The sky was like a curtain of grey silk; where the skyline was a line of nickel silver, and the sea song of the waves soothed me. I stood silently in front of the Puri Swargdar Beach, watching the waves rippling away gently. Well, yes, I could not keep back the wanderer in me and planned a sea trip. With the COVID unlock 5.0, the traveller’s soul too unleashed itself. And walking on the stretch of the beach, I felt life here is different, as time doesn’t pass hour by hour, but mood to moment. People survive by the currents; they plan by the tides & follow the sun. Hence, I decided to sit for a while & breathe the smell of salt, so I hired a chair at Rs 20 per hour. Interesting! Isn’t it- chairs for hire.
Though there are few beaches nearby Kolkata, I preferred Puri as I wanted to relive my faded 29 yrs old childhood memory. Yeah! Nearly two-decade, I was a 6yrs old kid when I first visited Puri with my parents. Hence, I finalized a road trip to Puri, as the trains were operating until Bhuwaneshwar only. My mamma, who is a YouTube champ these days, also gave me the go-ahead, after doing thorough research. But the irony was after I planned the govt of India started railway service up to Puri from Oct. Well, I ignored the news and added Bhuwaneshwar as part of my trip. The planning was smooth as I was spending time with my grandma in Kolkata.
Adding up to hotels, then only a few hotels have opened up. I booked the Victoria Club Hotel- sea-facing hotel & one of the oldest hotels in Puri. Established in 1907, it’s still maintaining a legacy of 110 years. The rooms were airy, with all modern amenities, along with a bottle of sanitizer, and a lovely balcony where you can sit and the relish the sea waves crashing along the shore. We booked the Victoria Royal room at the cost of Rs2975 per night. I got a discount of 30%. The price of a sea-facing hotel in Puri starts from Rs 2500; you can also opt for Hotel Deep resort or Puri hotel, which is also a sea-facing resort. Well, other options are to stay in the New Marine drive area Balipanda for sea-facing alternatives. For luxury hotels can opt the Chakratirtha Road, and budget motels near the Jagganath temple that starts from Rs 500 per night.
Finally, the day of departure arrived, 30th Sep, I was excited and all geared up for the trip. We have taken off at 6.30 am since the distance we had to cover was 508 kilometres, a 10hrs 30mins drive. The outset of the day was calm and pleasant with clear blue sky, and Tufty clouds of wizard-white drifting past. The drive till Kolaghat was smooth, as minimal traffic on the road. And we crossed a beautiful bridge, on an overflowing river, before we took our first halt at Shere Punjab restaurant for breakfast.
As we took up our travel towards the destination, I could perceive only the green paddy fields along both ends of the streets. I felt the spirit and soul of this late autumn morning, and my eyes could only witness hues of green. As these paddy fields stretch outwards toward the light, the beams of the sun paint them in a thousand shades of yellow, greenish & brown, who kept dancing to the music of the soft whispering wind. Post the breakfast break; we made minimum halts either to take pictures or sip tea or for the washroom. We reached Puri around 4.30 pm; we were greeted warmly at the hotel, which was following all COVID precaution – mask on & proper use of sanitization.
Post-check-in, we headed towards the beach- It was a heartwarming experience as my soul was awake again. The beach was clean, with golden sand. Few tourists bathing, others seated and enjoying the ocean. And the sea was jewel-blue, where the waves in the distance were like white creases on a vast baling of blue velvet. I was savouring the sea’s indescribable beauty, and allowing its vastness seep into my psyche since I wanted to carry fragments of it home as a memory.
But some other sad part was this COVID had impacted the livelihood of many people. It not only halted domestic trade activities but also affected the daily seller. I realized this when I bought 4 pearls (cultured) necklaces for Rs 300, that local sell on the beach. A sad truth, but tourism has been impacted. We passed the evening at our leisure, watching the waves from the hotel balcony. At last, had an early dinner & hit to bed.
My mom told me sunrises are spectacular in Puri, filling the sky with pink and orange fire, but I was not fortunate to witness it as morning were cloudy. However, the afternoon was partly cloudy where one can discover the beautiful golden brown, with the choppy & wild sea. Also, due to COVID, most of the spots have not reopened, but luckily Konark sun temple was opened. Hence post breakfast, we headed towards the Sun temple.
Well, Talking about Konark, it draws in large tourists around the year. The first reason being it’s a part of the Golden travel of Odisha along with Puri & Bhubaneshwar. Another reason is the Annual Konark dance festival- an ancient amphitheatre. Only because of COVID, the number of tourists was restricted to 2500 only, where one need to purchase tickets online & scan it at the entrance to maintain social distance. The drive towards Konark was picturesque where the trees lifted their branches to the sky as if sun-basking to turn more green. Besides, the sun playing hide and seek with clouds showcasing varied hues of colours bright blue to a dull grey.
