Unveiling the Marvel: Exploring the Sun Temple of Konark

Posted On : 15-3-2018
Sun Temple, Konark

Driving from Puri, through attractive scenery and passing through coastal villages with beautifully decorated houses, one reaches Konark. Famous for its Sun Temple, it completes Orissa Golden Triangle and is a must-see on the itinerary of every traveller to the state. Dedicated to the Sun God, the temple stands majestically in partial ruins next to Konark Beach. The highly embellished temple walls, the ornamental monolithic gigantic wheels, the huge self-supporting statues of a war stallion, or an enraged elephant - are all awe-inspiring. “Here, the language of stone surpasses the language of man”, True to its majesty, poet Rabindranath Tagore said this about Konark temple.

The Sun Temple marks the highest point of achievement of Kalinga architecture depicting the grace, the joy and the rhythm of life in all its wondrous variety. There is an endless wealth of decoration from minute patterns in bas relief done with a jewellers precision to boldly modelled, free-standing sculptures of enormous size.

Built by King Narasimhadeva in the 13th century, the Sun Temple is one of the most vivid architectural treasures of India and is a world heritage site. Shaped like a chariot, with 12 huge wheels on both sides and seven straining horses, it is a stunning masterpiece. In Hindu mythology, the Sun god traverse the sky in a chariot drawn by seven horses, each representing a day of the week. The 12 pairs of wheels may have symbolised the 24 fortnights of the year and the eight spokes in each wheel, the divisions of the day into eight pehars. Each wheel also functioning as a working sun-dial. The huge monolithic wheels also represent time, unity, completeness, justice, perfection and movement.

Its fine traceries and scrollwork, the beautiful and natural cut of figurines, all give it superiority over other temples. It is said that the construction of the Sun Temple required 16 years and 12,000 craftsmen. The main sanctum (229 feet high) was constructed along with the audience hall (128 feet high) having elaborate external projections. Crackling under the wheels of time and marauding hordes, the temple has been dilapidated and desecrated, but the ruins around testify till today the boundless creative energy of Orissa artistes and their impressive contribution to the treasury of Indian art and building technique. Although the main sanctum is in ruins, the 39-meter-high audience hall and small portions of the dance hall (Nata Mandira) and the dining hall (Bhoga Mandira) have survived the vagaries of time. It is only in 1901 that the first tentative steps were taken to reclaim the ruins of the monument from the encroaching sand. By that stage, the main sanctuary had fallen and a number of statues had also been taken away, many by the Khurda king in the 1830s to decorate the temples he was building in his own fort.

Although the temple’s origin remains a mystery, some historians believe it was a victory memorial. It is believed that this temple was fallen into for the purpose of disuse after its ruin by the Muslims. But even now, replete with erotic sculptures, human beings in diverse forms and activities, it stands stark and proud amidst the surrounding sands. It was originally built on the edge of the ocean, which today has receded to a respectful distance.

The Konark Sun Temple was referred to as the ‘black pagoda’ by European sailors as opposed to the ‘white pagoda’ or the Jagannath temple at Puri. It served as a landmark while navigating the shallow waters along the Orissa coast. It is said that there was a magnetic kalasa, or pitcher, atop the temple, which forced passing ships not to go astray. It was later broken by the sailors of a stricken ship.

Konark is not only an ideal choice for the Sun Temple, beaches and scenic beauty, but also for its colourful festivals. The amphitheatre, with the Sun Temple as the backdrop, is the venue for one of the most exciting dance festivals held in the country. During the annual dance festival in winter and with the sound of ankle bells and the beat of the Mridangam and Mandala the ancient stone rings as the proponent of classical dance take the stage. Close to the Sun Temple is the lovely, quiet Chandrabhaga beach. In the month of February, on Magha Saptami, the Chandrabhaga Mela is celebrated with much fanfare, on this day, pilgrims take a holy dip and converge on the beach to worship the sunrise over the sea. The Archaeological Survey of India runs the Sun Temple Museum, It has an excellent collection of sculptures from the temple ruins. Konark beach offers a beautiful sunset. Quieter than Pun Beach, its waters tend to be trickier - even strong swimmers need to be wary. The immense backdrop of the Sun Temple looks breathtaking when illuminated in the evening.