The Sun Temple of Konark

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By editor - 3.3 2021

Magnificent in its construction, the temple of the Sun at Konark (a.k.a Konarak), about twenty miles northeast of Puri, has been hailed as the supreme achievement of the architectural genius of Orissa, coming as it did at the apex of continuous development for centuries. It was built during the reign of the eastern Ganga King Narasimha Deva I (1238-64 see also the Ganga kings), but is now in ruins, with the heap of masonry forming a landmark which the sailors call the black pagoda, to distinguish it   from the white temples of Puri.

The great tower of this temple has lost much of its height within living memory and the vimana, along with the shrine of the presiding deity has crumbled. However, enough remains to make a conjectural reconstruction possible and it is likely that the basic plan of the temple was not unlike that of the Jagannath and Lingaraja temples. Abul Fazl, Akbar's official historian, appears to have seen the temple before it became a heap of ruins, and   records in the Ain-i-Akbari, that he was amazed at the beauty of the spectacle. Although the temple was grandiose in conception, there is reason to believe that it was never quite completed, for the grandeur that the plan of the temple sought to achieve was too ambitious to be carried out in practice.


Sculpted wheel of Konark temple

The Konark temple is dedicated to Surya, the Sun God, and is unique for its supremely imaginative character. The structure as a whole is conceived of as a rath (temple on wheels) on twenty-four wheels, the winged chariot of time which the Sun God rides. The base of the temple is an immense terrace with twelve giant wheels on either side, each 10 feet high. On the raised platform thus created, the temple building was erected in two conjoined parts forming the deul and the jaganmohan. The natmandir and the bhogmandir were detached structures, all enclosed within a courtyard measuring 865 ft. by 540 ft.


Sun Temple, Konark
Detail from an Indian Postal Stamp


The carriage of the Sun-God is drawn by seven splendidly carved horses straining their necks to pull the massive chariot. The extraordinary dynamism and mobility of these sculptured animal figures are striking to a degree. Today, this superb edifice lies in ruins, the jagamohan or assembly-hall being the only part which is still intact enough to testify to the past glory of the temple. Not all of the splendid fragments are in their original position. Much of the imposing appearance and vitality of the structure is to be attributed to the pyramidal roof with its three tiers and sculptured groups of figures. The sculpture which embellishes the immense outer surfaces of this architectural masterpiece is no less exquisite in its luxuriance and unrestricted invention than the vast structure itself. The exterior has been chiseled and molded either into abstract designs, or fantastic human and animal forms, and every motif and subject known to the Indian mind has been called into play.

The sculptures executed in hard stone to ensure their preservation, display an exuberance of mood and appearance rarely encountered elsewhere. The technique also varies from designs carved with minute precision to vigorous groups modeled on a massive scale. Much of the relief work on the outer walls of the temple at Konark -as of certain other temples in Orissa-has an obviously erotic import. This is indicative of the emergence of a phase in Hinduism known as Tantrism, the mithuna ritual of which is depicted in the carvings of this temple as well as of the temples in Mathura and Khajuraho.