The day was 16th November, birthday of my buddy Soni. I wanted to wish him, hear his voice, listen to his crackling jokes but he has been absconding, on a self imposed exile from me and other friends. I have tried to locate him on my two visits to Kolkata, cajoled, threatened and begged his bro to reveal his whereabouts but the answer had always been a stoic “He doesn’t want to meet you”. I have tried to figure out the reasons for him not wanting to keep any relations to me with whom he had grown up since class sixth right through our working life, but couldn’t figure out.
I was contemplating between calling up a friend whose family is quite influential in Kolkata and my cousin with similar influences to fix up a possible meeting with the police commissioner or some senior officials to trace him out when my phone rang. The number was unknown but I picked up the call and said “Hello”. The voice on the other side said, “Kire kemon achhish? (Hey how are you)” The person need not introduce himself for I could recognize the voice of Soni even after almost 14 years.
After a bout of pleasantries (read abuses) for not keeping in touch for so many years, we started talking as if there have no gap in between. Soni informed that he has set up a hotel business in Puri, Odisha. There is nothing fancy about the hotel, but clean comfortable and affordable place, primarily catering to the middle class tourists from Bengal and other parts of the country. I asked him if I could add him to our WhatsApp group of school friends and he agreed.
A few days into the group, Soni invited us to join him at his hotel for a reunion which was cheered by all and most promised to look at the possibility. I told him over our phone conversation that only a handful will finally make it happen as I knew my friends inside out! Anyways, as the proposed day of 8th February 2018 neared, many walked out of the plan sighting various reasons which I will not delve into but the ones that bought their tickets were the lucky ones to experience real buddy bonding. I had a concern area about Rolf, my 8.5 year old baby Chowchow, as to his twice a day walking. Having moved to Hyderabad just a month back I had no back up support but as luck would have it, a chance discussion at a community (NCC Urban) meet, a lady said she knew someone who could help me out. Thereafter, a series of messaging and phone conversation with the girl named Priyanka solved my dilemma and I was ready for the reunion.
Gora bought the flight tickets for himself and Ronju from Delhi while Jallu booked himself a train ticket to Kolkata from Malda to join Soni for onward journey to Puri together. For whatever reasons, the ticket bought by Gora was via Hyderabad and I decided to join them in the same flight so that we reach together. However, due to some confusion, my flight was scheduled one before theirs and we met at the airport lounge briefly. Soni had confirmed that he will pick us up from Bhubaneshwar Airport and was aware of the two different pick up time and made arrangements accordingly.
8th February 2018
To my great relief Priyanka came in the morning to walk Rolf and I followed them at distance but Rolf was at his best behavior throughout the 30-40 minute walk. While cleaning him up, I told him that I will be away for 3 days and that he should be a good boy. I don’t know if he understood but became very sad and sat at corner keeping an eye on my movements.
Around 10 am Ronju posted their arrival at Hyderabad but the message was confusing. It said the plane had landed and is now on its way to Kochi. I called him up and he picked up the phone from the airport to clarify that the connecting flight to Bhubaneshwar is different and is scheduled at 2 pm. I told him to meet me at the lounge hoping to grab a beer with the buddies before boarding my flight. I left for the airport immediately and reached around 10:45 am and proceeded for the security check.
I was carrying only a cabin bag wherein I had packed Biriyani & mutton curry from Shah Ghouse, the famous eatery of Hyderabad, frozen rock solid. As I came out after the security check to retrieve my bag, I saw it was kept on the side. When I asked the reason, the lady at the counter said there is canister and food items which needs checking. I explained, opening the bag that the canister is my shaving gel and food item is the biriyani and mutton curry. She was adamant and demanded that I open the packs which I refused point blank and told her that she can keep the stuff herself but I cannot open them and spoil it in the process. I told her to call up her supervisor which she did reluctantly. The officer was more understanding and after recording my boarding card details allowed the package to carry forward.
