Standing on the shores of the Bay of Bengal and basking in the rays of the rising sun, the temple at Konark is one of the outstanding examples of temple architecture in India. Shaped like a giant chariot, it is famous for the exquisite stone carvings that cover the entire structure. It is believed that during the 13th century CE, the Sun Temple at Konark in Orissa was built by Maharaja Narasimhadeva I of Eastern Ganga Dynasty. The temple is 35 km from Puri and 65 km from Bhubanshwar, the capital of Orissa The name Konark is considered to be originated from two Sanskrit words, Kona (corner or angle) and Arka (the sun). It is obvious from the name that, the temple was dedicated to the Sun God Surya. There was a day when the monument was also called the Black Pagoda by the European sailors.
According to local myth, a renowned architect Bisu Maharana was hired by Narasimhadeva I, for the construction of the temple. After twelve years of hard work by twelve hundred persons, the temple was almost finished, except the mounting of the crown stone. Despite taking maximum care of all the details by the workmen and the architect, several attempts to fix the stone failed unbelievably. In view of the above circumstances, the impatient King at last issued his ultimatum to the artisans to finish the job within three days or to face the death sentence. At this juncture Dharmapada, the twelve year old son of Bisu Maharana, appeared on the scene to offer his help. The expert artisans did not believe his words, and chided him as he was only a kid. Bisu Maharana, on the other hand, did not know his son, as he left his village before the child was born. However, Dharmapada had some idea of his own. With his inherent quality, he fixed the crown stone by placing a strong magnetic rod in the dome at the top, which attracted the iron ore laden rocks and kept them stable. But the artisans were still apprehensive, as they thought that, the king will be displeased to learn that a boy succeeded in the mission while his best artisans failed. At this, the boy assured them, climbed on the top of the temple and jumped into the sea to save his father and his co-workers.
Constructed at the mouth of River Chandrabhaga, in traditional style of Kalinga architecture, the Konark Sun Temple is shaped like a huge ornamented chariot for the Sun God Surya, with 12 pairs of stone-carved wheels and a team of seven galloping horses, only one of which still survives intact. The seven horses, which pull the chariot temple, signify the seven days of the week. The twelve pairs of wheels represent the twelve months of the year and the eight spokes in each wheel symbolize the eight ideal stages of a woman’s day. However, the wheels of the temple are actually sundials, which can be used to calculate time accurately to a minute.
The original temple had a main sanctum (Vimana or Shikhara), said to be 229 feet tall. Due to the weight of the tall superstructure and weak soil condition of the area, it fell and destroyed in 1837. The only principal structure of the temple, which still stands today in the ruins, is the 128 feet tall audience hall (Jagamohana). Among the other structures that have survived to the current day are the dance hall (Naat Mandira) and dining hall (Bhoga Mandapa).
The roof of the three tiered porch is full of statues, mostly musicians and dancers serenading the Sun God. Sculptures on the bottom platform include a magnificent Nataraja, performing the cosmic dance. The interior of the main temple is now blocked up. Beyond the porch, there is a double staircase leading to a shrine with a statue of the Sun God, Surya, accompanied by a small figure of Aruna, the charioteer, at his feet. The beautiful image is carved of high-quality green Chlorite stone and is one of the masterpieces of Konark. One can come down from this point into the remains of the inner sanctum, where the Sun God was originally enshrined. It is said that in the days of its grandeur, the main idol of Sun good used to remain suspended in the air with the help of the huge magnet at the peak and another magnet fixed in the basement. Initially, there was a diamond in the centre of the idol which reflected the sun rays that passed. In 1627, the then Raja of Khurda took the Sun idol from Konark to the Jagannath temple in Puri.
The outer surfaces of the temple are richly carved and ornamented with exquisite stone sculptures of musicians and dancers as well as erotic scenes. The famous erotic scenes of the temple are based on the Kama Sutra. Abundance of those exquisite erotic sculptures is found in niches halfway up the porch, along the sides of the platform and around the doorways of the main building.
It is said that the collapse of the temple was caused by the removal of the strong magnetized rod at the centre dome at the top of the temple, by the Portuguese sailors. They alleged that the strong magnetic waves emanating from it were interfering with the compass of the ships, which resulted in a few shipwrecks. In fact, the rod kept the temple structure erect and with its removal, the structure collapsed tragically.
However, there is another opinion regarding the collapse of the Sun Temple. According to some historical documents, Sulaiman Khan Karrani, an Afghan Muslim ruler of Bengal, tried to conquer Orissa. But after the battle of Tribeni, he was forced to make peace and realized that it would never be possible to conquer Orissa, unless he could defeat Rajiv Lochan Ray. This Rajiv Lochan Ray or Kalachand Roy Bhadury, was a Bengali Hindu General of Gajapati Mukundadeva, the last emperor of the empire of Kalinga-Utkala. So, after the battle of Tribeni, he invited Rajib Lochan in his palace for negotiation of a peace treaty. There, in the palace, Rajib Lochan met and fell in love with the beautiful daughter of Sulaiman. This was, actually, a part of Sulaiman’s plan and he offered Rajib to be converted to Islam and marry his daughter. Rajib in his turn offered to convert his daughter to Hinduism for the purpose. However, the Hindu Pundits strongly negated the proposal and opined that conversion to Hinduism is illegal. Enraged, Rajib Lochan converted, married the Charming Muslim lady and taking the name ‘Kalapahad’, attacked Orissa. According to the history of Orissa, Kalapahad invaded Orissa in 1568, forcefully converted thousands of Hindus into Muslims and destroyed a number of Hindu temples including the magnificent temple of Konark
Today, the almost ruined Konark temple is a World Heritage Site and included in various list of Seven Wonders of India.