Birbal’s astronomy legacy

Birbal, the legendary court jester of Akbar’s court hails from the town of Kalapriya Nagari. This town is now Kalpi. Initially, the town got its name from an ancient Sun temple. The once reputed Sun Temple in is nowhere in sight today in Kalpi. Samba, the son of Sri Krishna built three Sun temples at right before the start of the Kali Era. The Sun temple at Konark is the most visited of the three today. Worship continued in the Sun Temple, in Multan, into the first half of the last century. Unfortunately, the Sun Temple in Kalpi is a mere memory, in history.

Kalpi town hosted the mint of the rich Moghuls at the time of Akbar. This shows the importance of the region. The town’s people came under the ire of the British when Kalpi became an epicenter of several mutiny against the British.

History about Kalpi Sun temple

The history of this temple therefore goes back several thousand years. Two thousand years later, Varahamihira, the famous astronomer, one of the jewels in King Vikramaditya‘s court, worshiped in Kalpi and started his studies here. A few hundred years later, Bhavabhuti, an illustrious Sanskrit composer inaugurated his play in the grand theater next to the Sun temple in Kalpi. Thus, we can see that the Kalpi Sun Temple was more celebrated than the Konark Sun Temple in the past. The historical records from the 4th, 5th, 8th,10th and 14th centuries confirm the continued grandeur of the Kalpi temple. The town’s unique position on the bank of the river Yamuna even today makes it a favorite destination for astronomers. Astronomers from all over India gathered here to study the total solar eclipse of 1995.

A page from the History of Kalpi - 1859
Drawing of Kalpi – 1859 Illustrated London News

Mysterious disappearance of Kalpi Sun temple

Records from 4th century confirm the fact that the rulers of Kannauj enthusiastically supported the temple. Secondly, a visiting elephant brigade while encamping inside the large compound of the temple destroyed a part of the temple surroundings in the 9th century. Thirdly, the temple remained operational till the arrival of Lodhi rulers in the 15th century. Persian historians confirm this in their writings. The census records show a population of the town to be one lakh in 1857. Subsequent records indicate a meagre population of nine thousand after the 1857 freedom mutiny. Naturally, the British rulers let the town languish. However, when did the temple disappear?

Was Kalpi a prehistoric astronomy site?

Puranic records confirm Kalapriya Nagari to be one of the three Sun temples (refer to the book on ancient India by  Dineschandra Sircar) established 5000 years ago. Rahul Mehrotra (IIT Kanpur) makes a case to establish the authenticity of this and the subsequent records related to the history of Kalpi. He seeks archeological support. However, the Archeological Department of India claims its hands are tied. ASI is unable to dig the mound site. This is because they have to relocate the community occupying this site and that can create a political turmoil.

Archeologists say that Kalpi hosted one of the earliest prehistoric habitations on a riverbank. Bones, tools and other artifacts from here suggest that Kalpi was inhabited for several millennia. Certainly, we can understand why the British decided to let the memory of Kalpi die, after the freedom mutiny of 1857. It is a mystery why Independent India has not explored the rich past of this area. After all, Konark Sun Temple retains a part of its glory only because of the efforts from the Archeological Department of India. Kalpi may hold the link between pre-history and Puranic history (Check out my post on this theme – South India Neolithic sites – A training ground for budding astronomers?). Perhaps it hosted an astronomical structure as brilliant as the Stonehenge which developed into a grand temple towards the turn of the Common Era!

Is Martand Sun temple as ancient as the temples built by Samba?

Purana records do not show that Samba started the tradition of worship in Martand. However, the history of the Martand Temple goes to the dawn of the Common Era. In addition, the Purana texts of Kashmir takes it further back.

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