October 2008
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Sun temple at Konark: Incredible architecture

Location: Orissa, India
Type: Hindu temple dedicated to Lord Shiva
Coordinates: latitude 19° 53′ North and longitude 86° 06′ East
Weather: Maximum temperature in summer is 110° F / Minimum temperature in winter is 51° F.
In Summer, cotton clothing; in winter, light woolen clothing is required.
Best time to visit to Konark: October-March

The legendary city of Konark is located 30 km north of Puri and 64 km from Bhubaneshwar and is very near to the coastline. Bhubaneshwar, Konark and Puri constitute the Golden triangle of Orissa, visited in large numbers by pilgrims and tourists. The Sun temple, which is the main attraction here, was constructed in the 13th century. It was in ruins, and neglected till the early 1900’s; specifically, in 1904 sand and debris around the temple was cleared and the sheer magnitude of its architect’s imagination revealed itself.
This temple, even though in ruins, is a colossal monument, a magnificent temple to the Sun God built in the 13th century. An original structure dating back to the 9th century once stood here (and if you read the legend posted below, it owes its origins to structures existing from much before). The temple was essentially supported to represent the Chariot of the Sun with 12 pairs of huge wheels and 7 horses. This temple, massive in scale, is considered to be the masterpiece of Orissan architecture.
The temple abounds in sculptural work with the front of the main entrance having two giant stone lions representing the crushing of elephants. As you climb up the stairs, you’ll see statues of horses on both side. All over the walls of this huge temple are beautiful carvings, sculptures and bas-reliefs (figures projecting from a plain background). Among them are thousands of images of gods, goddesses, men and women and scenes from life in the 13th century.

Map of Konark Sun Temple on Google Maps (including directions)

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The temple was built by Raja Narasimhadeva to mark a military victory. Since the rulers used to worship the Sun, the temple was conceived as a chariot for Surya, the Sun God. The whole structure is in the form of a giant horse drawn chariot of the Sun. Together, the 24 wheels of the Chariot and the 7 horses drawing it symbolize the passage of time. Drawn by seven galloping horses (only one is still intact), which represent the days of the week, while the twelve wheels ranged along the base stand for the twelve months. The eight spokes in the each wheel symbolise the eight prahars of the day. The platform (3.9 m high) rests on a low upana (the plinth) with three broad flight of steps, facing North, South and East doors of the porch leadingto its top. Running right round the base of the temple, the facade of the upana has extraordinary friezes featuring military processions, hunting scenes, elephants uprooting trees, feeding young ones, men attempting to capture elephants, journeys, rows of athletes, lady cooking and more secular scenes of every day life. Among the animals carved, the presence of a giraffe on the southern side, significantly points to the trade links with Africa during the 13th century.
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 main 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.
The temple complex is enclosed within a compound about 261 m by 164 m. At the eastern entrance is an isolated pillared hall (bhoga mandira) built on a richly decorated platform, some believing it to be a nata mandira (dance hall). To its West is an open space leading to the porch (jagamohana) which from the base to the top stands to about 39 m. The lower section of the original deul (sanctuary) to its East, once over 60 m tall, dominates the landscape for many kms. To the southeast of the deul are the remains of the Mahagayatri Temple while behind this structure is Vaishnava Temple and many a foundations of other structures.

Legend: No one really knows why a temple was erected here, but there are many legends to account for its appearance. The most popular (and repeated by the locals) concerns ‘Samba’, the son of Lord Krishna. Samba was very proud of his beauty, and in this arrogance, he once made the mistake of ridiculing the celebrated celestial sage, ‘Narada’, not renowned for his looks. Narada was not amused and knew how to get his revenge. Narada managed to lure the unsuspecting Samba to the pool where his step-mothers, the consorts of Krishna, were bathing. When Krishna heard that his son was peeping, he was furious and cursed him to be stricken with leprosy. Like many other curses, this had a reversal; realizing later that the innocent boy had been tricked by Narada’s cunning, Krishna was mortified. But he could not revoke his course; all he could do was advise his son to worship the sun god ‘Surya’, healer of all diseases, and hope for a cure. After twelve years of penance and worship, Samba was at last instructed by Surya to go and bathe in the sea at Konark. He did so and was cured of his awful affliction. Samba was so delighted that he decided there and then to erect a Surya temple on these spot.

It is opined by some historians that, due to the early death of the king Langula Narasimha Dev, builder of the Konarak temple, the construction of the temple had been left in a haphazard state. As a result of this, the incomplete structure eventually collapsed. But this view is unsupported by historical data. The records of Madala Panji of Puri Jagannath temple, as well as from some copper plates dated 1278 A.D., state that the king Langula Narasimha Dev reigned till 1282. Many historians are of the opinion that the construction of the Konark temple was completed between 1253 and 1260 A.D. So the argument that the temple collapsed due to non-completion during construction does not seem to be tenable.
The massive structure, now in ruins, sits in solitary grandeur 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’.
The name of the temple, and the town in which it is located, Konark actually derives its name from the name Konarka, the presiding deity of the Sun Temple. Konarka itself is actually a combination of two words, Kona (corner) and Arka (sun), which, when combined, means the sun of the corner. Konark was one of the earliest centres of Sun worshipping in India. The location finds mention in scriptures including the Puranas as Mundira or Mundirasvamin, a name that was subsequently replaced by Konaditya or Konarka. Apart from the Puranas, other religious texts also point towards the existence of a sun temple at Konark long before the present temple. Konark was once a bustling port of Kalinga and had good maritime trade relations with Southeast Asian countries.
The Sun Temple at Konark plays host to the annual dance festival featuring Odissi and other traditional dance forms and draws huge number of adherents wanting to enjoy the classical dances. The open air stage against the back drop of the floodlit temple reverberates with the beats of classical ragas and thalas to transport the audience in sheer ecstasy.

