Sun Temple, Konark, Orissa

The majestic Sun Temple at Konark is one of India’s World Heritage site recognised by UNESCO. Originally nearer the coast (the sea has receded 3 km) , Konark was visible from far out  at sea and known as the ‘Black Pagoda’ by sailors, in contrast to the whitewashed Jagannath of Puri.

The Sun Temple was constructed in circa 1250 AD, during the reign of the Eastern Ganga King Narasimhadeva I to enshrine the image of Sun (Arka), the patron deity of the place.

In use for maybe only three centuries, the first blow occurred in the late 16th century when marauding Mughals removed the copper over the cupola. This vandalism may have dislodged the loadstone leading to the partial collapse of the 40m -high shikhara; subsequent cyclones probably compounded the damage.

As late as 1837 one half of the shikhara was still standing but collapsed completely in 1869. Gradually shifting sands covered the site, with only the deul and jagamohan rising proud of its burial mound. Excavation and restoration began in 1901; the jagamohan was closed off and filled with rocks and sand to prevent it from collapsing inwards.

The entire temple was conceived as the cosmic chariot of the sun god, Surya. Seven mighty prancing horses – representing the days of the week, rear at the strain of moving this leviathan of stone on 24 stone cartwheels – representing the hours of the day, positioned around the temple base. The temple was positioned so that dawn light would illuminate the deul interior and the presiding deity, which may have been moved to Jagannath Mandir in Puri in 17th century.

The Gajasimha or main entrance is guarded by two stone lions crushing elephants and leads to the intricately carved Nritya mandapa or dancing hall. Steps, flanked by straining horses, rise to the still-standing jagamohan. Behind is the spineless deul with its three impressive chlorite images of Surya aligned to catch the sun at dawn, noon and sunset. The base and walls present a chronicle in stone of Kalinga life, a storyboard of life and love in a continuous procession of carvings. Many are in the erotic style for which Konark is famous and include entwined couples as well as solitary exhibitionists. Sometimes they’re minute images on the spoke of a temple wheel; at other times they are larger –than-life-sized figures higher up the walls.

Around the grounds are a small shrine called Mayadevi Mandir; a deep, covered well; and the ruins of a brick temple. To the north are a couple of elephant statues; to the south are a couple of horse statues, both trampling soldiers.

The temple is the most noted marvel of Orissan art. The vivacious kanyas and danseuse are remarkable for their sensuous modelling, pulsating with human emotions which are absorbed in a variety of gestures and rhythmic actions. Such sculptures render the Orissan temple a class unto themselves. Mighty simha-gajas welcome the visitors at the porches.