Post our Sun temple tour we looked ahead towards exploring Konark further. The weather was humid, despite the clouds, thus decided upon coconut water before heading to Varahi Devi Temple. Since the temple was shut and opened at 5.30 pm, we took a pit stop for lunch at a local Dhaba. While eating our lunch, the sky got covered with dark clouds, and a sheet of rain poured from them. We waited for 30min for the rain to cease, but to our back luck, it did not.
Hence we decided to retort back to Puri, & do the rest Konark exploration tomorrow. We did not keep the Chilka lake in our tour as it had not opened completely, alone a few boats were operating at a high cost. The evening was spent leisurely at the hotel, enjoying rain & the high tide of the sea.
The following morning we left for Konark after an early breakfast. The day was cloudy, but luckily it was not raining. The drive was majestic as the eye could witness greenery where ever it seemed.
Yesterday we missed visiting Ramachandi Beach; hence we started our trip with the beach. The beach is located at the merging point of Kushabhadra River and Bay of Bengal, covered with golden sands and substantial palm trees, and the beach is ideal for taking long walks and collecting shells.
At the mouth of the Kushabhadra river is this graceful Chandi temple located known as Ramchandi. The temple is much senior to the sun temple because Goddess Ramchandi is believed to be the presiding deity of Konark, and benevolently she is called Chandi. The Idol of Goddess Ramachandi is in a seated position on a lotus in the sanctum. I paid homage at the synagogue, & took a good look round. The temple was built facing north with sandstone, laterite and bricks. Jagamohana part of the temple is hidden behind the picturesque Casuarina plantation, while Vimana could be seen painted in white & red colours.
As per folklore, during the 17th century, a young Brahmin named Kalapahad took Islam as his faith, & vowed to destroy all temples. One fine day after producing the destruction of the Sun temple, he approached Ramachandi temple. To safeguard the temple, Goddess Ramachandi dressed as a Maluni (maid) asked Kalapahad to wait at the door till she brings water from the river for the Goddess. Kalapahad waited anxiously for her reappearance. After, a long wait when the Maluni did not return exhausted, Kalapahad entered the temple and found an empty throne. He imagined that the maid took away the deity, so he followed her in anger. However, upon arriving at the banks of the Kushabhadra River, he found the Goddess idol floating in the middle of the river. Since the river was outpouring and Kalapahad was unable to pass, so he returned.
Later that night, Goddess Ramchandi came in the dreams of a priest and consecrated him to construct a temple on the Kushabhadra River banks. Hence the Ramchandi temple was made, I took a walk along the Marine Drive Road, which leads to Konark. The spot was so serene, ideal for poets & photographers. Though today, it’s a loved picnic, sailing, boating, swimming and sunbathing area.
Later we drove to Kuruma a little village at a length of 7.5 km from Konark Sun temple. Initially, I could not find it because of the ASI landmark, hidden under a heap of grasses. After confirming a local, we finally found the spot who confirmed not many people, visit this spot.
The ancestry of this place dates back to 8th-9th century AD and is a primary archaeological site. Kuruma has been cited in many Buddhist texts from Ashoka and Ceylon; it even appears in the writing of the Chinese traveller Hieun Tsang.
It is said a stone slab with a beautiful sculpture Lord Buddha image was found along the bank of Dharma Pukur initially, where Buddha is seated cross-legged with a right hand in the Bhumisparsa mudra while the left hand placed over his left knee. The image also wears a beautifully carved crown and a necklace. There were two other images found along with the Buddha, one of them identified as Vajrayana deities Heruka and Dharma. And the other one is identified as Yama; however, experts believe it to be of Yamataka, Yama’s equivalent in Tantric Buddhism. Hence this place was influenced by both the Mahayana and Vajrayana sects of Buddhism.
