The Konark Sun temple in the form of a ratha or chariot is situated in Orissa. It is a remote site on a sandy beach near the month of the Chandrabagha river, dreid up tributary of the Prachi. The worship of the sun is ancient and is represented as a dark-red man with three eyes and four arms, riding a chariot drawn by seven horses, each representing a day of the week. Arun (the dawn) , brother of Garuda is his charioteer.
The temple architecture is a variation of the nagara style of the Hindu temple. The temple “Surya Deul” was built by a king of the Ganga dynasty King Narsimha I. The word Konarka means the arka of kona(corner) variously interpreted as ‘sun in the south eastern corner of the earth or the corner of Orissa dedicated to Sun.
The Mahagayatri temple, also called Mayadevi temple was constructed along with the Surya deul in the mid-thirteenth century for the Consort of Surya.Some evidence however states it might have been built earlier. There are three images of the Sun God at three different sides of the temple,placed in such a way to catch the sun’s rays at morning, noon and evening.
The Surya deul complex is in a compound with gateways on the east and south. The walls are made of khondalite. The remains of the Surya deul are present on the east west axis and consists of the deul, the jagamohana and nata-mandira in front. The Mayadevi temple is at the southwest of the remains of the deul. Behind this is the brick Vishnu temple.
The stones used for construction was laterite, khondalite and chlorite brought from Naraj. The deul and jagamohana is in the form of a chariot (ratha) on a platfrom and pulled by seven horses.
There are 24 wheels, 12 each on north and south sides which are carved on the walls. These wheels probably correspond to the twelve signs of the Zodiac. Each wheel is 9 feet 9 inches in height and has 16 spokes, 8 of which are thick and 8 are thin. The entire wheel is richly carved. The rim is carved with scrolls depicting birds. animals flowers and leaves.
Wheel, Surya deul, Konarak.
By Mohamed A. (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons
Chaitya windows are present in line with the thick spokes with similar windows at the bottom. The sides of the windows have dancers or mouth of crocodiles from which elaborate scroll work begins. In the centre of the thick spokes are circular medallions on which there are depictions of incarnations of Vishnu, kanyas etc. The hub of the wheel is decorated with lotus petals and in the wheels towards north dancers are depicted. The axle of the wheels are depicted with gajalakhsmi and few avatars of Vishnu etc. the wheels make a chariot of the temple and they can also be understood as the number of fortnights in one year.
The deul and the Jagamohana stand on a pitha or a platform. The top of the pitha is joined with steps facing the main doors of the Jagamohana on east, north and south. They both represent a ratha, the chariot of the sun God pulled by seven horses. In front of the Jagamohana on the sided of eastern staircase horses are carved.
Thomas Donaldson in his book on Konark states that a “particularly distinctive feature of the Orissan temple…..is the overall clarity of the total design in plan and elevation. Each individual architectural unit is clearly defined as a self-containing element in the overall decorative programme. Each sculptural element is well contained within its pillar…adhering close to the surface.”
The different elements include the pabhanga, jangha, bandhana, baranda,potala,khandi,amla beki, ghanta, arnalaka, kalasa and anartha,gavaksa, kanika etc.
The Nata-mandira is a few metres away from the eastern entrance of the Jagamohana. It was used for dancing and discourses.
Overall the Sun temple had a variety of scultptural detail including dancers alasa kanyas, decorative pillars, chaitya windows motifs , amorous couples, rider and foot soldiers, representations of canopies, umbrellas, shields etc. elephants, musicians, gaja simhas, image of surya, varaha, naga and nagakanya figures, dancing scenes, lady with mirror, warriors, fighting scenes are also depicted.
Pics (except wheel) by Ahmed Ali.
- Konarak : the heritage of mankind in two volumes by K. S. Behera,Aryan Books International,1996.
- Konark : monumental legacy by Thomas Donaldson,Oxford University Press,2003.
- Marg : a magazine of the arts, Volume XII, No.1,December 1958