Konark Sun Temple is the most popular sun temple in the world. It is difficult to imagine how grand it would have looked when it was intact and when all the seven horses in running posture would have made it look like a chariot in motion. The closest you can feel the scale of this temple is to see the Puri Jagannath temple, which is of comparable scale.
Odisha has 4 different kshetras or regions, identified by the four Ayudhas of Vishnu or the things that he holds in his four hands. Of these Konark is the Padam or the lotus kshetra. In fact, the temple was called PadmaKesara Deul and the presiding sun god was called Mahabhaskara. Konark refers to the corner that worships the Aditya or Sun. The region is also called Arka Kshetra.
History of Konark Sun Temple
As per Pauranic sources, Banks of Chandrabhaga river in Utkala (which is an ancient name of the Odisha) was the place for Sun worship. The legends associate this place with Sambha, the son of Krishna and Jamvanti who worshipped the sun here to get rid of a skin condition. The place is also associated with Multan, which was also a major center for Sun worship. Remember the river Chenab there was also called Chandrabhaga.
In the known history, local palm leaf manuscripts tell us that initially a temple to the sun was built by Kesari dynasty kings. Temple continued to receive worship from later rulers of the Ganga dynasty. It was king Narasimhadeva who built this temple in 13th CE in front of the old temple. They took about 12 years to build it. It was first attacked in mid-16th CE and invaders just managed to take away its Kalasha or pot on top and Dhwaj or flag.
Travelers who visited Konark Sun Temple include Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Abu Fazal.
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There are various theories about the downfall of this temple. They range from being destroyed by invaders like Kala Pahad or to engineering failure that lead to its gradual fall. When it was re-visited in 19th CE by James Fergusson, the main temple was a pile of debris from which no main deity was recovered. The Arun Stambh or the main pillar of this temple was moved to Puri Jagannath temple in 18th CE by the Maratha Rulers. What you see today is the shell of Mahamandapa filled with sand and a Natya mandap in front. The walls are thankfully preserved for us to admire the sculptures outside.
It is believed that the main Surya Murti of the temple hung in the air in the middle of the temple, held in balance by the magnetic forces. The first rays of the sun fell on the deity’s forehead giving an impression of the rising sun.
Some of the things you should not miss when visiting.
24 Must-See things at Konark Sun Temple
1. Admire the Massive Architecture
Konark Sun Temple is a great example of Kalinga temple architecture on a scale that is rarely seen. I still wonder how someone imagined a temple as a chariot being pulled by 7 horses, recreating the iconography of the presiding deity at such a massive scale.
The tallest part of the temple is missing, and still, the temple looks grand. The chariot has 24 wheels indicating the 24 hours of the day and also 24 fortnights in a year. The 7 horses, representing the 7 days of the week, are duly pulling the chariot. I wish someone had preserved the drone shot of a fully built temple for us. Even when it is designed in the chariot shape, it still follows all the Kalinga duel style architecture style.
2. Jagmohan or Mandapa
The massive structure that we see with beautifully carved door jambs is Mandapa or Jagmohan as it is called in Odisha. You are not allowed to climb on top due to the fragile nature of the structure. However, you can see the green-colored door jambs with intricate carvings in Chlorite stone. The rest of the structure is in Khondalite and Laterite stone. None of these stones are available locally and were probably brought from a distance over waters of the Chanrabhaga river.
Scholars say that the stones were smoothened, fixed and then carved in-situ. That says a lot about the skills to handle the tough stone. Doors are also aligned with the movement of the sun. The front and back doors get the sunrays on equinox days and the two side doors get the first rays during the northern and southern movement of the sun.
3. Sculptures of Konark Sun Temple
It is said that the temple was built like Titans but finished like Jewelers. You must admire these sculptures sculpted with jeweler’s precision. Like most temples, Sculptures at Konark Sun Temple include deities, scenes from human life, royal life, erotica, flora and fauna, architectural motifs and decorative elements at different scales.
4. Elephant panel at the bottom
A panel of carved elephants runs at the bottom of the temple structure giving an impression they are bearing the load of the temple. Notice the baby elephants too engraved on this panel.
5. Naga Sculptures
A lot of Naga Nagini sculptures can be seen on the wall panels at the human eye level. Most of them are half-human & half serpent. You would notice them as soon as you start walking around the temple in a clockwise fashion. Around them, you would also see women engaged in martial arts or riding a horse.
6. Giraffe Sculpture
One of the most intriguing sculpture is that of a Giraffe, an animal that is not native of India. It indicates the awareness of the animal if not its real presence in the region. Does it indicate trade links with Africa? Probably yes. Imagine a trader sitting with a sculptor and explaining how this animal looks like with its long neck. Or maybe it was a gift from an African trader.
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Next to this is the depiction of King Narasimadev and his queen Sitadevi – the builders of this temple.
7. Giant Elephants figures
These can be seen as you approach the temple and some on the platform next to it. They are in a rage, crushing the hunt. I wonder if they were depicting some war that they participated in.
The giant Lion Crushing the elephant sculpture that you see at the stairs as soon as you enter is the symbol of power. These make scholars ask if the temple was built to commemorate a successful military campaign. Guides interpret it as crushing of a human being who gets too much wealth and power.
