The magnificent Sun Temple at Konark is the
culmination of Orissan temple architecture, and one of the most stunning monuments of
religious architecture in the world. The poet Rabindranath Tagore said of Konark that
'here the language of stone surpasses the language of man', and it is true that the
experience of Konark is impossible to translate into words.
The massive structure, now in ruins, sits in solitary splendour surrounded by drifting
sand. Today it is located two kilometers from the sea, but originally the ocean came
almost up to its base. Until fairly recent times, in fact, the temple was close enough to
the shore to be used as a navigational point by European sailors, who referred to it as
the 'Black Pagoda'.
Built by King Narasimhadeva in the thirteenth century, the entire temple was designed
in the shape of a colossal chariot, carrying the sun god, Surya, across the heavens. Surya
has been a popular deity in India since the Vedic period and the following passages occur
in a prayer to him in the Rig Veda, the earliest of sacred religious text:
"Aloft his beams now bring the good, Who knows all creatures that are born,
That all may look upon the Sun. The seven bay mares that draw thy car, Bring thee to us,
far-seeing good, O Surya of the gleaming hair. Athwart in darkness gazing up, to him the
higher light, we now Have soared to Surya, the god Among gods, the highest light."
So the image of the sun god traversing the heavens in his divine chariot, drawn by
seven horses, is an ancient one. It is an image, in fact, which came to India with the
Aryans, and its original Babylonian and Iranian source is echoed in the boots that Surya
images, alone among Indian deities, always wear.
The idea of building an entire temple in the shape of a chariot, however, is not an
ancient one, and, indeed, was a breathtakingly creative concept. Equally breathtaking was
the scale of the temple which even today, in its ruined state, makes one gasp at first
sight. Construction of the huge edifice is said to have taken 12 years revenues of the
The main tower, which is now collapsed, originally followed the same general form as
the towers of the Lingaraja and Jagannath temples. Its height, however, exceeded both of
them, soaring to 227 feet. The jagmohana (porch) structure itself exceeded 120 feet in
height. Both tower and porch are built on high platforms, around which are the 24 giant
stone wheels of the chariot. The wheels are exquisite, and in themselves provide eloquent
testimony to the genius of Orissa's sculptural tradition.
At the base of the collapsed tower were three subsidiary shrines, which had steps
leading to the Surya images. The third major component of the temple complex was the
detached natamandira (hall of dance), which remains in front of the temple. Of the 22
subsidiary temples which once stood within the enclosure, two remain (to the west of the
tower): the Vaishnava Temple and the Mayadevi Temple. At either side of the main temple
are colossal figures of royal elephants and royal horses.
Just why this amazing structure was built here is a mystery. Konark was an important
port from early times, and was known to the geographer Ptolemy in the second century AD. A
popular legend explains that one son of the god Krishna, the vain and handsome Samba, once
ridiculed a holy, although ugly, sage. The sage took his revenge by luring Samba to
a pool where Krishna's consorts were bathing. While Samba stared, the sage slipped away
and summoned Krishna to the site. Enraged by his son's seeming impropriety with his
stepmothers, Krishna cursed the boy with leprosy. Later he realized that Samba had been
tricked, but it was too late to withdraw the curse. Samba then travelled to the seashore,
where he performed 12 years penance to Surya who, pleased with his devotion, cured him of
the dreaded disease. In thanksgiving, Samba erected a temple at the spot.
In India, history and legend are often intextricably mixed. Scholars however feel that
Narasimhadeva, the historical builder of the temple, probably erected the temple as a
victory monument, after a successful campaign against Muslim invaders.
In any case, the temple which Narasimhadeva left us is a chronicle in stone of the
religious, military, social, and domestic aspects of his thirteenth century royal world.
