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Konarak Sun Temple

History of the Konarak Sun Temple

Konarak (or Konark) derives its name from Konarka, the presiding deity of the Sun Temple. Konarka is actually a combination of two words, Kona (corner) and Arka (sun), which, when combined, means the sun of the corner. Konarak was one of the earliest centres of Sun worshipping in India. The place finds mention in the Puranas as Mundira or Mundirasvamin, a name that was subsequently replaced by Konaditya or Konarka. Apart from the Puranas, other religious texts also point towards the existence of a sun temple at Konarak long before the present temple.

Konarak was once a bustling port of Kalinga and had good maritime trade relations with Southeast Asian countries. The present Sun Temple was probably built by King Narashimhadev I (AD 1238-64) of the Ganga dynasty to celebrate his victory over the Muslims. The temple fell into disuse in the early 17th century after it was desecrated by an envoy of the Mughal emperor Jahangir.

However, legend has it that the temple was constructed by Samba, the son of Lord Krishna. It is said that Samba was afflicted by leprosy, brought about by his father’s curse on him. After 12 years of penance, he was cured by Surya, the Sun God, in whose honour he built the magnificent Konarak sun temple.

The Sun (Surya) has been a popular deity in India since the Vedic period. The following passage occurs in a prayer to him in the Rig Veda:

“Aloft his beams now bring the good,
Who knows all creatures that are born,
That all may look upon the Sun.
Athwart in darkness gazing up, to him the higher light,
We now have soared to Surya-
The god among gods, the highest height.”

Built in AD 1250, during the reign of the Eastern Ganga King Narasimhadeva-I (AD1238-64), the Konarak Sun Temple was to enshrine an image of the deity

Architecture of the Konarak Sun Temple

This remarkable building (also called the Black Pagoda) was built as a representation of Surya’s heavenly vehicle - the chariot. Surya, the sun god, would drive his golden chariot through the sky each day, the arc of his journey signaling the arc of each day’s passing. The Konarak Sun Temple rises above the horizon in all its majestic glory as a terrestrial symbol of Surya’s golden chariot flying through the sky. The temple, built by King Narasimhadeva (AD 1238-1264) in the middle of the 13th century, is one of the most famous Brahman sanctuaries in India and marks the culmination of the Orissan architectural style. Over the centuries the structures have been battered by sea winds carrying both salt and sand, eroding many of the superb sculptures and causing one of the structures to collapse.

The massive chariot-shaped temple has twelve pairs of wheels symbolizing the twelve months, each pair representing the dark and bright halves of the lunar period attached to the seven horses (representing seven rays of the sun) to pull the structure through the air. The wheels, each about ten feet in diameter, are carved in relief along the longer sides of the platform upon which the temple stands. They are remarkable for their extensive detail and elaborate design: each wheel is rendered with intricately carved spokes, hub and pins. Seven colossal, freestanding statues of galloping horses stand in front of the main entrance, guarded by two lions, crushing elephants

The temple proper originally consisted of three parts: a sanctuary (Deul) topped by a colossal spiral tower, a porch (Jagmohana) with a pyramidal roof, and a dance hall (Natamandira). The sanctuary and porch were situated atop the stone platform, while the dance hall was a separate structure. Today, the sanctuary lies in ruins and the tower has disappeared, but the Jagmohana and Natamandira remain intact, the last remnants of Orissa’s once magnificent temples. Both temples are famous not only for their architectural grandeur but also for the outstanding craftsmanship of the sculptural work on their walls. Thousands of images grace the temple walls; images of deities and dancers, nymphs and warriors, scenes of courtly life, erotic images, a wealth of intricate botanical and geometric designs, and myriad depictions of animals, both mythical and real. Also notable are the monumental statues of female musicians symbolically announcing the arrival of Surya’s chariot. There are also three superb life-size statues of the sun god, done in green chlorite.

The Konarak Sun Temple is the grandest achievement of the eastern school of architecture. The stupendous monument stands with its disfigured beauty in a desolate track of ever- drifting sands at the edge of the Chandrabhaga river. In Konarak, the “Natya Mandir”, the dance hall of the Sun Temple probably remains as the last remnant of the glorious temples of Orissa, a living example of the architectural excellence of the bygone times. Only two subsidiary temples of the 22 that originally existed inside its precincts exist today. They stand to the west of the towers.

14 Comments so far

  1. Konarak Sun Temple October 12th, 2006 3:30 am

    […] One of the most astounding sites of Sun Worship anywhere in the world, vying even with the splendor of Egypt, is the Konarak Sun Temple. Learn about this magnificent location, and its history and mythology, by clicking Konarak Sun Temple to read our new article. Then, like me, dream of going to see it ! […]

  2. udit narnawre October 24th, 2006 9:22 am

    please show the environment and ways to preserve of konarak

  3. Aditi October 25th, 2006 10:35 am

    The info was certainly very helpful,but please show the environment and ways to preserve konarak .

    Thank you.

  4. abbasaurangabadwala October 25th, 2006 12:34 pm

    whatis the connection of Solanki rulers with the Sun temple

  5. solarevents October 25th, 2006 10:48 pm

    Hi abbas
    It seems that the Solanki dynasty finally lost control of their territories in 1243 CE, whilst the Sun Temple at Konarak was most probably completed between 1253 and 1260.

