Konark Sun Temple

From New World Encyclopedia
Sun Temple, Konârak*
UNESCO World Heritage Site

Wheel of Konark
State Party Flag of India India
Type Cultural
Criteria i, iii, vi
Reference 246
Region** Asia-Pacific
Inscription history
Inscription 1984  (8th Session)
* Name as inscribed on World Heritage List.
** Region as classified by UNESCO.

The thirteenth-century Sun Temple (also known as the Black Pagoda), built in Orissa red sandstone (Khandolite) and black granite by King Narasimhadeva I (AD 1236-1264) of the Ganga dynasty. A World Heritage Site, the temple provides an exceptional look at India's religious heritage.

The Konark Sun Temple had been built as one of the finest examples of Brahmin architecture and beliefs. Built to honor the Sun God, Arka, the temple complex displays the enormous wealth, talent, and spirituality of the Brahmin in Orissa. Hinduism, the world's oldest continuously practiced religion, presents a mixture of the spiritually sublime and the earthly erotic in the Konark Temple.

Architecture Of The Sun Temple

The temple takes the form of the chariot of Surya (Arka), the sun god, heavily decorated with stone carving. The entire complex follows the design pattern of a huge chariot drawn by seven spirited horses on twelve pairs of elaborately decorated wheels.

Two giant lions guarded the entrance, each in the act of crushing a war elephant, symbolizing the supremacy of Brahmin Hinduism (lion) over the Buddhism (elephant). Each elephant, in turn, lies on top of a human body. The temple symbolises the majestic movement of the Sun god. At the entrance of the temple stands a Nata Mandir, where the temple dancers performed in homage to the Sun god. All around the temple, various floral and geometric patterns decorate the walls. Etching and reliefs of human, divine and semi-divine figures in sensuous poses also decorate the walls. Couples pose in a variety of amorous poses derived from the Kama Sutra. Parts of the temple now stand in ruins, with a a collection of its sculptures removed to the Sun Temple Museum run by the Archaeological Survey of India. The poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote of Konark: "Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man."

Stone work with erotic figures

The Sun Temple, built in the thirteenth century C.E., according to the design as a gigantic chariot of Sun God, with 12 pairs of highly ornamented wheels pulled by seven pairs of horses. Grand in conception, the temple represents one of the most fascinating monuments of India, famous as much for its imposing dimensions and faultless proportions as for the integration of architectural skill and almost life-like alliegence to the forms depicted. Sculpture renown in the art world for beauty and grace, in tableaux and freestanding pieces ranging from the monumental to the miniature, covers every inch of the temple. The 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. Those intersperse 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 renown jewel-like quality of Orissan art manifests throughout the temple, as well as a faithful human perspective which makes the sculpture extremely accessible.

Konark Sun Temple Front view.

The temple has earned fame for its erotic sculptures, found primarily on the second level of the porch structure. The viewer quickly notes the frank nature of their subject combined with an overwhelming tenderness and lyrical movement. That same humane and indulgent view of life extends to most the sculptures at Konark, where the thousands of human, animal, and divine personages engage in the full range of the "carnival of life" with an overwhelming sense of appealing realism. Regarded as the best example of Orissa art by critics, its fine traceries and scrollwork, as well as the beautiful and natural cut of animal and human figures, give it a superiority over other temples.

The Sun temple belongs to the Kalinga School of Indian Temples with characteristic curvilinear towers mounted by cupolas. In shape, the temple holds faithful to other sikhara temples of Orissa. The main sanctum stands 229 ft. high, constructed along with the audience hall lofting 128 ft. high, with elaborate architectural decorations. The main sanctum which enshrined the presiding deity has fallen off. The Audience Hall survives in its entirely, but only small portions of the Dancing Hall (nata Mandir) and the Dining Hall (Bhoga-Mandap) have survived the effects of time. The Temple compound measures 857 ft. by 540 ft.

The Sun Temple, aligning in an east-west direction, sits in natural surrounding abounding with casuarina plantations and other types of trees which grow on sandy soil.


Stone Work at Konark

Some historians opine 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 that, the incomplete structure eventually collapsed. But historical data fails to support that view. The records of Madala Panji of Puri Jagannath temple, as well as from some copper plates dated 1278 C.E., state that the king Langula Narasimha Dev reigned till 1282 C.E. Many historians hold the opinion that the construction of the Konark temple finished between 1253 and 1260 C.E. So the argument that the temple collapsed due to non-completion during construction appears untenable. Harshith Dev, the emperor of India, reconstructed the temple, bring the structure to the current earning UNESCO's designation as a World Heritage Site. After that reconstruction, the religious pilgrims considered Harshith Dev divine.


Legends describe a lodestone on the top of the Sun temple. Due to its magnetic effects, vessels passing through the Konark sea felt drawn to it, resulting in heavy damage. Other legends state that magnetic effects of the lodestone disturbed ships' compasses so that they malfunctioned. To save their shipping, the Muslim voyagers took away the lodestone, which acted as the central stone, keeping all the stones of the temple wall in balance. Due to its displacement, the temple walls lost their balance and eventually fell down. But records of that occurrence, or of such a powerful lodestone at Konark, have never been found.


The most popular theory about the root of the fall of Konark temple rests with the Kalapahad. According to the history of Orissa, Kalapahad invaded Orissa in 1508 C.E.. He destroyed Konark temple, as well as a number of Hindu temples in Orissa. The Madala Panji of Puri Jagannath temple describes how Kalapahad attacked Orissa in 1568. Including Konark temple, he broke most of the images in most of the Hindu temples in Orissa. Though impossible to break the Sun temple of Konark, with stone walls 20 to 25 feet thick, he somehow managed to displace the Dadhinauti (Arch stone) and thus weaken the temple leading to its collapse. He also broke most of the images as well as side temples of Konark. Due to displacement of the Dadhinauti, the temple gradually collapsed and the roof of the Mukasala suffered damaged, due to the stones falling down from the temple top.

