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10 Amazing Facts about Konark Sun Temple

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Konark Sun Temple or Surya Mandir is a 13th-century Sun Temple at Konark located on the eastern shores of the Indian subcontinent. It is about 35 kilometres northeast from Puri on the coastline of Odisha, India.

Konark Sun Temple, dedicated to Hindu Sun God, Surya is a masterpiece of creative genius and is one of the outstanding examples of architecture, art and craftsmanship. The Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore wrote about Konark, “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of human.”

Here is a list of some incredible and Interesting facts about Konark Sun Temple.

Fact #1 Konark Sun Temple

Konark Sun Temple

The name Konark is made from two Sanskrit words Kona meaning corner or angle and Arka meaning the Sun. So when combined it becomes ‘Sun of the Corner‘. Konark is also known as Arka kshetra. There are three images of the Sun God at three different sides of the temple, positioned in the proper direction to catch the rays of the sun at morning, noon and evening.

Sun temple of Konark is a masterpiece of Orissa’s medieval architecture and was declared UNESCO world heritage site in 1984. It is a great attraction for tourists. The temple is also known as Surya Devalaya

Fact #2 Narasimha Deva I

Konark Surya Temple 13th Century
Konark Surya Temple 13th Century (Monuments of India, Vol. 1)

Surya Temple of Konark was built by Narasimha Deva I ruler of the eastern Ganga dynasty in the middle of 13th century. To built this architectural marvel, artistic and engineering magnificence 1200 artisans worked for 12 years (1243-1255 A.D.). The Sun Temple is considered as a chariot for the Sun God, Surya and was designed in the form of a massive decorated chariot mounted on 24 wheels and drawn by seven mighty horses.

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Fact #3 Sun Temple – Architecture

Conjectural Reconstruction of Sun Temple
Conjectural Reconstruction of Konark Temple by Percy Brown
(from the “Indian Architecture” by Percy Brown, 1942)

Konark Sun Temple is a superb blend of Architecture-Art-History, the Sun temple consists of a Vimana (main temple) intended for housing the deity, Jagamohana (hall in front of vimana) from where the worshippers could have a glimpse of the deity and a Nirtya-mandapa (dancing hall), a separate Bhoga-mandapa (offering hall) was not built at this place. Dancing and offering both were probably done in the same building. In the Orissan architecture, this type of temple is known as pancharatha-dekha deul.

The Jagamohana stands on the same plinth as the Vimana . Its roof is of a terraced pyramidal shape. It has four doorways on its four sides. The western one leads to the antarala (inner sanctum), whereas the others lead to the porches outside.

The Nirtya mandapa is a big pillared hall built on a very high plinth, in front of the Jagamohana which was intended for offering arati-Nirtyas (dances) by the devadashis (dancing girls) during the worship.

The pillars and walls of Nirtya mandapa are eleborately carved with dancing male and female figures in various poses, playing different musical instruments.

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Fact #4 Reliefs and Sculpture

Reliefs and Sculpture Konark Sun Temple

The walls and terraces of the temple are decorated with many reliefs with minute details and sculptures. Splendid artwork includes sculptures of Hindu deities, Apsaras, images from the daily life and culture of the people, various animals, aquatic creatures, birds, and friezes narrating the Hindu texts.

The Upana (moulding) layer at the bottom of the platform contains friezes of 1452 elephants in different poses, marching soldiers, musicians, and images showing the life of the people, including hunting scenes, a caravan of domesticated animals, people carrying supplies on their head and festive processions. On other walls are found images depicting the daily life of the elite as well.

The Konark temple is also known for its erotic sculptures of maithunas. These show couples in various stages of courtship and intimacy, and in some cases coital themes.

The upper levels and terrace of the Konark Sun temple contain larger and more significant works of art than the lower level. Mythological narratives as well as sculptures of Hindu deities like Durga in Mahishasuramardini aspect killing the shape-shifting buffalo demon (Shaktism), Vishnu in his Jagannatha form (Vaishnavism), and Shiva as a (largely damaged) linga (Shaivism).

