Scientists have found evidence of the ancient Chandrabhaga river near the UNESCO world heritage site of Konark Sun Temple in Odisha. A team of geologists and social scientists from IIT Kharagpur recently undertook a scientific study to investigate whether the ancient river existed close to the 13th century temple built by King Narasimhadeva. The scientists used various satellite images and then validated it with other field data to identify and trace the channel of the river which is believed to have gone extinct.

“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.

The existence of a palaeochannel at some locations is further corroborated through shallow surface geophysics using ground penetrating radar.

A palaeochannel is a remnant of an inactive river or stream channel that has been either filled or buried by younger sediment.

The identified palaeochannel passes north of the Konark Sun Temple, extending approximately parallel to the coast.

It is believed that the temple was built at the mouth of Chandrabhaga, though it has not been proved if the river still existed at that time.

This river figures prominently in ancient literature, although at present no river exists in the proximity of the Konark Sun Temple.

Preserved palm-leaf drawings, sketches and rare old photographs also suggest the existence of water bodies proximal to the temple in the past.

Field studies, conducted by the scientists in the area, reveal that the palaeochannel is characterised by swampy lands covered with water hyacinth plants. The palaeochannel of this old river can be traced till Tikarpada village, near the bank of Kadua river, further to the northeast.

The thematic maps generated using GIS also support the existence of the palaeochannel identified from Google Earth and satellite data. The elevation data show that the palaeochannel is characterised by a sinusoidal zone of low elevation (interpreted to be a riverbed) that has elevated banks.

The geological map shows that the study area is covered with alluvium, a deposit characteristic of rivers.

In its study the team said they also noticed patches of water bodies at various locations along the channel.

A swampy area, believed to be a remnant of the river, has been cordoned-off and enclosed by Odisha government for the ritualistic holy bath during the festival of ‘Magha Saptami’.

According to the report by the team of researchers, the identification of such a palaeochannel may additionally lead to the delineation of pockets of freshwater zones within a dominantly saline water environment and may even partially alleviate the drinking water problem along the Odisha coast.