Konark- Spiritualism versus Eroticism


“Language of Man here is defeated by the language of stone.” – Rabindranath Tagore

A visit to Puri in Odisha can never be complete without a trip to the Konark Sun temple. Having paid our homage to Lord Jagannath in that iconic Puri temple in the morning hours, we had the afternoon available for going to Konark.

A surprisingly good infrastructure exists in terms of road access from Puri as well as the upkeep of the Konark Sun temple complex. Getting down from the car in front of the long walkway, I had my first glimpse of the famous temple in the distance. The tiled pathway, overlooking gardens and the Konark temple information Centre (which incidentally has a wonderful audio-visual show about the temple and its origins) lead to the temple.

Standing there, as I looked at the ruined structure, my mind’s eye brought in the vision of an enormous chariot with its giant wheels and horses, a resplendent Sun seated as the charioteer, taking flight across the sky. The word Konark in Sanskrit is a sandhi, a combination of two words: Koṇa, which signifies a corner and Arka which refers to the Hindu Sun God, Surya. Built out of stone seven and a half centuries back, the temple is an intricately carved, giant chariot of Surya, replete with ornaments, twenty-four giant wheels and pulled by seven horses. Throughout history, different cultures and lands have referred to ‘crossing the seven seas’ for a travel around the world. In India, it is called, ‘Saat Samundar Paar’. Did the seven-horse drawn chariot of the Sun God signify that it had the motive power to circumvent the world?

The temple external walls are sculpted with intricate and jewelry like miniature details. The carvings range from Hindu Gods and Goddesses, nymphlike apsaras, nature inspired motifs, day to day living and cultural activities of people ( Artha and Dharma) , animals, birds and sea creatures along with some depictions of the life and times of the king. Ernst Binfirld Havell, the English art historian and author, writes that the Konark temple is “one of the grandest examples of Indian sculpture extant“, adding that they express “as much fire and passion as the greatest European art” such as that found in Venice.

As I looked at the lengthening shadows of an evening sun, I envisioned the year 1756 AD when Vice Admiral Charles Watson of the East India Company navy accompanied by Robert Clive, was rushing to Calcutta to take back Fort William recently captured by the Bengal Nawab, Siraj Ud Daulah. Spotting the Black Pagoda, as the Konark Sun Temple was known then, along with the White Pagoda, the Jagannath temple near the then coastline ( which has since receded), Watson would surely have been relieved that their destination at the mouth of the Bay of Bengal was near.

History indicates that the Konark Sun temple was destroyed by invasions and natural calamities. Over time it ceased to attract the pious and the faithful. And like the other famous Hindu temple at Angkor Wat in present day Cambodia, the Sun temple too disappeared under dense forests for a long time prior to being rediscovered.

What remains most intriguing however is the highly erotic sculptures interspersed amongst the aforementioned carvings. As I stood there looking at the sculptures, it seemed that eroticism held sway over all else. The carved in stone figurines displayed sexual engagements and coitus in varying positions. I saw several of the chariot wheels depicting different sexual postures. What I found astonishing was the uninhibited depictions of polyandry, polygamy and lesbianism.

As I walked way, I was beset with several thought trains, trying to make sense of such brazen display of sexuality in a temple made to worship the Sun.

Was the displayed eroticism a deliberate attempt to increase sexual activity amongst the population in the 13th century? I had read somewhere that Buddhism, the prevailing religion in the land of Kalinga, preached abstinence which over the centuries, had led to a declining population. Had the King thus ordered the seductive carvings to stimulate carnal desires in his subjects?

Could it be that the depictions were a result of the sexual longings of the thousands of artisans tasked to work on the temple carvings for twelve long years, away from home and family?

Or were the erotic creations deliberate to strengthen the spiritual and divine belief of the devotees coming to the temple? Was the seemingly random display of eroticism, scattered amongst other displays of  Gods, nature and public life motifs, a trigger for the observer to choose his/ her path between ‘dark’ attractions of sensuality and depravity vis a vis the brightness of  spirituality?  

Finally, could the differing displays be based on the age-old belief that each one of us would attain Moksha (release from the cycle of rebirth), that final desired state, only once we have fulfilled all our earthly duties and participated in the cycles of Dharma viz. spirituality, Artha viz. wealth and Kama viz. sexual pleasures?

