The name Konark comes from the combination of the Sanskrit words Kona (corner or angle) and Ark (the sun). The Konark Sun Temple is a 13th-century Hindu temple, dedicated to the God of light “Sun”, “Surya”. Its shape is like a giant chariot. The temple is known for its exquisite stone carvings that cover the entire structure. Let’s learn some interesting facts about the Konark sun temple which will make you dive deeper into India’s rich history. Also, it will solve all your queries from “where is it” to “where the roots of its history lie”.
Recognized as “the Konark Sun Temple UNESCO World Heritage Site” since 1984, it is the best-known tourist destination in Orissa. Raja Narasinghs Deva-I of the Ganga Dynasty had built the Konark Sun Temple in the mid-13th century. The temple is unique in its architecture. It is the shape of a chariot with seven horses on 12 pairs of giant wheels. There are beautiful carvings on the wall of the main temple which form the Konark sun temple speciality. Then there is the Natya Mandap (a separate structure just in front of the temple). The Konark Temple is also famous as the “Black Pagoda”. The Konark sun temple statues which are carved out beautifully, fill you with a divine experience.
Explore another Sun Temple at Modhera and find out the similarities- Modhera Sun temple
The God of Light- “Sun”, “Surya”:
The Sun may be just a star to the world. However, in the Hindu, religion, Sun is worshipped as the god of light. Some of the people of other countries may find it silly or stupid. But there are a lot of reasons behind it. The sun is the source of light and heat. The plants need sunlight for the process of photosynthesis. Without the sun it is not possible to live for the plants. If the plants die, all the other living beings will die eventually. Our lives depend on him totally. Sanatana Dharma describes him as a resplendent standing person holding a lotus flower in both his hands, riding the chariot marshalled by the charioteer Aruna. The Konark temple is said to symbolize the passage of time, which is assumed to be governed by the Sun.
Location of the Konark Temple:
It is located on the eastern shores of the Indian subcontinent, in the village of Konark, which is 35 kilometres northeast of Puri and 65 kilometres southeast of Bhubaneswar on the Bay of Bengal coastline in Odisha.
What is Inside Konark Sun Temple? ( An Architecture Reflecting a Skillful Ancient India)
The Konark sun temple resembles the chariot of Surya (Arka), the sun, heavily decorated with stone carving. The Chariot has twelve pairs of elaborately decorated wheels, which make it a beautiful speciality of the Konark sun temple. The 24 elaborately carved stone wheels are nearly 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter. The huge chariot drawn by seven spirited horses. The seven sets of horses represent the seven days of the week. The seven horses are named after the seven meters of Sanskrit prosody: Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnih, Jagati, Trishtubha, Anushtubha, and Pankti. Meanwhile, the 12 pairs of wheels refer to the 12 months of the year.
In Hindu Vedic iconography, Surya rises in the east and travels rapidly across the sky in a chariot drawn by these seven horses. When viewed from inland during the dawn and sunrise, the chariot-shaped temple appears to emerge from the depths of the blue sea carrying the sun. These symbolic works with their deep meanings form the importance of the Konark sun temple.
Two giant lions guard the entrance of the temple. These life-size lions subduing elephants, elephants subduing demons, and horses. At the entrance of the temple stands a Nata Mandir, where the temple dancers performed homage to the god of light. All around the temple, various floral and geometric patterns decorate the walls. The Sun Temple is famous much for its imposing dimensions and faultless proportions as for the integration of architectural skill and almost life-like allegiance to the forms depicted. The Konark Sun Temple Sculptures renowned in the art world for beauty and grace, in tableaux and freestanding pieces ranging from the monumental to the miniature, cover every inch of the temple. The poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote of the Konark sun temple: “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.
There are thousands of sculptures including deities, celestial and human musicians, dancers, lovers, and myriad scenes of courtly life, ranging from hunts and military battles to the pleasures of courtly relaxation. Those intersperse with birds, animals (close to two thousand charming and lively elephants march around the base of the main temple alone), mythological creatures. The renowned jewel-like quality of Odia art manifests throughout the temple.
