Konark Sun temple a UNESCO heritage monument that represents the chariot of Lord Surya. It is bathed in the beams of the rising sun on the shore of the Bay of Bengal. This temple narrates Kalinga heritage, scientific and architectural expertise. India’s first Sun temple sets an outstanding architectural example of the 13th-century marvel. It has twelve exquisitely carved wheels on either side driven out by seven galloping horses. They are pulling the chariot across heaven. And to construct this temple use of Khondalite rocks was made. However, these are in ruins at present. But we can still witness the detailed carving on wheels, walls & pillars of the temple those are still in place.
According to a legend Samba built a Sun temple in Konark in the 19th century. Once his 12yrs of penance at Maitreyavanawas completed(ancient name of Konark). He was cured of the curse of Leprosy. This marked the tradition of sun worship. On the other hand, the temple was built by king Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. he constructed this grand ornamented chariot from about 1250 CE. He a formidable warrior, as well as a patron of the humanities, and much-favoured temple building. To create this masterpiece, 1200 artisans and 12 years were dedicated as per Mughal account noted in the 16th century. The temple and its price of construction are 12 years of revenue. Quite intriguing!.
The name Konark is a compounding of two Sanskrit word Kona (corner or angle) and Arka (the sun). It is described as the holy seat of Sun worship in most scriptures. Hence its referred to as Arkakshetra in Shiva Purana and Skanda Purana. Since it is located along the northeastern corner of Puri, it is also called the Chakrakshetra. Konark has been associated with the legend of Maitreya also. The Bodhisattva who is said to have meditated here. Therefore, the ancient name of Konark was Maitreyavana. Periplus of the Erythraean Sea the 1st century AD Greek text mentions a port called Kainapara. This has been distinguished as the current – day Konark.
Upon arrival, I purchased my tickets online and walked my way to the temple. The temple is open from dawn to sunset, which is generally crowded. Simply due to COVID, I was the only tourist that day along with few local. There were no guides, but one or two photographers who approached me. At the entrance, I had to scan my tickets to get through the gates. The Sun temple is oriented towards the east. So that the first rays of the sunrise strike the main entrance. The road remains lined with souvenir shops and food stalls. However, most were closed except for one or two shops. The temple was initially built on the sea bank. And the European sailor named it the “Black Pagoda” as early as 1676 since its great tower appeared black. But now the water level has receded since then, almost 3 km away.
The temple incorporates the Kalinga Style of architecture. It is a subset of Hindu temple architecture’s Nagara style. And the temple showcases the Nagara style in its most unadulterated form. Despite it being a predominant style of Northern India. The type here follows the Lingaraja temple architecture built around 1100 CE, which is locally recognized as the Khakhara style. As I went inside the first thing that caught my attention was two rampant lions standing on the crouching elephants. They were on either side of the stairs of the Bhoga-Mandapa. Very detailed carving! Wandering my eyes, I saw most of the temple area had been encircled with the iron barricade. And you cannot climb up the stairs.
Walking past the animal pair, I got in the Nata Mandir (dancing hall), where the temple dancers used to pay homage to the Sun God with their performance as it faces the temple. The Nata Mandir offers a clear view of the temple complex because of the elevation of different subsidiary structures. Even in its partially-destroyed state, this architectural spectacle reflects the genius of its builder. And restoration work is always in progress, as numerous patches have been plastered.
The temple was constructed so that the first ray of sun would touch the Nata Mandir, then reflect through the diamond placed on the deity’s forehead in the temple’s main sanctum. I could imagine the whole event would have been mesmerizing at that point; however, today, the idol is placed behind the temple Shikhara, and diamond is gone. Though the Simhasana(seat of deity) still exists in the temple sanctum made of chlorite(a volcanic rock). And the exterior of the temple still adorns with the superbly carved intricate sculptures.
