religion or…

It is difficult to describe the Sun Temple in Konark.  I am sure there are historians, academics, and other blogging tourists who can evoke it much more vividly than I can now.  My other excuse is it’s mid-30s centigrade in a stuffy internet cafe in Gokarn.   Still…

Sun Temple at Konark
Sun Temple at Konark

Imagine an immense (over 200 ft high) chariot built from sandstone – stone horses pulling the stone wheeled vehicle of a god.  Each stone containing intricately carved expressions of the cultural life of 13th century Orissan life – almost every permutation of sexual, social, agricultural relations you can imagine.  And it is often ambigious whether the scenes are descriptive or somehow prescriptive or warnings.  The entire architecture of the Temple is also designed as an elaboration and expression of astronomical and medical knowledge and historical record – the sun rising through the central entrance pillars, elephants on the side crushing “Muslim” enemies, scenes of birth and sickness and ageing.  In that sense, the Temple reminds me that Hinduism is as much social system as religious, or that the religious perhaps stems inextricably from the social.  Powerful, primal human forces and institutions are given personality, made into gods.

We were, in spite of the usual withering heat, lucky on our trip.  Not only were we greeted as we left our bus by an actual official and very professional and informative guide (I can’t remember his name, but he’s number 20 on the list out the front!), but we happened to pick the day of a significant pilgrimage.  The entrance fee was waived, but also there were a lot of people there – shaven heads of people from nearby villages mingled with the sunglasses-clad whiteys like us, and the Indian tourists.  The Sun Temple deserves that most overused word “awe-some” – standing in the presence of such embodied, accumulated energy, sensing the cultural investment and power of it, is an astounding experience.  Again, difficult to access as a non-Hindu, but with the distance of history and monument, almost convincing.

I’ll try to post some photos up soon.  Next up, though, Hyderabad…

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