Geologists have found evidence of the ancient Chandrabhaga river near Konark Sun Temple in Odisha.
A team of geologists and social scientists from IIT Kharagpur recently undertook a scientific study to investigate whether the mythical river existed close to the 13th century temple built by King Narasimhadeva.
They have used satellite imagery, ground-penetrating radar data and field studies to delineate a paleochannel, a buried river valley, north of the temple.
“We know there are numerous references to such a river in many texts, including the temple chronicles called the Madala Panji, that predate the Konark temple,” said Priyadarshi Patnaik, a professor and specialist in culture and literature studies in the humanities department at IIT Kharagpur.
“An aerial examination of the area through satellite imagery depicts the trail of a lost river which is otherwise difficult to identify in the field,” said geophysics professor William Kumar Mohanty.
Their field observations, mainly by research scholar Subhamoy Jana, also suggest that the ancient river might have had a tributary east of the temple that flowed into the Bay of Bengal into a zone that is now a swampy area, called the Chandrabhaga lake.
The scientists say this area is now cordoned off by the government and opened for ritualistic holy baths mainly during the festival of Magha Saptami. Whether the river was connected to this lake area remains unclear, the researchers said.
“What happened to the river and why it dried up is something we now want to take up,” said Saibal Gupta, professor of geophysics and another team member. Historians say the Konark temple was constructed over 700 years ago, in the mid-13th century during the reign of King Narasimhadeva.
“Rivers can change course and dry up – sometimes this can happen within decades,” Gupta said.
The geophysical evidence has long been preceded by epigraphic and mythological accounts. Palm-leaf drawings and sketches from nearly 700 years ago have suggested the presence of a water body near the site of the temple.
“We also have this story of Dharmapada, the 12-year-old son of chief artisan Bisu Maharana,” said Patnaik.
“The period of origin of this oral tradition is unknown, but documented in the 19th century. He is said to have set the temple pinnacle in place and later, in order to save the other artisans from shame, jumped into the river from the Konark temple.”