By Prof. Dr. P. K. Jena
The history traces that, the Sun temple at Konark was constructed during 13th century, most probably during the reign of Langula Narasingha Deva I.
The original temple had a main sanctum sanctorum (vimana) of about 229 feet (70 meters) tall. It is reported that, during 18th century possibly in the year 1837, the main vimana collapsed might be due to weathering and lack of proper maintenance. The main mandapa audience hall (Jagamohana), which is about 128 feet (30 meters) tall, is the principal structure in the surviving ruins.
The remains of Konark Temple which is considered as one of the wonders of the world, indicate how much more picturesque would have been the main temple or vimana along with Jagmohan, Nata Mandir and Bhogamandapa. The remains of the original temple complex indicate that, the temple was constructed in the form of a chariot of the Sun God.
The main Konark Temple which is younger to both the Jagannath temple at Puri and the Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar, might have been collapsed due to the inferior grade stone used for construction with weak structure and eroded fast being exposed to salty sea atmosphere.
The temple was found to be made from three types of inferior grade stones namely Chlorite, Laterite and Khondalite.
However, all these stones used for constructing the temple might have been brought from distant places very likely on roads to the site. Some of the structures and carvings done on granite are still remains intact in some parts of the dilapidated main temple. However, the quality of art, architecture and sculpture embracing the temple in general seem to be distinct and superior to those found in Bhubaneswar and Jagannath temple structures.
Whatever might be the reasons of collapse of the Vimana where the Sun God was reported to be worshipped, the remaining structure and sculptures indicate that 700 years back such a magnificent temple could be constructed in the sea on the sand bed with very limited infrastructural facilities and proper construction materials. Because of this, to construct the main temple along with other ones at that time could have been a tremendous task; forexample cutting large size stones at some distant places and bringing those to the site, putting one over the other to construct the temple as per the required design without any cement and steel rods and then giving final touch with highly attractive and lively art and sculpture depicting various themes, social customs AND romantic features. Today the modern world of high science and technology wonders that more than 700 years back such a unique temple could have been built with very limited resource and infrastructural facilities.
When the tourists visit the place, they are thrilled to see the remains of the beautiful temple complex and became more curious to know about the architectural and engineering skill used in constructing the temple. The lively stories depicted through magnificent sculptures on the walls of the temple carry them to those days and get lost for a while.
The hollow iron beams which were recovered from the collapsed main temple structure and lying in the temple premises are still not rusted as these were made out of wrought iron. I may mentioned here that, about 50 years back when I was Professor of Metallurgical Engineering at the Banaras Hindu University, I was approached by Late Padmashree Shri Sadasiv Rath Sharma and the famous History Professor Rajendra Prasad Das to investigate the mode of preparation of those hollow iron beams. They collected some disconnected information in this regard from palm leaf writings. With the help of these and examining the hollow iron beams at the site and through metallurgical microscope, the process of making the wrought iron beam was coined. The magnificent way by which the hollow iron beams were fabricated out of sponge iron pieces showed the wisdom in the area of metallurgy and mechanical engineering available with the skilled personnel of that period. As those hollow iron beams are representing the metallurgical and mechanical engineering knowledge of the period, I requested the then Government of Odisha to preserve those wrought iron hollow beams in the museum.
Today, with the availability of various facilities based on high science and technology and unlimited infrastructural and related facilities, it may not be difficult to copy the remains of the Konark Temple. But, by doing so what we could achieve without any originality; rather it would amounts to mock at the glorious art and architectural, engineering and sculptural skills of that period. Very little pleasure the tourists could derive by visiting such an attempted duplicate structure of the remains of the Konark Temple lacking any original creativity.
-The author is former Director General, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, India. He is also former, Planning Board Member, Government of Odisha. At present Dr Jena is Chairman, Institute of Advance Technology & Environmental Studies (IATES) and President, Natural Resources Development Foundation (NRDF).