KONARK The Sun Chariot

The eastern seashore of India is blessed with majestic temples, living traditions and thriving crafts. Konark is undoubtedly the jewel in the crown of this ancient land called Kalinga and Odra!

Just few kilometres to the east of Jagannath Puri, is the small town of Konark. Under the bright eastern Sun, listening to the waves lapping at Chandrabhaga beach, this small town on coast of Odisha boasts of the magnificent architectural wonder called Konark Sun Temple, now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Konark is the glorious memory that Indian history has cherished for centuries. It belongs to Kalinga temple architecture which is a specialised Nagar style of building temples. The height is the key and curvilinear is the keyword! The temple pinnacles soar high with straight lines curving only at the end to hold the carved Amalak. The main temple has the highest shikhar, and it houses the main deity, known as ‘Rekha Deul’. The next ‘Mandap’ is called ‘Jagmohan’ and there are some more Mandap or pavilions such as Natmandap, and Ardhamandap, among others. The top point of Jagmohan is of the type known as ‘Pedha Deul’.

THE DESIGN

As we step into the campus lined with huge flowering trees of Saptaprani, the first in sight is the massive ‘Natmandap’. Supported by rectangular ornate pillars and with huge sculptures of ‘lion on top of elephant’
adorning the stairways, this is one impressive piece of architecture. The roof is missing and as you stand on the platform under the blue sky and age old almond brown khondalite stone sculptures, right in front of you is the black stone magic, sitting like a meditating Yogi, still and calm, and tall and sober. The entrance to this ‘Jagmohan’ is adorned with an elaborate ‘Dwar Shakha’, which are multiple door frames, all ornate and sculpted. Built on a very strong high plinth, behind this huge dome, there are ruins of the temple ‘Garbh-Griha’ or inner sanctum. Dedicated to the Sun God, there are three exquisite Sun idols at all three directions on the walls of main temple. Sprawled over a large area is the awe inspiring Jagmohan, the first pavilion.

HISTORICAL REFERENCES

The Sun worship in India dates back to several centuries. Rigveda has several references to Sun god namely ‘Bhag’ and ‘Pushan’. Later centuries saw several Sun temples flourish on eastern and western coasts of India including Multan in present day Pakistan. Konark is the cultural epitome of this Sun worship.

Over a century ago, James Fergusson presented a drawing of this temple with a part of main temple still standing. Indian history’s great sage Chaitanya Mahaprabhu too had visited this temple while it was still intact. Built during Gang dynasty reign in the 13th century, this enormously sized Sun temple is still one of the most impressive monuments of India. An ancient Palm leaf drawing gives us a glimpse of what we are not able to see today. Standing erect at 30 mts, the Jagmohan itself is massive. Considering the temple architecture guidelines, the main shikhar would have been 70 mts, if it was standing today, which is just 4 meters short of the great Taj Mahal.

RESTORING THE GLORY

NrusimhaDeva Gang, one of the capable kings of the dynasty, was supposed to have started the construction in 1238 AD and completed this mammoth task in a short span of 20 years.

For centuries the temple attracted pilgrims and visitors. The destruction and collapse was initiated by the invaders. The main idol along with copper Kalash, was either stolen or destroyed in the process. Later decay was accelerated by nature and humans both and temple fell in oblivion. It was the British government, which saw the importance of this ravaged monument and recovered it to the present stage over a period of several years. Several interesting sculptures can be found in the whole complex of this monument. The Sun god images in three wall niches, with lotus in both hands and legs covered in boots are sculpted in chlorite stone giving a greenish tinge. National museum in Delhi houses a Sun god sculpture recovered from Konark. The lotus petal shaped base of the entire monument is evident as you circle round this huge structure. Each chariot wheel is intricately carved. The massive monolithic sculptures of horses standing on platforms amaze you with their perfection and beauty. There is a Chhayadevi temple just behind the main temple again studded with beautiful sculptures.

The sacred triangle of Bhubaneshwar, Puri and Konark is dotted with temples and lotus ponds on the backdrop of soft green rice fields, lining the horizon, criss-crossed by Mahanadi and other rivers.

Sun kissed sculpture of Konark stands amidst, as a prominent landmark for pilgrims, travellers and seafarers too. The Black Pagoda beckons you with its beauty, to this eastern land of Sun!

Text: Manisha Chitale

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