It took some time to trace Ronju & Gora and went to the lounge but to our misfortune, the bar did not have chilled beer. We just sat there and chatted for some time then I proceeded to board my flight. The journey was uneventful, I put on my earphones as soon as I sat down listening to my favorite singer, Shreya Guhathakurata singing soulful Rabindrasangeet.
I messaged Soni as soon as the plane landed and he came along with Jallu as I came out of the terminal building. We proceeded to grab some grub before coming back in an hour time to pick up Gora and Ronju. We finished our lunch and were paying the bill when Ronju called up to inform that they have landed. We returned to the airport to pick them up at 4:45pm and straight away proceeded to Puri.
We picked up our stock of “Elixir of Life” before checking in at Dreamboat Hotel. After freshening up and changing into more comfortable clothes, we sat down for the first evening of reunion. There were lots to talk with Soni.
All of us have been through ups and downs in life but have managed to stand up tall once again. Soni narrated his side of the story briefly and my only regret is that he did not confide in me earlier about his hardship, I may have been able to help him in some way. We clicked our reunion pictures and immediately posted in the group to let the others know what they have missed out in life. The Biriyani was liked by all and we retired to bed well past the midnight. The following day was for sightseeing the Konarak Sun Temple.
9th February 2018
Ronju & Jallu had decided to go for a walk in the morning. Gora & I had politely declined as we wanted to sleep and relax as much as we can. However, my body clock woke me up at around 5:30 am and I could hear them sneaking out which tempted me to join but I suppressed the desire and turned on my tummy and slept blissfully for next one hour.
The breakfast was traditional Bong cuisine – Luchi and Aloo Kalojire Chocchori (Potato Bhaji with Onion Seed). Additionally there were boiled eggs for the likes of me whose breakfast is incomplete without eggs. I tasted this potato preparation after ages and relished it very much. It would have been great to have a traditional Sandesh with Luchi but Soni informed that sweets are not too good in Puri. The only sweets that people buy here are Gaja (a kind of sweet matthi) and Chhana Pora (fried paneer soaked in sugar syrup). We tried both later in the evening.
We had called the cab around 10:30 which as per eastern India norms landed only around 11 and we left for Konarak about 35km (one hour) from Puri. As is customary when you want to live the bachelor days once more, we picked up chilled beer and soon realized we do not have a bottle opener!! Soni had some work at the court so we stopped by and Jallu took the opportunity to hunt and buy the bottle opener from a roadside stall. We were all set for the road, I realized I have not lost the touch as I finished the beer much before Jallu and Gora had consumed half their bottles!!
Once we left the city limits, roads became quite decent in terms of traffic and surface smoothness. We passed through the wildlife sanctuary driving on the Puri-Konarak Marine Drive and reached Balukhand which we decided to check out while returning.
The Konarak Sun Temple is under restoration and one could get the glimpse of the magnificent structure through the scaffolding. One of the revelations was that people only point out Khajuraho Temple for its explicit sculpting but such carvings can be found in other temples of that period. Even here we saw some very explicit carvings on the temple wall all around. Ronju informed that since this is a Sun temple, it denotes energy and therefore such sculptures have been carved on the temple walls. There are no deities inside the temple; in fact, the entrance to the temple has been blocked years ago. A brief note on the Konarak Sun Temple gathered from the internet is given at the end for those who are interested in it.
We had noticed the roadside stalls that lined up the lane leading to the Konarak temple and decided to check them out for souvenirs for back home. While going to the temple we had seen a few shop selling cashews and had decided to pick up some stock for our evening snacking as well as for home. However, on our return path, all the cashew shops had downed their shutter for afternoon siesta. We found a shop selling pickles and decided to check it out. It had over 25 different kinds of pickle ranging from sweet to sour to hot chili. Jallu, Gora & I packed few of them for back home before leaving for Balukhand on way to Dreamboat, Puri.
We spent some time at the beach called Balukhand and enjoyed the sea breeze. A small fish had soared up at the beach and was gasping; I picked it up and threw back to the sea hoping it would live for another day.