8. Erotica or Maithuna Figures
Like most ancient temples, this one too has its share of erotic images depicting the lovemaking by couples, including same-sex ones. My ASI book tells me that the sculptures on this temple depict all the 9 Rasas or emotions mentioned in Indian scriptures. Erotica depicts the Shringar Rasa or the emotion of love and romance, but it stands out in a way that catches our eye more than the other emotions.
Another opinion links them to the tantric path of worship that was prominently practiced in Odisha.
9. Sun Sculptures in Green Chlorite
On top of the Mandapa, you can see the sculptures of Adityas in Chlorite stone that makes them stand out in greenstone on all the walls. When I visited many years ago, you could walk up to them but now you have to admire them from a distance. Notice the high boots worn by these figures.
10. Famous Wheels on our Rs 10/- Currency Note
Wheel no 6 as you move clockwise around the temple is the wheel that once adorned our red-colored Rs 20/ – currency note and now is on our Rs 10/- note. It is popular with tourists who love to click it with the currency note or with themselves.
What is interesting about these wheels is that they are not just ornate wheels but they are sundials. With the help of the shadow of the protruding middle knob, you can calculate the local time. Each wheel has miniature sculptures documenting some art form. The one on currency notes has the life of a hunter sculpted on it. Do look at them in detail.
11. Foreigners Galore
Konark sculptures are a great example of the global nature of Indian kingdoms. You see Chinese Travelers or Traders with their characteristic features, one of them apparently eating noodles on a folding table that too with chopsticks. You see Persians with their long caps.
My interpretation is the presence of these two always depicts the trade both with the west and east. Located on the eastern coast, the Chinese influence may have been little more. Our guide showed us Mongolian and Tibetans too who it seems used to come here for soaking in the sun, however, I would take it with a pinch of salt.
Read More – Reading the Paintings of Ajanta
12. Horses that would have driven the chariot
The horse sculptures are not very visible. You need to walk a little away from the temple to be able to see them. One of these galloping horses is the state symbol of Odisha.
13. Natya Mandapa
This pillared platform was designed for dance performances. The sculptures here can be seen full of dance poses, musical instruments being played that brings out an emotion of Utsav or celebration.
14. Iron Rods
Iron clamps and joints were used in the temple. You can also see them as beams on the doors of mandapa. To see them closely see a few of them kept on a platform in the garden. Talk about the metallurgical heritage of India.
Read More – The Engineering Marvels of India
15. Maya Devi Temple
A temple at the back of Sun Temple was supposed to be dedicated to Maya Devi or according to some accounts Chaya Devi, wife of Surya. This temple is older than the Sun temple itself.
16. Bhoga Mandapa
At the side lawns of the temple, you see a series of drains or water channels leading to a platform. This was potentially the kitchen cum dining area called Bhoga Mandapa. You can also see two wells around it.
17. Navagraha Temple
A little walk from the exit of Sun temple will take you to ancient and practicing Navagraha temple. It is a panel of black stone with 9 Grahas or planets carved on it. This panel was the part of the entrance of Konark and now only part of it that is still being worshipped.
18. Konark Sun Temple Site Museum
The campus has one of the best site museums. It tries to recreate the temple as it would have been built. It recreates the broken sculptures for you, explains the concept of sun worship in India including its pivotal role in yoga, takes you through the nuances of Odisha handicrafts and arts.
In the end, it presents you with the story of Konark Temple in an animated film. I visited the temple first and then the museum, but you can also choose to visit the museum first and then the temple. I would say when the sun is too hot to visit the museum. You need to buy a separate ticket for the museum.
19. Konark Dance Festival
An annual dance festival takes place every February at the Natya Mandapa. It is one of the most popular events. I hope to attend it one fine year.
20. World Heritage Site
21. Ramchandi Temple on the Beach
This is an ancient temple located right at the beach dedicated to the goddess Ramchandi. She is the presiding goddess of Arka Kshetra and her temple used to be in the place where the Sun temple now stands.
According to Mahabharata, she guided Sri Ram on defeating Ravana, when he was on his way to Sri Lanka. It is a small but very popular temple.
I saw a panel of Dash Mahavidyas in the temple indicating its Tantric nature. Around this temple are many small temples, all of them overlooking the sea.
22. Chandrabhaga Tank
River Chandrabhaga used to flow and meet the sea in this area. Today it is represented by a small tank by the same name. Pilgrims still take a ritual dip in this tank. It is very close to the sea and Ramchandi temple. You can attend the Chandrabhaga Mela that is held on Magh Shukla Saptami every year.
23. Boatride at the beach
You can enjoy the sunrise on the beach or take a boat ride.
24. Shop for Odia & Sun Temple Souvenirs
From the ticket counter to the entrance of the temple there are souvenir shops on both sides. You can buy all kinds of Odia souvenirs including miniature versions of the Sun Temple.
- It is located 40 km from Puri and 60 from Bhubaneswar, a part of Odisha’s golden triangle.
- You need at least 2 hours to see the temple properly. Budget around 30-40 mins for the museum in addition to that.
- Food is available at the restaurant next to the site museum. It is a decent place to eat. Apart from it, there are food stall and street food close to Navagraha Temple where you can buy food.
- Photography is allowed without any restrictions.
- ASI approved guides are available, but I am not very happy with their knowledge. If you can pick up the ASI guide on Konark, which is a part of their series on World Heritage Sites. It will help you see the place on your own. I seriously hope that ASI looks into retraining their guides.
- You need to walk a lot, so carry your water or any food that you may require.