For a very long time, everyone thought looking at the remains of the Konark Sun temple that it was a yet another beautifully made temple, in the form of a chariot with spectacular architectural elements, such as the elaborately carved chariot wheels, stunning looking horses and more. But it is believed that, one of the many secrets of this Sun temple came to light only when a mystic was found calculating time using one of the stone wheels of the chariot.
Yes, you can calculate time using the carved wheels found in Konark temple and that too with the precision of a minute!
Before going into the details of this secret, let us look at some of the architectural details of this temple.
The name Konark comes from two Sanskrit words Kona and Arka which means, angle and sun respectively.
According to an article by Dr. Avantika Lal, this implies that the main deity was the sun god, and the temple was built in an angular format. I believe maybe there could be more to this name, which I will address later in this post.
As per many scriptures from Hinduism, the Sun God 'Surya' is usually depicted as someone who rides a grand chariot pulled by 7 horses.
That is exactly how Sun temple in Konark had been constructed. Built in the 13th century, Konark temple is a classic example of Kalinga style architecture.
There are seven elaborately caparisoned, galloping horses carved out of stone which pulls the grand chariot with 12 pairs of intricately carved giant wheels on both sides. According to the archaeologists, this is just a small part of the whole temple complex.
Scholars who studies about Konark temple believes that the 7 horses represents 7 days in a week and 24 wheels as 24 fortnights or 24 'paksha' in a year. (Hindu calendar uses the Sanskrit word "paksha", meaning one half of a lunar month, which is between 14 and 15 solar days.)
So in short, it is safe to say that Konark Sun temple represents the passage of time through its architecture.
Using the sun's shadow to measure the accurate time of the day is not at all a new technology. Many centuries ago, even before Christ, the Egyptians and Babylonians used sundials. Also, the world's largest sundial aka clock which was built during the early 18th century can be found in Jaipur, India at Jantar Mantar Jaipur.
So it shouldn't be a surprise to know that Konark temple built during the 13th century can measure time. But unlike most other sundials, the one at Konark is a vertical one, almost like our modern-day wall clocks!
Astonishing facts about Konark sun temple doesn't end there. There are so many interesting things hidden behind its exquisite architecture. Before we go there, let us see how to find time using the carved, stone wheels of Konark Sun Temple. Let us get into the details of this amazing time wheels!
Each of the 24 wheels of Konark temple has 8 major spokes and 8 minor spokes. Major spokes are thick, more elaborately carved and much wider than the thin spokes.
For a better understanding and easier explanation, I am attaching an image of the wheel.
We know that Sun moves from East to West, but for the simplicity of explanation let us say sun moves from Right to left with respect to this picture.
So when the Sun rises in the morning, the sun will be on the right side creating a shadow at the spot marked as 06.
As the sun travels from east to west and reaches the peak during noon time, the sun casts a shadow at the place marked as 12.
By evening, when sun is about to set, the shadow will be at the spot marked as 18.
Thus the wheel shows time just like a clock, ironically the only difference is that the hour hand travels in the 'anti-clock' direction!
If you are thinking is it really such a great engineering feat to show the time using shadows on one side which shows 6 AM while the diametrically opposite side shows 6 PM.
Well, it gets much more complex than that!
You can see that this wheel is divided into 8 parts using major spokes which shows the time 3, 6, 9 etc. This means each part represents modern-day equivalent of 3 hours.
These 8 parts are again divided into halves creating a section of 1.5 hours. If you zoom in and look carefully, you will find the beads, one of the many finer details carved onto the wheels.
There are 30 beads between each major and mior spokes which means the 1.5 hours(90 minutes) are further divided into 30 parts. So each beads represents 3 minutes.
When you look even more carefully, you can see the beads are not circular, but slightly elongated at the sides. This shape creates 3 sections. Shadow can fall on the centre of the beads or on either sides of it. This indication help us to divide 3 minutes of the beads further into single minutes! Hence we can calculate time accurately to the minute!
Being neglected for many centuries and destructions from invaders and the British, one might wonder, does these sundials show accurate time even today.
And the answer is yes, it does!
You will find many tour guides using a pen or a long stick showing how the time is calculated.
