The Sun Temple of Konark
The Sun Temple of Konark

Odisha Odyssey: A treasure trove of heritage and culture

Sitting on the foundation of a 13th-century stone chariot adorned with 24 intricate wheels that are the monument’s showstopper, the Sun Temple of Konark is undoubtedly the plume in Odisha’s crown.

If ‘calm’ were a place, then the state of Odisha would best personify the adjective. The antidote to the chaos of Kolkata and the vigour of the northeastern states of India, Odisha embodies quietude and exudes the grace of its classical dance.

In the latest news, the state is all set to host the 15th edition of the Men’s Hockey World Cup from January 13-29, at the brand new Birsa Munda stadium named after the legendary freedom fighter. The tournament will be split between this stadium in the Sundergarh district, the cradle of Indian hockey, and the famed Kalinga stadium in the state capital, Bhubaneswar.

From sports to sightseeing, an hour’s drive from the capital, the cityscape melts into wide open roads lined with rows of coconut trees and slowly reconvenes along the beaches of Konark. Despite Cyclone Fani’s best efforts in 2019, the land’s green cover has rapidly reclaimed most of its spaces and the long stretches are reminiscent of coastal drives in India’s southern states, except that this is more a land of architecture and sand art, than backwaters and beach culture.

Konark forms one tip of Odisha’s ‘golden triangle’ together with Puri and Bhubaneswar, and no first visit to the state is complete without paying homage to these places; they lead the way for a reason, with Konark, quite literally, taking the wheel.

Sitting on the foundation of a 13th-century stone chariot adorned with 24 intricate wheels that are the monument’s showstopper, the Sun Temple of Konark is undoubtedly the plume in Odisha’s crown. A walkabout begins with an imposing pair of monolithic lions on elephant backs at the entrance of this complex and circumnavigates fragments of the temple and the natyashala that dominates the other remains with its intricate carvings.

 Pattachitra painting by local artists, Shri Jagannath painted on a coconut shell; Mr. Rajiv Seth, Project Director, Tata naval hockey academy Odisha 
 Pattachitra painting by local artists, Shri Jagannath painted on a coconut shell; Mr. Rajiv Seth, Project Director, Tata naval hockey academy Odisha 

The Kalinga-style architectural marvel is covered in unmatched artwork that spans nearly 1,700 figurines depicting dancing gods and goddesses, and scenes from daily living that were meant to be both devotional and educational. “Our ancestors were ingenious; if you know how to use these sundials, you don’t need a watch to tell the time even today,” says Pradipta Malla, who has been conducting guided tours here for the last 30 years, and who, within moments, looks at the shadow cast by the sun, counts the finer carved spokes, does a couple of quick mental calculations and announces the exact time with a flourish as his guests break into applause.

Devout groups of Gujarati women do the garba on the gardens, a unique way of offering their prayers to the sun god, but not out of place in a state where dance is a form of prayer. Every year, the Sun Temple forms the backdrop for the Konark dance festival from
December 1-5.

The Konark beach stretch at the
state-run Eco Retreat
(Photo | Shikha Tripathi)

Traditional devotion is not left far behind in Odisha, which is home to one of the four dhams or spiritual centres of India. The Shri Jagannath Temple in Puri, barely an hour’s drive from Konark, is welcoming devotees one more time after its pandemic closure.

While Shri Jagannath rewards the devout who dare to brave its long lines and enter the sea of pilgrims with a glimpse of the statue of Vishnu avatar, the pride for the rest lies not only in the temple’s Odia style of architecture that can be seen in its smaller surrounding temples but also in its chhappan bhog delicacies, the 56 types of dishes prepared as temple offerings.

In a religious nation like India, while Puri’s laurels rest on Sri Jagannath, few know that the town is also home to Golden Beach, among the world’s prestigious blue flag beaches. After Puri, the other faith Odisha worships is hockey; cricket takes the backseat here and the country’s national sport basks in the glory it deserves. Odisha lives and breathes hockey; it houses the iconic Kalinga stadium in the capital, and now, world-class infrastructure at the Birsa Munda stadium,  making Odisha the only destination to host it for a second time.

The state has also birthed international-level players such as Birendra Lakra, Amit Rohidas, Deep Grace
Ekka and grassroots-level enthusiasts alike. Padma Shri and former captain of the Indian hockey team, Dilip Tirkey, elaborates, “It is a game that’s played in gullies across the state just the way cricket is in the rest of the country, making it a place that has given the sport several world-class players and fans.”

For every traditional exploration that exists in the state, Odisha has a surprising alternative. For every Chilika lake, there is a Mangalajodi teeming with migratory birds. For every piece of pattachitra on sale at Bhubaneswar’s Ekamra Haat, there are houses with walls covered in it in the village of Raghurajpur.

Odisha also fiercely guards its most famous guest, the Olive Ridley turtle, which comes for its annual migration, an experience sought after by enthusiasts who barely know that the state is also home to the second-largest mangrove eco-system in the country called Bhitarkanika. The relatively small state is packed with sizeable wonders, the biggest hint for which lies in its tagline—India’s best-kept secret.

X
The New Indian Express
www.newindianexpress.com