Along the way to Konark lies the Chandrabhaga beach, which is on a parallel stretch of remaining 5 Km to Konark. I was awestruck with the longest stretch of sylvan sands and soothing blue rushing in undulating waves. But the view that took hold of my attention was the meeting point of quiet flowing river Chandrabhaga & the roaring Bay of Bengal. It was a magical charm, not just the panorama, but the beach itself who is first to catch the Blue Flag certification — a tag given to the environment-friendly clean beaches, equipped with amenities of international standards for tourists.
There is a mythological reference, as this place was considered a place of natural cure for lepers. It is believed Shamba( Krishna’s son) worshipped the Sun god for treatment on the river mouth of Chandrabhaga, and the river dried up. Hence reduced to a dry bed or a narrow trickle where it meets the sea.
Another legend says Chandrabhaga, daughter of a sage was sited by Sun god who was drawn by her magical charm. He sought her hand in love, but Chandrabhaga refused. Out of anger on denial, Sun god chased frightened Chandrabhaga who jumped into the river and killed herself, so protecting her chastity. A yearly Magha Saptami Mela, a mark of tribute to her sacrifice, a seven-day festival takes place during the 7th full moon day of Magha month. People consider a holy dip in the river that is reduced to a shallow pool, to offer their prayers to the Sun God.
Though Chandrabhaga’s sacrifice has been forgotten, however, the place is remembered as a holy shrine. It goes on to inspire various religious and meditative activities. It has also been a large hunting-ground for poets, artists and lovers. A moment’s pause at Chandrabhaga is a great fatigue-healer.
There was a lighthouse close to Chandrabhaga beach, but it was shut down due to COVID so unable to visit. Apart from this one, Chandrabhaga is rich in marine resources; hence a big colony of fishermen resides along the dried river-mouth of Chandrabhaga.
I chose a stroll along the beachside, as strong currents make swimming unsafe. It’s said a panoramic sight of the sunrise is another captivating attraction of this beach; maybe I keep this for my next visit. After spending some quality time, we rode towards our planned destination-The Sun Temple.
It is said Konark Sun temple is bathed in the beams of the rising sun on the shore of the Bay of Bengal. A UNESCO heritage monument that represents the chariot of Lord Surya. This temple narrates stories of Kalinga heritage, scientific and architectural expertise. The first Sun temple of India sets an outstanding architectural example of the 13th-century marvel, with twelve exquisitely carved wheels on either side driven out by seven galloping horses who are pulling the chariot across heaven.
And to construct this temple use of Khondalite rocks was made, which are in ruins at present, but we can still witness the detailed carving on wheels, walls & pillars of the temple those are still in place. According to a legend Samba built a Sun temple in Konark in the 19th century, post his 12yrs of penance at Maitreyavana(ancient name of Konark). He was cured of the curse of Leprosy, with this worship to Lord Surya, and this marked the tradition of sun worship. However, this grand ornamented chariot was built by king Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty about 1250 CE. He a formidable warrior, as well as a patron of the humanities, and much-favoured temple building. To create this masterpiece, 1200 artisans and 12 years were dedicated. As per Mughal account noted in the 16th century mentions the temple and its price of construction is 12 years of revenue. Quite intriguing!.
The name Konark is a compounding of two Sanskrit word Kona (corner or angle) and Arka (the sun). It is described as the holy seat of Sun worship in most scriptures, hence its referred to as Arkakshetra in Shiva Purana and Skanda Purana. Since it is located along the northeastern corner of Puri, it is also called the Chakrakshetra. Konark has been associated with the legend of Maitreya also. The Bodhisattva who is said to have meditated here; hence the ancient name of Konark was Maitreyavana. Periplus of the Erythraean Sea the 1st century AD Greek text mentions a port called Kainapara, which has been distinguished as the current – day Konark.
Upon arrival, I purchased my tickets online and walked my way to the temple. The temple is open from dawn to sunset, which is generally crowded. Simply due to COVID, I was the only tourist that day along with few local. There were no guides, but one or two photographers who approached me. At the entrance, I had to scan my tickets to get through the gates The Sun temple is oriented towards the east, hence that the first rays of the sunrise strike the main entrance. The road remains lined with souvenir shops and food stalls; most were closed except one or two shops. Initially built on the sea bank, as the European sailor named it the “Black Pagoda” as early as 1676 due to its great tower appeared black. But now the water level has receded since then, almost 3 km away.
The temple incorporates the Kalinga Style of architecture, which is a subset of the Nagara style of Hindu temple architecture. And the temple showcases the Nagara style in its most unadulterated form, despite it being a predominant style of Northern India. The type here follows the architecture of the Lingaraja temple built around 1100 CE, which is locally recognized as the Khakhara style. As I went inside the first thing that caught my attention was two rampant lions standing on the crouching elephants on either side of the stairs of the Bhoga-Mandapa. Very detailed carving! Wandering my eyes, I saw most of the temple area has been encircled with iron & you cannot climb up the stairs.
