The Konark Sun Temple is the most popular sun temple in the world. It is hard to imagine how great it would have looked if it had been intact and if all seven horses running made it look like a chariot in motion. The best way to feel the size of this temple is to see the Puri Jagannath Temple, which is of comparable size.
Odisha has 4 different kshetras or regions that are identified by the four Ayudhas of Vishnu or the things he holds in his four hands. Of these, Konark is the one Padam or the Lotus Kshetra. In fact, the temple was named PadmaKesara Deul and the presiding sun god was called Mahabhaskara. Konark refers to the corner that the Aditya or Sun worshiped. The region is also called Arka Kshetra.
History of the Konark sun temple
According to Pauran sources, the Banks of Chandrabhaga river in Utkala (an ancient name of the Odisha) was the place of sun worship. Legends associate this place with Sambha, the son of Krishna and Jamvanti, who worshiped the sun here to get rid of a skin condition. The place is also associated with Multan, which was also an important center for sun worship. Remember that the Chenab River was also called Chandrabhaga there.
In the well-known story, local palm leaf manuscripts report that a sun temple was originally built by kings of the Kesari dynasty. The temple continued to be venerated by later rulers of the Ganga dynasty. It was King Narasimhadeva who built this temple in front of the old temple in the 13th century. The construction took about 12 years. It was attacked for the first time in the middle of the 16th century and the invaders were just able to take away its Kalasha or pot above and Dhwaj or flag.
Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and Abu Fazal were among the travelers who visited the Konark Sun Temple.
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There are various theories about the demise of this temple. They range from destruction by invaders like Kala Pahad to technical errors that lead to a gradual fall. When it was visited again by James Fergusson in the 19th century, the main temple was a heap of rubble from which no main deity was recovered. The Arun Stambh or the main pillar of this temple was moved to the Puri Jagannath temple by the Maratha rulers in the 18th century. What you see today is the bowl of Mahamandapa, filled with sand and a Natya mandap in front. The walls are gratefully preserved so that we can 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 and was balanced by the magnetic forces. The first rays of sun fell on the forehead of the deity and gave an impression of the rising sun.
Some of the things you shouldn’t miss when you visit.
24 things to see at Konark Sun Temple
1. Admire the massive architecture
The Konark Sun Temple is a great example of the architecture of the Kalinga Temple on a scale that is rarely seen. I still wonder how someone imagined a temple as a chariot pulled by seven horses and replicated the iconography of the presiding deity on such a massive scale.
The highest part of the temple is missing, and yet the temple looks great. The chariot has 24 wheels that show the 24 hours of the day and also 24 fortnightly a year. The 7 horses that represent the 7 days of the week properly pull the chariot. I wish someone had saved the drone shot of a fully built temple for us. Even if it was designed in a car shape, it follows the entire architectural style of the Kalinga duel 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. Due to the fragility of the structure, you must not climb up. However, you can see the green door posts with intricate chlorite stone carvings. The rest of the structure consists of khondalite and laterite stone. None of these stones are available locally and were probably brought from afar across the waters of the Chanrabhaga River.
Scholars say that the stones were smoothed, fixed, and then carved in situ. That says a lot about the skills to deal with the hard stone. The doors are also geared towards the movement of the sun. The front and back doors receive the sun’s rays on the same days and the two side doors receive the first rays during the north and south movements of the sun.
3. Sculptures of the Konark sun temple
It is said that the temple was built like titans, but was finished like jewelers. You have to admire these sculptures sculpted with jeweler precision. Like most temples, the sculptures in the Konark Sun Temple include deities, scenes from human life, royal life, eroticism, flora and fauna, architectural motifs and decorative elements of various scales.
4. Elephant plate below
At the bottom of the temple structure is a plaque with carved elephants, which gives the impression that they bear the burden of the temple. Note that the baby elephants are also engraved on this board.
5. Naga sculptures
Many Naga Nagini sculptures can be seen on the wall panels at human eye level. Most of them are half human and half snake. You would notice them as soon as you walk clockwise around the temple. Around them you would also see women engaged in martial arts or riding a horse.
6. Giraffe sculpture
One of the most fascinating sculptures is that of a giraffe, an animal that is not from India. It indicates the animal’s awareness, if not its actual presence in the region. Does it indicate trade relations with Africa? Probably yes. Imagine a dealer sitting with a sculptor and explaining what this animal with its long neck looks like. Or maybe it was a gift from an African trader.
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Next to it is the representation of King Narasimadev and his queen Sitadevi – the builders of this temple.
7. Giant elephant figures
These can be seen as you approach the temple and some on the platform next to it. They are angry and crush the hunt. I wonder if they were a war they took part in.
The giant lion that crushes the elephant sculpture that you see entering the stairs is the symbol of power. These make scholars ask if the temple was built to commemorate a successful military campaign. Guides interpret it as annihilation of a person who gets too much wealth and power.
