Op-Ed: Let politics not bury the idea of a second Sun Temple

Suddenly, the second Sun Temple proposed to be built by internationally acclaimed sculptor Pandit Raghnath  Mohapatra has taken centrestage. The Padma Bibhushan awardee mooted the idea some five years ago. He also bought about 100 acres of land near Sakshigopal for the purpose. But in the absence of official patronage or assurance of support, the mammoth project estimated to cost around Rs. 500 crores never really took off.

But after Mohapatra’s nomination to the Rajya Sabha by President Kovind on Saturday, his ‘dream project’ looks like finally getting the traction it had lacked so far. There are definite indications that it is not mere idle talk anymore.  The utterances of the key dramatis personae since news of the ace sculptor’s nomination hit the headlines suggest that the master craftsman has received some kind of assurance of support from the Central government for his pet project. Significantly, in his reaction soon after his nomination, Mohapatra talked about his meeting with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during which he sought support for the second Sun Temple, unwittingly linking his nomination to this meeting and, by extension, his dream project. What had remained in the realm of speculation on Saturday received an official seal of sorts on Sunday when Union Minister for Petroleum and Skill Development – and the BJP’s man for all seasons in Odisha – Dharmendra Pradhan came out in forceful support of the proposed Aditya Narayan temple saying ‘the entire country’ would back the move. An assurance of support also appears plausible because it fits in perfectly with the BJP’s penchant for building mega monuments.

One would have thought the idea of a second Sun Temple would get the unqualified support of every Odia without exception. After all, who will not be excited about the idea of giving the world a taste of what the original Sun Temple at Konark in all its majestic and resplendent glory looked like? But going by the reactions since the idea got a fresh lease of life on Saturday, it appears that there are plenty of people in our state (and maybe even outside) who have a problem with the idea though their reasons differ.

These naysayers can be broadly put into three categories; those who are opposed to it for reasons of aesthetics; those against it because it would cost a massive amount from the exchequer that they think could be put to more worthwhile use and those uncomfortable with it because of its political overtones.

Now let us deal with these objections one by one. Those who are opposed to it on grounds of aesthetics have convinced themselves that the proposed second Sun Temple would be no match for the original one at Konark and hence would be an ‘eyesore’ rather than an object of beauty like its more illustrious counterpart. They are obviously unimpressed by Mohapatra’s credentials for the job and the fact that he traces his ancestry to the sculptors who built both the Konark Temple and the Jagannath Temple in Puri. Their objections would have been valid if the Konark Temple stood in its original shape giving the tourist an idea of the breathtaking scale and majesty of its construction and the full range of its exquisite and intricate craftsmanship. If the new temple turns out to be even half as good as the temple built in the 13th century, it would still be a project worth investing in.

A couple of years ago, there was a big furore over the alleged plans by ISKCON to build a ‘second’ Jagannath Temple in Puri. A lot of people who are opposing the idea of a second Sun Temple now perhaps opposed the idea of a second Jagannath Temple then – and perhaps for the same reason. But there is a crucial difference between the two that should not be overlooked. Though dedicated to the Sun God, the Konark temple is not a ‘living’ temple like the Jagannath Temple, which is thronged by thousands of devotees every single day of the year. Nor is the Sun God on the same pedestal as Lord Jagannath, who lives in every Odia’s heart. As it stands today, the Sun Temple is essentially a tourist attraction, something to marvel at for its exquisite craftsmanship and the mammoth scale on which it was conceived and built. Building a second Sun Temple thus would not hurt the religious sentiments of the average Odia in the way a second Jagannath Temple would. Instead, it would be a fitting tribute to the master craftsmen who built the original temple by recreating what they had built eight centuries ago. There is also the possibility of making it a ‘living’ temple dedicated to the Sun God, which would certainly enhance its tourist potential.

Now for those who don’t want the second Sun Temple because it would cost a ‘whopping’ Rs 500 crores, which could be put to much better use; to build hospitals, schools or whatever. Their objection begets the inevitable question: what if King Narasinghdev I had thought along the same lines and refused to spend the revenue collected over 12 years to build it? Simple, there would be no Sun Temple! And we would not be boasting that we belong to the land that built this magnificent specimen of architecture that has acquired the World Heritage Site status conferred by UNESCO. What is Rs 500 crores in the life of a nation, after all? No one batted an eyelid when the state government promised to fork out upwards of Rs 100 crores just to put the name of Odisha on the jerseys of Indian hockey players. No one fished out the calculator to compute how many schools, hospitals or other public amenities could have been built with the money. No one asked asked what tangible benefits it would get for Odisha.  [Those who did were promptly branded ‘anti-Odia’!] But talk of Rs. 500 crores for a second Sn Ttemple and all hell breaks loose. [In fact, there is greater reason to question the sponsorship deal with Hockey India than the money to be spent on the second Sun Temple because the burden of the former would be borne by the state exchequer whereas the latter would be taken care of by the Centre!]

Lastly, let us address those who are against the idea of a second temple because of the politics around it. One doesn’t really have to be ‘political analyst’ to understand that the Modi government’s decision to back Mohapatra’s plan and nominate him to the Rajya Sabha is motivated by politics. It is clearly a cynical move to tug at Odia sentiments and pride ahead of the next elections rather than a genuine desire to honour an illustrious son of the soil and help him fulfill his dream. But should that be a reason to oppose the project? Should we resist the move just because the BJP might walk away with some political mileage through it? That would be a myopic way of looking at things and akin to cutting the nose to spite the face.

Let politics not bury the idea of a second Sun Temple.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).

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