Situated on the shores of the Bay of Bengal, in India, bathing in the rising sun rays since the 13th century is the Konark Sun Temple, Orissa. Built by King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganges dynasty between the period of 1238-1250 A.D, this sacred site is an existing proof of the exquisite Kalinga architecture. The temple pays an ode to Lord Surya, the divine personification of the Sun, an important part of the Earth’s survival. Legends say that the temple could attract ships to the seashore owing to its massive magnetic powers, and was also called Black Pagoda as it was used by Europeans for navigating their ships.
Built as a massive chariot on 24 wheels and driven by seven horses, the Konark Sun temple is made of intricately carved stone and was constructed mainly using Chlorite, Laterite and Khondalite rocks. The site is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is located around 67 km from Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Odisha. This holy site is the result of the efforts of nearly 12,000 artisans and sculptors for over a period of 12 years. Though most of the structure is now in ruins, it still attracts tourists and devotees from all around the world.
Mistaken by many tourists as just structures built to balance the chariot temple, the 24 wheels are actually sundials which used by people even to this day to determine the time. Surprisingly, with a history as ancient as 13th century, a time during which there were no clocks and the position of the sun was the sole support to find the time of the day, the results are shockingly accurate.
Let’s dive deeper and take a look at the Sundial of this temple and know more about its secrets.
The Story And Architecture Of The Sundial
Konark (Kona-Corner, Arka-Sun) means The Sun and the four corners, thus representing the four directions namely North, South, East, and West. Various theories advocate the seven horses represent the seven days of the week and the 12 pairs of the intricately carved wheels are the symbolic motifs of the 12 months of a year and the cycle of seasons. The 24 wheels in total represent the 24 hours in a day.
Of the total 24 wheels, six wheels each are present on the sides of the chariot. Four wheels each are present on either side of the Mukhasala (a small temple in front of the main temple) and two wheels each are present on either side of the steps on the eastern entrance.
The wheels are 9 feet 9 inches in diameter and each of them has 8 thick spokes, the thicker spokes alternatively separated by 8 thinner spokes. On the thicker spokes, the center has a wide face on which carvings of humans in various sensual poses are depicted. The axle of the wheel i.e. a rod passing through the center of the wheels in each of them, project about a foot from the surface, and their rims are carved with detailed designs of foliage.
Finding The Time With The Sundial
As of today, guides and historians take the support of two of the wheels in particular to explain the determination of time at that instance. Surprisingly, the technique is quite simple: The individual has to place his/her finger at the center of the axle and the shadow of the finger indicates the time at that point.
Let’s find the science involved in the above observed seemingly oh-so-simple technique below:
Consider an entire wheel to represent a 24-hour day (analogous to a clock). Now, since there are eight major spokes, it means they divide the entire wheel into 8 equal parts i.e. three hours space between two major spokes. The minor spokes run exactly through the center of two major spokes. Therefore, the 3 hours of time between the two major spokes is divided equally by one minor spoke into equal parts of 1 hour 15 minutes i.e. 90 minutes. (Imagine the major and minor spokes just as the minute’s hand and seconds hand in a clock.
Now in a slight twist to the original convention of determining the time, the sundial predicts time in an anti-clockwise direction with the top center of the wider spoke representing midnight (00:00). Also, there are 30 beads between a pair of major-minor spoke, thus each bead dividing 90 minutes into 30 equal parts of 3 minutes each. When a person places his/her finger at the center of the axle, the shadow of the finger falls on the edge of the wheel and the time can be simply found by observing on which bead the shadow has fallen and between which spokes it lies.
This is a simply astonishing fact that around 700 years ago, astronomers and mathematicians did such a perfect job with utmost precision and accuracy.
Here are some more interesting facts other than the sundial about the Konark Sun Temple that history and travel buffs would simply love to indulge in:
Some More Interesting Facts
- The two lions on each side of the main entrance can be seen crushing an elephant each, the lion representing power and the elephant representing wealth. The sculptures depict major problems faced by man in his life- power and money; each trying to gain the upper hand.
- The Sun idol in the sanctum sanctorum (innermost sanctuary) of the temple used to be suspended in mid-air. This was an unsolved mystery until it was found out that magnets were used for construction, the magnetic forces being the reason for the idol’s suspension.
- Today, the main chambers are sealed and common people are not allowed to enter for safety purposes as most of the temple is already on the brink of ruining. However, an open-air dance hall and dining hall are still intact and are open to tourists.
- Kama, Dharma, Artha, Moksha- desire, righteousness, wealth, and salvation. There are abundant sculptures and carvings in the temple that describe in extreme detail man’s four major pursuits in life.
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