The Ancient Sundials of Odisha

A huge sun dial at Mukteswar temple , Bhubaneswar, Odisha

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. The possibility of many sundials existing

unnoticed at other places cannot be ruled out.

1. Sundial of Mukteswar Temple, Bhubaneswar

Made of stone, the huge sundial in the premises of Mukteswar Temple, Bhubaneswar, belongs to horizontal category and is still in working condition. But due to many high buildings and trees located on the southern side of the sundial, sunlight is often obstructed leaving the

device non-operational. Account of the construction period and the constructor of the device is not known.

2. Sundial of Ravenshaw College, Cuttack

The Sundial was designed by one Mr. R.C. Choudhury of the Chemistry Department of the College in the year 1902. Made of brass, the device belongs to ‘horizontal’ category and is in working condition till now.

3. Sundial of Konark

It stands in a desolate place in the premises of the Inspection Bunglow of Konark not very far from the Sun Temple. It is made up of stone and the dial belongs to ‘horizontal’ type. The designer is Rai Prasanna Kumar Pal Sahib, Asst. Engineer; and its Construction Period is1906. The device is still in working condition.

5. Sundial of Khandaparagarh

This is an ‘equatorial’ sundial made of brass and stands in the Kachery campus of Khandaparagarh. However, its ‘style’ is damaged leaving the sundial in a defunct state. It was

designed by Gadadhar Sinha Samanta, the son of Samanta Chandrasekhara, the illustrious astronomer of Orissa.

6. Sundial of Barambagarh

This is an ‘equatorial’ sundial made of brass which is in the Tahasil Office campus of Barambagarh. Its dial is beautifully designed into a crescent moon shape. However, the style is dislocated leaving the device in non-operational condition. Account of the constructor and the construction period is not known.

7. Sundial of Madhupurgarh

A small horizontal sundial is found in the premises of Madhupur High School, Kalana of Jajpur district. This was built by Shri Narayan Chandra Dhir Narendra, the then king of Madhupurgarh around the year 1917. The ‘style’ is made of iron.

Conservation

These tireless time-keeping devices represent the best of our technological skill, and hence, are invaluable assets of our heritage. The government should go all out to preserve these

ancient masterpieces. The damaged components should be replaced and calibration of the dial redone. Write-ups on the devices should be provided for the benefit of common man.

Encroachment in the vicinity should be cleared to allow sunlight to fall continuously for uniterrupted operation of the device throughout the day. Finally, adequate publicity should be given to attract scholars for study and research.

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