The site was first reported by a school teacher named Brajabandhu Das. This led to excavation by the Archaeology from 1971 to 1975. During the excavation, a Buddhist Monastery with 12 cubicles was found. It has an open courtyard and the shrine chamber for prayers. There were three ovens, rectangular in shape discovered on the ground floor, which indicated towards the habitation in the area. Other antiquities recovered are mainly pottery of redware and beads placed in a modest shed.
The monastery is abandoned, and sadly this beautiful statue has lost most of its intricacy and elegance. The situation is also not very well maintained as portions have overgrown with vegetation. The locals use the site as storage of hay and cow muck, making some pieces almost inaccessible. Karma once used to be a Buddhist centre frequented by traders coming by the sea route, which is directly at the mercy of human and nature.
Spending sometime around the area, we drove towards the Varahi Devi Temple. It is one of the beautiful monument in the Prachi Valley. This temple exhibits the typical Odisa nomenclature- Khakhara style of architecture. The temple is spread across 2 acres of land with an east-facing temple- with two sections Vimana and JagMohana. The walls of both the chamber are delicately decorated with the figural and arabesque motifs—the charismatic balanced rhythm is showcased with 2 latticed windows on either side of the Jagamohan.
Walking around the temple, I observed it presents a Pancharatha type both in plan and construction, where the shrine is rectangular in shape, and the Shikara has semi-cylindrical ridge crowns. A beautiful statue of Lord Surya is installed in the niche. Significant relief is found on the walls of the temple where scenes from Ramayana like killing off the illusory deer, the abduction of Sita, killing of Jatayu, the uprooting of seven palm trees, the murder of Vali, and construction of the bridge over the sea has been delicately sculptured.
This temple is unique in more than one way. As the image enshrined is considered as a masterpiece among the pictures of the deity found all over India. It was built during the Somavamsi rule in the first quarter of the 10th century. Here Varahi is believed to be the Sakti of Varaha locally known as Matsya Varahi. The Idol is seated on the pedestal holding a fish in her right hand, and Kapala in the left hand, while her right foot resting on her Vahana( vehicle) buffalo. The Idol bears a face of boar and body of a divine woman, where her big belly indicates that she held the entire universe in her womb. The beauty of the Idol is the third eye tightly engraved into her forehead, which is prominent. I awestruck looking at the Idol, though we were not allowed to enter the shrine hence stood at portico & offered our prayers.
We skipped Ma Mangla Temple, which situated at Kakatpur, instead, we drove to Raghurajpur- A heritage crafts village in Odisha. The driveway to this Hamlet was scenic due to its blissful setting among tropical trees and grooves of the coconut, palm, along with paddy fields laced with betel vines. The village became the state’s first heritage village for its traditional art form Pattachitra in the year 2000. It was acquired by INTACH (Indian National Trust for Art and Cultural Heritage), who dedicatedly conserve and protect India’s natural and cultural heritage. Apart from being master in Pattachitra, this small town is also the birthplace of the finest Odissi exponent Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra.
My car drove on the narrow village road lined with two neat rows of houses, on either side. The village is approximately 1.5 km from Chandanpur. Though due to COVID, I was not sure if the village was open, I took a risk. Luckily, along the main road, we met a local who guided us to an artisan house named Anil Kumar Swain.
The small town is located on the southern banks of river Bhargavi. Upon going into the village, we parked our car near the village temple and met Anil his studio was nearby the temple. He greeted us cordially, and I guess I was the first tourist of the day and maybe even after the COVID unlock 5.0. I accompanied the artist in his small studio; upon entering, I saw painted balls hanging. These painted balls were betel nuts and coconuts with an image of Lord Jagannath of Puri. The colours and the detailed paintings spellbound me.
This village has over 120 houses decorated with mural paintings, where families raise the artistic legacy of their ancestors. Anil Swain himself has been taking this legacy past six generations, and his father was an award-winning artist in Pattachitra artwork. He was somewhat amused by my interest & question about the art; hence he shared the process in detailed. Anil explained this art form dates back to 5th BC, and is called Pattachitra- Patta means cloth & Chitra meaning picture. And the subjects of traditional Pattachitra are devoted to Lord Krishna and folk tales from Ramayana and Mahabharata.