The menu for the lunch was simple Bengali cuisine of fried bitter gourd with kasundi, dal-chawal with fried fish and fish curry. It was a satisfying meal especially with the remaining beer, chilled and refreshing. After the late lunch, we were chatting about old times in school trying to figure out where our friends have ended up now when the Panda of Puri Jagannath Temple showed up at the behest of Soni. He agreed to come in the morning the following day to take us to the temple for the darshan of the deities – Jagannath, Balarama and Subhadra. I am not religious at all but was inquisitive of the place, so had decided to join the other three.
In the evening, we decided to go for a walk in the Swargadar area and try some street food. I am a foodie and wherever I go, I try to taste the local street foods which are generally much tastier than what you get in a restaurant. Jallu & I were keen to try the fried crab but a closer look at the stuff was not too inviting at the first stall that we checked. We tried the fried prawns instead which was just okay nothing great. Soni had declined to even touch it citing hygiene issues and Ronju reluctantly had one piece so it was up to Jallu, Gora and I to polish off the rest. We moved on to another stall that was selling different kinds of pakodas – chili, potato and urad dal besides samosa. We picked up few pieces of each variety for chakhna with drinks later in the evening.
I have heard that Swargadar is a Hindu crematorium and it is believed that getting cremated here guarantees Moksha for the soul. I had imagined it to be if not grand but at least a memorable place in terms of some good architecture but it turned out to be a normal cremation ground. Soni informed that attempts to convert the place to eco-friendly electric crematoria have failed for last so many years in the face of blind superstitions that block all modernization. Soni jokingly said that the opposition to turning electric is that they fear the dead body might be jolted to life because of electric shock!!
Before returning to the hotel we tried the famed Gaja & picked up Chhanapora for post-dinner dessert. Jallu’s room was the biggest and we used it for our evening Adda as well as storing the liquor and other dry snacks. By some unwritten instructions, Mukherjee, the cook-cum-man Friday would serve boiled eggs to go with our drinks along with other chatpata snacks. Since I have stopped eating dinner, this was most welcome for me. We decided to keep the Adda short as we have get up early for the Shri Jagannath darshan but still ended up well past the midnight.
Jallu, loves to take photographs including videos and many a times it is unknown to the subject and often results in candid moment. He took a video of Soni explaining some issues at the dining table and posted it on our whatsapp forum. When Soni saw it, he was infuriated beyond control and it took some time to calm him down. Thanks to the poor audio quality, it had gone practically unnoticed and there were no comments on it.
10th February 2018
Ronju is a (very) early riser, he usually gets up around 4:30 am (midnight for most of us) and he took it upon himself to wake us up all by 6 am to be ready for Jagannath Ji Darshan. The Panda had confirmed that he will come and take us around 7:30 am. I normally get up between 5:30 – 6 am so, when Ronju rang the room bell at 6 am sharp, I was already up and shaving. We were ready and sipping on our morning tea when the Panda showed up and we left with him. He was riding a bike so we hired an autorikshaw and followed him to the temple.
All leather items, camera and phone are prohibited inside the temple. We knew it and therefore did not carry any of these with us. After depositing our sandals at the designated spot, we entered the temple. The premises gets washed everyday in the early morning so the surface was still wet and some of the stones were a bit slippery as well. Being city dweller we were not accustomed to bare feet walking so the initially it hurt the feet but we got adjusted. As is the norm with most Hindu Temples, there are many smaller temples dedicated to different deities which has to be seen (you’re supposed to donate as well) before one can go to the main temple. We first went to the admin office to ‘buy prasad’ or pay for the puja. There were different price groups for the puja right from Rs.111/- to Rs.25 Lacs. We settled for Rs.211/- as this was dry Prasad, easy to carry back home. There was a Rs.10/- admin charge over this amount!!
The Panda did his best to wriggle out donations at various smaller temples but we are seasoned traveler and know how to get out of the situation. He finally took us inside the main temple which was crowded with people but he managed to find the way through and took us straight to the front. The temple is under renovation and therefore the viewing spot has been moved back resulting in a glimpse of the deities for a few seconds only before the crowd pushes you out. It reminded me of the similar situation at Vaishno Devi temple!
