The Sun Temple in Konark is probably one of the most famous Hindu temples in India not dedicated to one of the major deities or deity incarnations. Instead it is dedicated to Surya, the god of the sun. It is an architectural masterpiece designed to resemble a chariot with elements designed for astrological observations. Despite the fact that much of the original temple is no longer standing, it is nevertheless considered one of the architectural masterpieces of India of the Middle Ages. The Sun Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
According to Hindu legend, in very ancient times, the Lord Krishna had a son named Samba, who suffered from leprosy. At the suggestion of a local wise man, Samba began to worship Surya, the sun god, and did so for twelve years. At the end of twelve years Samba’s leprosy was cured. In gratefulness he founded the first temple at Konark.
At least two earlier temples once stood on the site. However, in the 13th century, a local ruler named Narasimhadeva endeavored to construct a new temple, intending it to be one of the most magnificent temples anywhere, and at the time of its construction it was. To honor Surya the entire immense complex was laid out to resemble the sun god driving a huge chariot.
In honor of Samba, Narasimhadeva attempted to have the temple completed in a mere twelve years. As the story goes, the king grew angry when it looked as though the project would take a few more days than twelve years, and threatened to kill all of the laborers if the project was not finished on time. In order to forestall this, the son of one of the laborers sacrificed his life (the details of why this worked are somewhat vague).
The Sun Temple was one of the wonders of India for centuries. Unfortunately, at some time during the 16th or 17th centuries, the immense main sanctuary of the temple (the part designed to look like the driver of the chariot) collapsed. Strangely, the cause and date of the collapse are not documented, though war, natural disaster and fatigue have all been named as potential causes. Since the 19th century, efforts have been regularly made to restore and preserve the remainder of the temple.
The Sun Temple is one of the most visually stunning temples in India, which is saying a lot. The temple as it was originally designed was laid out like a chariot which runs well over the length of a football field. An enormous twenty foot platform interconnects the various elements, which begin with statues of mythological creatures at the front and a large pillared outdoor worship area which represent horses. Then there is a large dip (the reins) followed by the temple (the chariot). An even greater temple, the main sanctuary (representing the drive) once stood behind this. Only a few ruins remain of this once giant tower.
The ‘chariot’ part of the temple now serves as the primary sanctuary and worship area. Structurally it resembles the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (of the original Seven Wonders of the World), with a giant pyramid-shaped roof, not dome or tower. Giant stone-carved wheels stand around the base of the chariot. These wheels are designed to be used as sundials. There is also a small archaeological museum on the site.
The Sun Temple is located on the south side of Konark, separated from the shore of the Indian Ocean by less than a mile of forest, approximately 750 miles southeast of New Delhi. It is open daily from dawn to dusk. The cost of admission is Rs15. Web: http://konark.nic.com (official website).
Konark is one of a trio of cities in Odisha that collectively are known as the Golden Triangle, and are home to an excessive number of fantastic temples. The best one in Konark, after the Sun Temple, is arguably the city’s Mayadevi Temple.