Temple ideas

Tectonic activity caused Konark temple’s shikhara to collapse, study suggests

A team of geologists from IIT Kharagpur recently suggested that the Shikhara collapse of the famous Sun Temple at Konark may have a possibility of neotectonic activity behind it. The findings, which were published in the Journal of Earth Science System, hint at significant slow motions on subsurface faults due to the northward movement of the Indian plate.

A four-member team consisting of Professors Saibal Gupta, William Kumar Mohanty, Subhamoy Jana and Prakash Kumar from the Department of Geology and Geophysics of IIT Kharagpur was tasked to investigate in depth the geological aspects of the Sun Temple archaeological site in Konark. Concluding the study, the researchers claimed that it was the first time that a conclusive study on a scientific basis was carried out to discover the nature of the collapse of the temple. It was in the 13th century when King Ganga Narasimhadeva-I built a massive temple dedicated to the Hindu god Surya (Sun) between 1243 and 1255. What remains of the temple today is the Jagamohana/Mandapa or assembly hall. The main spire or Shikhara of the temple under which the main shrine (Garbhagriha) is located has collapsed.

Photographed by Archaeological Survey of India, the south-west view of the collapsed Shikhara and standing Mandapa from 1890. Source: British Library

From afar, many historians and scholars have seen the collapse of the shikhara as a cause of severe thunderstorms. But speaking of the new study, Professor William Kumar Mohanty says: “There are many theories and speculations about how the main temple collapsed. But none has been scientifically proven. Our study looks at this old historical problem from a geological perspective. The findings reveal that neotectonic activity may have been responsible for the collapse of the earlier temple structure.

The tectonic activities of the Odisha coast can be seen in the Mahanadi delta through the new creek formations in the region. Research indicates that these tectonic movements likely disrupted the flow of existing water bodies, causing many active water bodies to dry up. The ancient Chandrabhaga River running north of Konark Temple may have dried up due to these tectonic developments, the researchers suggest.

Subhash Kak ☀️ on Twitter: "I call for a public campaign in India to demand the reconstruction of the collapsed shikhara of the Konark Sun Temple.  (The white part of the figure is
Illustration of Konark Surya Mandir with the Shikhara

Saibal Gupta, Professor in the Department of Geology and Geophysics at IIT Kharagpur, in an interview with Hindustan Times said, “The low to moderate magnitude earthquakes in this region, which is in seismic zones II and III, indicate significant slow motion over basement faulting (tectonic creeps) most likely as a result of the northward movement of the Indian Plate. The collapse of the Konark Sun Temple is likely related to neotectonic activity in this region”

The exact dating of the fall of the temple still remains mysterious. Here is a sketch from 1820, depicting the ruins of the site that once served as the magnificent Temple of the Sun.

North view of the Temple of the Sun titled ‘Black Pagoda’ dated 13 September 1820. Source: British Library

Over the years scholars have made different claims about the temple’s origins and collapse. Some scholars have contradicted the new findings by questioning whether other temples contemporary to Konark Temple would also have been affected if the tectonic activity had occurred. “…the Chaurasi Varahi Temple and the Gangeswari Temple are smaller temples located close to the Sun Temple. Both are contemporary with the Konark temple and are still intact and well preserved by the Archaeological Survey of India. If there had been a tectonic movement, they would all have been affected,” said Anam Behera, assistant professor of ancient Indian history, culture and archeology at Utkal University in Odisha.

While responding to Professor Bahera’s claims, the IIT team said that two faults located within 30 km of the earth’s surface intersect near the Konark temple. Soil deposits from the Chandrabhaga River which then flowed beneath these temples would pacify the tectonic movement around these faults, and hence they were protected.

European archecologists with a dog exploring the vast ruins of the Konark temple in 1812. Painting by William George Stephan now in the British Library

The exploration and reflections of scholars, historians and archaeologists on the Konark Sun Temple have been of great turmoil since the discovery of the monument by ASI in the 19th century. The UNESCO World Heritage Site in Odisha continues to generate interest as it sits like a ruin frozen in time.