History of Konark Sun Temple – A World Heritage Site
The wind howled across the desolate beach. The waves of the Bay of Bengal seemed to have gone berserk as they rose high to crash against the beach in a ceaseless cacophony of sound. The sky was overcast and a pall of black gloom seemed to be moving in on the distant horizon. It was afternoon, but the sun was nowhere to be seen. I was at the Chandrabhaga Beach, a few kilometres away from the famous World Heritage Site, the Konark Sun Temple.
As I watched the howling wind blowing away the sand violently from the surface of the beach, time itself seemed to have come to a standstill. It was as if the shifting sands had blown away the very dimension of time itself and I was able to travel back in time at my own sweet will!
Sometime in the beginning of the 20th Century
A sombre looking British gentleman follows his son who leads him around a corner and stretches out his hand excitedly pointing out at something. The British gentleman is flabbergasted at what he is seeing. Stretched out before him is a massive and magnificent structure, inlaid with exquisite carvings and sculptures. It is apparently a temple, but unlike any temple, he has seen in his life.
The temple stood, in front of him standing in grandiose style, rising to the blue skies as if in triumphant obeisance. What was really astounding was that there had been only huge mounds of sand at the place where the temple now stood revealed. He had known that a team of archaeologists had been working in the area, but had never expected that their find would be of such a gargantuan and exquisite nature. The Konark Sun Temple had been literally unearthed from the sands of time under which it had been buried for centuries.
Sometime in the 9th Century or earlier
Legend has it that Samba who was the son of Krishna, the popular Hindu God once fell victim to a curse and was afflicted with the dreaded disease of Leprosy. He did penance on the banks of what was then Chandrabhaga river for 12 long years and worshipped the Sun and became free from his disease. The original Konark Sun Temple is supposed to have been built by Samba near the mouth of the river.
Sometime in the 13th Century or earlier
A young man called Bisu Maharana makes his way to the court of King Narasimha Deva I deep in thought. The man who looks ordinary is actually an extraordinary architect well versed in the nuances of stone as well as a scientist who knew the secrets of esoteric sciences like electromagnetism and astronomy. The King makes his wish, crystal clear to Bisu Maharana. He has 12 years to build a temple dedicated to the Sun God near the banks of the Chandrabhaga. He can use the services of 1200 labourers to complete his labour of love, which has to be something that the World has never seen before. Bisu Maharana leaves the King’s court, his mind whirring with ideas, his heart beats pulsating with excitement and the adrenalin coursing through his veins, a vague image of the finished temple already forming in his mind’s eye.
A couple of days were left for the 12 year period given by King Narasimha Deva I to elapse. Bisu Maharana gazed lovingly at the creation that he had conceived of and 1200 artisans had sweated for 12 long years to give shape to. The structure glittered like a giant diamond against the dark night. The temple, in the shape of a mammoth chariot, pulled by 12 exquisite wheels on either side stood as if ready to take off into the sky. The structure shone brilliantly, embellished by magnificent sculptures and carvings meticulously given shape by the expert hands of the artisans. Bisu Maharana should be happy, one would have thought, but his brow was furrowed with lines of worry. The temple was not yet complete. One final piece was yet to be clicked into place to complete the complex puzzle that he had taken 12 long years to put in place. A gigantic magnet weighing 52 tonnes remained to be placed at the top of the 229 feet tall roof of the sanctum sanctorum. This magnet along with other magnets in the temple would not only hold the rock structure reinforced with iron plates together, but in what was to be the most brilliant of Bisu Maharana’s innovations, it would also ensure that the main idol of the Sun God which had iron constituents, would float in the sanctum sanctorum. What was worrying Bisu Maharana was the fact that he had still not been able to come up with a way to hoist the huge magnet to the roof and time was ticking away. He and his army of artisans faced the prospect of death at the hands of the King if the structure remained incomplete after the 12 year period had elapsed.
A miracle happens. A 12-year-old boy called Dharmapada, who is none other than Bisu Maharana son, whom he has never seen as he left home when his wife was pregnant to devote his time to building the Konark Sun Temple, arrives on the scene. The young boy does what his father and his 1200 artisans could not do, he hoists the magnet to the top of the roof. He then jumps into the swirling waters of the Chandrabhaga and gives up his life. After all the King should not know that one more person than the prescribed 1200 men had been involved in the construction of the temple or it would have spelt their death. So Dharmapada sacrifices his life to save the life of his father Bisu Maharana and his 1200 strong contingent of workers.