You have to keep a thin object like a stick at the centre of the axle of the wheel. The shadow of this thin object will fall on the outer rim to indicate the time at that point.
I tried to replicate what the guide had shown me by randomly picking up a wheel which was less crowded.(Not the exact sundial wheel)
I couldn't / didn't want to touch many century old intricate carvings. So the shadow formed is not exactly from the axis of the wheel. So I wasn't expecting an accurate result.
If you refer the 'clock' image I had created earlier, you will see that the time indicated by the shadow of my finger is about 2:15 PM. If you look at the attached file info, you can see that the picture was taken at 1:45PM!
I can assure you that the result would have been better if I were to climb over the fence and touch my fingers onto the actual sundial wheel. But I wouldn't want to do that to a UNESCO World Heritage site. So please bear with a less accurate result.
If you are wondering what will happen if the wheel is completely covered with shadow while the sun passes from one side to the other side, be informed that there are 2 sundials that tells time accurately which are located on east and west side of the temple.
If you are now wondering, are the other 22 wheels just some decorative pieces, the answer is, we don't really know.
About a century ago, everyone thought that all the 24 wheels were elegant architectural pieces and nothing more. According to a legend, it was only when someone found an old mystic calculating time using the Konark Wheel, the world came to know about the hidden secret of the ruins of Konark.
From this mystic the world could understand the use of only 2 wheels. The purpose of other wheels still remain as a mystery. But some believes that when it turns night, certain wheels might act like a moondial and continue to tell time even at night! It could very well be true.
If you think, that is crazy, things get even crazier when you start observing more closely!
We now know that the day is divided into 8 parts using 8 major spokes. These parts are knowns as 'Prahar'.
If you understand Hindi, you must be familiar with the word 'Dopahar/Dupahar' which means afternoon. Which do (2 in Hindi) Prahars(period of time) do you think are part of the afternoon?
Scroll up and check the 'clock' image above to find out.
When you observe closely on the carvings on the medallion on these spokes, you will see different poses of a woman, and the activity depicted depends on the time of the day.
You can find more picture of the lady in the wheel carving, here
You will find her stretching after a good night sleep, doing her hair and looking at the mirror to get ready for the day, dealing with the household stuff, managing the servants, getting ready for the bed, making out with her partner and so on, all depending on the time of the day!
So apart from giving an accurate time of the day, the carvings on the wheels give us a detailed break down of the people's daily life during that time.
These carvings on the spokes do differ from wheel to wheel. We don't know enough to decipher all the meaning.
You can also see carvings containing foliage, birds and animals. Some of the plants carved on these stones appear during certain seasons only. Some of the carving of mating of animals happen only during certain time of the year. So all these details tells us one thing. They all have a hidden meaning.
We all know that sun's position and distance from earth causes winter and summer. What if those changes are reflected on the carvings of these wheels as well?
What if the other 22 mystery wheels tell more stories about the seasons, animal behaviour, the fruits of the seasons, the migratory birds and much more, just like it tells the time so accurately?!
We all have studied that the Earth rotates on its axis, and revolves in an elliptical orbit around the Sun. Sun also moves on its own axis. So in order to create a perfect sundial one has to get more than a few things right and needs an astronomical amount of knowledge in Astronomy.
Since we can correctly assume that each day of the year, sun rays might be falling on a specific spot at a slightly different angle, we can also assume that it is probably possible to find and mark those points at a certain place by understanding the coordinates of that place and many other things.
Let us assume that ancient geniuses figured out all those 'stellar' details and combined their knowledge of local lifestyle, cultural and political environment, understanding of flora and fauna and many other things, and boiled it down and mixed it with exquisite craftsmanship to create these beautiful architectural elements of a temple. So if we are able to decode it correctly, we can understand the seasons, nature, lifestyle, culture and even thoughts of those ancient times.
Even today, the Sun God literally shed light on those untold mysteries every day and we stand in front of it, looking at these secrets hidden in plain sight without a clue.
And remember, what we see now, is only a small portion an ancient massive temple complex. Just like Odisha Tourism proclaims, this land is India's Best Kept Secret!
Have you been to Konark Sun Temple? Do share your thoughts, experience and theories. Let's try to solve the mysteries of Konark Sun Temple!
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