Every inch of the remaining portions of the temple is covered with sculpture of an
unsurpassed beauty and grace, in tableaux and freestanding pieces ranging from the
monumental to the miniature. The subject matter is fascinating. Thousands of images
include deities, celestial and human musicians, dancers, lovers, and myriad scenes of
courtly life, ranging from hunts and military battles to the pleasures of courtly
relaxation. These are interspersed with birds, animals (close to two thousand charming and
lively elephants march around the base of the main temple alone), mythological creatures,
and a wealth of intricate botanical and geometrical decorative designs. The famous
jewel-like quality of Orissan art is evident throughout, as is a very human perspective
which makes the sculpture extremely accessible. The temple is famous for its erotic
sculptures, which can be found primarily on the second level of the porch structure. The
possible meaning of these images has been discussed elsewhere in this book. It will become
immediately apparent upon viewing them that the frank nature of their content is combined
with an overwhelming tenderness and lyrical movement. This same kindly and indulgent view
of life extends to almost all the other sculptures at Konark, where the thousands of
human, animal, and divine personages are shown engaged in the full range of the 'carnival
of life' with an overwhelming sense of appealing realism.
The only images, in fact, which do not share this relaxed air of accessibility are the
three main images of Surya on the northern, western, and southern facades of the temple
tower. Carved in an almost metallic green chlorite stone (in contrast to the soft
weathered khondalite of the rest of the structure), these huge images stand in a formal
frontal position which is often used to portray divinities in a state of spiritual
equilibrium. Although their dignity sets them apart from the rest of the sculptures, it
is, nevertheless, a benevolent dignity, and one which does not include any trace of the
aloof or the cold. Konark has been called one of the last Indian temples in which a
living tradition was at work, the 'brightest flame of a dying lamp'. As we gaze at these
superb images of Surya benevolently reigning over his exquisite stone world, we cannot
help but feel that the passing of the tradition has been nothing short of tragic.
Close by is one of the most attractive beaches of the world -
the Chandrabhaga beach.
Approach : By air to Bhubaneswar, Konark is 65 km from Bhubaneswar
Stay : While many visitors prefer to stay at Puri or Bhubaneswar
and make a day trip to Konark, excellent accommodation is available at Konark
at the Panthanivas run by the Orissa Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC)
and the Yatri Nivas run by the Department of Tourism, Govt. of Orissa.
Handicrafts of the region : Stone and Wood carvings, Patta
paintings, the famous applique work of
many other handicrafts of Orissa can be selected as souvenirs from the local market.
Fairs and Festivals of the region : Magha
Saptami which is also called Chandrabhaga Mela is the most popular festival (in the
month of February) when lakhs of pilgrims from various parts of India and abroad visit
this place. Tourism festival known as Konark Dance Festival
is held here from 1st-5th December every year in the "Open Air Auditorium" with
the Sun Temple as the back drop.
8 km from the world famous Sun Temple of Konark, Kuruma is a small village. Recent
excavations here have brought to light the reminiscence of some ancient Buddhist
antiquities like the image of Buddha seated in Bhumisparsa Mudra along with the image of
Heruka, and a 17 metres long brick wall (brick size: 22 cm X 17 cm). Scholars are of
opinion that this was one of the sites containing Buddhist stupas described by Hiuen
T'sang. The place is approachable by jeep.
14 km from Kakatpur and 30 km from Konark one can visit the shrines of
Laxminarayan and Barahi at Chaurasi.
Barahi is the Mother Goddess with the face of a boar. Pot-bellied, she holds a fish in one
hand and a cup in the other. The deity belongs to 9th century A.D. and is worshipped
according to tantric practices
On the confluence of the river Kushabhadra and the Bay of Bengal, Ramachandi, the presiding deity of the Konark region is
worshipped here with reverence. On the Marine Drive, the place is ideal for week-end
Right on the sea-shore, it is 91 km from Puri and 10 km from Kakatpur. Astaranga presents a panoramic view especially during
sunset on a multi-coloured horizon as if to justify the literal meaning of its name. It is
a centre of salt production and fishing.
* Distance from Konark
Tourist Information :
(1) Tourist Office : Yatri Nivas, Konark -752111, District Puri. Ph: (06758) 36821