FACTS & FIGURES
Built in: 13th century AD
Built by: King Narasimhadeo
Location: Konark (Orissa)
CHARIOT OF SUN GOD
The Konark Sun Temple is one of the many temples in India dedicated to the Sun God, but it is by far the finest. The main temple is embellished with intricate carvings both on the inside and outside. However, the high point of this temple is that it is said to be an exact replica of the chariot of the Sun God, as if frozen in stone.
CENTRAL INDIAN STYLE OF TEMPLE ARCHITECTURE
The basic structure of temples in India is a room or the Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum) where the idol of the main deity is kept. The temple is approached by a flight of steps and is often built on a platform. A porch covers the entrance to the temples, which is supported by carved pillars. A prominent roof called the shikhara surmounts the top of the Garbhagriha, and dominates the surroundings.
Temple architecture in India is broadly divided into the northern and southern styles. The form and shape of the shikhara and the distinctiveness of its decoration have let to this classification of temple architecture. The shikhara of the temples in south India tend to be made up of distinct horizontal levels that diminish to form a rough pyramid. Each level is decorated with miniature temple rooftops. The shikharas of the temples in north and central India, in contrast, resemble an upturned cone that is decorated with miniature conical shikharas.
The temples of Orissa and Central India have their own distinct style, which began to resemble a range of mountains with columns of subsidiary halls also rising up towards the central column. The Konark Sun Temple belongs to the Central Indian style of Temple architecture, though it does not have tall shikharas of the later temples of Orissa and Central India.
KONARK SUN TEMPLE
The Sun Temple at Konark is a World Heritage Site. Konark was once a bustling port at the time of the erstwhile kingdom of Kalinga (as the present day Orissa was known in the old days) and had good maritime trade relations with Southeast Asian countries. King Narasimhadeo (AD 1238-64) was the chief patron of the Konark Sun Temple. He wanted to build a shrine dedicated to the Sun God.
According to Hindu mythology, most Gods and Goddesses have their own vehicles. The Sun God rode his vahana or vehicle, usually a chariot, through the heavens-a chariot of time, pulled by seven superb white steeds. There are a number of sun temples in India, but the most magnificent example of the vahana in India is undoubtedly at Konark. To simulate the appearance of a wheeled chariot, the longer sides of the platform over which the temple stands were decorated with a relief of 12 massive, beautifully carved wheels more than 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter. Each of these giant wheels is a faithful reproduction of the real thing in stone, complete with intricately carved hub, spokes, and pins. To complete the illusion of the solar chariot, colossal freestanding statues of seven galloping horses were installed before the main entrance. But now one is missing. The parapets on either side of the flight of steps leading to the entrance too are actually a row of richly caparisoned, life-size prancing steeds straining at their harness.
The Main Temple
The Orissa temples consist of a sanctum, one or more front porches (Jag Mandir) with pyramidal roofs, a dance hall (Nat Mandir), and a hall of offerings (Bhog Mandir) apart from the inner shrine (Garbhagriha) where the deity resides. The Deul (main temple), Jagmandir and Nat Mandir of the Sun Temple are covered with beautiful sculptural friezes and carvings.
The grandiose Sun Temple complex conceptualized by Narasimhadeo was never finished, and the inner sanctuary had to be filled up to sustain the heavy crumbling roof in the 19th century. Konark chiefly consists of the chariot called ‘the Black Pagoda’ by the British, and its lofty ceremonial hall. The great cube of masonry forming the temple basement is ornamented with the amazing freestanding stone wheels. The lowest zone of this base has continuous elephant and hunting friezes (carved stone panels), among which one finds intriguing mythological beasts like the Gaja-Singha, a lion riding an elephant. A series of niches separated by widely projecting pilasters are full of superb erotic sculpture. Two carved friezes with stringcourses divide the facades of the hall. The pyramidal roof which rises above this consists of corbelled vaulting with a pleasantly wavy curvilinear effect. Three distinct terraces recede to the huge stone lotus atop the shikhara.
The monumental statues of women musicians lining the roof terraces visible from a distance draw the eye to the superbly polished green chlorite relief of the Sun god standing in a frontal pose between his twin charioteers and the dawn maidens. The horses carved on the plinth too have that vibrant sense of motion, which distinguishes the Konark sculpture.
IMPORTANT MONUMENTS NEAR THE SUN TEMPLE
The Maya Devi Temple adjacent to the Sun Temple is carved with erotic sculpture, stone carvings of dancing nymphs, musicians, floral motifs, hunting and court scenes. Twin lions guard the entrance and on each side of this temple stand an enormous elephant and a warhorse trampling fallen warriors.
KONARK DANCE FESTIVAL
Though the Sun Temple had been abandoned since long, it presently forms the backdrop for the annual Konark Dance Festival. The audio-visual effects of the dance festival combined with the dazzling spectacle of the floodlit architectural marvel of the temple leaves an indelible mark on the minds of the spectators. The three-day cultural extravaganza, held every year in the month of December, captivates the audience as leading Indian exponents of various Indian classical dance forms like Bharatnatyam, Kathak, Odisi, Kathakali etc perform here. Apart from the classical dance forms, Chau-Orissa’s own folk dance form is also performed during the festival, as are folk forms of some of the other states.
HOW TO REACH
Konark does not have an airport and the nearest airports are at Bhubaneshwar 65 km away and Puri 35 km away. The railheads nearest to Konark are again at Puri and Bhubaneswar. These two stations are connected to all the major cities in India through long-distance trains. Konark is well connected with other parts of the country through a good network of roads. Travelers can make use of taxis, private cars, and mini buses to move around the city and to reach the Sun Temple.