Konarak and the Sun Temple, Orissa, India

Beware, the Sun Temple is what I call a “Kama-Sutra Temple” so some of these pictures display suggestive sculptures ;)


 Near Bhubaneswar lies Konark and its famous Sun Temple (Temple of Surya). It used to be right on the beach some few hundreds years ago, in the 13th century when the temple was built. Now it lies two or three kilometres away from the shore. The legend has it that Samba, a son of Krishna, built it after a twelve-years long penance to Surya, the Sun god, who cured him from leprosy. Samba used to make fun of a saint but very ugly man, Nârada, and as a revenge, with a little trick, this man had managed to have Krishna inflict leprosy on Samba.

In the morning I woke up early and rode to the beach on a bike the guesthouse’s owner had kindly lent me. There were many people there awaiting the sunrise for religious reasons. Women were making little flower offerings in the sand that would be washed away a few minutes later. I walked a few hundreds meters away from the mass of people and under a boat near a fishermen’s village. Quiet time, beautiful beach, sunrise… and men taking a dump on the sand! The villagers like to do their morning business on the beach, close to the water where they can wash themselves up afterwards and they don’t care how many people are walking around. I also saw a dead turtle. It had a strong acrid sweet-and-sour smell. I think it was the first wild turtle I’d ever seen, and I was quite sad that it was a dead one.

 It was a bit cloudy that day but when the sun, big and red, finally emerged from the clouds, people clapped and cheered. Then it quickly went back into hiding and the crowd dissolved. I walked on the beach again, away from the village and human faeces. I saw three young men carrying long and thin sticks freshly broken off trees. I looked curiously at this, and they gave me one stick. That’s how I got to use neem datoon for the first time and it felt amazing. Datoon is a traditional method for cleaning your teeth. Basically you chew a stick of wood, make its end look like a little brush then use it to thoroughly brush your teeth. Neem, the wood I had been given, has a slightly bitter taste that is strangely addictive and feels very healthy. After I was done, I felt like I had just been to the dentist for a yearly cleansing but it was even better because no chemicals had been used on me. I was very grateful to the three young men who gave my first datoon (I got to try datoon, they got a picture with me).

I cycled back to the guesthouse and gave back the bicycle, then left for the town. I had breakfast and finally entered the Sun Temple. It was my first touristy place to visit in India, and that’s when I discovered that there is always an “ Indian price” and a “foreign price”, the latter being usually between twenty and a hundred times the price of the former. Of course, when you convert back into a western currency, the 100 rupees you pay (about 1,20 euro) still remain very affordable. But right on the spot it feels somewhat unfair :) . After going around the temple on my own for a good while, I decided to get a guide. I don’t know if what he said was true but here is the essence of what he told me. India always exemplifies that the ways to enlightenment are numerous and diverse. One of those way used to be through sexual intercourse, like tantric sex supposedly today (the real one, not the Europeanised version) – if I understood properly, but I’m no expert. The Sun Temple was the place of worship of such monks versed in sexual activities, so its walls are covered with carvings exemplifying the 64 types of. It also depicts individuals with oversized genitals, which I thought at first was merely a sign of megalomania or wishful carving on the part of the sculptors. But apparently it’s depicting what kind of horrible disease you can get if you’re not careful and don’t take care of yourself. Mostly heterosexual couples are depicted, but there are a few homosexual ones as well. I was happy about it, until I realised that in the carving with the lesbian couple, the hair of one of the women is about to be cut and she is dragged to the forest where she belongs, as an animal that she is… I was disappointed, needless to say (nothing of the sort seems to be happening to the male homosexual couple). The walls of the temple are entirely sculpted, so erotic carvings is not the only thing you’ll find. There are a lot of animals (even a giraffe) and everyday life scenes. If you look at it in detail it’s quite interesting really, but I was happy to have taken a guide because there is only so much that you can notice and interpret on your own. And whether the guide’s version was historically correct or not doesn’t matter much to me in the end, as long as the story is good :) .

 On that day I also learned what it meant for a tall western girl with blue eyes and wearing a turban against the sun (I have to quote everything, as I never know which criteria is the most exotic to them) to be surrounded by Indian tourists, who by definition have a lot of time and nothing special to do: I have been asked for a hundred pictures, mostly by men by also by families. A photo shaking hands with the mother, a photo of me surrounded by the kids… I have also been followed by teenagers stealing pictures of me with their mobiles without making eye contact, and that’s one of the things I found really disrespectful in India. I got angrier and angrier in the next weeks about this particular behaviour, without really knowing what to do about it. I met a German guy whose technique was to put his finger up his nose every time people were stealing pictures from him. I eventually just turned my head away or hold my hand in front of it. And in the end I just let it go and stopped noticing when they were doing that.

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