BHUBANESWAR: More than a century after the British filled the towering architectural marvel with sand to prevent it from crumbling, the process of evacuation from the sealed Jagamohan (Mukhasala) of Sun temple at Konark in all likelihood will begin next month.
The archaeological wonder is Odisha’s only world heritage site (WHS). The Archeological Survey of India (ASI), its custodian, has finalised modalities for assessment of the Jagamohan before removal of sand. Assisting the conservation body in the mammoth task planned to be carried out after a gap of 118 years is the Indian Institute of Technology-Madras.
The sand evacuation was necessitated after an endoscopy study through an existing hole at the top of the Amalaka carried out by the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI) to examine structural damages in the Jagamohan revealed that the sand filling has settled by around 12.5 ft and some stones had dislodged.
As part of the plan chalked out by ASI, in the first phase, a 6 ft X 6 ft window will be made on the western side of Jagamohan to create an access. There already exists an old opening made by the British near the spot. For this purpose, a sturdy working platform is being planned over the Antarala (inner sanctum). Stonemasonry steps will be removed for the creation of the window.
The ASI proposes to do two core drilling - one at the old opening made by Britishers and another at the bottom of the Antarala. This will help understand the masonry of the wall. Then, a 6ft X 6ft window will be created on the western side of Jagamohan near the first Pidha level to create an access into the structure for inspection, documentation and finalising the further course of action to conserve the same.
The tender for the work will be floated soon and the work is likely to extend up to four to five years. This was revealed at a workshop on ‘History and Heritage of Sun Worship’ at the IIT-Bhubaneswar where the head of ASI (Bhubaneswar circle) Arun Malik delivered a presentation. Sand was filled in the Jagamohan from 1903 to 1909 and since then, it has remained sealed.
Sand evacuation from Sun Temple to start soon
After Union Culture Minister Prahlad Singh Patel announced Centre’s approval to removing sand from inside the monument last year, ASI formed a four-member committee of experts including associate professor of structural engineering at IIT-Madras Arun Menon. The panel examined the monument and existing studies to decide on modalities to remove sand.
VC of Shiv Nadar University, Chennai, and former Director of CSIR-CBRI Prof Sriman Kumar Bhattacharyya said since there is a gap between the sand layer and roof of the Jagamohan, it can be said that the top part of the structure is in a stable state. “Since the sand has settled, we can say that the top part is doing reasonably well without any support system. If the sand has to be evacuated, it has to be done very carefully and taken out in layers and not at one go”, suggested Prof Bhattacharyya who has worked on conservation of both Sun temple and Sri Jagannath Temple, Puri. A supporting arrangement needs to be put in place like it has been done in Shri Jagannath temple, he added.
The structural engineer said that since the stone strength of Konark temple is varying at different parts of the monument, the exercise needs to be carried out under extreme precaution. CBRI has estimated the mass of Jagamohan at the level of the top of the plinth to be around 46,000 tonnes. Conservationists said that Sun temple at Konark is perhaps the only monument across the world where sand was filled to stabilise it.