Konark Sun Temple in India - Haunting Heritage
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28-03-2019    622 times
Konark Sun Temple India

Standing on the shores of the Bay of Bengal and located 35 km northeast from Puri and 65 km southeast from Bhubanshwar, the temple at Konark is one of the outstanding examples of temple architecture in India. Basking in the rays of the sun and shaped like a giant chariot, it is famous for the exquisite stone carvings that cover the entire structure. It is considered that the name ’Konark’ originates from two Sanskrit words, Kona or corner and Arka, which stands for the sun. It is clear from the name that, the temple was dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya. It is believed that the temple was built by Maharaja Narasimhadeva I of Eastern Ganga Dynasty, during the 13th century AD. During those days the European sailors called it the Black Pagoda, because its great tower appeared black from the sea.

According to a local saying, Narasimhadeva I engaged a reputed architect Bisu Maharana for the construction of the massive temple. After twelve years of hard and dedicated toil by twelve hundred persons, the temple was almost completed, except the mounting of the crown stone. Surprisingly, several attempts to fix the stone failed unbelievably, despite taking maximum care of all the details by the workmen and the architect. Gradually, the king became impatient at the delay and finally he issued the ultimatum to the artisans to finish the job within three days or to face the death sentence.

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On the background of this critical situation, Dharmapada, the twelve year old son of Bisu Maharana, appeared on the scene and politely offered his help to the artisans. The expert and experienced artisans took it as a practical joke and chided him as he was only a kid. On the hand, Bisu Maharana did not have any idea about the identity of the boy, as he left his village before the birth of his son. Nevertheless, Dharmapada was confident and with his inherent quality and intelligence, he fixed the crown stone by placing a strong magnetic rod in the dome at the top, which in turn attracted the rocks laden with iron ore and kept them stable. This time, the amazed artisans became apprehensive, as they thought that, the king will be displeased to learn that a boy succeeded in the mission while his best artisans failed. However, the boy assured them of any such possibility and gave his life by jumping into the sea from the top the temple to save his father and his co-workers.

Konark Sun Temple
Konark Sun Temple
Konark Sun Temple

Constructed in the traditional style of Kalinga architecture at the mouth of River Chandrabhaga, the magnificent and gigantic Konark Sun Temple in the state of Odisha in India is shaped like a stupendous chariot for the Hindu Sun God Surya and ornamented with 12 pairs of stone-carved wheels and a team of seven galloping horses, only one of which still survives intact. In Hindu iconography Surya, the Sun God, is depicted as rising in the east and travelling rapidly across the sky to the west, in a chariot drawn by seven horses. The chariot-shaped temple, when viewed from inland during the dawn and sunrise, appears to emerge from the depths of the blue sea carrying the sun. While the seven horses, which pull the chariot temple, signify the seven days of the week, the twelve pairs of wheels represent the twelve months of the year. Each of the twelve pairs of wheels has eight spokes in them, symbolizing the eight ideal stages of a woman's day. Curiously, the wheels are in fact sundials, which can be used to calculate time accurately to a minute.

Konark Sun Temple
Exquisite Wheel of the Chariot
Exquisite Wheel of the Chariot
Ornamentation in a wheel
Ornamentation in a wheel

Originally the temple had a 229 feet tall Vimana (Shikhara) or main sanctum, which fell down in 1837, probably due to the weight of the tall superstructure and weak soil condition of the area. The only principal structure of the temple that still stands today amidst the ruins, are actually the 128 feet tall Jagamohan or the audience hall. Among the other structures that have survived till date is the Naat Mandir or the dance hall and the Bhoga Mandapa or the dining hall

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As safety measures, the interior of the main temple was blocked up long back. The terraces of the three tiered porch are full of statues, mostly musicians and voluptuous celestial dancers holding various musical instruments, serenading the Sun God. Among the sculptures on the bottom platform, there is a magnificent image of Nataraja, performing the cosmic dance. There is a double staircase beyond the porch, leading to a shrine with a statue of the Sun God, attended by a small figure of Arun, the charioteer, at his feet. Carved of high-quality green Chlorite stone, the beautiful image of the Sun God is considered as one of the masterpieces of Konark. From this point one can go down into the remains of the inner sanctum, where the Sun God was originally enshrined. It is believed that originally, the main idol of the Sun god used to remain suspended in the air with the help of the huge magnet at the peak and another magnet fixed in the basement. Initially, a diamond was affixed in the centre of the idol which reflected the sun rays that passed. In 1627, the idol of the Sun was shifted from Konark to the Jagannath temple in Puri, by the then Raja of Khurda.

