An Ode to Ancient Pundits: Sundials

Konark Sun Temple is a 13th-century Hindu temple dedicated to the Sun God Surya. The temple was considered as a chariot for the Sun God, who is often seen in pictures riding a chariot led by seven horses or one horse with seven heads.

The entire temple is in the form of a gorgeously-decorated chariot mounted on 24 wheels, each about 10 feet in diameter and drawn by 7 mighty horses. The 7 horses represent the days of the week and the 12 pairs of wheels represent the 12 months of the year.

The main attraction of the temple is its 12 pairs of elegantly adorned wheels located at the base of the temple. These wheels tell the time. The spokes of the wheels create a sundial. One can calculate the precise time of day just by looking at the shadow cast by the spokes.

Sundials are simple time-keeping devices which works with the help of the Sun. It consists of a pointer (known as the ‘Style’) that casts shadow on a calibrated dial indicating the time. Unlike mechanical clocks, the sundial does not give the Standard Time of the country. Rather, it indicates the Local Time corresponding to the place of observation. However, the Local Time can be easily converted to the Standard Time by taking into account the longitudinal difference between the place of observation and the standard (mean) longitude of the country. Sundials are classified as Equatorial, Horizontal or Vertical depending on the alignment of the dial to the corresponding plane.


Evolution of Sundial

The earliest sundial was simply a vertical pole which was used by the Egyptians around 4000 B.C. The Greeks, by their enormous mathematical prowess, used it for a variety of astronomical calculations under the name ‘gnomon’. Sawai Jai Singh (1686-1744) the king of Jaipur, constructed colossal masonry observatories incorporating various kinds of sundials at five different places of the country. The magnificent Sun Temple of Konark, built in 13th century A.D. is designed into a huge chariot with its decorated wheels acting as sundials. Each wheel consists of eight spokes that indicate eight ‘praharas’ of the day, one prahara being equal to three hours of time. The hub of the wheel casts shadow on the spokes indicating time.



Sundials of Orissa

In Orissa, sundials were mostly constructed during the British period. Sundials enjoyed a period of monopoly till the introduction of mechanical clocks by the Britishers from England. The devices were generally located in public places like ‘Kachery’ to enable people to keep track of the time. In most devices, each hour is divided into four divisions and further each division into three smaller divisions. Thus the dials were sensitive to indicate a minimum time period of five minutes which is equivalent to a small division. Historic sundials are found at Bhubaneswar, Cuttack, Konark, Kendrapara, Barambagarh, Khandaparagarh, Madhupurgarh etc.


To reach KONARK:  well-connected from the capital city Bhubaneswar by roads. A serene marine drive of almost 90KMS take you the remains of ancient temple and its cultural heritage.



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