Does the Konark Sun temple offer a perspective of our life as ‘lived in the moment’, cycling as we do through Dharma, Artha and Kama without the attachments of what is right or wrong, good or bad?

**

Postscript:

Back in Puri, I was watching the Sunrise next morning from the balcony of my hotel room.

Sitting there, as I soaked in the solitude, the morphing hues of the sunlight, the occasional bird chirps and their flights, I seemed to sense that all was well with my world.

As the sun rose in the sky, that solitary boat on the calm waters, seemed to be following the light. The sight brought to mind those immortal words of the Beatles:

‘One day you ‘ll find

that I have gone

Tomorrow may rain

       So, I’ll follow the Sun….’

In learning………                                                                            Shakti Ghosal

Author: Shakti Ghosal

* A PCC Credentialed Executive Coach mentor and trainer for leaders & performance. * A qualified engineer and a PGDM (Faculty Gold medalist) from IIM Bangalore. * Four decades of industry experience spanning Engineering, Maintenance, Projects, Consumer durables, Supply Chains, Aviation and Tourism. * Top level management positions to drive business development, strategy, alliances all around the globe. * A visiting faculty at the IIMs. *A passion to envision trends & disseminate Leadership incubation globally. www.empathinko.in , * www.linkedin.com/in/Shaktighosal. shakti.ghosal@gmail.com . +91 - 9051787576

9 thoughts on “Konark- Spiritualism versus Eroticism”

  1. Excellent blog!
    Always wondered why some of our greatest temples drpicted eroticism in their carving? Orgies, lesbianisn, polygamy, oral sex… in our famous temples including Kajuraho, temples in South…. which had no Buddhist influence!

    Were we a very liberal society that sex was not a taboo? Or a sexually starved one ? Or wanted to encourage sex as you also mentioned one of the reasons ? Or was it to strengthen the spiritual belief of devotees something like my experiments with truth by MGK ?

    Found it a fascinating read !

    Like

    1. Dear NK,

      Thank you so much for your kind comment and for taking the time to read the post.

      What you have written can truly be the basis of a profound enquiry. During my visit, such thoughts came to my mind too and that really became the motivation for me to write the post.

      Kind regards

      Shakti Ghosal

      Like

  2. Shakti Ghosal is a dear friend and ex colleague, we worked together for more than 20 years .
    I always appreciated his clarity of thoughts and expressing it in flawless way , his writings are my compulsive reading
    I am from Odisha and have been to sun temple many times , however first time have read such a vivid and indeed a beautiful description through this write up ,
    Congrats dear keep posting love to read

    Like

    1. Dear Goutam,

      Your kind appreciation is truly humbling. I can only hope that during your next visit to Konark, your perspective would allow you to see the temple in a new light.

      Regards

      Shakti

      Like

  3. Such a rich and ancient culture! I cannot offer any more suggestions than you have yourself, for the erotic depictions. Only that in ancient ancient cultures, the moon was the luminary that was revered. When the solar gods came in, so did patriarchal structures. Which I can’t help but think was being reinforced by the giant phalluses and such. Less about love-making, more about domination. But I could certainly be wrong! 😉

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    1. Dear Bela,

      Thank you for your considered comment.

      What you speak of as ‘Patriarchal structures and domination ‘ in societies might well be true. Indeed I had not considered this a s a possibility. There exists considerable evidence to support that.

      However, in Hindu societies, the phallus has been an element of worship for millennia. The ‘Shiva Linga’ which is widely worshipped in India and the Hindu religion even today is really a phallus. If we were to see the depictions from this context, it could very well be that the phallus might have carried a different meaning. Of course, this remains purely my conjecture.

      Remain blessed

      Shakti

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Aloha Shakti, to be clear, Patriarchy and its damage to the Divine Feminine was a huge focus of my work at Vermont College. (My bias, as it may be, likely stems from that.) I don’t know about India, per se; Hindus are some of the only people I know who still depict female gods/goddesses, and beyond that, your expertise definitely supercedes anything I might have picked up as knowledge along the way!

        Thanks as always for your contributions here. You are apt to say, ‘in learning,’ and for sure, we are all in that mode whether we acknowledge it or not!

        Be well, my friend.
        b

        Like

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