The process of sand excavation from inside the revered sanctum sanctorum of the Sun Temple in Konark has recently restarted. Massive iron structures have been erected, and construction is progressing with the aid of cranes. Last year, the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) also conducted a Bhumi Pujan ceremony before beginning the process.
Undoing The Past
Between 1900 and 1903, the 13th-century Konark Sun Temple's assembly hall, known as Jagamohan, underwent preservation efforts by the British. During this restoration, they sealed and filled four entrances with sand to prevent the temple from collapsing. Over the years, this sand-filling led to structural cracks. The British had initially assumed the sand would support the temple's weight when it was filled a century ago. However, the sand eventually settled, rendering its intended purpose ineffective. Instead, it imposed undue stress on the temple walls.
A recent analysis by the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI) in Roorkee, using techniques such as GPRS, laser scanning, and endoscopy, revealed that the sand level inside the sanctum sanctorum has dropped by 17 feet from the top. In response, the ASI decided to reinforce the structure following the sand excavation.
Situation Until Now
The construction work on the supporting structure commenced in January 2023, but was abruptly halted. However, it has now resumed. Local residents have welcomed this development but have also voiced their demand for transparency from the ASI.
Nevertheless, an ASI official clarified that the actual excavation of sand within the Konark Sun Temple has not yet begun. In addition, the excavation is reported to be on until March. Throughout this period, particular emphasis will be placed on preserving temple artefacts. Once the sand extraction is concluded, the Jagmohan gate will be unlocked, allowing tourists to access the area.
Experts emphasise the need for ASI to ensure the safety of the temple during the sand excavation process. The temple has already been in the news for issues such as beams and stones falling a few years ago. Since the undertaking is one of its kind, with never having been performed before, the ASI is occupied with ensuring that all factors are considered. However, the ASI has also received support from geologists and field experts as the sand excavation promises to improve the temple's stability by a significant measure.
While challenges and risks exist, experts believe that with careful planning and execution, the temple's structural integrity can be safeguarded for generations to come.