Konark Sun Temple (Puri - Odisha)

One prime reason I wanted to visit Odisha was to see the Konark Sun Temple. Yes, it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site! Though the original temple was built by Purandara Kesari in about 1080-90 CE, the current structure was built in 1250 CE under the reign of Eastern Ganga King Narasimha Deva. The temple is for Sun God! This is the epitome of Orissa Architecture! The marvel is that the whole temple is built in the shape of a chariot!!! 

As soon as we enter is the 2 mighty monolithic Gaja-Simha (a human crushed by an elephant (gaja) which is in turn crushed by Simha (lion) on either side of the staircase! There are several philosophical and moral stories that float around about the symbolism, as explained by many guides, but none have proof. The extremely ridiculous things I’ve read about Konark include that presence of a magnet in the Siva Lingam that made a crystal above float… to the sunrays falling on the lingam 365 days a year (yeah, more often it’s a digitally altered image of Angkor Vat that accompanies these claims!)!! Big no, again none of these have any proof!  
The temple continued to be in worship till 1570s, as mentioned in Ain e Akbari! However by 1573, Kalapahad raided Konark and the building fell into disuse. By 1620s the dieties here were shifted to Purushotama temple. After that over time, with lack of maintenance, the Deula / Tower collapsed!
Pic Courtesy: South View of Black Pagoda (1809), Unknown, Columbia.edu, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

Pic Courtesy: A lithography plate from James Fergusson's 'Ancient Architecture in Hindoostan' (1847), 
Columbia.edu / bl.uk, Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.

The architecture is of typical Orissan style with a Nata mandira, Jagmohana and the towering Deula! The towering Deula (perhaps the tallest when it stood) in black stone was in pure contrast to Puri Jagannath temple’s Deula which was painted white - naming them Black Pagoda and White Pagoda. These were used extensively for navigation for sea traders! By 1824 CE, only a small portion of the Deula was still standing which too collapsed by 1848 CE. By 1901 CE, Sir John Woodburn (when India was still under British raj) took the ultimate step to preserve the Jagmohana which was still standing – to close all the doors permanently, drill a hole atop and fill the whole structure with sand! It took 3 years to do it and till date, its standing safe! 

Soon after you enter is the Natamandira, whose platform and pillars are still standing, but without a ceiling! A walk around the platform is just breath taking – there are soldiers, dancers, musicians, erotic poses, hunting scenes in slots surrounded by minute filigree work – all in stone!!! I don’t know who that gentleman is, but I didn’t crop him out of the picture, so you have an idea of the size we’re talking about!!! On the platform are 16 (4 x 4) pillars, all carved again with beautiful women and mystical beings!

From there somehow I manage pull myself to Sun God’s chariot shaped Jagamohana! The main structure seen today as the Konark Sun Temple is only the Jagmohana which was what was filled with sand! Again here, instead of climbing the staircase, I first went around it! Being chariot shaped, it has wheels all around it and horses in front of it. There are 7 horses (4 on one side and 3 on another), named after each color of VIBGYOR (except B incl white), of which only one is in an almost complete state.

There are 24 wheels (12 on each side) all around the platform depicting the 12 Rashis (sun signs)! Each wheel is 2.9m diameter with 8 spokes. While the structure of all the wheels is the same, the sculptural detail in each is different! The axle of the wheels extends out for a foot, though some are broken. At the end of these are miniature sculptures, and in one was Narasimha tearing down Hiranyakashipu!!! The swirling pattern in the thickness of the wheel needs to looked into – and spot the animals inside each swirl!!! It’s also said that the wheels are sun dials, with the space between each spoke as 3hrs and the whole wheel depicting 24hrs. Holding a stick parallel to the ground, at the centre of the axle and measuring its shadow would tell the time! I did not personally try it out and can’t vouch for it!



The lowest frieze is of elephants in all possible postures including enclosed in a stable, walked by soldiers, eating trees, playing, and even giving birth (remember similar depiction in Kanchipuram?)!!! Above this frieze are 2 friezes of nagas (snake like humans), yalis (mystical lion like creatures), shalabanjikas (women with trees) and erotic poses! Try to find the giraffe in it (which isn't a local animal!). Finally, right atop is another short frieze of royal entourage incl elephants, horses, soldiers, attendants, palanquins etc. 

Finally as I came back to the entrance after going all around the platform, I was just pulled by something all the more fantastic – the entrance of Jagmohana! Quite unusually, quite a few monuments here in Orissa, or atleast small portions of many monuments are built with the green colored Chlorite stone! It is much harder but the end result it is much more detailed miniature sculptures! Here a few sculptures and the entire doorway of the Jagmohana is made of Chlorite! There were 7 friezes making up the doorway and the detailing just made me speechless! Spot the creeper climbers and erotic poses in the vertical portions and the dancers, musicians & celestial beings in the horizontal portions?

The upper niches on 3 direction have the stunning sculptures of Sun God as Prabhata Surya, Madhyanha Surya and Ashtachala Surya (seated on a single horse), all made of Chlorite stones! Each sculpture is 3.4m tall. On either sides of each Surya are Brahma & Shiva standing. Behind this Jagamohana is a huge pile of rubbles, a portion of what was once the sky high Deula! On either sides on a separate platform are 2 elephants and 2 horses.   

