Envis Centre, Ministry of Environment & Forest, Govt. of India

Printed Date: Sunday, March 3, 2024

Found - Evidence of lost river









Scientists have discovered what they say is the first geophysical evidence for an ancient dried-up river near the 13th century Konark temple, corroborating historical accounts of a large water body in its vicinity during the construction.



A team of geophysicists working with humanities researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur, has used satellite imagery, ground penetrating radar data and field studies to delineate a paleochannel, a buried river valley north of the temple.



The researchers say that while there is no large natural water body anywhere within 10km of the Konark temple at present, historical illustrations suggest and mythological anecdotes popular in the state mention a river named the Chandrabhaga close to 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 specialist in culture and literature studies in the humanities department at the IIT Kharagpur.



The geophysicists, who used satellite imagery to analyse surface topography of the area, have found multiple signatures - subtle differences in vegetation, soil moisture and temperatures - indicating a paleochannel running nearly parallel to the Bay of Bengal.



"The follow-up observations with the ground penetrating radar provided additional evidence," said William Mohanty, professor of geophysics at IIT Kharagpur. "The radar data shows patterns of soil deposits and valley-like structures along the paleochannel - exactly what a river would leave behind."



Mohanty and his colleagues have published their findings this week in the scientific journal Current Science.



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, now 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 during the mid-13th century during the reign of King Narasimhadeva. "Rivers can change course and dry up - sometimes this can happen within decades," he 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 the chief artisan Visu 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."







Source: The Telegraph