The Konark sun temple has earned fame for its erotic sculptures, found primarily on the second level of the porch structure. The viewer quickly notes the frank nature of their subject combined with an overwhelming tenderness and lyrical movement.
The Original Temple:
The original temple had a main sanctum sanctorum (vimana), which is estimated to have been 229 feet (70 m) tall constructed along with the audience hall lofting 128 ft. high, with elaborate architectural decorations. The main sanctum which enshrined the presiding deity has fallen off. The Audience Hall survives in its entirety, but only small portions of the Dancing Hall (nata Mandir) and the Dining Hall (Bhoga-Mandap) have survived the effects of time. The Temple compound measures 857 ft. by 540 ft.
The Sun Temple, aligning in an east-west direction, sits in natural surroundings abounding with casuarina plantations and other types of trees which grow on sandy soil. This skilful Konark sun temple architecture enhanced by natural beauty indeed makes it worth seeing.
The legend behind the building of the temple:
The Legend of Dharmapada:
The legend says that King Narasimha Deva-I of the Ganga Dynasty had ordered the temple built as a royal proclamation of the political supremacy of his dynasty. A workforce of 1,200 artisans and architects invested their creative talent, energy, and artistic commitment for 12 years. The king had spent an amount equivalent to the state’s revenue receipts over the 12 years, yet the completion of the construction remained impossible to predict. The king issued a command to complete the work by a set date. The team of architects, headed by Bisu Maharana, lost hope of completion of the temple.
Dharmapada, the 12-year-old son of the chief architect Bisu Maharana, arrived as a visiting onlooker. He became aware of the despair overwhelming the architects. Although he lacked experience constructing temples, he thoroughly studied the theories of temple architecture. He offered to solve the confounding problem of fixing the last coping stone at the top of the temple, surprising everyone by doing that himself. But soon after that achievement, workers found the body of that adolescent prodigy on the beach at the foot of the temple. Legend states that Dharmapada offered his life to save his community.
The Legend of Samba
Royalty dedicated the temple to the Sun God (Arka) popularly called Biranchi Narayan. And the tract in which it is situated was known as Arka-Kshetra as well as Padma-kshetra. According to mythology, leprosy smote Samba, son of Lord Krishna, as the result of a curse by Lord Krishna. For 12 years, Samba performed severe penance at Mitravana, near the confluence of the Chandrabhaga River with the sea at Konark. He ultimately succeeded in pleasing the god Surya, the healer of all skin diseases, enjoying a cure for his illness. In gratitude, he decided to erect a temple in the honor of Surya. The day following his cure, while bathing in the Chandrabhaga, Samba discovered an image of the god, fashioned out of Surya’s body by Viswakarma. Samba installed that idol in a temple he built in Mitravana. Since then, that place has been regarded as sacred.
And now, years after its construction and having gone through multiple collapses and reconstructions, it still shines on the lands of Odisha, as if Lord Surya himself is reflecting His blissful rays. So after having this abundant information on the Konark sun temple, do visit the temple, as the Konark sun temple timings are flexible ( from 6 am to 8 pm), and fill yourself with divine contentment.
Damage and ruins:
Some historians opine that, due to the early death of king Langula Narasimha Dev, builder of the Konarak temple, the construction of the temple had been left in a haphazard state. As a result, the incomplete structure eventually collapsed. But historical data fails to support that view. The records of Madala Panji of Puri Jagannath temple, as well as from some copper plates dated 1278 C.E., state that king Langula Narasimha Dev reigned till 1282 C.E. Many historians hold the opinion that the construction of the Konark sun temple finished between 1253 and 1260 C.E. So the argument that the temple collapsed due to non-completion during construction appears untenable. Harshith Dev, the emperor of India, reconstructed the temple, bringing the structure to the current earning UNESCO’s designation as a World Heritage Site. After that reconstruction, the religious pilgrims considered Harshith Dev divine.
