Chariot of the Gods: The Legend of the Konark Sun Temple Revealed
Here the language of stone surpasses the language of human.
— Rabindranath Tagore
Hindu legends say that one of Krishna’s sons built the impressive Konark Sun Temple to honor the solar deity for healing him. Although this temple was actually built during the 13th century, it was conceived to be a monumental representation of the chariot of Surya, the Sun God.
The Konark Sun Temple is a well-known temple located in Odisha, an eastern state of India. This temple has been referred to as the Black Pagoda by European sailors, who marked it out as a prominent landmark during their voyages along the eastern coast of India. This name was given to the temple as it was constructed out of black stones.
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1847 depiction of the Konark Sun Temple. ( Public Domain )
The Temple’s Creation According to Hindu Myth
According to Hindu mythology, the Konark Sun Temple was constructed by Samba, one of Krishna’s sons. In one version of the tale, Samba had been cursed by Krishna because he entered the bathing chamber of his father’s wives. As a result of this, Samba suffered from leprosy. He was advised by a sage to undergo severe penance for 12 years at Mitravana, near the confluence of the Chandrabhaga River with the sea at Konark. This was pleasing to Surya, the Sun God, who is also believed to be the healer of all skin diseases, and Samba was cured of his leprosy by this deity. Krishna’s son showed his gratefulness to Surya by promising to build a temple in his honor. The following day, whilst Samba was bathing in the river, he found an image of Surya, which he took, and installed at the temple he built.
Statue of the Sun God Surya in the Sun Temple in Konark, Orissa, India. (Jayantanth/ CC BY 3.0 )
In reality, however, the Konark Sun Temple was commissioned by Narasimhadeva I, a ruler of the East Ganga dynasty, during the 13th century AD. According to some sources, the king decided to build this temple in order to commemorate his military victories against Muslim invaders. As Narasimhadeva was a devotee of Surya, he decided to have the temple built in the form of the god’s chariot.
The Konark Sun Temple ( CC by SA 4.0 )
The Story of the Wheels at Konark Sun Temple
Thus, on the north and south sides of the temple, there are a total of 24 carved wheels, each of which measures around 3 meters (9.84 ft.) in diameter. Each of these wheels has a set of eight spokes, which serve as sundials. According to one interpretation, the 24 wheels represent the hours of the day, whilst another suggests that each pair of wheels signify a month of the year. This solar chariot is drawn by seven horses, which are said to symbolize the days of the week. The temple is also decorated with a number of intricately-carved reliefs of animals, foliage, dancers and musicians, and erotic scenes.
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Konark Sun Temple – Exquisite Wheel of the Chariot. (Bikashrd/ CC BY SA 4.0 )
The Temple’s Aura of Power
There are a number of local stories surrounding the Konark Sun Temple. One popular tale told by locals about the temple is that it is surrounded by an aura of great power that is emitted from a pair of magnets believed to have been built into the tower. The magnets are rumored to have allowed the king’s throne to levitate and to have frequently caused shipwrecks to happen along the coast. In one story, it was decided that the dome of the tower be removed and destroyed, so as to avoid any further shipwrecks from occurring.
According to some, the temple was sacked by a Muslim Yavana army during the 15th century. Another places the blame of the temple’s destruction on the Mughals during the reign of Jahangir in the early 18th century. In any case, the temple was abandoned and became buried under sand. It was only during the late 19th century / early 20th century that the remains of the temple were excavated and then restored by British archaeologists.
Konark sun temple ( CC by SA 3.0 )
Apart from the restoration works that were carried out on the temple, the archaeologists also planted trees to shelter the temple from being ravaged by the elements and opened a museum to exhibit the sculptures that were neither left in situ, nor sent to museums in other parts of India / London. Today, the Konark Sun Temple is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Top image: The Konark Sun Temple, India. Source: Mayank Choudhary/ CC BY SA 3.0
By Wu Mingren
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Available at: http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/246
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praise the Gods