We came out and explored the temple premises for its architectural beauty. Not getting into the details of the history of the temple but providing the link to Wikipedia for those who are interested – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jagannath_Temple,_Puri.
However, Ronju shared a very interesting story that the idol of the trio – Jagannath, Balarama & Subhadra are made from the Neem wood every 9/ 12/ 15/ 18/ 21/ 25 years depending on the command from the Lord himself through dream to the Head Priest of the temple. The Head Priest is told of the specific region within the state to get the Neem-wood for each idol and they are from different part of the state. The wood is sourced from the tree on which no bird has ever sat let alone made its nest. The idols are made in exactly 14 days. The navel of the Lord Jagannath is taken from the old idol and inserted in the new one called Pranpratistha. The Priest who does that invariably dies on the 30th day after the act and is believed to achieve Moksha.
There are some interesting stories – the flag atop the temple flies in the opposite direction of the wind; the Bhog-Prasad is cooked using earthen pots which are placed on top of another right up to the ceiling but the food gets cooked first on the pot that is at the top. The ingredients used to make this bhog are indigenous that is items that are naturally grown in the region and not imported from other countries (potato, tomato, chili etc. are not used as these came from foreign land). No bird flies over the temple (but I saw a tom cat roaming inside the temple premises fearlessly).
Before we left, the Panda said that he bring in the Prasad to the hotel in the evening.
We had decided to take the rest of the day easy and just relax, so after breakfast Ronju and Gora decided to take a power nap while Jallu & I along with Soni went for shopping. I picked up a Saree for Deepika while Jallu picked up Salwar-Suit for Roopa. We also picked up chilled bottles of beer for the afternoon and whiskey for the evening.
The lunch consisted of dal-aloo bhaja and mutton curry with rice. The mutton curry was delicious and I ended up over eating. The only thing on my mind was to take a nap and be ready for the evening as this was the last evening together after so many years.
We were all set for the evening session to begin but Jallu had vanished with his room key. He had suddenly realized that he had forgotten to buy the Chhanapora for back home. His train to Kolkata was early in the morning around 5:45 am so he had to pick it up today only.
Our session started quite late after Jallu came in having lost his way from Swargadar area. Initially he was reluctant to join in as he would have to get up very early but Ronju convinced him that he will wake him up at 4 am and then there was no holding back the 18 year olds in their mid-fifties.
Soni left Delhi in March 2004 and my last conversation with him over phone was sometime in late May of same year. His daughter was born on 15th November 2003 but I had not seen her till today save few photographs he shared recently of a beautiful smart young teenager. Soni narrated his untold story of past 14 years and we all became quite emotional at his struggle and eventual success. And I felt proud for my buddy.
11th February 2018
The morning started really early, Ronju, as promised, woke up Jallu around 4 am and us around 4:30 am. Jallu left for the station in the pre-booked autorikshaw around 4:50 am. He was going to Kolkata first before taking another overnight train ride later for Malda where he works with a bank.
I had booked a taxi for Bhubneshwar Airport drop at 9 am which showed up 15 minutes late. I was supposed to go alone but Soni decided that he along with Gora and Ronju will come along as they have nothing else to do and a long drive is always welcome.
At the airport, we hugged and promised to meet up again for a re-reunion perhaps with a larger group at a more suitable time later this year. I took off exactly at 12:07 pm carrying with me loads of memories of a fantastic weekend.
THE KONARAK SUN TEMPLE
The Konark Sun Temple was built from stone in the form of a giant ornamented chariot dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. In Hindu Vedic iconography Surya is represented as rising in the east and traveling rapidly across the sky in a chariot drawn by seven horses. He is described typically as a resplendent standing person holding a lotus flower in both his hands, riding the chariot marshaled by the charioteer Aruna. The seven horses are named after the seven meters of Sanskrit prosody: Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnih, Jagati, Trishtubha, Anushtubha, and Pankti. Typically seen flanking Surya are two females who represent the dawn goddesses, Usha and Pratyusha. The goddesses are shown to be shooting arrows, a symbol of their initiative in challenging darkness. The architecture is also symbolic, with the chariot’s twelve pairs of wheels corresponding to the 12 months of the Hindu calendar, each month paired into two cycles (Shukla and Krishna).
