If you stayed close to the 13th century Sun Temple here, and were not too hot on heritage conservation, you could probably give this a try: have a chullah made for your kitchen from sculpted stones stolen from the monument. These are easily available, thanks to the slackness of the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI).
In the villages surrounding Konark, there are plenty of such precious and pilfered stones. In some places, they lend a touch of history to local temples. In villages Kunja or Tribenishwara, they are used as pedestals for cracking and cutting wood, or simply to sit on.
Konark is a crumbling edifice. Its magnificent celestial chariot and stone sculpture is fast turning into a colossal ruin. According to official estimates, 25 per cent of its sculptural embellishments, etched on inert stones, have been defaced by erosion and lost forever.
The restoration work in some patches makes for a sorry sight. ASI officials say many of these figures are not captured visually. So a sequence of wall embellishments once lost is lost forever. Plain blocks of stone have been placed in the midst of intricate figures and moods, creating an incongruous visual impact. The scrappy restoration work is also evident in the ugly numbering on figures. The white paint has not been wiped off even after the repair.
Whatever remains of the temple is subjected to human neglect: uncaring visitors, insensitive officialdom. No sooner had the The Indian Express team arrived than it encountered a bunch of young schoolchildren, among the 480,000 visitors to the Sun Temple every year. To these young tourists, the scaffolding woven round the temple porch, holding the precariously hanging cantilevers, proved a greater attraction.
Several took turns to swing, trapeze-artiste like. Delicately balanced, the scaffoldings could have slipped any moment. But hardly anyone was concerned. The security staff — there are 50 employees at the complex, plus, since 1996, a posse of private security guards — looked the other way.
As one of the attendants explained, ‘‘The scaffoldings have become part of the architecture, standing in some places for more than a decade. Many are rusted and can give way any moment. It is difficult to keep a watch on every one.’’
Even before the excitement of the glittering, gigantic pyramidal temple subsides, there is another ugly sight. A youth climbs up the wall of the jagamohana — the remaining standing structure of the temple — using delicate sculptures as ladder steps. He is identified as a monument attendant, attempting to scrub out small plants that have sprouted between cornices and wall openings.
The waves of tourists arriving at Konark are quick to pick up the thread. Tired after a tour of the 35-acre temple, they rest against the temple walls, never mind the brittle sculptures.
A practical problem for tourists is the trek from the bus stand to the temple — a kilometre of bare, barren pathway. On a scorching day, it can be torture.
Worse is the fate of the guides at the heritage site. The base of a huge tree serves as their workstation. No shed, no chairs, no interpretation centre for tourists. Just 200 guides, each with his own idea of history. For the record, the ASI has approved nine guides, the state government has registered 29. The rest is quackery.
The what to do list
• A tree-lined plantation along the seacoast, for a distance of about 15 km, was to be set up to prevent sand drift and sculpture abrasion. Till date, one kilometre has been achieved • A sundial dating back to 1906 lies uncared for the Konark PWD bungalow backyard. It can be an ancillary attraction • The jagamohana terrace has been chiselled in many places so as to drain out rainwater • A brick well pertaining to the temple kitchen is derelict, has plants sprouting • The temple’s northern flank is a graveyard of stones and sculptures removed from the main complex. It was meant to be a conservation park, with a cobbled pathway. The project was abandoned midwayBut for Wysocki and Wrzosek the guides were a help. Taking a break from Paradwip port, the two Poles had landed at Konark by accident. ‘‘Without guides, we would not understand the deeper meaning of this temple,’’ Wysocki said.
How did they get here? It was a chance outing, take without realising what ‘‘this Konark place’’ was. Such a magnificent monument deserved better publicity, they felt. Actually 28,000 foreigners visit Orissa every year. ‘‘Only a fraction,’’ said a local ASI official, ‘‘come to Konark.’’ No exact numbers were available.
Jitendra Prasad Das, superintending archaeologist, ASI Bhubaneshwar circle, is the man responsible for Konark. He said work was on in full swing: ‘‘Ninety per cent of the reconstruction of the main temple, for example, was complete by March 2004.’’
When examples of neglect were pointed out, Das said it was only after ASI took over the temple in 1937 that a proper conservation effort began. As such, ASI was not responsible for damage before the date. Besides, he argued, the Centre itself had neglected eastern India: ‘‘They have neglected us for 50 years. What more neglect could the ASI show to the temple?’’
ASI has a mere Rs 50 lakh salary/maintenance budget for Konark. As for conservation and upgrade, the Indian Oil Corporation promised Rs 10 crore in 2002. The ASI would spend the money within the 35-acre complex, the state government on roads and facilities outside. Three years on, not a rupee has been used. ‘‘We are working out the modalities,’’ an official said.