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Fact #5 Konark Construction

Planning and construction records of Konark Sun Temple have been preserved in the form of palm-leaf manuscripts. These records are written in Sanskrit in the Odiya script and were discovered in a village in the 1960s.

The construction of the temple was overseen by Siva Samantaraya and Bishu Maharana was the chief architect. It was built near an old Surya temple. The sculpture in the older temple’s sanctum was re-consecrated and incorporated into the newer larger temple.

The Sun Temple was made from three types of stones. Chlorite was used for the door lintel and frames and some sculptures. Laterite was used for the core of the platform and staircases near the foundation. Khondalite was used for other parts of the temple. None of these stones occur naturally nearby, and the architects and artisans must have procured and moved the stones from distant sources

The temple follows the traditional style of Kalinga architecture. It is oriented towards the east so that the first rays of the sunrise strike the main entrance. The wheels of the temple are sundials, which can be used to calculate time accurately to a minute.

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Fact #6 Konark Architectural Figures

Royal Guard of Konark – Lion Upon Elephant Upon Man

The eastern gateway which is the main entrance to the temple compoun is decorated with Gajasimha (Lion sitting upon an elephant) sculpture, with outward faces, installed on two high stone benches on either side of the passage. According to Hindu mythology, the lions resemble the pride, elephants resemble the wealth. The entire figure is made out of one piece of stone.

Great Wheel of Konark

The entire temple is made in the form of a huge chariot of Sun God with 24 wheels (12 pairs). The Konark wheel is the primary attraction of the temple. The wheels of the chariot are also symbolic and have been interpreted as the ‘Sun Dial’. Various theories have been advocated regarding the significance of Konark wheel.

According to some, the 7 horses represent the days of the week and the 12 pairs of wheels represent the 12 months of the year and the 24 wheels signify 24 hours of a day and the 8 major spokes signifies prahars (three hour period) of a day.

According to others, the wheels of the chariot have been interpreted as the ‘Wheel of Life’. They portray the cycle of creation, preservation and achievement of realisation. These 12 pairs of wheels may also possibly represent the 12 zodiac signs. Some also believe that the Wheel of Konark is the same as the Dharmachakra of the Buddhists – The Wheel of Karma, The Wheel of the Law.

War Horses of Konark Temple

There are two magnificently carved war horses in front of the southern side of the Konark Temple. They are each 10 feet long and 7 feet high. The sculpture depicts each of them with its massive strength and energy crushing down the warrior.

Elephants of Konark Temple

The figures of elephants which had originally stood on the sidewalls of the flights of steps at the northern and southern sides of the Jagamohana. They are, however, installed, in the compound walls, facing the main temple, but in fact, they are supposed to face outwards, to welcome people coming in.

Seven Horses of Konark Temple

The entire temple structure is made in the form of a huge chariot with 24 wheels and is pulled by a set of seven galloping horses (4 on the right side and 3 on the left side). The representation of these seven horses has been explained in different ways by many.

  • The seven horses, which pull the sun temple eastwards towards the dawn, represent the seven days of the week
  • The seven horses are named after the seven meters of Sanskrit prosody or Chandas: Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnih, Jagati, Trishtubha, Anushtubha, and Pankti

Simhasana (Seat) of the Presiding Deity

The simhasana (seat of the presiding deity) is beautifully carved and is still in existence within the sanctum. Its base and sides are decorated with beaded borders, enclosing rows of elephants and various scenes from day-to-day life.

Although the presiding deity is now missing from the place, there is no doubt that the image of the Sun-God, actually occupied the Simhasana.

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Fact #7 Magnets & The Floating Idol

The most popular theory associated with Konark temple is its magnets & the floating idol in the air. During the construction of the main tower of the temple the artisans put an iron plate between every two stone pieces and a massive 52 ton magnet was placed at the top of the temple. Moreover, the statue of the Sun God was also built with a material with iron content.

Due to the unique arrangements of the magnets around the temple walls, the statue of the Sun God inside the temple floated in the air, without any physical support.