The Konark temple presents this iconography on a grand scale. It has 24 elaborately carved stone wheels which are nearly 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter and are pulled by a set of seven horses. When viewed from inland during the dawn and sunrise, the chariot-shaped temple appears to emerge from the depths of the blue sea carrying the sun.
The temple plan includes all the traditional elements of a Hindu temple set on a square plan. According to Kapila Vatsyayan, the ground plan, as well the layout of sculptures and reliefs, follow the square and circle geometry, forms found in Odisha temple design texts such as the Silpasarini. This mandala structure informs the plans of other Hindu temples in Odisha and elsewhere.
The main temple at Konark, locally called the deul, no longer exists. It was surrounded by subsidiary shrines containing niches depicting Hindu deities, particularly Surya in many of his aspects. The deulwas built on a high terrace. The temple was originally a complex consisting of the main sanctuary, called the rekha deul, or bada deul (lit. big sanctum). In front of it was the bhadra deul (lit. small sanctum), or jagamohana (lit. assembly hall of the people) (called a mandapa in other parts of India. The attached platform was called the pida deul, which consisted of a square mandapa with a pyramidal roof. All of these structures were square at their core, and each was overlain with the pancharatha plan containing a variegated exterior. The central projection, called the raha, is more pronounced than the side projections, called kanika-paga, a style that aims for an interplay of sunlight and shade and adds to the visual appeal of the structure throughout the day. The design manual for this style is found in the Silpa Sastra of ancient Odisha.
Twice as wide as they were high, the walls of the jagamohana are 100 feet (30 m) tall. The surviving structure has three tiers of six pidas each. These diminish incrementally and repeat the lower patterns. The pidas are divided into terraces. On each of these terraces stand statues of musician figures. The main temple and the jagamohana porch consist of four main zones: the platform, the wall, the trunk, and the crowning head called a mastaka. The first three are square while the mastaka is circular. The main temple and the jagamohana differed in size, decorative themes, and design. It was the main temple’s trunk, called the gandhi in medieval Hindu architecture texts, that was ruined long ago. The sanctum of the main temple is now without a roof and most of the original parts.
On the east side of the main temple is the Nata mandira (lit. dance temple). It stands on a high, intricately carved platform. The relief on the platform is similar in style to that found on the surviving walls of the temple. According to historical texts, there was an Aruna stambha (lit. Aruna’s pillar) between the main temple and the Nata mandira, but it is no longer there because it was moved to the Jagannatha at Puri sometime during the troubled history of this temple. According to Harle, the texts suggest that originally the complex was enclosed within a wall 865 feet (264 m) by 540 feet (160 m), with gateways on three sides.
The stone temple was made from three types of stone. Chlorite was used for the door lintel and frames as well as some sculptures. Laterite was used for the core of the platform and staircases near the foundation. Khondalite was used for other parts of the temple. The Khondalite stone weathers faster over time and this may have contributed to erosion and accelerated the damage when parts of the temples were destroyed. None of these stones occur naturally nearby, and the architects and artisans must have procured and moved the stones from distant sources, probably using the rivers and water channels near the site. The masons then created ashlar, wherein the stones were polished and finished so as to make joints hardly visible.
The original temple had a main sanctum sanctorum (vimana), which is estimated to have been 229 feet (70 m) tall. The main vimana fell in 1837. The main mandapa audience hall (jagamohana), which is about 128 feet (39 m) tall, still stands and is the principal structure in the surviving ruins. Among the structures that have survived to the current day are the dance hall (Nata mandira) and the dining hall (Bhoga mandapa).