Behind the Jagmohana is the separate structure of Chayadevi temple. This was probably the first Surya temple built in 11th / early 12th C CE. Later after construction of the bigger temple, this became the separate shrine for Chayadevi. This is relatively a much simpler construction. However the protruding crocodile and yaali on either sides needs a mention. These are actually water outlets!!! The above image is the crocodile, focusing of the sculpture and the outlet, to give you an idea! Behind this is the tiny little brick temple of 10th-11th C CE. This has absolutely no details in it! This was excavated very recently in 1956.

To Stay:
At a walkable distance from Konark Sun Temple is the Yatrinivas Konark, run by Orissa Tourism Development Cooperation (OTDC). Prices begin at ₹1100 for AC double room.
Konark has few hotels & lodges. Puri & Bhubaneshwar has several hotels at all price points.
Puri also has an OTDC run hotel, Panthanivas Puri, on the beach, perfect to see sunrise, at a walkable distance from Puri Jagannath Temple. Prices begin at ₹2300 for AC double room.

To Get There:
From Bhubaneshwar airport: 63km
From Puri Railway station: 35km
Entry Ticket: Rs.30 for Indians & SAARC nationals, Rs.500 for other foreigners.

Best guidebook for beginners: Konark (World Heritage Series) by ASI Publications, 2003 at ₹99 (cannot be bought online, but available at the On-site Museum) 
Best  advanced guidebook: Konarak, Debala Mitra by ASI Publications, 1968 (downloadable pdf)
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Bhushavali N

An ardent traveler by passion. I am a wanderlust.. Read more about me here.

21 comments:

  1. कुछ वर्ष पहले की गयी यहाँ की यात्रा याद आ गयी। बढिया जानकारी।

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  2. I love when you write about places that have such a history and are so old. We don't have anything really remotely that old where I live, so it's a fun window into another world. It would be fun to see how many animals we could find in the friezes!

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  3. This sun temple is incredible! All the intricate stone carvings and detail is just awesome. I've never been to India, but have seen so many temples like this that deserve visiting. Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

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  4. The carvings on this temple are so elaborate and so different, it makes you wonder how much time and hot talented the sculptors were. I think that the symbolystic in the legends that go around Konak are fascinating. And it makes you wonder, as they have to come from somewhere to become legends.

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  5. Modernism has changed a lot of things for us. I can imagine the atmosphere around the Konark Sun temple when it was built. Looking at how old and healthy(if lifeless objects can be healthy)it is, I must say I'm impressed. And the sculptors did a big good job with the decor to think that they relied only on their intuitive knowlegde. I'm not sure one can get any of that these days. Thanks for the highlight.

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  6. It has been my dream to see the Konark Temple. Odisha is quite n offbeat destination. I have still not been able to visit it yet. Ancient temples of India were so grand and rich in form. I wish we could still make structures like these.

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  7. The history/legends behind this temple are so interesting! I visited Angkor Wat recently, and this reminded me of it. I love the intricate carvings on Konark Temple - I can only imagine the work that went into building it.

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  8. Amazing, Not yet visit . Thanks a lot for the informative post and pics.

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  9. Konark temple at Orissa has a stunning architecture and you have done great justice by capturing them so well. I loved the description of frieze with various animals. Staying at Yatrinivas is so affordable.

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  10. Konark temple at Orissa has a stunning architecture and you have done great justice by capturing them so well. I loved the description of frieze with various animals. Staying at Yatrinivas is so affordable.

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  11. Amazing temple, the craving is great and this temple had a good history as well :)). Great pictures by the way!

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  12. The early world is reay rich in beautiful architectures. This temple of sun is intriguing. It really was shaped like a chariot? Amazing how the acients built it.

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  13. The Sun Temple looks amazing. I really like when you get to go to these types of places. The carvings are so intricate - always amazes me how they well they have held up over the years.

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  14. This looks so beautiful! I have never seen any of the temples in Asia, but it looks so different from the European ones. And so ancient too!

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  15. Beautiful place and so interesting once you have some information and history about the place. Thanks for sharing!

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  16. truly a magnificent place.... rich in history....
    Beautiful pictures......

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  17. these carvings are stunning! Such a beautiful place with so much history

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  18. We have a friend who have always invited us to visit the Sun Temple and now thank to your post we know why. With your photos you inspired us and we'd love to do a tour around this place, it's something we can't miss :)

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  19. The sun temple of Konark is such an enduring enigma. Hidden behind the magnificent structure are so many mysteries associated with its origins and its chequered history. I have visited the place thrice but want to go again and again.

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  20. Congrats on adding another UNESCO site to your huge list! It's interesting to see the pictures of the temple taken 200 years ago, well researched. There is so much detail in the Konark Sun Temple complex, so much to learn about!

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  21. The carvings are so detailed and impressive. This looks like a great place to visit to learn about history. I like how the carvings tell stories.

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