The Sun Temple, Konark
True to the words of Rabindranath Tagore, the Sun Temple at Konark is the land “ where the language of stone surpasses the language of man ”. The monument opens the door to the magnificent world that existed 750 years ago, but is still alive in the splendid grandeur and glory of the temple. The temple that was built in the celebration of the Sun God, Surya, is a UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the seven wonders of India. The temple is the only one of its kind, a paradise where God speaks to man, where the art of poetry sings through stone – because words fall too short for it.
The temple was built in 1250AD by King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga dynasty. It was built to commemorate his military victory over the Muslim invader Tughral. Tughan Khan. It took twelve long years, and twelve hundred craftsmen to build the temple. Abu Fazl, in Ain – i – Akbari, estimated that the cost of its making was equal to twelve years of revenue of the King’s reign.
Because of its eminent size, the temple was used as a landmark for navigation by European sailors, who called it the ‘ Black Pagoda ’. Over the years, time had played its turn on the monument, and a major part of it now rests in ruins. But fortunately for the restoration attempts made in the 19th and 20th centuries, the temple has survived to tell the tale of the splendour, and majesty of the ancient civilization in which it was built.
The Sun Temple unveils secret ancient African civilization ?
The Sun Temple at Konark has unveiled a chapter in the history of the world, which was long lost in the depths of time and long forgotten by mainstream historians. History says that the only advanced ancient civilization in Africa was in Egypt , and that Vasco da Gama was the first person to visit India from Africa in 1498AD. Historians also claim that he had briefly explored Africa before reaching India , and had opened windows for India into the undiscovered continent.However, a sculpture of a giraffe in the temple may prove both the historical facts to be incorrect. The sculpture clearly shows a giraffe, with an Indian king on an elephant, and some people near the giraffe. The faces and dresses of the people near the giraffe are carved differently, to highlight the fact that they are Africans. It is well known that the giraffe inhabits the southern parts of Africa, and not Egypt where advanced ancient civilization flourished. It is also interesting to note that the sculpture was built in 1250AD, about 250 years before the advent of Vasco da Gama to India .Does that mean that India had trade relations with ancient Africa ?
If what the sculpture depicts is true and not imaginary – which is less likely because a sculptor cannot possibly imagine a real animal he has never seen- then this is truly a landmark in history. The sculpture has immortalized a secret of human existence and civilizations, which time would have taken with it to the grave.
The Sun Temple stands on the foundation of beliefs and myths which go back in time, and are probably as old as the temple itself. Legends have it that Sambha; the son of Krishna was cursed by his father with leprosy, for spying on his wife during bath. He was, therefore, advised by Kataka to worship the rising sun, and bathe in the sea. It is thus still believed that doing the same may cure one of leprosies.
The temple is built in the shape of a gigantic chariot with elaborately carved stone wheels, pillars and walls, and is aligned on the east- west axis of the sun. The monument symbolizes the passage of time which is in the control of the Sun God, Surya. The seven horses that pull the temple towards dawn symbolize the seven days of the week, and the twelve pair of wheels represents the twelve months of the year. Each wheel represents the twenty four hours of a day, whereas, the eight spokes in each wheel symbolizes the eight ideal stages of a woman’s day. The main entrance is called the Bhogamandapa – the Hall of offerings.
The hall was traditionally used for ritual dances, and boosts of a sculpture of a gajasimha – lion upon elephant. The Sanctuary Tower, which was once the centrepiece of the building, is now sadly a mass of rumble. The Shrine of the Surya is the masterpiece of Konark. The statue is made of high quality green chlorite stone. Surya wears tall riding boots, and is accompanied by Aruna, his charioteer. The walls of the temple are carved with deities, animals, floral patterns, voluptuous women, mythical beasts, aquatic monsters, and erotic scenes. The erotic art in the temple is believed to most likely symbolize the ecstatic bliss enjoyed by the soul when it unites with the divine.
Even though the Sun Temple is the major tourist attraction of the town of Konark, the place has a lot else to offer. The town embraces many other places of interest, which give one a memorable scenic, religious and historical experience. It is a pity that these cherish able places are ignored by travellers, but if you are planning to visit Konark, do visit the following places : Chandrabhaga Sea Beach – The beach is about 3km from the Sun Temple, and about 30km from Puri.
The beach is rich in marine resources, and makes for a wonderful sea experience. It has a natural deer park, which gives the perfect insight into the wildlife of the state, and two temples, which serve as its historical landmark. The beach also boosts of a light house, and the view from the top – you have to see it ! Ramchandi Temple – The temple lies 7km from the route to Konark, on the marine road to Puri. Ramachandi is considered to be the deity of Konark, and therefore, the temple is more of religious significance than architectural one. The temple originally consisted of three figures of Surya, the Sun God, but now only one survives. The temple forms one of the Sakta Pithas of Puri, and is therefore, a very important religious destination.
Kuruma – Kuruma is a Buddhist monastery 8km southeast of the Sun temple. It was built between the 9th and 10th centuries, and is now abandoned. The monastery has a statue of Buddha which wears a crown, and a carved necklace. The monastery serves as a historical evidence of the significance of Buddhism in Odisha.
Pipili – 23km from the town of Konark, this small village promises delicious treats for shopaholic tourists. The village is famous for its handicrafts, especially applique work products. Stop at the village for an hour or two, and indulge in patta paintings, applique sarees, embroidered umbrellas, sea shells, and a lot more !
Kakatpur – This small village is situated on the Puri Astaranga road, on the banks of the river Prachi, 30km from Konark. The village is famous for its Kakatpur Mangala temple, which is dedicated to the Goddess Mangala. The temple shares a close relation with the Jagannath temple of Puri during the Navakalebara festival ( Renovation of Deities ). If you visit Konark during April and May, do participate in the Jhamu Yatra festival of the Goddess, which is observed from April 14 to May 15.
Chandrabhaga Mela – The festival is celebrated in the month of February to worship the Sun God, Surya at Konark. It is the second biggest festival in Odisha, after the Car Festival in Puri. To celebrate the festival, pilgrims take a holy dip in the Chandrabhaga River, and worship Navagraha.
Konark Dance Festival – Konark is probably the only place on the face of the earth, where, performing art meets architecture. The luring dance form of Odisha – Orisi inherits from the architectural symbology of the Sun Temple – dance syllables which the contours of stones manifest.To keep this ages old art alive, the Konark Dance Festival is organised every year, from the 1st to the 5th of December. Artists from all around the country perform at this festival, which is held in an open air auditorium against the backdrop of the temple. So, if you have not visited Konark yet, make a plan for the next vacation, or you may end up missing this beautiful, poetical and majestic land of stone.