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Fact #8 Legends and Folk Tales

Konark Sun Temple legends and mystries

Dharmapada on his 12th birthday went to meet his father, great architect Bishu Maharana. Upon arrival, he found his father distressed; the crown on the sun god’s head had yet to be completed, and the king had threatened to execute all 1,200 craftsmen if they did not finish it by morning. Although the task seemed impossible, Dharmapada single-handedly completed it.

Work was done but craftsmen were still thinking about their fate, that if King comes to know that a child completed the work instead of them, he will surely think that the craftsmen were not doing their work properly and will kill them.

Dharmapada never wanted glory for his achievement and jumped from the crown he had completed, sacrificed his own life to prevent the story from spreading and saved the craftsman from execution.

The temple that Dharmapada is said to have completed still stands in Konark today, although in a somewhat dilapidated state.

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Fact #9 Fall of Konark – Damage and Ruins

Many speculations are there as to how the destruction of the temple happened. Early theories stated that the temple was never completed and collapsed during construction. This is contradicted by textual evidence and evidence from inscriptions. The Kenduli copper plate inscription of 1384 CE from the reign of Narasimha IV seems to indicate that the temple was not only completed but an active site of worship.

Akbar-era text Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl dated to the 16th century, mentions the Konark temple, describing it as a prosperous site with a temple that made visitors “astonished at its sight”, with no mention of ruins.

Islamic texts describing the raids of Kalapahar mention his army’s first attempt to destroy the temple in 1565, but they failed. They inflicted only minor damage and carried away the copper kalasa. The Hindu text Madala Panji and regional tradition state that Kalapahad attacked again and damaged the temple in 1568.

The natural damage theory can be doubted as many stone temples in Odisha region that were built earlier and have stood without damage

Fact #10 Konark Dance Festival

Konark Dance Festival

To glorify the magnanimity of the temple of Konark and to make it more popular across the world, the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation and Odissi Research Centre jointly organise the world-famous Konark dance festival.

Konark dance festival was organized for the first time in 1989. Every year it is celebrated from 1st to 5th December on the open-air auditorium in the backdrop of the majestic Sun Temple in Konark, Odisha in India.

The Konark dance festival has become a major event in the country’s cultural calendar and attracts a large number of tourists to Odisha, India every year.

Some More Interesting and Mind-Blowing Facts about Konark Sun Temple

  • Vimana (main temple) is estimated to have been 229 feet (70 m) tall and it fell in 1837. Jagamohana (audience hall) is about 128 feet (39 m) tall is the principal structure in the surviving ruins. Other structures that have survived to the current day are Nirtya-mandapa or Nata mandira (dance hall) Bhoga-mandapa(dining hall)
  • The Warrior and Horse statue found in the temple grounds forms the basis of the state emblem of Odisha.
  • The Konark is the third link of Odisha’s Golden Triangle. The first link is Jagannath Puri and the second link is Lingaraja Temple, Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha
  • This temple was also known as ‘Black Pagoda’ due to its dark colour and used as a navigational landmark by ancient sailors to Odisha. The Jagannath Temple in Puri was called the ‘White Pagoda‘.
  • The placement of the main temple and the Sun God had been aligned in such a way that the first ray of the Sun from the coast would cross the Nata Mandir (Dancing Hall) and would fall & reflect from the diamond placed at the crown of the Sun God.
  • Sculptures in the temple portray Kama, Artha, Dharma and Moksha that are the four major pursuits of life
  • Some of the better-preserved friezes and sculptures were removed and relocated to museums in Europe and major cities of India before 1940
  • The Marathas relocated the temple’s Aruna stambha (Aruna pillar) to the Singha-dwara (Lion’s Gate) entrance of the Jagannath Temple in Puri.
  • The pillar, made of monolithic chlorite, is 33 feet 8 inches (10.26 m) tall and is dedicated to Aruna, the charioteer of the Sun god.
  • The Konark museum started in the year 1968 and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India. The museum has four galleries that showcase 260 different fallen architectural pieces and sculptures that were found during the clearance work of Konark temple complex.

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