As per historical records, the Konark Sun Temple was built in 1250 and it took 12 years to complete the temple, so the construction probably started in 1238. Today is 20th Jun 2018, so the Konark Sun Temple is approximately 780 years old. Do you know, 780 years ago the people of Odisha have some connection with Africa & China? I visited Konark again on 20th Jun 2018 and hired an experienced guide to help me. We started our tour and the guide showed me some Chinese sculptures on the temple wall. I was excited and asked the guide to show me all the foreign sculptures. Just to add further, I was surprised and able to see some African sculptures as well. All these artifacts indicate cultural exchange between the eastern coasts of India and other countries. These sculptures forced me to believe that Kalinga (i.e. ancient Odisha) had strong and interesting maritime history. Let's look closely to some of these foreign sculptures.
Out of all the foreign sculptures I have seen at Konark Sun temple, the most interesting one is shown below.
Are you able to notice something interesting in this sculpture? Yes, you are right, it's a giraffe. Does it indicate trade links with Africa? Probably yes. Giraffe is not native to India or Asia continent but is a natural habitat of Africa continent. The figure also shows a king is seating on an elephant and a group of African people standing with African lower garments. It raised lot of questions in my mind - how the artisans knew about giraffe, have they seen a full-grown real giraffe or a photograph. I don't think 780 years ago we have either camera or photograph, so I believe they must have seen a real giraffe. Now the question is how the giraffe came to Odisha at that time. Probably the giraffe came via sea route from any African nation, it might have been traded by the ancient Odisha traders or a gift from the King of an African nation to the King of Kalinga (i.e. ancient Odisha). We don't know what happened at that time but a giraffe on the Konark temple wall forced me to believe that Kalinga had some connection with African nations before 780 years.
I took photos of few more African sculptures. The left side sculpture below shows two Africans are dancing with each other and the second sculpture shows an African warrior chasing a lion.
During my visit, I have also seen many sculptures on the walls of Sun Temple with Chinese men, musicians and traders with their characteristic features. The count of sculptures with Chinese men are quite high as compared to other foreign sculptures. How the artisans came to know about the appearance and detailed characteristics of Chinese people before 780 years? Odisha is located at the eastern coast of India, so the influence of Chinese may have been slightly more. Following are few sculptures on Konark Temple wall panels with Chinese people.
Look at few more Chinese sculptures below. The first Chinese man is holding a Chinese umbrella, the second one is dancing with two women and in the third sculpture, if you watch carefully, you can see a Chinese trader is sitting on a pedestal having a big belly.
Again, my guide shown me few more Chinese figures on the door jamb of the entrance of the Jagamohan. These sculptures are depicting exemplary craftmanship of our ancient artisans. I tried my best to show the location of these Chinese figures in such a way that you will be able to find them easily during your Konark Temple visit.
Whatever might be the fact, but these sculptures with foreign touch are a great example of global nature of Kalinga during old days and advocate a rich maritime and trade history of Kalinga (i.e. ancient Odisha) with foreign countries.