    Though the Solanki did preside over the golden period of  architecture in Gujarat, this was predominately between the 9th and 12th centuries, with their Sun Temple at Modhera completed in 1026. The design of the two Temples is very different, though each has its admirers.

  6. solarevents October 25th, 2006 10:53 pm

    udit and Aditi

    Interesting questions. Preservation and environmental protection are certainly vital issues which we could try to address in the future. Perhaps you know someone who might like to contribute an original article on this, or even a personal response to visiting the temple ?

  7. Biswajit Panda December 28th, 2006 10:15 pm

    I have been to the Konark temple a lot of times. The most interesting aspect of the temple is the fact that the idol of the sun god used to float in the air, by means of huge magnetic stones positioned appropriately.

    The magnets were so powerful that there are descriptions of the ships magnets going awry when they used to pass the place. (The temple was originally built on the sea shore, the sea has subsequently moved on further down)

    The fact that I wanted to highlight though is that a similar temple exists in/near Gwalior. I am not sure who built it or why. Its a copy of the konark design.

    Does someone know?

  8. Projjwal Ray May 22nd, 2007 9:59 am

    I think if one tries to view the Sun Temple of Konark only as a source of ‘Sculptural Beauty’, he is in fact missing the point. The MOST interesting fearure of this temple is most definitely it Engineering!

    I don’t know why most of the articles about the sun temple of Konark shrug off the well establsihed fact (see the booklets opublished by the Archaeological Survay of India on Konark temple) that this structure was held together by Magnetic Force (instead of the conventional brick or stone pillar based support). The findings clearly indicate that some 63 tons of magnet was used (10 tons at the bottom and 53 tons at the top) that pulled together the huge iron beams on which the stones of this temple rest. In this respect this is a unique edifice in the whole world. No other building, even today can boast of this engineering feat!

    Also it can be seen that the temple uses no mortar or cement for holding its building blocks together - rather its stones are held together with iron clamps. Also this is first ever edifice of the world to disply the use a lightning conductor! (This is a clear testimony of the fact that the phenomenon of Electromagnetism was well known much before the ‘west’ ever understood it!)

  9. Abhijit K Jadhav June 2nd, 2007 2:51 pm

    I M very glad that India is full of such things.
    If u r having PDF of details of this temple(both Engineering and mythological) Please send me.


  10. subhransu panda August 25th, 2007 10:00 pm

    may i ask the commentators above from which source they claim to know about use of magnate in konarak temple. iron clamps were used , true, but no floating idol or magnetic stones. ships getting disturbed is a popular myth, no historical proof. but nevertheless its one of the finest piece of stone arcitecture any where in the world

  11. Bikram Pattanaik November 2nd, 2008 12:00 am

    Guys, I have been doing a lot of research on the Konark temple and would like to clear the confusion by putting forth a few points below:
    1.The original Sun Temple at Konark was built by Samba, the son of Krishna.
    2.The present day temple was built by King Narashimhadev I (AD 1238-64) of the Ganga dynasty.
    3.The temple was originally built well inside the sea. But the sea has since then retreated and at present is 5 kms from the temple.
    4.The orignal structure was over 220 feet in high and at present only the Natya Grah exists in ruins.
    5.The temple is indeed a classic and the only one of its kind. No limestone or cement was used to join the granite blocks.
    6. The huge granite blocks were extremely polished and plain.
    7.The blocks were separated by iron plates.
    8.The entire stucture was held together by several magnets.
    9.There were primarily 2 main magnets; one at the top of the temple and the other at the basement.
    10.The idol of Sun God was kept suspended in the air by the force of the magnets.
    11.The idol of Sun God had a diamond which reflected the rays of the Sun, hence the name KoN-ark.
    12.The magnet at the top of the temple was the main force holding most of the temple stucture.
    13.This was so powerful that it used to disrupt the magnetic compas of the ships going through that route(Konark being a major port at that time).
    14.The Portugese removed the main magnet or lodestone as it was the cause of the destruction of lot of their ships and destroyed it.
    15.This lead to the collapse of most of the temple structure.
    16.The idols were taken away and placed in the puri temple, one of them still exists in the Puri temple even today.
    17.One of the idols is kept in the National Museum at New delhi.
    18.The present structure is filled with rocks and sand to prevent it from caving in.
    19.It is the most magnificient architectural feat undertaken in India till date.
    20.The builders had comprehensive knowledge of Astronomy, Architecture and Electromagnetism.

    All Indians should be proud of the Konark temple which is a world heritage site and reminds us of our past glory and inspires us to emulate the same in future.

  12. Desiree Shaw March 18th, 2009 11:06 pm

    This is great info but i need to know where it was located so 1-10 i give you a 7 C+ or B-

  13. chicku March 19th, 2009 3:01 am

    i want to know where that magnet?????????????can sm bdy tell me

  14. Deepa March 31st, 2009 5:39 pm

    Bikram Pattanaik , you are great. Thanks for sharing.

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