Sand filled at Konark Sun Temple to prevent its collapse to be removed

Updated on Sep 09, 2022 05:27 PM IST

Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials said Britishers presumed the sand would take the entire load of the top of the monument when it was filled 100 years ago

The ASI on Tuesday began the process of sand removal. (HT PHOTO)
The ASI on Tuesday began the process of sand removal. (HT PHOTO)
ByDebabrata Mohanty

Between 1900 and 1903, four entrances to the 13th century Konark Sun Temple’s assembly hall (Jagamohan) were sealed and filled with sand to prevent the structure from collapsing as the British undertook its preservation work. The sand over the years caused cracks to the structure from the inside and prompted the Centre to order its removal from the world heritage monument in February 2020.

Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) officials said Britishers presumed the sand would take the entire load of the top when it was filled 100 years ago. “But the sand has settled down and the whole purpose of it has been defeated. The sand was causing a lot of unwanted stress to the walls. Unless the sand is taken away, it would keep pushing the walls,” said an ASI official, who did not want to be named.

The ASI on Thursday began the process of sand removal. ASI superintendent (Bhubaneswar circle) Arun Mallick said they did bhumi pujan on Thursday before beginning the process of removal which may take about three years. He added they have done detailed documentation over the last two years and consulted experts including professors at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras and Roorkee’s Central Building Research Institute on how to take the sand out. “We think we have formulated a safe system.”

Mallick said they will remove the sand through the four gates and stabilise the sanctum sanctorum for the devotees. “We can open the amalakh [fluted finial stone], dismantle the stones one by one, and take out the sand,” said Mallick.

He added BDR Nirman Private Limited has been awarded the tender for technical help and that only ASI staff will be engaged in the sand removal work. “The removal of the sand will be started by digging holes at the western door...[we will] then study the impact before going ahead.”

Ganga dynasty king Langula Narasingha Dev built the temple 800 years back to worship the Sun God. About 1,200 stone craftsmen and artists constructed the temple over 16 years using chlorite and sandstone. The monument has since lost its main temple and natya mandap and only the Jagamohan remains.

BDR Nirmal Pvt Ltd director Gyana Ranjan Mohanty said the major challenge is to ensure that no debris or sand falls on the monument. “The challenge is how to remove the sand from the structure without spilling anything of it... We have to set up a mechanical platform from where we will make tunnels. The sand is 14 feet high.”

Mohanty said as they do not know what is the volume and condition of the sand, two to three processes may be adopted. “We have to give temporary support [involving] stainless steel fabricated beams inside once a void is created after the sand is taken out. Once the process is completed, people can pass through Jagamohan. We have to put a stainless steel structure on the top for stability,” said Mohanty.

ASI officials said visitors can access the assembly hall once the process is over. A stainless steel structure will be put up to support the structure and prevent it from collapsing.

ASI undertook a similar restoration work at Cambodia’s 12th-century Angkor Wat Temple complex between 1986 and 1993. It also restored the Ta Prohm Temple in the same complex.

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