The Sun is considered the visible God, whose power is a basis for life on Earth. All religious scriptures have worshipped the Sun God and temples have been built in his honour. The Sun Temple at Konark will always be considered the premier of all such temples. The 750 year old temple is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The drive to Konark
After our tour of the important temples of Bhubaneswar, we took the road to Konark, 65kms from Bhubaneswar.
Just a few minutes out of Bhubaneswar, we passed by Dhauligiri Hill, famously believed to be the place where Emperor Asoka, disturbed by bloodshed he had caused in the Kalinga War, decided to give up violence and tread the path of peace. There is a Stupa here and some of Asoka’s rock edicts. Since we were heading towards Konark, we decided try and sneak in Dhauligiri if we had time on the return journey.
The drive between Bhubaneswar and Konark is lovely with good roads and pretty locales. It takes about an hour to reach Konark from Bhubaneswar. As you reach Konark, the plains give way to the sea side. The Sun Temple is located close to the sea.
The magnificent Sun Temple
Viewing the Sun Temple for the first time was a dream come true. We had grown up hearing about the Konark Temple as a must visit temple in one’s lifetime and how it was the most beautiful temple ever built for the Sun God, we couldn’t believe we were actually standing in front of it, finally !
Since we knew very little about the temple, we decided to engage a guide. Thankfully, our guide was very informative, we would have missed a lot if we hadn’t engaged a guide.
History of the temple
The Konark Temple was built in the 13th Century A.D during the reign of Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. There are several other Puranic legends associated with the temple like original foundations of the temple belonged to the time of Lord Krishna’s son who was cursed with leprosy and was cured when he prayed to the Sun God and so the temple was built as a thanksgiving.
The word itself is derived from the words Kona (corner) and Arka (Sun), meaning the corner of the Sun, as an article on the Orissa Government website says, it possibly meant the corner of the region dedicated to worship of Sun God. Naramsimhadeva, it is believed wanted to build a grand temple to the Sun God and boy, did he build a grand temple !
Over time, the temple was lost amidst sand dunes and shrubs until the British found the abandoned temple and preserved it. There is one thing we need to thank the British for – preserving our ancient monuments and bringing them to world’s focus.
Clash over beliefs – as old as time !
At the entrance of the temple are two figures of lions prowling over elephants while the elephant crushes a human below.
It seems this sculpture had two symbolisms. The lion represent the quest for power and elephants, the ego in humans, these two negative human emotions which weigh down a human being, were supposed to be left behind before entering the temple. That, our guide told us was the politically correct interpretation. However, there was more to the lions and the elephants !
Another intention behind the figures was a representation of the supremacy of Hinduism over Buddhism. At the time the temple was being built, a lot of people were drawn towards the religion that preached peace and equality among all human beings. The builders, cheekily seemed to have expressed their displeasure ! Clashes over beliefs, this is one human trait that seems to have remained unchanged since time immemorial !
Natya Mandir – A dedication to beauty !
The first part of the massive temple is the Natya Mandir (Dance Hall).
Now, what do we tell you about the Natya Mandir? If you want to see the greatest dedication to womanly grace and beauty, then it has to be the Natya Mandir ! Every inch of the mandapa is filled with sculptures of women – dancing, singing, playing instruments, dressing up, fighting wars, hunting, romancing, every sculpture talks about the life and times of the women of the Eastern Ganga reign. As beautiful as the women are the delicate designs and patterns. This is only a cross section of the walls, the sculptors did not waste even a single inch !
Each sculpture has a story to tell and some are so imaginative that you are left astounded by what goes on in a sculptors’ mind ! Check out this one.
The lady on the right is drying her hair by twisting it and there is a swan at her feet which is trying to drink the droplets falling from her hair ! Also don’t miss her fashionable footwear ! Sringara Rasa at its best !
However, the proximity to the sea and constant exposure to the winds, corrosion and the ravages of time have damaged many of the figures.
The Natya Mandir has been built in such a way that the rays of the sun pass through the pillars and fall on the idol in the Sanctum Sanctorum.
The pillars have been aligned to ensure the sun rays pass through without an obstruction during the Uttarayana and the Dakshinayana ! This is another angle of alignment. The geometric perfection is amazing !
Jaganmohana (Audience Hall) – As splendid as the Sun
Beyond the Natya Mandir, splendid as the Sun God it is dedicated to, stands the 128 feet high Jaganmohana, the Audience Hall !
The Jaganmohana or the front porch or the Audience Hall is unique to the Kalinga architecture and forms the front part of the Sanctum Sanctorum covered by the main temple tower or the Vimana. Most Vimanas are twice the size of the Jaganmohana. The Vimana of the Konark temple, along with the sanctum sanctorum collapsed several centuries ago and so what we now consider the Konark Sun temple is actually the Jaganmohana !
Now, if the Jaganmohana alone is of such massive proportions, imagine the size of the entire temple if the Vimana had not collapsed, it must have been frighteningly colossal !
The giant chariot !
The entire temple was built to look like one giant chariot, representing the Sun God’s chariot pulled by 7 horses !
The 7 horses represent the 7 days of the week. For a temple of that size, the horses pulling the chariot seemed small though, must have been mighty sturdy horses !
Wheel of time !