Legends describe a lodestone on the top of the Sun temple. Due to its magnetic effects, vessels passing through the Konark sea felt drawn to it, resulting in heavy damage. Other legends state about observing near the Konark sun temple magnet like effects of the lodestone that disturbed ships’ compasses so that they malfunctioned. To save their shipping, the Muslim voyagers took away the lodestone, which acted as the central stone, keeping all the stones of the temple wall in balance. Due to its displacement, the temple walls lost their balance and eventually fell. But records of that occurrence, or such a powerful lodestone at Konark, have never been found. And thus, the lodestone adds to the Konark sun temple mystery list.
Kalapahad, a name that hides Konark Sun Temple history within
The most popular theory about the root of the fall of the Konark sun temple rests with the Kalapahad. According to the history of Orissa, Kalapahad invaded Orissa in 1508 C.E. He destroyed the Konark sun temple in Odisha as well as several Hindu temples in Odisha. The Madala Panji of Puri Jagannath temple describes how Kalapahad attacked Orissa in 1568. Including the Konark sun temple, he broke most of the images in most of the Hindu temples in Orissa.
Though unable to break the Sun temple of Konark, with stone walls 20 to 25 feet thick, he somehow managed to displace the Dadhinauti (Arch stone). This resulted in weakening the temple leading it to collapse. Due to displacement of the Dadhinauti, the temple gradually collapsed and the roof of the Mukasala suffered damage, due to the stones falling from the temple top. He also broke the side temples of Konark.
Destruction by the Muslim Rulers:
Consequently, Orissa came under Muslim control in 1568 C.E., resulting in frequent attempts to destroy the Hindu temples. The Pandas of Puri, to save the sanctity of the Puri temple, took away the Lord Jagannath from the Srimandir. They kept the devotees in a secret place. Similarly, the Pandas of Konark removed the presiding deity of the Konark Sun temple and buried it under the sand for years. Later, reports say the idol had been removed to Puri and kept in the temple of Indra, in the compound of the Puri Jagannath temple. According to some, the Puja idol of the Konark temple remains to be discovered.
Movement of the leftover:
In 1626, the king of Khurda, Raja Narasimha Dev, son of Purusottam Dev, took away the Sun idol to Puri along with two other moving deities—Sun and Moon. They have appeared in a temple in the compound of Puri Jagannath temple.
The Madala Panji of Puri temple has recorded that in 1028, Raja Narasimha Dev ordered measurements taken of all the temples at Konark. At the time of measurement, the Sun temple construction reached Amalak sila, i.e. about 200 feet in height. Kalapahad had only destroyed its Kalas, the crowning stone and the Padma-dhwaja, the lotus finial, and the upper portions.
A gigantic block of stone called Navagraha Paata had been placed in front of the Mukhasala. The king of Khurda removed the block and took away many Konark sun temple sculptures. He constructed some portions of the Puri temple with them as well. During Marahatta’s reign, the outer compound wall of the Puri temple had been constructed with stones from the Konark sun temple.
Reportedly, among all the temples, the Naata Mandir or the Dancing hall of Konark has been in its original form for the longest period. Considered unnecessary, the Maharaja administration broke the structure intentionally.
In the year 1779 C.E., a Marhatta Sadhu had taken away the Arun Pillar from Konark and put it in front of the Lion’s Gate of Puri Jagannath temple. Thus, by the end of the eighteenth century, Konark lost its glory, turning into a dense forest, full of sand, filled with wild animals and the abode of pirates. Reportedly, even the locals feared going to Konark in broad daylight.
The Sun was worshipped in the Konark temple, including pilgrimages. It ended with the removal of the idol from the temple. The port at Konark closed due to pirate attacks. Konark renowned for Sun worship matched its fame in commercial activities. But, after the Sun Temple ceased to attract the faithful, Konark became deserted. And it is left to disappear in dense forests for years. The temple was in ruins before its restoration. The temple was restored up to some extent. It got recognition as “the Konark Sun Temple UNESCO World Heritage Site” in 1984. It is the best-known tourist destination in Orissa. Regarded as the best example of Orissa art by critics, its fine traceries and scrollwork, as well as the beautiful and natural cut of animal and human figures, give it superiority over other temples. You can visit the temple and experience some beautiful moments here.