Konark Sun Temple, Berhampur


About Konark Sun Temple

Konark Sun Temple is a 13th-century CE Sun temple at Konark about 36 kilometres (22 mi) northeast from Puri on the coastline of Odisha, India. The temple is attributed to king Narasinga Deva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty about 1250 CE.Dedicated to the Hindu Sun God Surya, what remains of the temple complex has the appearance of a 100-foot (30 m) high chariot with immense wheels and horses, all carved from stone. Once over 200 feet (61 m) high, much of the temple is now in ruins, in particular the large shikara tower over the sanctuary; at one time this rose much higher than the mandapa that remains. The structures and elements that have survived are famed for their intricate artwork, iconography, and themes, including erotic kama and mithuna scenes. Also called the Surya Devalaya, it is a classic illustration of the Odisha style of Architecture or Kalinga Architecture .The cause of the destruction of the Konark temple is unclear and remains a source of controversy. Theories range from natural damage to deliberate destruction of the temple in the course of being sacked several times by Muslim armies between the 15th and 17th centuries. This temple was called the "Black Pagoda" in European sailor accounts as early as 1676 because its great tower appeared black. Similarly, the Jagannath Temple in Puri was called the "White Pagoda". Both temples served as important landmarks for sailors in the Bay of Bengal. The temple that exists today was partially restored by the conservation efforts of British India-era archaeological teams. Declared a UNESCO world heritage site in 1984, it remains a major pilgrimage site for Hindus, who gather here every year for the Chandrabhaga Mela around the month of February.


Ancient texts

The oldest surviving Vedic hymns, such as hymn 1.115 of the Rigveda, mention Surya with particular reverence for the "rising sun" and its symbolism as dispeller of darkness, one who empowers knowledge, the good, and all life. However, the usage is context specific. In some hymns, the word Surya simply means sun as an inanimate object, a stone, or a gem in the sky (Rigvedic hymns 5.47, 6.51 and 7.63) while in others it refers to a personified deity. In the layers of Vedic texts, Surya is one of the several trinities along with Agni and either Vayu or Indra, which are presented as an equivalent icon and aspect of the Hindu metaphysical concept called the Brahman.In the Brahmanas layer of Vedic literature, Surya appears with Agni (fire god) in the same hymns. Surya is revered for the day, and Agni for its role during the night. According to Kapila Vatsyayan, the concept of a Surya–Agni relationship evolves, and in later literature Surya is described as Agni representing the first principle and the seed of the universe. It is in the Brahmanas layer of the Vedas, and the Upanishads that Surya is explicitly linked to the power of sight, and to visual perception and knowledge. He is then internalized and said to be the eye, as ancient Hindu sages suggested abandonment of external rituals to gods in favor of internal reflection and meditation of the gods within, in one's journey to realize the Atman (soul, self) within, in texts such as the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Chandogya Upanishad, Kaushitaki Upanishad, and others.The Mahabharata epic opens its chapter on Surya by reverentially calling him the "eye of the universe, soul of all existence, origin of all life, goal of the Samkhyas and Yogis, and symbolism for freedom and spiritual emancipation". In the Mahabharata, Karna is the son of Surya and an unmarried princess named Kunti. The epic describes Kunti's difficult life as an unmarried mother, then her abandonment of Karna, followed by her lifelong grief. Baby Karna is found and then adopted, and grows up to become one of the central characters in the great battle of Kurukshetra where he fights his half-brothers.

Konark in texts

Konark, also referred to in Indian texts by the name Kainapara, was a significant trading port by the early centuries of the common era. The current Konark temple dates to the 13th century, though evidence suggests that a sun temple was built in the Konark area by at least the 9th century. Several Puranas mention Surya worship centers in Mundira, which may have been the earlier name for Konark, Kalapriya (Mathura), and Multan (now in Pakistan). The Chinese Buddhist pilgrim and traveler Hiuen-tsang (also referred to as Xuanzang) mentions a port city in Odisha named Charitra. He describes the city as prosperous, with five convents and "storeyed towers that are very high and carved with saintly figures exquisitely done". Since he visited India in the 7th century, he could not have been referring to the 13th-century temple, but his description suggests either Konark or another Odisha port city already featuring towering structures with sculptures.According to the Madala Panji, there was at one time another temple in the region built by Pundara Kesari. He may have been Puranjaya, the 7th-century ruler of the Somavasmi Dynasty.


