THE MAIN TEMPLE - KONARK

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» East India
» Orissa
Location : Konark, Orissa
Also Known As : Black Pagoda & Konark
Built By : King Narsingha Deva
Presiding Deity : Surya Or The Sun God

THE ASCETICS
The hall contains more explicit references to the destructive power of time. On the northeast side of the building are a couple of remarkable sculptures. The right-hand one carries a pot, the left hand one wears ascetic's beads and holds what looks like the remains of a musical instrument in his hand. Placed next to a cameo of a beautiful maiden preening herself this skeletal pair are like a couple of grotesques from some Shakespearean graveyard, full of obscure but grim hints that all is vanity before the Lord of Time.

Sun Temple, Konark, OrissaDespite its undoubted charm, there are definite indications that the Hall of Dance was built later than the main temple, and its style is slightly decadent in comparison. The individual figures are not as fine. The proportions, particularly of head to body, seem often misjudged, and the uncarved base of the plinth in relation to the decorated wall it supports is really too squashed to be fully satisfying as a coherent structure.

From the Hall of Dance one can pass, via the well to the kitchens. Here one can see stone slabs that were tabletops, their drainage channels and the depressions in which spices were pounded still visible. From here then proceed to the southern edge of the compound.

The Royal Horses
These are another example of the genius of Ganga monolithic sculpture. The western one is the best preserved. Fully caparisoned, with a quiver full of arrows and a scabbard for a sword hanging from his back, he is crushing some hapless enemy, his tail lifted in arrogant ease. The dismounted rider, unfortunately headless, still conveys a powerful feeling of energy, compressed in his rounded shoulders and bulging thighs.

The defeated enemies under each horse are probably the contemporary sultans of Bengal, Tughar Khan, and Iktiyar Yazbak, whom Narasingha Deva defeated a few years before Konark was built. There has been rivalry between Orissa and Bengal for centuries, so this victory was doubly welcome and fit to be commemorated by the sun temple.

The Main Temple
Begin the circumambulation of the main body of the temple, comprising the 'Jagamohana' and the 'Deul' starting with the seven horses.

SOUTHERN FACE
Since the days of the great Vedic horse sacrifices, the horse has been intimately associated with royalty. The second horse on the southern side is the best preserved, his flanks beautifully marbled. His testicles are shiny from the touch of devotees, perhaps women wanting children, who worship him as a god of fertility, able to impart the mysterious life force to those who beseech him.

Underneath the horses a frieze of elephants begins. It runs the entire way around the temple, and contains over seventeen hundred of these well-loved beasts. Elephants were prized equally for their military role and their practical work as beasts of burden in ancient India, and they are commemorated on most temples.

THE NAGA CORNER
As one walks around, one will notice three dominant themes in the carving: heavenly nymphs, divine serpent kings and queens, and fabulous beasts. All these subjects are well represented in this corner.

The Kanya:
Beginning from the east, one has the nymph: languorous, sensuous, inviting. The word also means, "Completely relaxed," and, as at Khajuraho, there is no erotic tension or compulsion in these figures' undoubted allure. They are innocent and natural, with the uninhibited grace and sensuality of a tribal girl who instinctively realizes she is the sweet-scented embodiment of the Great Mother goddess who creates and sustains all life.

The Nagaraja:
Next to the Kanya is a 'Nagaraja', hands raised in the 'Namaste' gesture of greeting still used today, and technically known as the "Anjalimudra". 'Nagas' are the guardians of the underworld, and they watch over the treasures of the subconscious mind. In this role they are the equivalent to dragons in the Western mythical traditions, with the important difference that to the Eastern psyche the serpent was a creative and beneficial power, not something that was evil and had to be destroyed by a gallant Saint George or a noble 'Parsifal'.

The hoods that crown the Nagas heads are a protective symbol of majesty, like the royal umbrella or the sacred tree. On an esoteric level, they allude to the thousand-petaled lotus that opens over the head of the enlightened who has discovered the treasure buried deep within.

The Vyala:
Next to the Naga stands a fine leogryph or 'Vyala'. As well as being heraldic devices of royalty, like the lion one saw at the entrance to the hall of dance or the 'Chandella' lions at Khajuraho. These fabulous creatures also belong to the inexhaustible richness of the subconscious that the temple embodies and toward which it leads everyone.

The Naga Couple:
Lastly, one comes to an astonishingly tender Naga couple in loving embrace. The male has three large hoods, the female three small ones. These hoods catch the light and emphasize the contrast between sun and shade in a highly dramatic manner.

The couple positively glows with golden light as the sun strikes the honey-colored veins that run through the speckled texture of the stone. The female reclines, luxuriously content in the safety of her lover's arms. Her face is suffused with a dreamy joy, while his features radiate a tender and loving concern. It is remarkable how the sculptor has managed to convey feeling here through the way he has carved the hands of the pair.