There are 24 wheels around the chariot like temple, signifying the 24 hours of the day. Each wheel is ornamented with intricate sculpture. The wheels are so big that they almost match an adult in height !
This particular wheel is a sun dial. It has been designed in a way that the shadow of the axle falls on the spokes at different times of the day to indicate the time.
Each spoke represents a “Prahar”, a period of 3 hours. Each day is divided into 8 Prahars. The 8 spokes represent each Prahar and the thinner spokes indicate the in between time. The small dot like carvings are the equivalent of minutes according to ancient Hindu time calculations. Our guide told us the time could be roughly half past 12, considering that the 1st Prahar usually begins at 3 AM, we checked our watches – the accuracy was mind boggling ! These ancient builders are something else !
The sculpture on the Jaganmohana of the Konark temple would remind one of the temples at Khajuraho for the erotic images. Most the sculpture on the walls are either of women or erotic figures.
The eroticism is symbolic of human desires being just superficial, one had to forget them and enter into the temple to attain salvation or oneness with the Divine. Also, in ancient times, the temples were places of social gatherings and these figures were probably the best way to talk about things like love making which were otherwise a taboo. Our guide gave us a third angle to it, he said these erotic images were to lure people to visit temples and attract them towards Hinduism in contradiction to Buddhist teachings of forgoing desires and pleasures ! We don’t know if all this is true but it is very interesting to listen to these ideas.
The story of the magnet
What’s an ancient temple without legends ! There is one such popular story about Konark. It seems the temple had huge magnets placed in such a way that the idol of the Sun God would float in the air because of the magnetic effect ! The idol was removed from the temple during the 1600s and placed in the Jagannath Temple at Puri. One can still see the idol at Puri even today.
These magnets also disturbed the compass of the nearby ships out in the sea ! When these magnets were removed by later invaders and the British, it caused the whole structure to collapse from within !
There is no record on the truth of this but what is interesting is that huge iron bars were found inside the temple, these bars are exhibited in the lawns outside the temple now.
The entrance to the Jaganmohana still has some iron bars embedded at the top.
In 1903, the British administration filled up the entire Audience Hall with sand and rocks to prevent it from collapsing and sealed off the entrance. Today, nobody can enter the Jaganmohana. This slab gives the information of the sealing off.
This is all you can see inside of the Jaganmohana today !
What lies inside? It is lost forever ! We need to be thankful, though, that at least the outer structure survived and we get to see the “superb specimen of old Indian architecture” as the information slab says.
Remnants of what could have been !
As you walk around the monument, you can see ruins of the collapsed Vimana, you wish the structure had remained so you could see the temple in its full glory.
Check out Wikipedia for a panoramic view of the temple and imagine how enormous the temple would have been if the Vimana was intact !
There is a belief that the temple was not completed properly which caused the collapse. The temple was also subjected to attacks by invaders and ransacked, a major earthquake is believed to have destroyed a part of the temple, so many stories ! The Jaganmohana alone stands today, a witness to all that happened centuries ago, if only it could speak !
There are ruins of other smaller structures around the temple, these could have been shrines dedicated to other gods.
This one is believed to have been the temple of Maya Devi, Lord Surya’s consort.
Good morning, Good afternoon and Good evening !
Perhaps the most interesting figures at the Sun temple are the 3 figures of Lord Surya carved into the walls of the original temple, while the Vimana has collapsed around them, these idols remain.
The 3 figures are a representation of the Sun in the morning called Prabhata Surya, in the afternoon, Madhyanha Surya and at sunset, the Ashtachala Surya. The figures are carved on the South, West and North side of the temple respectively.
Prabhata Surya or the Sun at sunrise is youthful and stands upright, he wears boots too (not visible in the picture) !
Madhyanha Surya is in his full glory, galloping on his horse and all powerful !
The Ashtachala Surya looks tired and old, returning on his equally tired horses after a hard day at working lighting up the Earth and giving life. We could not take a picture of the evening sun but the tired looks on his face are quite clear ! What creativity and imagination, wonder who could have come up with something like that !
And so, wishing Lord Surya a very good evening, we wound up our close to 3 hours visit of the Konark Temple. No matter how much you go around, you still want to see some more, the story of the magnets might just be true, the temple draws you to it and you don’t seem to want to leave.
The Sun is perhaps the most important basis for life of on Earth, the Pratyaksha Daivam (Visible God) and Sun Temple at Konark is probably the greatest tribute of mankind for the greatest source of light and energy !
– The Konark Sun temple is open from 8 AM to 6 PM. There is an entrance fee of Rs.10/- for Indian Citizens and Rs.250/- for foreign citizens.
– If you are traveling from Bhubaneswar, you can hire a cab and cover Konark and Puri on the same day. Buses are also available from Bhubaneswar and Puri. Puri at 31 kms is the nearest train station.
– Engaging a guide is a good idea, there is lots of information that you could miss if you explore it on your own. Make sure you deal with guides who are authorized by the Government authorities. They charge you around Rs.200/- to Rs.300/- for a guided tour of the temple.
– There are a lot of hotels outside the temple, food would not be a problem. We had our lunch at one of the hotels and the food was decent enough.
– There are few beach resorts around and OTDC’s Panthanivas for accommodation.
– Konark and Puri can be covered in a single day.