8. Erotic or Maithuna figures
Like most ancient temples, this one also has a portion of erotic images depicting the lovemaking of couples, including same-sex ones. My ASI book tells me that the sculptures in this temple represent all 9 rasas or emotions mentioned in Indian scriptures. Erotic shows the Shringar Rasa or the feeling of love and romance, but it stands out in a way that draws our attention more than the other feelings.
Another opinion connects them to the Tantric path of worship, which was prominently practiced in Odisha.
9. Sun sculptures made of green chlorite
At the top of the mandapa you can see the sculptures of Adityas made of chlorite stone, which they highlight on all walls in green stone. When I visited many years ago you could go to them, but now you have to admire them from afar. Note the high boots that these figures wear.
10. Famous bikes on our Rs 10 / banknote
Wheel No. 6, when you move clockwise around your temple, is the wheel that once adorned our red colored Rs 20 / banknote and is now on our Rs 10 / banknote. It is popular with tourists who love to click on it with the banknote or with themselves.
The interesting thing about these bikes is that they are not only decorated bikes but also sundials. You can calculate the local time using the shadow of the protruding middle button. Each wheel has miniature sculptures that document an art form. The life of a hunter is depicted on the banknotes. Take a look at them in detail.
11. Foreigners in abundance
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 which apparently eats noodles on a folding table, including the one with chopsticks. You see Persians with their long hats.
My interpretation is that the presence of these two always represents trade with both the West and the East. Located on the east coast, the Chinese influence could hardly have been greater. Our guide also showed us Mongols and Tibetans what it seems like to come here to lie in the sun, but I would take it with a pinch of salt.
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12. Horses that would have driven the chariot
The horse sculptures are not very visible. You have to walk a little bit away from the temple to see them. One of these galloping horses is the state symbol of Odisha.
13. Natya Mandapa
This column platform was designed for dance performances. The sculptures here are full of dance poses, musical instruments that evoke an emotion of Utsav or celebration.
14. Iron bars
Iron clips and joints were used in the temple. You can also see them as bars on Mandapa’s doors. To see them closely, you can see some of them on a platform in the garden. Talk about India’s metallurgical heritage.
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15. Maya Devi Temple
A temple in the back of the sun temple should be dedicated to Maya Devi or, according to some reports, Chaya Devi, the wife of Surya. This temple is older than the sun temple itself.
16. Bhoga Mandapa
On the side lawns of the temple you can see a series of drains or water channels leading to a platform. This may have been the kitchen and dining area called Bhoga Mandapa. You can also see two fountains around it.
17th Navagraha Temple
A short walk from the exit of the sun temple will take you to the ancient and practicing Navagraha temple. It is a black stone tablet with 9 grahas or planets. This plaque was part of the entrance to Konark and now only part of it that is still being worshiped.
18. Konark Sun Temple Site Museum
The campus has one of the best museums. It tries to restore 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 central role in yoga, and guides you through the nuances of Odisha’s craft and art.
In the end, it presents the history of the Konark temple in an animated film. I visited the temple first and then the museum, but you can also visit the museum first and then the temple. I would say if the sun is too hot to visit the museum. You have to buy a separate ticket for the museum.
19th Konark Dance Festival
Every year in February there is a dance festival in Natya Mandapa. It is one of the most popular events. I hope that I can have a nice year.
20. World Heritage Site
It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage Sites registered in 1984, making it one of the oldest of these sites in India. See the quote Here.
21. Ramchandi temple on the beach
This is an ancient beachfront temple dedicated to the goddess Ramchandi. She is the presiding goddess of Arka Kshetra and her temple used to be where the Sun Temple is today.
According to Mahabharata, she led Sri Ram to victory over 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 with a view of the sea.
22. Chandrabhaga tank
The Chandrabhaga River flowed in this area and met the sea. Today it is represented by a small tank with the same name. Pilgrims are still ritually immersed in this tank. It is very close to the sea and Ramchandi temple. You can take part in the Chandrabhaga Mela, which takes place every year on Magh Shukla Saptami.
23. Boat trip on the beach
You can enjoy the sunrise on the beach or take a boat trip.
24. Buy souvenirs for Odia & Sun Temple
From the ticket office to the entrance to 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 40 km from Puri and 60 km from Bhubaneswar, part of Odisha’s golden triangle.
- It takes at least 2 hours to see the temple properly. Budget about 30-40 minutes for the museum in addition.
- Meals are available in the restaurant next to the museum. It’s a decent place to eat. Apart from that, there is a food stall and street food near the Navagraha temple where you can buy groceries.
- Photography is allowed without restrictions.
- Guides approved by ASI are available, but I’m not very happy with their knowledge. If you can pick up the ASI guide to Konark, which is part of the World Heritage Sites series. It will help you see the place on your own. I sincerely hope that ASI is considering retraining their guides.
- You have to walk a lot, so carry your water or food that you may need.
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