It is deeply unfortunate in terms of cultural history that Odisha’s Konarak Sun Temple, declared as a World Heritage site by UNESCO, should now be at the centre of an unseemly controversy. Central to the discord between the state government on the one hand and the Centre’s Department of Culture and the Archaeological Survey of India at another remove are reports that the original stone carvings have been replaced with “plain stones” by the ASI.
The entity responsible for the upkeep of monuments has scarcely been known to be diligent; its negligent nonchalance has on occasion been commented upon by the CAG whose reports a decade ago had also indicted the authorities of Kolkata’s Indian Museum and Victoria Memorial. The predicament of Konarak has now prompted Odisha’s Chief Minister, Naveen Patnaik, to address a complaint to the Union Minister of State for Culture, Mahesh Sharma, indeed calling for an enquiry into this alleged fiddle with the stones.
Indeed, Mr Patnaik has urged the Centre to take appropriate steps immediately for the preservation and conservation of the world heritage monument ~ the proud boast of Odisha, indeed a masterpiece of creative genius judging by the yardstick of conception and realisation. The temple was built in the 13th century by King Langula Narasingha Deva with the help of no fewer than 1200 sculptors.
Centuries later, the front temple called Jagamohana remains, though alas even that has over time been a victim of decay. The Konarak monument showcases a chariot of the Sun God. There is thus a cloud over the state’s cultural heritage at a crucial juncture ~ the Odisha business conclave currently being held in Bhubaneswar.
The state is trying to put its best foot forward in the presence of international investors. What occasions surprise is that even without a scintilla of an investigation, the Union minister has asserted that “no stone has been replaced”. Nor for that matter has the Chief Minister asked the state agencies to verify the matter despite his allegation that 40 per cent of the artistic stone carvings of the Konarak temple have been replaced by the ASI with plain stones.
It is customary for tour guides to introduce the City of London as a place where every stone represents history. So too does the Sun Temple, and the reported replacement of stones lends no scope for a dodgy and evasive response, let alone a travesty of the original design.
Ergo, there is need to clear the air in the interest of cultural history. A joint enquiry by the Odisha government, the Union ministry of Culture, and ASI is imperative, and without any attempt to cover tracks… as did the ASI at a review meeting on 13 November, saying that it had not replaced or fixed any new stone and that it had only been filling gaps with sand as well as cement. Which begs the question ~ How did the “gaps” appear?