A weathered horse sculpture
A weathered horse sculpture
Simha Gaja at the entrance
Simha Gaja at the entrance
A secondary statue of the Sun god
A secondary statue of the Sun god

The outer surfaces of the temple are richly carved and ornamented with exquisite reliefs of purely decorative geometric patterns and plant motifs, along with the beautiful stone sculptures of the Hindu deities, celestial nymphs or apsaras and images from the daily life and culture of the people. The sculptures also included the famous erotic scenes of ‘maithuna’ or sexual union, based on Kama Sutra. Those exquisite erotic sculptures are abundant in the niches halfway up the porch, along the sides of the platform and around the doorways of the main building.

Konrak Sun Temple
Konrak Sun Temple
The Erotic sculptures
The Erotic sculptures

The cause of the destruction of the Konark temple is really unknown and remains a source of controversy. There are evidences that suggest that, the ruined condition of the temple can be dated between the late 16th century and the early 17th century. It is said that the strong magnetized rod, located at the centre dome at the top of the temple, was removed by the Portuguese sailors, since the strong magnetic waves emanating from the rod were interfering with the compass of the ships, which resulted in a few shipwrecks. The rod kept the temple structure erect and with its removal, the structure collapsed automatically. In other words, the collapse of the temple was caused by the removal of the strong magnetized rod at the top of the centre dome of the temple.

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It is also said that, Sulaiman Khan Karrani, an Afghan Muslim ruler of Bengal, tried to conquer Orissa, but was forced to make peace after the battle of Tribeni. He realized that his ambition to conquer Orissa will never be fulfilled, unless he could defeat Rajiv Lochan Ray or Kalachand Roy Bhadury. Rajib alias Kalachand was the Bengali Hindu General of Gajapati Mukundadeva, the last emperor of the empire of Kalinga-Utkala. After the battle of Tribeni, Sulaiman hatched a plan and invited Rajib Lochan in his palace for negotiation of a peace treaty. In the palace, Rajib Lochan met and immediately fell in love with the beautiful daughter of Sulaiman. In fact, Sulaiman himself arranged for the meeting as a part of his plan, to trap the brave man. As soon as he realized that Rajib is attracted by the beauty of his daughter, he proposed him to be converted to Islam and marry his daughter. However, Rajib proposed to convert the girl to Hinduism, so that he can marry her. Sulaiman agreed, but the Hindu Pundits strongly negated the proposal and opined that conversion to Hinduism is illegal. Their decision made Rajib mad and ultimately he embraced Islam, married the Muslim girl and taking the name ‘Kalapahad’, furiously attacked Orissa. According to the history of Orissa, he invaded Orissa in 1568, forcefully converted thousands of Hindus into Muslims and destroyed a number of Hindu temples including the magnificent temple of Konark.

An inscription from 1903 about the filling of the temple with sand
An inscription from 1903 about the filling of the temple with sand

It is interesting to note that, according to the Islamic texts, Kalapahad failed in his first attempt to destroy the temple in 1565. However, according to a controversial Hindu text ‘Madala Panji’ of Puri Jagannath temple and the regional tradition, Kalapahad attacked again in 1568 and ruthlessly damaged the Konark temple, an outstanding testimony to the 13th-century kingdom of Orissa.

Artist impression of the original temple of Konark
Artist's impression of the original temple of Konark
Replica of the Original Sun Temple, Gwalior
Replica of the Original Sun Temple, Gwalior

The Konark temple, that stands today, was in fact partially restored by the conservation efforts of the archaeological teams during the British India era. The surviving structures and sculptures of the temple, along with the subsidiary shrines and monuments around the main temple, are enlisted in the UNESCO world heritage site in 1984

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    Author Details
Dibyendu Banerjee
Ex student of Scottish Church College. Served a Nationalised Bank for nearly 35 years. Authored novels in Bengali. Translated into Bengali novels/short stories of Leo Tolstoy, Eric Maria Remarque, D.H.Lawrence, Harold Robbins, Guy de Maupassant, Somerset Maugham and others. Also compiled collections of short stories from Africa and Third World. Interested in literature, history, music, sports and international films.
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