Konark Sun Temple




Konark Sun Temple is a 13th-century CE sun temple at Konark about 35 kilometres (22 mi) northeast from Puri on the coastline of Odisha, India.

Dedicated to the Hindu god Surya, what remains of the temple complex has the appearance of a 100-foot (30 m) high chariot with immense wheels and horses, all carved from stone. Once over 200 feet (61 m) high, much of the temple is now in ruins, in particular the large shikara tower over the sanctuary; at one time this rose much higher than the mandapa that remains. The structures and elements that have survived are famed for their intricate artwork, iconography, and themes, including erotic kama and mithuna scenes. Also called the Surya Devalaya, it is a classic illustration of the Odisha style of Hindu temple architecture.

The cause of the destruction of the Konark temple is unclear and remains a source of controversy. Theories range from natural damage to deliberate destruction of the temple in the course of being sacked several times by Muslim armies between the 15th and 17th centuries. This temple was called the “Black Pagoda” in European sailor accounts as early as 1676 because its great tower appeared black.  Similarly, the Jagannath Temple in Puri was called the “White Pagoda”. Both temples served as important landmarks for sailors in the Bay of Bengal. The temple that exists today was partially restored by the conservation efforts of British India-era archaeological teams. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984, it remains a major pilgrimage site for Hindus, who gather here every year for the Chandrabhaga Mela around the month of February.
The Konark Sun Temple was built from stone in the form of a giant ornamented chariot dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. In Hindu Vedic iconography Surya is represented as rising in the east and traveling rapidly across the sky in a chariot drawn by seven horses. He is described typically as a resplendent standing person holding a lotus flower in both his hands, riding the chariot marshaled by the charioteer Aruna. The seven horses are named after the seven meters of Sanskrit prosody: Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnih, Jagati, Trishtubha, Anushtubha, and Pankti. Typically seen flanking Surya are two females who represent the dawn goddesses, Usha and Pratyusha. The goddesses are shown to be shooting arrows, a symbol of their initiative in challenging darkness. The architecture is also symbolic, with the chariot’s twelve pairs of wheels corresponding to the 12 months of the Hindu calendar, each month paired into two cycles (Shukla and Krishna).

The Konark temple presents this iconography on a grand scale. It has 24 elaborately carved stone wheels which are nearly 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter and are pulled by a set of seven horses. When viewed from inland during the dawn and sunrise, the chariot-shaped temple appears to emerge from the depths of the blue sea carrying the sun.
The temple plan includes all the traditional elements of a Hindu temple set on a square plan. According to Kapila Vatsyayan, the ground plan, as well the layout of sculptures and reliefs, follow the square and circle geometry, forms found in Odisha temple design texts such as the Silpasarini. This mandala structure informs the plans of other Hindu temples in Odisha and elsewhere.

The main temple at Konark, locally called the deul, no longer exists. It was surrounded by subsidiary shrines containing niches depicting Hindu deities, particularly Surya in many of his aspects. The deul was built on a high terrace. The temple was originally a complex consisting of the main sanctuary, called the rekha deul, or bada deul (lit. big sanctum). In front of it was the bhadra deul (lit. small sanctum), or jagamohana (lit. assembly hall of the people) (called a mandapa in other parts of India.). The attached platform was called the pida deul, which consisted of a square mandapa with a pyramidal roof. All of these structures were square at their core, and each was overlain with the pancharatha plan containing a variegated exterior. The central projection, called the raha, is more pronounced than the side projections, called kanika-paga, a style that aims for an interplay of sunlight and shade and adds to the visual appeal of the structure throughout the day. The design manual for this style is found in the Silpa Sastra of ancient Odisha.
Twice as wide as they were high, the walls of the jagamohana are 100 feet (30 m) tall. The surviving structure has three tiers of six pidas each. These diminish incrementally and repeat the lower patterns. The pidas are divided into terraces. On each of these terraces stand statues of musician figures. The main temple and the jagamohana porch consist of four main zones: the platform, the wall, the trunk, and the crowning head called a mastaka. The first three are square while the mastaka is circular. The main temple and the jagamohana differed in size, decorative themes, and design. It was the main temple’s trunk, called the gandhi in medieval Hindu architecture texts, that was ruined long ago. The sanctum of the main temple is now without a roof and most of the original parts.
On the east side of the main temple is the Nata mandira (lit. dance temple). It stands on a high, intricately carved platform. The relief on the platform is similar in style to that found on the surviving walls of the temple. According to historical texts, there was an Aruna stambha (lit. Aruna’s pillar) between the main temple and the Nata mandira, but it is no longer there because it was moved to the Jagannatha at Puri sometime during the troubled history of this temple. According to Harle, the texts suggest that originally the complex was enclosed within a wall 865 feet (264 m) by 540 feet (160 m), with gateways on three sides.
The stone temple was made from three types of stone. Chlorite was used for the door lintel and frames as well as 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. According to Mitra, the Khondalite stone weathers faster over time, and this may have contributed to erosion and accelerated the damage when parts of the temples were destroyed. None of these stones occur naturally nearby, and the architects and artisans must have procured and moved the stones from distant sources, probably using the rivers and water channels near the site. The masons then created ashlar, wherein the stones were polished and finished so as to make joints hardly visible.

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