitness accounts of the ruins. The former mentions it as only an “enormous mass of stones studded with a few trees here and there”.
The main temple has been estimated to have been 67m height at the beginning. The Jagamohana is the total height of 37m. It is the audience hall where the people assembled for worship. Only the Jagamohana or Mukhasala stands today.
The temple is indeed the only one of its kind. The huge granite blocks were extremely polished and plain. The blocks were separated by iron plates. The entire structure was held together by several magnets. It is believed that the idol of Sun God was kept suspended in the air by the force of the magnets. The idol had a diamond which reflected sunrays. The magnet at the temple’s top was the main force holding most of the structure. This was so powerful that it used to disrupt the magnetic compass of the ships going through that route as Konark was a major port at that time.
During the British rule, steps were taken to conserve the remaining part of the temple. Towards the end of the 19th century, proposals were made for undertaking certain repairs, but significant work did not get underway until 1903. In 1903, the Jagamohana was sealed after filling the interior with sand, after observing certain structural deficiency in it, to avoid possible collapse. However neither a clear record of the condition of the inside of the monument prior to 1903 nor the actual reason for filling the interior of Jagamohana with sand is available.
In 1950, the Government of India appointed an expert committee on conservation, engineering, art, architecture, geology and chemistry to suggest measures for conservation. The southern and eastern gateways were thoroughly conserved by restoring the missing stones and replacing the damaged courses by new ones. Extensive chemical cleaning and preservation of the facade of the temple was also undertaken.
There are many speculations about the cause of the fall of the temple. Legends describe a loadstone on the temple top. The loadstone disturbed ship compass so that they did not function correctly. To save their shipping, the Portuguese voyagers took away the loadstone, which was acting as the central stone and keeping all the stones and the iron columns and walls of the temple in balance. Due to its displacement, the temple walls lost their balance and, eventually, fell. But there is no record of this occurrence in any historical records, nor is there any record of the existence of such a powerful loadstone at the temple. The exact date and reason for the fall of the monument are still in mystery.
Though in a dilapidated condition, the temple’s charm still attracts visitors from far and wide throughout the year. The remaining structure and the ruins around still profoundly testify the boundless creativity of the Odishan artists and their contributions to the treasury of Indian art and building techniques.
The Sun Temple is protected under the National Framework of India by the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains (AMASR) Act, 1958. Other relevant legislations include the Forest Act, Konark Development Act and Notified Council Area Act. Under the AMASR Act, a zone of 100 metres outside the property and a further zone of 200 metres outside it constitute, respectively, prohibited and regulated zones for development or other similar activity that may have adverse effects on the Outstanding Universal Value of the property. All conservation programmes are undertaken by the Archaeological Survey of India.
There are five management-related plans: safety, environment, master planning, environmental development and tourism. World Heritage funding was received to carry out an assessment of structural stability.
The Jagamohana, which was sealed, is at risk due to lateral thrusts on the structural walls. The conservation of the remaining part of the temple will be a challenge after removal of sand. Research works are on in respect of removal of sand from the Jagamohana.
Over the years, it has been observed that the sand level has gone down by nearly 15 feet. This indicates that the top portion has become vacant. Therefore, many questions arise for the conservation of the World Heritage, Konark. If sand removal is possible, people can see the Jagamohana’s interior condition. However, there is a need to study its possible impact on the structure. The Konark temple’s world cultural heritage status certainly demands that the structure be given immediate attention.