Sun Temple Konark (Orissa, India)

My association with Konark temple dates back to my childhood years when a visit to Puri always meant spending some time in the architecturally magnificent temple of the Sun God.

I faintly recollect a child me posing for a photo for my dad’s camera, with one of the huge, intricately carved wheel of the chariot as the background. The black & white photographs are now perhaps untraceable but the memory still lingers on. Bay of Bengal in general is at any time a better variety of sea, so far as its waves, roughness and charm is concerned.

Therefore even after spending years in Mumbai and visiting Goa frequently, Bay of Bengal has always remained an attraction and hence I went back to Puri; after a long flight to Bhubaneshwar another long drive to Puri. Days later it was time to re-visit and explore the biggest tourist attraction in the area: the Sun Temple in Konark, the gorgeous sandstone building, and a UNESCO World Heritage site. A short drive from Puri and we reached the temple complex. The temple remains open to the visitors from sunrise to sunset.

Lots of things have changed since the time I visited last. Earlier climbing upto a certain level in the temple was allowed but now it has been stopped, graffiti being one of the reasons or perhaps it had become a favourite spot for those who wanted to end life unceremoniously… whatever. We took a qualified guide who took us around the entire temple complex explaining and narrating the different aspects of the chariot. Built around the 13th century by Raja Narasimha Deva of Orissa, the temple took around 16 years to be built with the help of 1200 workmen. The Sun Temple is conceived as a massive chariot; hauling the Sun God across the heavens by the might of seven splendidly carved horses, standing aloft on 24 intricately carved chariot wheels, symbolizing the march of time. Two rows of 12 wheels on each side represent either 24 hours in a day or 12 months in a year, the exact is not known. The seven horses are meant to symbolize the seven days of the week.

Depictions on the walls describe the life of those times - royal, social, religious and military and the intricate carvings on the walls and wheels of the chariot are unprecedented in history. Earlier, this temple was also termed as the ‘Black-Pagoda.’ It was a nightmare to the sailors who feared that a strong magnet on top of this temple drew the ships near to the coast causing shipwrecks. The water current in this part of Bay of Bengal is very strong.  Abul Fazl, Akbar's official historian has mentioned Konark in his Ain-i-Akbari, much before it turned to ruins and he was amazed at the beauty of the spectacle. Although the temple was a grand conception, it was never fully completed because that kind of grandeur in plan was too much to be actually carried out.  It is also said that the temple had fallen into disuse after the Muslims visited it and time brought this colossal monument into its present ruined condition; only two temples out of the total 22 in the entire temple complex exist today.

We moved from one platform to the other listening to the stories of construction and the number of mythological tales associated with it. Photography was on in full swing. There were professionals with their hi-tech equipments and there were amateurs like us who were more interested in photographing ourselves keeping the most vivid religious architecture in the background. Even though the great tower of this temple has lost much of its glory and portions of the shrine of the presiding deity has crumbled, the temple is still a brilliant chronicle in stone with the ‘Mukkhasala’ or entrance hall continuing to interest both devotees and visitors.

The walls of this magnificent ruin are adorned by exquisite sculptures covering many aspects of life. Scenes of love and war, transactions, hunting, teaching, dancers, mythical figures, birds, animals and loads of intricate designs are beautifully depicted on the walls. Although the main sanctum is in ruins, the 39-meter high audience hall and the dance hall are still there.

Two horses and two monolithic elephants, exhibit the dynamism of the sculpture. Adjacent to the main temple is the ‘Natya Mandir’ or the dance hall, intricately carved with musicians and dancers in various poses from the original temple dances. Today the amphitheater with the Sun Temple at the backdrop is the venue for one of the most exciting dance festivals.

The ancient stones ring with the sound of ankle bells and the beat of the drums as the exponents of classical dance take the stage during the Konark Dance Festival in winter. Out of the chariot-temple scenario we visited the Sun Temple Museum. Run by the Archaeological Survey of India, the museum has an excellent collection of sculptures from the temple ruins and books about the architectural masterpiece of Oriya Art. From here we moved towards the beach that is known for its infamous strong water current.

Being much peaceful than Puri, the Sun Temple of Konark stood gorgeously on the wind swept sand dunes of the Bay of Bengal fringed with palm and casuarinas plantations making the scene absolutely marvelous and memorable.