The temple city of Konark is situated in
the eastern state of Orissa at a distance of around 65 km
from Bhubaneswar and 35 km from Puri. The city extends between
longitude 86.08°E and latitude 19.53°N. The temple
was built by Raja Narasimhadeva to mark a military victory.
Since the rulers used to worship the Sun, the temple was conceived
as a chariot for Surya, the Sun God. The whole structure is
in the form of a giant horse drawn chariot of the Sun. Together,
the 24 wheels of the Chariot and the 7 horses drawing it symbolize
the passage of time. The front of the main entrance has two
giant stone lions crushing elephants. As you climb up the
stairs, you'll see statues of horses on both side. All over
the walls of this huge temple are beautiful carvings, sculptures
and bas-reliefs (figures projecting from a plain background).
Among them are thousands of images of gods, goddesses, men
and women and scenes from life in the 13th century.
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. Konark 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 Konark long before the present
temple. Konark was once a bustling port of Kalinga and had
good maritime trade relations with Southeast Asian countries.
The present Sun Temple was probably built 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 this temple.
The massive structure of the temple, now in ruins, sits in
solitary splendor surrounded by the drifting sands. The entire
temple has been designed in the shape of a chariot carrying
the Sun God across the heavens. The huge intricate wheels
of the chariot, which are carved around the base of the temple,
are the major attractions of the temple. The spokes of these
wheelsserve as sundials, and the shadows formed by these
can give the precise time of the day. The pyramidal roof of
the temple, made of sandstone, soars over 30 m in height.
Like the temples at Khajuraho, the Sun Temple at Konark is
also covered with erotic sculptures.
No one really knows why a temple was erected here, but there
are many legends to account for its appearance. The most popular
concerns 'Samba', the son of Lord Krishna. Samba was inordinately
proud of his beauty. So proud that he once made the mistake
of ridiculing a celebrated sage, 'Narada', who was not renowned
for his looks. Narada was not amused. Always mischievous,
he decided to have his revenge on the arrogant boy. He managed
to lure the unsuspecting Samba to the pool where his stepmothers,
the luscious consorts of Krishna, were bathing in joyful abandon.
When Krishna heard that his son had become a peeping tom,
he was furious and cursed him with leprosy. Realizing later
that the innocent boy had been tricked by Narada's cunning,
Krishna was mortified. But he could not revoke his course;
all he could do was advise his son to worship the sun god
'Surya', healer of all diseases, and hope for a cure. After
twelve years of penance and worship, Samba was at last instructed
by Surya to go and bathe in the sea at Konark. He did so and
was cured of his awful affliction. Samba was so delighted
that he decided there and then to erect a Surya temple on
these spot. It was called "Konark", "Place
of the Sun," from which the modern name comes.