Konark is a small town in the Puri district in the state of Odisha, India. It lies on the coast by the Bay of Bengal, 65 kilometers from the capital of the state, Bhubaneswar. The Sun Temple was built in the 13th century and designed as a extremely large chariot of the Sun God, Surya, with twelve pairs of ornamented wheels pulled by seven horses.
Some of the wheels are 3 meters wide. Only six of the seven horses still stand today. The temple is also a World Heritage Site. The temple is now mostly in ruins, and a collection of its sculptures is housed in the Sun Temple Museum, which is run by the Archaeological Survey of India.
It has been built in the shape of a gigantic chariot with elaborately carved stone wheels, pillars and walls. A major part of the structure is now in ruins. Two smaller ruined temples have been discovered nearby.
One of them is called the Mayadevi Temple and is located southwest from the entrance of the main temple. It is presumed to have been dedicated to Mayadevi, one of the Sun god’s wives. It has been dated to the late 11th century, earlier than the main temple.
The Temple of the Sun was used by the imperial court for elaborate acts of worship involving fasting, prayers, dancing and animal sacrifices, as part of a year-long cycle of ceremonies involving all the temples.
An important element was the colour red, which was associated with the Sun, including red utensils for food and wine offerings, and red clothes for the emperor to wear during the ceremonies.
The Sun Temple of Konark, often called as the Black Pagoda, was constructed in the mid thirteenth century by Raja Narasinghs Deva-I of the Ganga Dynasty. It is an ample testament to the artistic glory of the time.
There are many legends of Konark that tell us a lot about the construction, existence as well as the origin and history of Konark. The story related to how Dharampada sacrificed his life in order to bring peace and harmony to his community has been narrated many a times. Dharampada, the intelligent son of Bisu Maharana did a great job in providing an appropriate solution for timely completion of the temple work.
Konarak was sacked by the Muslim Yavana army in the 15th century. The central statue enshrined in the temple was smuggled away to Puri by priests, but the Sun Temple was badly damaged in the attack.
British archaeologists uncovered the lower parts of the temple that had remained well preserved beneath the sand and restored what they could of the rest of the ruins. Nature took over the destruction from there. Over the centuries, the sea receded, sand engulfed the building and salty breezes eroded the stone.
It remained buried under a huge mound of sand until the early 20th century, when restoration began under the British. The nata-mandira exhibits a more balanced architectural design than that of other Orissan temples. The sanctum displays superb images of the Sun-god in the three projections which are treated as miniature shrines.