“Here the language of stone surpasses the language of human,” expressed Rabindranath Tagore, for the architectural ingenuity of the Sun Temple at Konark, Odisha. The name Konark derives from the combination of the Sanskrit words, kona (corner or angle) and ark (the sun), in reference to the temple which was dedicated to the Sun God, Surya. Believed to have been built by King Narasimhadeva I of Eastern Ganga Dynasty in 1255 CE, the Konark Sun temple is in the shape of a gigantic ornamented chariot of Surya, having twelve elaborately carved stone wheels and pulled by set of seven horses. The temple follows the traditional style of Kalinga architecture. It is carefully oriented towards the east so that the first rays of sunrise strike the principal entrance. A major part of the structure is now in ruins and yet, it houses the most significant of inventions in human history — the sundial — which till date measures the time accurate to the minute, based entirely on the position of the sun!
The wheels of the chariot are not simply wheels — they happen to be the ancient devices from the 12th century that tell the accurate time to the minute till date.
The sundial has eight major spokes that divide 24 hours into eightequal parts, which means that the time between two major spokes is three hours. There are eight minor spokes as well right in between at the centre between two major spokes. This means that the minor spoke divides the three hours in half, so the time between a major spoke and a minor spoke is an hour and half or 90 minutes.
Now, at the edge of the wheel, there are a lot of beads. If you observe carefully, there are 30 beads between a minor and a major spoke. So, the 90 minutes are further divided by 30 beads. This means that each bead carries a value of three minutes. The beads are large enough, so you can also see if the shadow falls in the centre of the bead or on one of the ends of the bead. This way we can further calculate time accurately to the minute.
The sundial shows time in an anti-clockwise fashion. At the top, the major spoke stands for midnight and the first spoke on its left stands for 3 AM and the next one for 6 AM and so on. When you place a finger or a pen at the tail of the animal in the axle, the shadow will fall on the edge of the wheel. Now, you can simply note the bead where the shadow falls. Using the math as described above, we can easily tell the current time precisely down to the minute.
You may wonder what happens when the sun moves from east to west. Since the wheel is carved on a wall, the sun would not shine on this wheel at all. The Konark temple has two sundials, located on the east and west side of the temple. The time calculation may be done on either of the sundials depending on the position of the sun. You may also wonder; how do we calculate time after sunset. While there are experts that claim that this dial can also be used as a moon dial, others insist that we have very limited knowledge about the vast scope of knowledge in this temple. We have only been able to decipher the two wheels and the other 22 wheels are yet to be deciphered.
In fact, our knowledge of just these two sundials themselves is actually very limited. You can see how there are multiple circles of beads. You can see carvings and markings all over these sundials, and we don’t know the meaning of most of them. Certain carvings depict leaves and flowers which may mean spring or summer; others have lemurs mating, which only happens during winter. There are carvings of woman waking up and looking at a mirror in the morning. In another she is stretching, being tired and ready to go to sleep. For centuries, people have ignored these hints. For all you know, these sundials could have even been used as an almanac for a variety of different things.
Modern science has been very limited in being able to decipher these ancient symbols and have attributed them wrongly, simply to religion, beauty or architecture. It should be clear to anyone that, the time and coordination that would have happened between the astronomers, engineers and sculptors to create something like this 750 years ago, must have had a significance that we with our limited understanding have not yet been able to decode.