It’s in the magnificent Sun Temple at Konark, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that the architectural tradition of Odisha reaches its culmination, displaying an unparalleled grandeur.
Odisha, pulsates with the spirit of Indian culture. Known throughout history as Kalinga, Utkala, or Odra, it acts as a bridge between the northern and southern parts of the country. It has gone through successive rules of different dynasties, assimilating and synthesising the best of Buddhist, Jain, and Hindu temples.
The temple culture condenses the quintessence of India. Whether it’s the sacred environs of the Puri Jagannath temple, the mysterious caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri or the mystical monasteries of Buddhism, the glories of the past still speak to you eloquently. It is perhaps the only state where one can study the chronological development of temple architecture from the earliest specimens of the 6th century AD to the 13th century AD.
A visit to the temples in Bhubaneswar alone takes one on a walk through five centuries of the golden age of Hindu temple building, with the architectural style developing, expanding, and refining all the while. However, it’s in the magnificent Sun Temple at Konark that the architectural tradition of Odisha reaches its culmination, displaying a grandeur that seems unparalleled. A visitor to this temple is left speechless with the spectacle staring him in the eyes, even as he wonders if the architectural and artistic magnificence of man extends into infinity.
History of the Sun Temple
The Sun Temple at Konark was built by King Narasimhadeva in the 13th century, designed in the shape of a colossal chariot, carrying the sun god – Surya, to the heavens. The image of the sun god traversing the heavens is an ancient one, an image that arrived in India with the arrival of the Aryans. It has been listed as a World Heritage Monument, and commending its beauty, Nobel Laureate Poet Rabindranath Tagore said, “Here the language of stones surpasses the language of man.”
The architecture of the Sun Temple
The Sun Temple is a solitary splendour surrounded by drifting sand, located 3km from the sea. Originally, it was reported to be even closer, at which point it was used as a navigational point by European sailors, who referred to it as the “Black Pagoda.”
The temple is set at the centre of a spacious courtyard, enclosed by a compound wall, along with subsidiary shrines and structures. The temple complex consists of broken Deula(main temple) and Jagamohana (porch), on a raised platform. The Natamandir (Hall of Dance), which is situated in front of the Jagamohana, and a shrine of Chhaya Devi on the southwest corner, are two detached structures. Just outside the temple compound, one can find a monolithic stone panel with images of nine planets housed in the Nabagraha Shrine (a living shrine in active worship).
Art of the Sun Temple
The famous jewel-like quality that defines Odisha art is evident even in the Sun Temple. The temple chronicles in stone the religious, military, social, and domestic aspects of the 13th-century royal world. Thousands of images that adorn this temple include deities, celestial and human musicians, dancers, lovers, and myriad scenes of courtly life. All of them depict scenes ranging from hunts and military battles to the battles of courtly relaxation. These are interspersed with birds, animals, mythological creatures and a wealth of intricate botanical and geometrical decorative designs.
Legend behind the Temple
A popular legend has it that the son of the god Krishna, the vain and handsome Samba, ridiculed a holy, albeit ugly, sage. The sage took his revenge by luring Samba to a pool where Krishna’s escorts were bathing. While Samba stared at them, the sage slipped away and summoned Krishna to the site.
Enraged by his son’s apparent impropriety with his stepmothers, Krishna cursed the boy with leprosy, with the realisation later dawning on him that Samba had been tricked, but it was too late to withdraw the curse. He was therefore advised to pray to the sun god, who, it was believed, possessed the powers to cure him of the ailment. Samba then travelled to this place and performed 12 years of penance to Surya who, pleased with his devotion, cured him of the dreaded disease. In thanksgiving, Samba erected a temple at the spot.
Interpretations of the carvings of this iconic temple
There are several interpretations of the carvings of this iconic temple. The iconography depicts the Sun God riding a chariot pulled by seven horses. The horses are said to depict the seven colours of visible light as well as the seven days of the week. The Konark Sun Temple is designed as a massive chariot with twelve pairs of stone wheels, pillars, and walls. The twelve wheels are believed to represent the twelve months of the Hindu calendar.
The ancient Konark Sun Temple holds within it timeless wisdom – quite literally! Its exquisite stone chariot wheels have been designed to tell the time with stunning accuracy both day and night. With eight spokes representing 24 hours, this incredible structure demonstrates an eye for detail that astounds even in times gone by.
The Konark Sun Temple houses seven remarkable horses, each with a unique poetic name. These are Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnih, Jagati Trishtubha, Anushtubha, and Pankti – all of which pay homage to the seven meters or छंद of Sanskrit poetry steeped in tradition!
Interesting facts about the Sun Temple that are not commonly known:
The Sun Temple in Odisha, India, is a magnificent monument and a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here are some interesting facts about the temple that are not commonly known:
- The Sun Temple in Odisha is one of the most significant and largest sun temples in India, and it was built in the 13th century CE during the reign of the Eastern Ganga dynasty.
- The name ‘Konark’ is derived from Sanskrit words meaning corner or angle (kona) and sun (ark), which resonates with its significance as a representation of Lord Surya’s chariot.
- The temple was constructed using Khondalite rocks that were transported from a distance of around 35 kilometers. The temple is entirely made of stone, and no mortar or cement was used in its construction.
- The temple is designed in the form of a chariot, with 12 pairs of wheels that are beautifully decorated. The chariot is pulled by seven horses, symbolizing the seven days of the week.
- The temple complex comprises three main structures: the Nata Mandir (dance hall), Jagamohana (assembly hall), and the Vimana (sanctum sanctorum).
- The temple is renowned for its intricate and detailed sculptures that depict various stories from Hindu mythology, including scenes from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.
- The temple’s main deity is Surya, the Hindu sun god, and it is believed that the temple was built to commemorate his triumph over darkness and ignorance.
- The temple complex was originally surrounded by a massive wall, which was around 20 feet high and had two gateways. However, the wall and one of the gateways were destroyed during the 19th century by the British.
- The temple has suffered extensive damage over the centuries due to natural calamities and invasions. However, the temple’s restoration work was carried out in the 20th century, which helped preserve the temple’s beauty and grandeur.
- The Sun Temple in Odisha is also known for its unique astronomical design. The temple’s architecture is based on the principles of astronomy, and the temple’s inner sanctum is positioned in such a way that the first rays of the rising sun fall directly on the idol of the sun god.
- the temple’s design is based on the principles of sacred geometry, which is a field of study that explores the relationship between geometry, spirituality, and the universe. The temple’s design incorporates various geometric shapes, including squares, triangles, circles, and rectangles, which are believed to have significant spiritual and metaphysical significance.
- The temple complex is also known for its two massive elephants, which stand guard at the entrance of the temple. These elephants are intricately carved and are a testament to the temple’s exquisite craftsmanship.
Overall, the Sun Temple in Odisha is a marvel of ancient Indian architecture and a symbol of India’s rich cultural heritage. It is a must-visit destination for anyone interested in exploring India’s glorious past.
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