Konark – the Sun Temple or the Black Pagoda on the East Coast of India
India is well known for her architectural achievements. Magnificent temples ascribed to different gods and goddesses dot the Indian landscape in almost every city big or small and even remote areas. One such magnificent architectural masterpiece is the Konark Sun Temple also called the Black Pagoda by Western tourists.
Narasimha I is immortal in history as the builder of the Sun Temple of Konark. He belonged to the Western Ganga Dynasty, which ruled Orissa from about 1112 AD to 1435 AD.
It is believed that in the centuries preceding the construction of the temple there was abnormal increase in sunspots. This could have led to widespread occurrence of skin disease for which Sun worship became popular. The total eclipse of the Sun which occurred on September 26, 1242 could have been another reason for construction of a Sun Temple to express devotion to that god.
Architectural Description: Situated within a spacious courtyard, the Sun Temple of Konark facing east, consists of the Devla, Jagmohana and the Natamandira. The Devla and the Jagmandira in the same axial alignment and forming the component parts of one architectural scheme, are designed in the form of a grand chariot to represent the mythological chariot of the Sun God. The Natyamandira is a detached structure a few meters away to the east of the Jagmohana.
The magnificent wheels are the crowning glory of the temple. The 24 wheels, set on the sides of the solid platform convey a sense of mobility which imparts a monumental grandeur unique in the realm of art. The 24 wheels represent the 24 fortnights into which the year is divided.
Each wheel is about a feet and 9 inches in height and has eight thick and eight thin spokes. Every inch of the wheel has been elegantly embellished with various designs of minute workmanship.
The main temple, which originally contained the presiding deity, is in ruins. Its soaring tower fallen long since and what remains of that magnificent structure is only a portion of its bada or panch-ratha in plan.
On the north, west and south sides of the main temple, close to the statutes of the sun god, there are three subsidiary temples constructed on the same platform.
The Main Temple
The ruined sanctum is now open to the sky. The original entrance to the garbha griha is permanently closed. The floor of the sanctum is a square of 32 feet 10 inches and is paved with chlorate slabs.
The temple of Konark has the unique distinction of possessing three pairs of free standing colossal animals. Two colossal elephants are seen over separate platforms inside the compound wall.
Stone is used to ensure the permanence of the structures. The stones used in Konark temple can be broadly divided into three rock types; late-rite, Khondalite and ultra-basic.
Architectural Features: Konark temple occupies a unique position in the temple architecture of India, but there is nothing different in it from Orissan style of temple building. It is the finest expression of temple building. It is the finest expression of the Kalinga style. It is remarkable in plan, design, dimensions and elevation, and it possesses certain striking features which lend it an exceptional grandeur not to be found anywhere. It faces the east – the direction from where the sun rises. There are subsidiary shrines in front of the Parvadevatas. It has a stupendous size. It is larger in dimension and more elaborate in treatment than any of the temples constructed prior to it in Orissa. It has a chariot design which is unique.
Konark is one of the most creative expressions of the millions of artisans of India who beautified her with their untiring labour unknown to the world for a very long time. The tourists who came to this part of India from the West also called it a Black Pagoda because of the colour of the stone used. But it is one of the many structures of India which glorify the gods and also glorify their builders and the unknown, unheard of millions of workmen. It was not built with terror like Taj Mahal which took 22 years to build and 22000 men worked under the leash of their slave-masters merely to remember a queen. It was built to please the Sun God so that He blessed the people of Orissa with good health and relieved them of skin problem being faced by them at that time. It might seem superstitious but it underlines the spirit with which it was built – the great socialist spirit of the Kings of India who kept the welfare of the people at heart before starting anything. They were not tyrants who lived for themselves only like the fascist kings of Arabia or the Western world.
—- A.L.Rawal, Associate Professor, University of Delhi