The current temple is attributed to Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty, r. 1238–1264 CE– . It is one of the few Hindu temples whose planning and construction records written in Sanskrit in the Odiya script have been preserved in the form of palm leaf manuscripts that were discovered in a village in the 1960s and subsequently translated. The temple was sponsored by the king, and its construction was overseen by Siva Samantaraya Mahapatra. It was built near an old Surya temple. The sculpture in the older temple's sanctum was re-consecrated and incorporated into the newer larger temple. This chronology of temple site's evolution is supported by many copper plate inscriptions of the era in which the Konark temple is referred to as the "great cottage".According to James Harle, the temple as built in the 13th century consisted of two main structures, the dance mandapa and the great temple (deul). The smaller mandapa is the structure that survives; the great deul collapsed sometime in the late 16th century or after. According to Harle, the original temple "must originally have stood to a height of some 225 feet (69 m)", but only parts of its walls and decorative mouldings remain.

Damage and ruins

The temple was in ruins before its restoration. Speculation continues as to the cause of the destruction of the temple. Early theories stated that the temple was never completed and collapsed during construction. This is contradicted by textual evidence and evidence from inscriptions. The Kenduli copper plate inscription of 1384 CE from the reign of Narasimha IV seems to indicate that the temple was not only completed but an active site of worship. Another inscription states that various deities in the temple were consecrated, also suggesting that construction of the temple had been completed. A non-Hindu textual source, the Akbar-era text Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl dated to the 16th century, mentions the Konark temple, describing it as a prosperous site with a temple that made visitors "astonished at its sight", with no mention of ruins.Texts from the 19th century do mention ruins, which means the temple was damaged either intentionally or through natural causes sometime between 1556 and 1800 CE. The intentional-damage theory is supported by Mughal era records that mention the Muslim invader Kalapahad attacking and destroying Jagannath Puri and the Konark temple. Other texts state that the temple was sacked several times by Muslim armies between the 15th and 17th centuries. Islamic texts describing the raids of Kalapahar mention his army's first attempt to destroy the temple in 1565, but they failed. They inflicted only minor damage and carried away the copper kalasa. The Hindu text Madala Panji and regional tradition state that Kalapahad attacked again and damaged the temple in 1568. After the Sun Temple ceased to attract faithful, Konark became deserted, left to disappear in dense forests for years.The natural-damage theory is supported by the nearness of the temple to the shore and the monsoons in the region that would tend to cause damage. However, the existence of nearby stone temples in the Odisha region that were built earlier and have stood without damage casts doubt to this theory. According to P. Parya, the number of rings of moss and lichen growth found on the stone ruins suggests the damage occurred sometime around the 1570s, but this approach does not indicate why or by whom.According to Thomas Donaldson, evidence suggests that the damage and the temple's ruined condition can be dated to between the late 16th century and the early 17th century from the records of various surveys and repairs found in early 17th-century texts. These also record that the temple remained a site of worship in the early 17th century. These records do not state whether the ruins were being used by devotees to gather and worship, or part of the damaged temple was still in use for some other purpose.

Aruna Stambha

In the last quarter of the 18th century, the Aruna stambha (Aruna pillar) was removed from the entrance of Konark temple and placed at the Singha-dwara (Lion's Gate) of the Jagannath temple in Puri by a Maratha Brahmachari named Goswain (or Goswami). The pillar, made of monolithic chlorite, is 33 feet 8 inches (10.26 m) tall and is dedicated to Aruna, the charioteer of the Sun god.

Preservation efforts

In 1803 the East India Marine Board requested the Governor General of Bengal that conservation efforts be undertaken. However, the only conservation measure put in place at the time was to prohibit further removal of stones from the site. Lacking structural support, the last part of the main tower still standing, a small broken curved section, collapsed in 1848.The then-Raja of Khurda, who had jurisdiction over this region in the early 19th century, removed some stones and sculptures to use in a temple he was building in Puri. A few gateways and some sculptures were destroyed in the process. In 1838 the Asiatic Society of Bengal requested that conservation efforts be undertaken, but the requests were denied, and only measures to prevent vandalism were put in place.In 1859 the Asiatic Society of Bengal proposed, and in 1867 attempted to relocate an architrave of the Konark temple depicting the navagraha to the Indian Museum in Calcutta. This attempt was abandoned as funds had run out. In 1894 thirteen sculptures were moved to the Indian Museum. Local Hindu population objected to further damage and removal of temple ruins. The government issued orders to respect the local sentiments. In 1903, when a major excavation was attempted nearby, the then-Lieutenant governor of Bengal, J. A. Baurdilon, ordered the temple to be sealed and filled with sand to prevent the collapse of the Jagamohana. The Mukhasala and Nata Mandir were repaired by 1905. In 1906 casuarina and punnang trees were planted facing the sea to provide a buffer against sand-laden winds. In 1909 the Mayadevi temple was discovered while removing sand and debris. The temple was granted World Heritage Site status by the UNESCO in 1984.

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