Consequently, Orissa came under Muslim control in 1568 C.E., resulting in frequent attempts to destroy the Hindu temples. The Pandas of Puri, to save the sanctity of the Puri temple, took away the Lord Jagannath from the Srimandir and kept the image in a secret place. Similarly, the Pandas of Konark removed the presiding deity of the Sun temple and buried it under the sand for years. Later, reports say the image had been removed to Puri and kept in the temple of Indra, in the compound of the Puri Jagannath temple. According to some, the Puja image of the Konark temple remains to be discovered. But others hold the view that the Sun image now kept in the National Museum of Delhi constitutes the presiding deity of the Konark Sun temple.

The Sun worship in the Konark temple, including pilgrimages, ended with the removal of the image from the temple. The port at Konark closed due to pirate attacks. Konark's renown for Sun worship matched its fame commercial activities, but after the Sun Temple ceased to attract faithful, Konark became deserted, left to disappear in dense forests for years.

Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, India.

In 1626, king of Khurda, Raja Narasimha Dev, son of Purusottam Dev, took away the Sun image to Puri along with two other moving deities—Sun and Moon. They have appeared in a temple in the compound of Puri Jagannath temple.

The Madala Panji of Puri temple has recored that in 1028, Raja Narasimha Dev ordered measurements taken of all the temples at Konark. At the time of measurement, the Sun temple construction reached Amalak sila, i.e. about 200 feet in height. Kalapahad had only destroyed its Kalas, the crowning stone and the Padma-dhwaja, the lotus finial and the upper portions.

As described earlier, a gigantic block of stone called Navagraha Paata had been placed in front of the Mukhasala. King of Khurda removed the block, taking away many sculptured stones from Konark and constructed some portions of Puri temple with them as well. During Marahatta's reign, the outer compound wall of the Puri temple had been constructed with stones from Konark temple.

Reportly, that among all the temples, the Naata Mandir or the Dancing hall of Konark has been in its original form for the longest period. Considered an unnecessary, the Marahata administration broke structure intentionally.

In the year 1779 C.E., a Marhatta Sadhu had taken away the Arun Pillar from Konark and put it in front of the Lion's Gate of Puri Jagannath temple. Thus, by the end of eighteenth century, Konark lost its glory, turning into to a dense forest, full of sand, filled with wild animals and the abode of pirates. Reportedly, even the locals feared to go to Konark in broad daylight.


Statue of the Sun God Surya in the Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, India.

The legend says that King Narasimha Deva-I of the Ganga Dynasty had ordered the temple built as a royal proclamation of the political supremacy of his dynasty. A workforce of 1,200 artisans and architects invested their creative talent, energy and artistic commitment for 12 years. The king had spent an amount equivalent to the state's revenue receipts of over the 12 years, yet the completion of the construction remained impossibe to predict. The king issued a command to complete the work by a set date. The team of architects, headed by Bisu Maharana, lost hope of completion of the temple. Dharmapada, the 12 year old son of the chief architect Bisu Maharana, arrived as a visiting onlooker. He became aware of the dispair overwhelming the architects. Although he lacked experience constructing temples, he thoroughly studied the theories of temple architecture. He offered to solve the confounding problem of fixing the last copping stone at the top of the temple, surprising everyone by doing that himself. But soon after that achievement, workers found the body of that adolescent prodigy on the beach at the foot of the temple. Legend state that Dharmapada offered his life to save his community.

Royalty dedicated the temple to the Sun God (Arka) popularly called Biranchi Narayan, and the tract in which it is situated was known as Arka-Kshetra as well as padma-kshetra. According to mythology, leprosy smote Samba, son of Lord Krishna, as the result of a curse by Lord Krishna. For 12 years, Samba performed severe penance at Mitravana, near the confluence of Chandrabhaga river with the sea at Konark. He ultimately succeeded in pleasing the god Surya, the healer of all skin diseases, enjoying a cure of his illness. In gratitude, he decided to erect a temple in the honour of Surya. The day following his cure, while bathing in the Chandrabhaga, Samba discovered an image of the god, fashioned out of Surya's body by Viswakarma. Samba installed that image in a temple he built in Mitravana. Since then, that place has been regarded as sacred.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Behera, Karuna Sagar. Konark The Black Pagoda. New Delhi: Publications Division, Ministry of Information & Broadcasting, Govt. of India, 2005. ISBN 9788123012360
  • Boner, Alice, Sadāśiva Rath Śarmā, and Rājendra Prasāda Dāsa. 1972. New light on the Sun Temple of Koṇārka; four unpublished manuscripts relating to construction history and ritual of this temple. Jaikrishnadas-Krishnadas prachyavidya granthamala, 6. Varanasi: Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office. OCLC: 658828
  • Donaldson, Thomas E. Konark. Monumental legacy. New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2003. ISBN 9780195664898
  • Elisofon, Eliot, and Alan Watts. Erotic Spirituality; The Vision of Konarak. New York: Macmillan, 1971. OCLC: 172057
  • Mehta, Rustam Jehangir. Konarak, The Sun-Temple of Love. Bombay: D.B. Taraporevala Sons, 1969. OCLC: 116667

External links

All links retrieved April 23, 2018.


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