Walking past the animal pair, I got in the Nata Mandir (dancing hall), where the temple dancers used to pay homage to the Sun God with their performance as it faces the temple. Because of the elevation, the Nata Mandir offers a clear view of the temple complex where there are different subsidiary structures. Even in its partially-destroyed state, this architectural spectacle reflects the genius of its builder. And restoration work is always in progress, as numerous patches have been plastered.
The temple was constructed in such a way, that the first ray of sun would touch the Nata Mandir, then reflect through the diamond placed on the forehead of the deity in the temple’s main sanctum. I could imagine the whole event would have been mesmerizing at that point; however, today, the idol is placed behind the temple Shikhara, and diamond is gone. Though the Simhasana(seat of deity) still exists in the temple sanctum which is made of chlorite(a kind of volcanic rock). And the exterior of the temple still adorns with the superbly carved intricate sculptures.
Walking around the temple, I saw a bunch of sculptures in erotic poses. It’s a truth that ancient Indian architecture reflects a subtle combination of spirituality and eroticism. As both were part of this architectural philosophy, and the sculptures on the upper tier of the temple walls surprised me, whereas the base of the temple left me stunned. This erotic sculpture reminds me of Khajuraho, but here the plinth of the temple is wholly decorated with exquisite stone sculptures with many erotic scenes based on the Kama Sutra. Its was quite surprising to me! And the impressive characteristics of the shrine are these beautiful reliefs covers every inch of space.
The entire temple has 24 stone wheel engraved in the walls of the temple, where each of the wheels has a diameter of 9 feet, 9 inches, with 8 spokes symbolic of the eight Praharas(interval). The friezes & Moftis carved on them has intricate details looks like ecstasy in stone. This wheel used to act as a sundial, and horses represented the seven days of the week. The various engravings show the daily activity of people at different hours of the day.
It used to be believed that at Konarak offers, ‘the joy of a luxurious life on earth and expression of the grandeur prevailing in the royal environment is writ large everywhere’. Hence the Sun temple which we visit today, that stands majestically even in its ruined state was part of a more massive complex. Even the Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang recorded Konark as a thriving centre of Buddhism in the 8th century. At the same time, Abdul Fazal (1556-1605CE) in Ain-E-Akbari mentioned apart from the Sun Temple there were 22 other temples in the vicinity. We merely see the parts of the original grand temple, and in that respect, there are many unrecorded stories, related to its decay from fame.
Konark has been a thriving port town, and it is believed that the decline began with the removal of the presiding deity from the temple sanctum. Firstly the port got closed due to pirate attacks, and earthquake, as well as lightning, took over the destruction. And Konark turned into a thick forest by the end of the 18th century.
Another tale states the temple was supposed to have a colossal lodestone mounted atop, and with its magnetic energy, the idol in the main sanctum could float in the air. The lodestone was also employed as a navigational landmark by ancient. However, it interrupted the movement of these ships along the coast, mostly British ships. Hence the Britisher got the lodestone removed because of the frequent shipwrecks that took place off the seacoast. And this led to an imbalance of the temple, and it crumbled. Also, the invasion of Muslims in the 16th century led to destructions of many Hindu temples, including The Konark Sun temple.
The Jagmohan is an only intact part of Sun temple, with rest surviving in ruins today. James Fergusson, who visited Konarak in 1837 CE had prepared a drawing, post the excavation as most of the architectural images which made the temple famous, were totally buried under huge mounds of sand and debris. Hence the renovation was started by British archaeologists in the early 20th century. And to display the sculptures excavated from the site, a museum was also opened nearby. Some of the statues were sent to the museums in Kolkata and New Delhi, while were shipped to London. In 1924, the temple was opened to the public in its new configuration.
Today, most of it is held up by scaffolding where the stones are slowly getting eroded in the salty air. Though I could not visit the museum as it was shut down due to COVID. So decided to take a final round of the temple starting from the smaller ruined temple called the Mayadevi and ChayaDevi Temple, dedicated to the Sun God’s wives, and whispered to me few more ageless Sun temple are left to be explored.
Walking past the stone chariot only one line came to my mind said by Rabindranath Tagore– “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of human.”
How to Reach:
The nearest airport is the Bhubaneshwar airport- Biju Patnaik. Puri is nearly 56km from the airport. Most metros are well connected with Bhubaneshwar airport. So can book a cab or take the buses for Puri as roads are well connected.
Puri is a junction; hence direct train services are available from many cities in India it includes Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata.
Puri is well connected with neighbouring cities like Kolkata, Vishakapatnam, Ranchi, Jamshedpur etc. Roadways is an appropriate option since the bus stand is located close to the Gundicha Temple. And buses ply to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack every 15mins.