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Tale of the fading sun

Orissa's Konark temple is crumbling and attempts at restoration are but patches on the black beauty, writes Uday Nayak.
Hindustan Times | By Uday Nayak, New Delhi
UPDATED ON JUL 18, 2007 02:26 PM IST

"Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man," Gurudeb Rabindranath Tagore had exclaimed in delight upon seeing the magnificence of the Konark Sun temple.

The name Konark is derived from the words Kona (corner) and Arka (Sun). It is also known as Konaditya (Kona plus Aditya or Sun). Today, Konark is crumbling, despite being a world heritage site.

Not just the local people but even the state government has blamed the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) - the custodian of Konark - for its lackadaisical approach towards preservation of this 13th Century monument.

"The ASI has done more damage to Konark than Kalapahad, the Muslim invader who pulled down the main temple and mutilated statues on the remaining structures."

Allowing damage to take place is no less a crime than causing damage oneself," says Badal Dash of the Konark Suraksha Samiti, an organisation fighting for the cause of Konark since 1996.;

Deteriorating glory
A close look at the meticulously-carved imagery on the temple walls shows how the Khondalite stone sculptures are wearing with each passing day.

The ASI says the wear and tear is natural and blames the saline wind of the nearby Bay of Bengal. "Yes, saline wind causes damage."

"Then, what about Puri Jagannath temple, which is also close to the sea? It is older and in much better shape," says Biseshwar Dash, a local tourist guide.

Now, in fact, the Konark temple has very little to offer An iron fence around the monument prevents tourists from going anywhere near its walls - the temple has become like a museum artefact.

You can't help but wonder at the quality of restoration. Only one of the famous 24 wheels of the temple is intact. The rest are marred by patchwork which has made them half black and half yellow.

Other parts of the temple that have been repaired also wear a similar look.

Discontent amongst residents

Residents of Konark are not happy with the ASI and the Puri district administration; the recent 'anti-tourist' steps taken by both have added to their discontent. The ASI stops all vehicles carrying tourists three kilometres away from the monument because it says that the vibration caused by vehicular movements harms the fragile structure.

The district administration has allowed a number of toll booths to come up on roads leading to Konark.

The ASI has also imposed an entry fee to visit the monument this was free a couple of years back. As a result, foreign tourists now choose Bhubaneswar or Puri for longer stay. The condition of the temple has deteriorated drastically in the past 10 years.

Chariot of the Sun
Built by king Langula Narasimhadeva of the Ganga dynasty in the 13th Century, the Sun temple resembles a colossal chariot with 12 pairs of wheels pulled by seven straining horses. It took 1,200 masons and 16 years to complete the gigantic structure.

The temple is a brilliant chronicle in stone with impressive sculptures. Every aspect of life is represented here, and its erotic imagery depicts the sublimation of human love manifested in countless forms.

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