Walking around the temple, I saw a bunch of sculptures in erotic poses. It’s a truth that ancient Indian architecture reflects a subtle combination of spirituality and eroticism. As both were part of this architectural philosophy, and the sculptures on the upper tier of the temple walls surprised me, whereas the base of the temple left me stunned. This erotic sculpture reminds me of Khajuraho, but here, the temple’s plinth is wholly decorated with exquisite stone sculptures with many erotic scenes based on the Kama Sutra. Its was quite surprising to me! And the impressive characteristics of the shrine are these beautiful reliefs covers every inch of space.
The entire temple has 24 stone wheel engraved in the temple walls, where each of the wheels has a diameter of 9 feet, 9 inches, with 8 spokes symbolic of the eight Praharas(interval). The friezes & Moftis carved on them has intricate details looks like ecstasy in stone. This wheel used to act as a sundial, and horses represented the seven days of the week. The various engravings show the daily activity of people at different hours of the day.
It used to be believed that at Konarak offers, ‘the joy of a luxurious life on earth and expression of the grandeur prevailing in the royal environment is writ large everywhere’. Hence the Sun temple which we visit today stands majestically in its ruined state which was part of a more massive complex. Even the Chinese traveller, Hiuen Tsang recorded Konark as a thriving centre of Buddhism in the 8th century. At the same time, Abdul Fazal (1556-1605CE) in Ain-E-Akbari mentioned apart from the Sun Temple there were 22 other temples in the vicinity. We merely see the parts of the original grand temple. And in that respect, there are many unrecorded stories, related to its decay from fame.
Konark has been a thriving port town. But it is believed that the decline began with removing the presiding deity from the temple sanctum. Firstly, the port got closed due to pirate attacks, earthquake, and lightning, which took over the destruction. And Konark turned into a thick forest by the end of the 18th century.
Another tale states the Konark Sun temple was supposed to have a colossal lodestone mounted atop. And with its magnetic energy, the idol in the main sanctum could float in the air. The lodestone was also employed as a navigational landmark by ancient. However, it interrupted the movement of these ships along the coast, mostly British ships. Hence the Britisher got the lodestone removed. Due to the frequent shipwrecks that took place off the seacoast. And this led to an imbalance of the temple, and it crumbled. Above all, Muslims’ invasion in the 16th century led to many Hindu temples’ destructions, including The Konark Sun temple.
The Jagmohan is an intact part of the Konark Sun temple, with rest surviving in ruins today. James Fergusson, who visited Konarak in 1837 CE, prepared a drawing, post the excavation. Most of the architectural images that made the temple famous were totally buried under huge mounds of sand and debris. Therefore the renovation started by British archaeologists in the early 20th century. And to display the sculptures excavated from the site, a museum was also opened nearby. Some of the statues were sent to the museums in Kolkata and New Delhi. While were shipped to London. In 1924, the temple was opened to the public in its new configuration.
Today, most of it is held up by scaffolding. Hence the stones are slowly getting eroded in the salty air. Though I could not visit the museum as it was shut down due to COVID. So decided to take a final round of the temple. I started with the smaller ruined temple called the Mayadevi and ChayaDevi Temple. It is dedicated to the Sun God’s wives. And whispered to me few more ageless Sun temple are left to be explored.
Walking past the stone chariot, only one line came to my mind: Rabindranath Tagore– “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of human.”
How to Reach:
The nearest airport is the Bhubaneshwar airport- Biju Patnaik. Puri is nearly 56km from the airport. Most metros are well connected with Bhubaneshwar airport. So can book a cab or take the buses for Puri as roads are well connected.
Puri is a junction; hence direct train services are available from many cities in India it includes Bhubaneswar, New Delhi, Chennai and Kolkata.
Puri is well connected with neighbouring cities like Kolkata, Vishakapatnam, Ranchi, Jamshedpur etc. Roadways is an appropriate option since the bus stand is located close to the Gundicha Temple. And buses ply to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack every 15mins.