Odisha is a simple laid back state, that was once famous for getting into a fight with West Bengal about roshogullas. Yet, this state has within itself a temple that has within itself a temple that is known for its exemplary architecture and its brilliance in that has made it a UNESCO world heritage site.
This fantastic temple is called the Sun Temple, that is located in Konark. The temple, as the name suggests was built in devotion to the Sun God. Even the architecture is such that the temple catches the sun rays and reflects it towards the figure of Surya- Sun God. This reflection then lights up the figurine. This neat yet wonderful mechanism is what makes this temple so popular among tourists.
The temple was erected by King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty.
There are several theories about this temple. Many believe that it is a half done temple, and hence has become a ruin only to be restored by the Archaeological Survey of India, others believe that it came under attack from the Muslim king Kalapahad in the 16th Century. Yet, in all of those odds, the temple complex survived and has not become a world heritage site. This status can be owed to not just the magnificent architecture but also to the fact that the design is unique and extremely well thought of. It also packs in a lot of culture and history through its depiction of both everyday life- the mundane activities and a substantial amount of erotica. These depictions can be found all over the walls.
Inside the Temple
The Sun Temple of Konark is mostly famous for its different and intricate architecture. It is shaped like a chariot that has 24 wheels. Each part of this chariot is beautifully engraved with symbols that have their own significance. There are seven horses that seem to pull the chariot. There are four horses on one side and three on the other. This uneven distribution is actually well thought of symbolism. It reflects the fact that the chariot is moving faster on one side, which means that it is in a circular motion, just like the sun. The temple complex is made in such a way that one has to basically trace the journey of the sun.
The very entrance of the temple has an intimidating image of two lions crushing an elephant under whom lies a man. This itself is a testimony to the power that this Sun Temple holds.
Sun Temple is also very dark in colour. A lot of people have referred to it as the “Black Pagoda” owing to the fact that many shipwrecks took place near this temple because of a huge lodestone. This lodestone was said to be where the main deity would float mid-air, owing to its magnetic properties. The lodestone also acted a navigational landmark. But, the lodestone created a lot of distraction for the European ships, which made the British remove it. This created an improper balance which made the temple collapse.
Nata Mandir and Vimana
One of the main attractions of the temple is the Nata Mandir. The Nata Mandir was built to host devotional dances that were dedicated to the Sun God. The architecture was such that, the first ray of light during sunrise would hit Nata Mandir and then reflect from the diamond in the middle of the idol in the temple’s main hall.
The main hall of the temple is called the Vimana. The temple also has a gigantic roof, divided into three tiers. Each tier has a life-size depiction of women in various dance poses. It is an ode to the folk culture of Odisha.
The Temple has four main doors on four sides. The Western door leads on to the inner sanctum called the Antarala. The entrance to this has beautiful carved walls and paintings that depict a time long gone. A closer inspection of the paintings would reveal that they are put up in sequential order and weave together a mythological tale as one passes each painting.
There are different idols of various sun gods kept all over the complex. The idols are all in dark green colour.
Another fascinating fact about the architecture is that there are erotic symbols mixed very well with cultural and religious symbols. They were precariously etched on the walls of the chariot, and the erratic placements of these depictions also suggest of a time when erotica or sex was not a form of taboo and was seen as an everyday activity. Some erotica delves deep into lesbianism, gays and even children and animals. It is amazing how this managed to evade the eyes of our censor board! There are also other carvings like- elephants, flowers, geometric patterns, dancers and even musicians. The wheels of the chariot are also elaborately carved and the details are breathtaking. One can just simply stand and admire the sheer hard work and precision needed to create such a masterpiece. The wheels also doubled up as sundials- all 24 of them.
Getting to Sun Temple
Konark is about 35km from Puri in Odisha. Puri is located about one and a half hours away from Bhubaneshwar which is the capital city.
From Puri, there are regular direct shuttle buses to Konark. The journey takes about one hour and costs about 30 rupees.
There are also cabs readily available but charge a much higher fee. A cab charges about 1500 rupees which inclusive of waiting time.
Another option is to take an auto rickshaw or tuk-tuk, which takes about 800 for a round trip.
For Indians, the ticket price is 40 rupees, and for foreigners, it is about 600 rupees. Tickets can be also booked online.
There is also a new light and sound show that started in 2017. The show mainly narrates historical significance through the mediums of light and sound. It happens in the evening and is a wonderful spectacle. It is awe inspiring to watch as the whole temple comes alive. The realistic narration and the playful lights make one feel that they have transported to that very era of the temple. It lasts about 35 minutes and is 50 rupees per person.
The Sun Temple in Konark is a benchmark of architecture and of its times. Every single symbol, carving, idol and, statues have a reason to be there. They have their own story and as a whole contributes to the bigger picture. It is one of the most intricately carved temples and is charming in every possible way. The progressive way of thinking is also reflected through the abundant erotica found on the exterior walls of the temple.
This temple is truly a place of not just worship but also a place for an in-depth study and analysis.