How To Reach Konark: The easiest way to get to Konark is drive either from Puri, 35 km or Bhubaneswar, 65 km. The advantage of the drive from Puri is that you get a sea front drive as well as pass through coastal villages with their beautiful houses.
Buses as well taxis are freely available from Puri. From Bhubaneswar, however the bus services less frequent and takes about 3-3.5 hrs to cover the distance, while from Puri the service is very prompt, taking about one hour to reach Konark.

Air: There is no direct connection from Konark by air. Nearest air heads are Bhubaneswar and Puri. Indian Airlines, Jet Air, and Sahara connect Bhubaneswar to Delhi, Calcutta, Madras, Hyderabad, and Nagpur.
Rail: The nearest railheads are Puri and Bhubaneswar. These two stations are connected to all the major cities in India through long-distance trains.

Places to see besides the sun temple:

Mayadevi Temple :- To the west of the main temple are the remains of another temples that is known as the temple of Mayadevi, who is believed to have been one of the wives of Lord Surya. The temple facing east, consists of a sanctum (deul) and a porch (Jagamohana) standing over a raised platform. The superstructures of the sanctum and porch are missing. The interiors of the porch are notable for their sculptural treatment and the sanctum is devoid of any deity. Stylistically, the temple is assignable to a time period of approximately the late eleventh century AD.

Vaishnava Temple:- The small brick temple facing east in south-west corner of the compound was discovered in 1956 during the sand clearance (not being know to exist earlier). Also called the temple no.3 is Pancharatha on the plan. It consists of a deul and a Jagamohana but as with the Mayadevi temple, the superstructure is missing and is devoid of any exterior decoration. The images of Balarama and two parsvadevatas of Varaha and Trivikrama were unearthed during the excavation ( and these images are now displayed in Archaeological Museum, Konark). The existence of these statues proved proof of its Vaishnava affiliation. The temple is datable to approx the eleventh century A.D.

Chaurasi: Chaurasi is a famous site of the shrines devoted to Laxminarayanan, Amareshras and Barahi. Dating back to the 9th century AD, Barahi is the diety and worshipped according to tantrik practices. She is a mother goddess with the face of a boar and is depicted holding a fish in one hand and a cup in another.

Kurum: The village Kurum is located at a distance of 8 km from Konark. Specimens and exhibits of 7th & 8th century have been found in this unknown village. In this century Hinduism & Buddhism were very closely integrated with each other. Among the numerous specimens that were found, there are a sort of script on stone, ancient coins, Buddhist caves etc.

Pipli: On the way to Konark is Pipli, famous for its exquisite applique work, which depict the essence of Oriya culture. It is also the home of the most colourful and original awnings, canopies, garden and beach umbrellas, shoulder and hand bags etc.

Ramachandi: Ramachandi, a beautiful tourist spot is located at a distance of 7 kms from Konark, and is situated at the confluence of the river Kusabhadra and the Bay of Bengal. The deity of Konark, Goddess Ramachandi, is worshipped here.

Kakatapur: Located 45 kms from Konark, Kakatapur is situated in the Prachi valley and is well known for the shrines of Goddess Mangala and Banadurga. As per local legend, the directions for reaching the holy log from which is created Lord Jagannath’s icon comes from her. The famous ‘Jhamu Yatra’ is held in April-May when devotees walk over a narrow trench strewn with embers.

Beaches of Konark: Besides the Sun Temple, Konark also has some great beaches, not as crowded as some of the more famous ones. These beaches are located within a distance of 3 km from the temple. Closer to the beach lies the sacred pond, Chandrabhaga, place where Samba, son of lord Krishna, was cured of leprosy. In the month of Jan/ Feb for a couple of days (full moon phase of Magha) it also is the site of a big religious festival called the Magha Saptmai Mela. Thousands of pilgrims converge on the pool to take a holy dip in its curative waters and then shuffle off to the beach to watch the Sun rise over the sea. This is followed by a worship of the Nabagrahas (nine planets).

Astranga: A famous fishing harbour, Astranga lies 55 kms from Konark. Washed by the waters of the Bay of Bengal, the places comes to brilliance with its magnificent sunsets.

Places to stay:
Panthanivas Tourist Bungalow
Yatri Niwas
Konark Lodge
Sunrise Lodge
Banita lodge
Besides this, a lot of tourists prefer to take the day trip from Puri or Bhubhaneshwar and then return rather than stay overnight.

External articles:

1. Some photos (link)
2. More photos of the Sun Temple at Konark (including a great night shot) (link)
3. Photo Gallery (link)
4. Archaeological Survey of India section on Konark Sun Temple (link)
5. Official web site (link)
6. Slide show of photo of the Sun temple at Konark (link)
7. Article on Konark Sun Temple by Rangan Datta (link)
8. Konark on the UNESCO site (link)
9. Bhags09 blog on Konark (link)
10. Traditional India blog (link)
11. Blog and Photos of Konark (link)

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