Back to the Present-2017
The myths and legends surrounding the Konark Sun Temple are many and each one of them is more intriguing and fascinating than the other. Though it is impossible to sift fact from fiction, what is clear is the fact that the builders of the Konark Sun Temple were not only blessed with the genius of artistry in sculpture and architectural design, but they were equally well versed in the sciences of astronomy and electromagnetism.
A major part of the Konark Sun Temple is in ruins today, but what survives is enough to give one a glimpse of what the structure must have looked like in the past.
Today the stones of Konark Sun Temple sing a melodious tune in stone. The surviving Nata Mandir or Dance hall with its exquisitely carved pillars strike a mellifluous note and transport the visitor to a time when the hall stood proudly in all its glory and graceful danseuses moved to lilting music that enthralled the audiences.
Even today the Konark Sun temple comes alive to vibrant color, music, and dance during the Konark Dance Festival which is an annual event. Konark Sun Temple is considered as one of the seven wonders of India.
The entrance to the temple has an intriguing pair of statues, a lion can be seen trampling an elephant and a man can be seen lying below the elephant.
The main and dominating surviving structure today is the Jagamohana or audience hall which itself is closed and filled with sand and stone to prevent it from collapsing. The Sanctum Sanctorum which housed the Sun God, once stood proudly behind the Jagamohana before it met its end and fell to dust.
One of the most enduring pieces of sculpture which combine art and science is the famous Konark Wheel. These can be found around the temple one either sides and seem in perfect condition.
The wheels can still tell the time of the day today and stand as mute witness to the inexorable march of time. A silent and circular mark on the sands of time.
The other unique facet of the Konark Sun Temple are the exquisite carvings and sculptures that grace its precincts. Musicians, Dancers, Warriors, Gods, Goddesses, Demons, Animals all seem to jump to life, lovingly created in stone by unknown and unsung masters.
Even the ravages of time and nature have failed to dull the spark of life that the artists have captured in their stone creations. A walk around the temple precincts is sure to leave you enthralled as you see the expressive faces of the men and women, frozen in stone.
One another aspect that is usually highlighted about the Konark Sun Temple, are the erotic sculptures that sing a ballad of love on the temple walls. These are similar to those found in the temple of Khajuraho and also many others in India.
Though there are various theories for the occurrence of these erotic sculptures on the outer walls of the temples, suffice to say that what is represented is the romance of love in stone in all its purity and innocence. A part of everyday life that seems to be represented on the walls of the temples that account for less than 20 % of the total sculptures that grace the temple.
After losing myself amongst the historic stone structures that still stand of the Konark Sun Temple, the darkness compelled me to make my way out, questions still whirring in my mind, questions that still remained unanswered. Would all my questions be answered on my 12th visit, I wondered, as I thought of the coincidental significance and association of the number 12 with the Konark Sun Temple.
Some Unanswered Questions of Konark Sun Temple
- Where is the mammoth magnet that is supposed to have been part of the temple before the collapse of the Sanctum Sanctorum, some stories suggest that the magnet is somewhere in Bermuda and is responsible for the mystery of the Bermuda Triangle!
- How and why was the temple actually destroyed?
- Where is the original idol of the Sun God, though the idol in the National Museum of Delhi is claimed to be the original?
- What special or divine skills did the architects and builders possess that they were able to build such huge structures?
Konark Sun Temple – A Ready Reckoner
- Konark Sun Temple is situated about 36 kilometers from the temple city of Puri and 72 kilometers from Bhubaneswar, the capital city of the Indian state of Orissa
- The nearest airport is the Biju Patnaik International Airport situated in Bhubaneswar and connected to all major cities of India
- One can stay in Bhubaneswar or Puri and visit the Konark Sun Temple, there is a range of accommodation from budget to luxury, both in Bhubaneswar and Puri. Odisha Tourism has accommodation available at Konark itself too
- The best time to visit Konark Sun Temple is during the winter months between October to March as the weather is pleasant. During the summers the place tends to get a little too hot for comfort
- The Konark Sun Temple is open from Sunrise to Sunset
- The fees for entry to the Konark Sun Temple is Rs.30 for Indian citizens and Rs.500 for foreign nationals. There is no fees for still cameras and one can photograph to yourheart’ss content
- When in Konark also visit the Chandrabhaga Beach and the Archaeological Museum which are nearby
Watch our video on the Konark Sun Temple:
A visit to the Konark Sun Temple is like a walk down the intriguing and fascinating pages of history that seem to spell bind you with the mystery and romance of the unknown and unanswered. The Konark Sun Temple is sure to leave one awestruck and contemplative, a place that has more questions than answers, a place that takes you beyond the frontiers of your own imagination!
Indeed Konark Sun Temple, the World Heritage Site is an architecture marvel. It is a stunning masterpiece and a symbol of Incredible India’s heritage.
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