The Exquisite Solar Chariot – Konark Temple Orissa

The Exquisite Solar Chariot – Konark Temple Orissa

Build in the mid-13th century (around 1250), Konark Sun Temple is one of the best historical monuments we have in the world. The temple is located in Orissa in India. It is supposed to be built by King Narasimhadeva I, who was the king of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. The temple is also very famous by the name Black Pagoda. This is because European Sailors used to treat is as a landmark and due to the dark color of the temple they named this landmark as Black Pagoda. The structure is not well in shape now and most of it has been ruined. The UNESCO World Heritage has recognized this temple under their World Heritage Sites in the year 1984. It has been listed as one of ‘the Seven Wonders of India’ listed independently by Times Of India and NDTV. The term Konark is derived from two Sanskrit words: Kona meaning corner and Arka which means Sun. This temple is for the worship of Sun God, Surya Dev, of Hindus and is thus named as ‘Konark’. The original temple was built near the mouth of the Chandrabhaga River, the waterline of which has receded from there over time.


The structure of the temple is that of a giant Chariot for the God Surya (Sun God). There are 12 pairs of wheels that are made after carving stones. Some of these wheels have a diameter of 3 meters. This chariot is pulled by 7 horses’ pairs. The temple is cleverly oriented to east because they wanted first rays of the sun to strike the entrance of the temple. The Khondalite Rocks were used to construct this temple and the architectural style of the temple is exactly like the traditional Kalinga architecture.


There used to be a main Sanctum Sanctorum, called the Vimana, in the temple originally. The image shows that shaded portion is still standing while the white portion has ruined and collapsed. It was 229 feet tall which later fell off. There is an audience hall behind that which is called Jagamohana having a height of 128 feet and is now the main and principal structure of the remaining portions of the temple. There is Nata Mandira (which means a dance hall) and also a Bhog Mandapa (which means a dining hall) that has survived after the ruins. There are erotic sculptures of maithunas made on the temple and the temple has been popular because of these as well. The fallen sculptures from the original temple are collected and maintained at the Konark Archaeological Museum and are handled by the Archaeological Survey of India.

The Sun Temple, Konark

There is no exact date known about the collapse of the main sanctum of this temple. Nobody knows the correct reason of the collapse but there are a lot of theories proposed by various experts. It is evident from the Kenduli copper Plates of the rule of Narasimha IV (during 1384) that the temple is in perfect state and there is nothing ruined till that period. The accounts of the Ain-i-AKbari, Abil Fazl mentions the temple’s perfect condition and cost of construction was equivalent to collective revenue of 12 years. This was in the 16th century. Many believe that reason of the collapse is Kalapahad who, in 1568, invaded Odisha (Orissa). There are texts which state that the idol of Sun God – Surya was moved from Konark to Jagannath Temple in Puri under the orders of King Khundra in the year 1627. James Fergusson visited the Sun Temple in 1837 and reported that there was standing a corner of main sanctum which later collapses in the year 1848 because of a strong gale. He gave the opinion that the temple collapsed because of the marshy foundation. But later researches showed that no sign of sinking was found in the foundation of the temple. Another historian, Percy Brown said that the reason for the collapse and ruins is that the Konark Temple was not completely constructed and never completed properly. But this is completely opposite to texts that state the proper condition of the temple. Others proposed theories of earthquakes and lightning. There was an analysis taken under in 1929 where they studied a rock covered with moss and estimated that abandonment was around 1573.


The worship in the temple was ceased towards the end of the 18th century. There was a pillar named as Aruna Stambha at the main entrance to the temple. After the ban on worship in the temple, this Aruna Stambha was placed in the Jagannath Temple at the Singha-Dwara or Lion’s Gate. The pillar is named Aruna because it was the name of the chariot of the Sun God. Outside this Sun Temple, you will find many trees including rosewood, eel, mahogany, etc. On the temple, there are various sculptures and images drawn over the walls. They have animal figures such as snakes, elephants, giraffe, etc. other Mythological images and sculptures in the walls include that of Lord Shiva, Lord Vishnu and Goddess Shakti. There are beautiful women in seducing poses crafted on the wall of the temple. Near the Konark temple, you can find the remnants of Vaishava Temple and Mahagayatri Temple.


Many preservation efforts have been taken to preserve the ancient art and history of Indian culture. In 1803, a request to move the stones of the temple’s main sanctum was made by the East India Marine Board to the Governor General who refused. If he had not refused at that time, the part of the main building which was standing could have been preserved and not collapsed in 1848. After this case of 1803, Raja of Khurda used the stones and sculptures from Konark temple to build another temple. In 1894, 13 sculptures were taken to Indian Museum. In 1903, the temple was filled with sand to prevent further collapse of the Jagamohana. The temple is sealed since then and nobody is allowed to enter the temple’s Jagamohana.

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