Anil further explained the procedure begins with the making of Patta, a specific gum is created with ground tamarind seeds (soaked in hot water before grinding) and applied on a washed and dried piece of cloth. This gummy paste is spread over the fabric, then same size and dimensions the material of the are placed over it before the glue dries up. Once the gum dries, a mixture of the tamarind gum mixed with powdered white stone (conch shells used here) is applied on both sides of the cloth. It’s left to dry till it gets hard. Then, it’s polished with a little pebble to give it a smooth leathery finish.
Once the Patta is ready, intricate pictures of various gods, goddesses, and mythological scenes with ornamentation of flowers, trees and animals are then painted. The colours prepared using natural ingredients, and are principally white, red, yellow, blue, green and black. The soot of burning lamps and coconut shells serves for black, white is prepared from powder of conch shell, while the shades and hues of red, yellow, blue and green are obtained from plant leaves, flower petals, fruits, ground stones, etc.
Another famous form of art that Anil introduced to us was Palm Leaf Engraving art, which in the Oriya language is called Tala Pattachitra. The paintings are done on palm leaf strips where a rectangular or square canvas, rows of same-size panels of palm leaves are sewn together lengthwise with a thread passing through the middle of each of them. Then the images are sketched on them, on which Kohl paste, cooked with the soot from burning wick, is rubbed one strip at a time. Afterwards, the water is spread over it to wash off excess colours. Later the palm leaf is wiped dry. Also, these panels can be folded into a compact form. I was fascinated looking at the black-and-white painting, as the time and effort were worthy to notice.
The effort and enthusiasm in describing the art were incredible; there was a sense of pride. Anil stated the price of the art varies starting as low as Rs 400 & goes up to 5lac. They exhibit at handicraft exhibitions and cultural fairs regularly held across the nation. They also export the articles nationally as well as Internationally. The demand is high as its only not a part of religious worship anymore. Instead, it has slowly gone on to grace the walls of homes, hotels, restaurants, etc.
Hence, I purchased a beautiful Pattachittra with Devi Durga pictured on it which cost me Rs2500. At the same time, my mom bought a Tala Pattachitra which cost Rs 1800. There were some other particulars too, like a painted kettle, pen stand, bottle on which we bargained a little bit. The artisan gifted me few bookmarks and a betel nut painting of Jagannath souvenir. I spent over an hour gaping at his work & listening about the art form. It’s quite addictive.
I thanked Anil and bid him farewell, and then I got a tour of this calm artistic village. While searching the town, I walked up to the Gotipua Gurukul Academy, where the traditional dance form of Gotipua is taught. The trainees of this dance academy have given performances at numerous cultural events in India and abroad. Due to COVID, the training was closed. Well happy with my newly acquired knowledge about the heritage village & Odissi dance form I took a leave.
The daytime was spent well, exploring the less explored. It was late evening by the time we got to our hotel. The clouds began to paint the sky black, as the rain was about to hit the earth when a thought came to me – “Exploration is really the essence of the human spirit”. And my today’s day was entirely about the essence of the exploration.”
How to Reach
The nearest airport is the Bhubaneshwar airport- Biju Patnaik. Puri is nearly 64km from the airport. Most metros are well connected with Bhubaneshwar airport. So can book a cab or take the buses for Konark as roads are well connected.
Konark does not have any railway station; hence the closest railway station is Bhuwaneshwar and Puri. The Bhubaneswar railway station is 61.7 km from Konark while the one in Puri is 35.3 km away, and both direct train services are available from many cities in India. So can book a cab or take the buses for Konark as roads are well connected.
Several buses run by OTDC connects well Konark to other towns and cities within Odisha. There are private buses & Volvo that ply from Puri & Bhubaneshwar at regular interval.