India has many temples that are known for their incredible history and architecture. One such example is the Konark Sun temple. About an hour away from the historic city of Puri in Orissa, Konark Sun temple stands tall, bathing in the golden sunlight of the morning. Cool breeze along the coast of Bay of Bengal, lush green trees spread all around and marvelous architecture of the temple leaves the onlookers in awe. ‘Konark’ is derived from Sanskrit words Kona (corner) and Arka (sun), referring to the fact that this temple is dedicated to Sun God. “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of human”, were the words of the famous poet and writer Rabindranath Tagore. Since 1984, the Sun temple has been added to the UNESCO world heritage site list.
History of Konark Sun Temple
According to common belief, Samba (Son of Lord Krishna) disrespected sage Narada and was cursed with leprosy. When he asked for forgiveness, he was told to pray to Sun God. Samba prayed to Sun God for 12 years and was relieved of the disease by God’s blessings. So, paying his respect to Sun God, Samba built the temple of Konark. But according to another historical account, the Sun temple was built by Narasimhadeva I (belonging to the Ganga dynasty), in the 13th century. It took more than a thousand artisans, for about 12 years, to build this magnificent structure. Originally, the temple was built at the bank of river Chandrabhaga, but the water has receded since then.
The Konark Sun temple is built in the form of a huge chariot for Sun God. Red sandstone (Khondalite) and black granite are used extensively for building the structure. It has 12 pairs of wheels at the base of the structure, each about 10 feet in diameter, and pulled by seven horses. Each of the wheels functions as a Sundial, it shows the time of day, depending on Sun’s position. There are spokes on each wheel, and the shadow caused by these spokes can be used to calculate the time of the day! Some people believe that each dial represents an hour of the day and each horse represents the day of the week.
On three different sides of the temple, there are 3 images of the Sun god. These images are put in such a way that it catches Sun rays in the morning, afternoon, and evening. The temple is positioned in such a way that the first rays of Sun fall on the principal entrance. It is believed that the main statue of Sun God was hung in the air by the balancing act of a huge magnet, that was placed at the top of the structure. Each side of the temple entrance shows a lion crushing an elephant, which in turn is crushing a man. The lion signifies pride and the elephant signifies wealth. This is to show how pride and wealth destroy a human being. Temple walls are full of sculptures with intricate carvings. The overall temple is like a giant sculpture of Sun God riding his chariot.
Fall of the original structure
The main sanctum, which was supposed to be about 70 meters tall, fell in 1837. The audience hall, which is about 30 meters tall, is the main structure now. There are many theories around the destruction of the original temple structure. As per one theory, the early death of King Narasimhadeva I caused the work to stop and it was not completed as needed. Another theory suggests that there used to be a giant magnetic piece (lodestone) at top of the temple, that was used for stabilizing the structure. This magnet was so strong that it used to affect the compass of the ships traveling in the Bay of Bengal. This magnet was removed by Portuguese voyagers and that caused the fall of the structure. As per another popular theory, the Muslim governor of Bengal, Sultan Sulaiman Karrani (also known as Kalapahad), invaded Orissa in the 16th century and destroyed the Sun temple of Konark, in addition to several other temples in the state.
Today, we do not know why the structure did not hold, but even in the current form, it gives a mesmerizing experience to the visitors. Whether you are a devotee, traveler, scientist, or architecture lover, this is a must-see place in one’s lifetime. Sun temple provides a unique combination of history, architecture, religion, and science in one place. September to March is the best time to visit the place, as it becomes very hot during summers.