The female's left hand is spread, her index finger raised, as she tingles to her very fingertips with pleasure. Her other hand lightly supports the small of her index finger raised, as she tingles to her very fingertips with pleasure. Her other hand lightly supports the small of her partner's back. His right hand delicately cradles her breast, while his left one gently supports her hooded head. Altogether this couple is a marvelously observed tableau of loving joy.

The Boxed Frieze:
Similar warmth of feeling is found in the cameos that form the boxed frieze above these standing figures. Several of these are erotic couples. Particularly pleasing is a humorous panel, directly above the figures of the Naga couple, which shows a woman being attacked by monkeys who are trying to steal the pot of food she is carrying on her head.

THE WHEEL
Sun Temple, Konark, OrissaThis is the best preserved of the twenty-four chariot wheels. The wheel is one of those composite symbols that have many levels of meaning to the Indian psyche. It represents time- the passage of the sun and the passing of the seasons. It is an ancient symbol of royalty. It is also the round of 'Karma' the cycle of cause and effect that keeps us acting from moment to moment and also carries the subtle body from life to life, reincarnation to reincarnation.

The 'Upanishads' talk about the gods "spinning the wheel of fate." Esoterically, the wheel is the lotus of enlightenment, and the 'Chakra', or subtle energy center, through which the life force enters and vitalizes the physical body.

About the Chakra
The detail here is noticeable, especially the carving in the hub, which depicts a king riding an elephant while his subjects stand in a worshipful ring riding an elephant is nonchalantly crushing beneath his feet, much to the approval of the onlookers and no doubt his gracious majesty himself. The eight principal spokes are also well carved with erotic couples, 'Maithunas', and maidens in various poses.

As one move westward across the southern door, one can see a lightning conductor that runs up over the new brickwork of the southern doorway and leads to the top of the temple. Let the eyes follow this conductor up until one comes to the balcony with large standing figures arrayed around it. Some of these are very beautiful; the ones on his southern face are the four-headed 'Brahma', god of creation, while some of the others are celestial musicians and dancing girls.

Nowadays, it is too dangerous to climb that far up the temple to get a closer look at these figures, but even from the ground one can get an idea of their radiant expressions of happiness. There are also fine friezes of people and elephants at ground level, hauling rocks to build the temple.

The Higher Ground
To the worshipper, the higher up the temple and the nearer to the heavens one is, the more the rapture increases. Thus the base friezes are of elephants, people, the workaday life of battles, building, and celebration, with figures of dancing and music on a human level interspersed with the 'Nagas' of the underworld.

By the time one gets to the top of the building, one is in the world of the Titans, heavenly giants. According to the texts, each realm of creation enjoys one hundred times the bliss of the realm below it, a progression that culminates in the unspeakable bliss of the Absolute. In the temple this ultimate level is symbolized by the finial, the 'Kalasa' pot, which is filled with soma, the nectar of immortality.

THE PAVEMENT IN THE SOUTHWEST RECESS
The pavement here is marked by various circles etched in the stone, some of them interlocking. No one knows for sure what they were used for. Although they are similar to 'Mandalas' that were drawn as part of the architectural plans of many temples, it is most likely they were for astrological calculations, some of them being sundials for daytime observations.

MAN OFFERING THE LINGA
On the top register, third figure along stands a man with his 'Linga' in his hand. On the ground between his legs is a fire. Over here is present an archaic fertility symbol, in which the life force of the sun god, the element fire, and human sexuality are all linked.

The Ritual
Fire plays a crucial part in Hindu ritual. It is the receptacle of sacrifice in the Vedic rites. The unmarried student is given sacred fire when he receives the sacred thread and commanded to worship it all his life. When he marries, the fire is brought into the household and is the center of family rituals.

As an adult, the Hindu makes offerings to the ancestors into fire, and when he dies, his body is consumed by fire. Fire is one of the principal manifestations of Surya; it is the mouth of the gods, consuming all. It is defied as Agni.

THE BLISSFUL COUPLE
The register continues with an erotic couple, then, in the corner, a woman having some trouble with a demon. Then, on the south-facing wall of the recess, is one of Konark's highlights. It is a couple, perhaps a king and his queen, standing under a tree. Although the piece is badly damaged, and only the top half remains, the couple conveys an intense feeling.

They are in paradise; their faces irradiated with a sunny, childhood happiness that reminds us of an Eden we all once inhabited. When compared, at Khajuraho the figures, however charming inhabit a rarified world where one cannot enter but only look upon from outside, like children with their noses pressed against a shop window. Their expressions are stylized, removed.

But here at Konark the feeling is psychologically accessible to everyone, which not all Hindu temples are. This couple represents the high noon of human life. Full of optimism and possibility they bask in the warmth of the sun god's bounty, cheerfully unaware of the inevitable march of time. MORE.........



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