Friday, January 8, 2010
The Sun Temple in Konark
A few of us are currently having a layover in Doha, Qatar so it's a perfect time to sit down and write a blog!!
Orissa was an absolutely incredible experience and everyone there seemed to be very excited that we were visiting. In Puri and at Ravenshaw University we even got spoiled with some media attention, making us feel like celebrities! A few of us were pretty exhausted after doing so many interviews but it was great publicity for American University and for American students in general. More people should visit Orissa, it has such a rich, different culture and the people are so hospitable and relaxed. In a way, some parts of Orissa reminded me of the Eastern Shore of Maryland. It was very agricultural and the people never really seemed to be in a hurry to get anywhere.
While in Puri we got to visit one of the World Heritage sites: the Sun Temple at Konark. The temple was built in the 13th century and it is absolutely awe-inspiring. The front part of the temple was about 130 feet tall and the back part (before it collapsed) was about 230 feet tall, so the structure is enormous. The temple was designed as a giant chariot for the sun god, so the temple has a number of wheels and horses on both sides and the temple has an east-west orientation, following the rise and fall of the sun. The temple is so important to Orissan culture that the same wheel on the temple is the symbol of Orissa. The carvings around the temple are also incredibly intricate and interesting to look at. Many of them represent Odissi dancers, which we were able to see in Bhubaneshwar, but also many of them were erotic poses which is interesting in such a conservative culture for these images to be put on a religious site. Our guide told me that after adolescence and marriage, children were sent to the temple to learn about intercourse... who knows how much truth there is to that story but it seems pretty plausible to me.
The entire time that we were exploring the temple, I couldn't help but feel the history of the place and imagine the people working on the temple almost eight centuries ago. I can't even fathom the amount of time and labor it took for them to carve the intricate sculptures and details on the remaining structure, let alone a structure almost 100 feet taller! Visiting old sites such as the sun temple always makes me feel so connected with the past. Experiencing the sun temple truly helped the group develop a deeper understanding of Orissan culture.