THE SUN TEMPLE IN KONARK

Know your location
» East India
» Orissa
Location : Konark, Orissa
Also Known As : Black Pagoda & Konarak
Built By : King Narsingha Deva
Presiding Deity : Surya Or The Sun God

The Restoration
The story of the conservation and repair of the temple has become an inextricable part of its myth. The first suggestion to repair the ruin came from the unlikely direction of the Marine Board. In 1806 they submitted a proposal to have the temple repaired so that it could once more be a useful navigational landmark for the ships in the Bay of Bengal. But the government considered the expense involved to be too great. This was again the reason given by the deputy governor of Bengal in 1838, when he refused to do anything to preserve the temple.

Sun Temple, Konark, OrissaIn 1882-83, some jungle clearance was undertaken and a few statues mounted on platforms around the site, but in the wrong places. In 1892 Lieutenant Governor Sir Charles Elliot refused to grant any money for restoration, though some individual pieces of sculpture were shifted to the Calcutta Museum a couple of years later.

Thus a hundred years were wasted before any constructive action was taken to improve the site. In 1900 Sir John Woodburn, the new lieutenant governor, visited Konark and immediately issued an order that repair and restoration should begin without further delay. The problems faced were enormous like the porch was tottering, the stone crumbling and overgrown.

The entire site was silted with sand, so that the platform of the porch was completely submerged. This, along with the 'hall of Celebration', was gradually uncovered, and it was only after several years' work that the magnificent wheels, now famous all over the world, were fully exposed to view.

It appreciates the temple fully, it is best to make two full circumambulations: the first at ground level, the second around the upper floor. To begin the first round, go through the main entrance.

The Temple Complex
The Guardian Figures
The first thing one sees on coming through the main entrance is a pair of guardian figures composed of a lion, elephant, and man. These masterpieces of Orissan art are full of life; their vitality emphasized by the way the natural lines of the striated stone follow the flowing rhythms of the massive bodies, giving the whole figure a swirling yet contained energy.

These, as the other colossi, represent the military might of the Ganga kings. (Narasingha means "man-lion.") They are dynastic emblems, like the heraldic dragons of the Chandella rulers of Khajuraho. The rearing lions show traditional attributes of a deity expecting sacrifice: open mouth, bulging eyes, flared nostrils. The elephants are altogether gentler as they seem to be grinning and their little eyes twinkle with merriment.

These huge figures were originally guarding the steps of the eastern door of the porch, mounted on blocks and standing over 16-feet (5m) high. They were at that time covered in chocolate and pink plaster, like the "Kailasanatha temple" at Ellora. One can still see remnants of this paint, especially on the left elephant.

The Hall of Dance - Natamandira
This pavilion was the scene of ritual celebrations held in honor of the sun god. Such halls are a distinctive feature of Orissan temple architecture. Here there would have been drama, music, dancing, and banquets, as well as daily rituals performed in honor of the lord of all life. One of the unique features of the Hindu temple was the degree to which it penetrated into the daily life of the people.

The cathedrals of medieval Europe overlooked marketplaces where goods were sold and mystery plays enacted; the temples of ancient Greece served as stages for certain arts that were considered divine; but it was the Hindu temple that sought above all to glorify human life by turning it into a sacrificial celebration. Only the holy of the holies was restricted to the priest; the outer parts of the temple were open to the public.

THE WALLS
The walls of the platform of the Hall of Dance are covered by hundreds of figures, carved in living detail. The majority of these are heavenly nymphs of the sort that are to be seen at Khajuraho. They twist and turn like sinuous corkscrews. Most are playing musical instruments-drums, flutes, cymbals-or dancing with their hands above their heads and their hips swinging in joyful movement. The whole wall pulsates with rhythm.

THE SCULPTURES AROUND THE BASE
Orissa had a particularly vital tradition of dance, and it was there that the 'Natamandira' became a separate structure, independent of the main temple. The sculptures around the base of the hall portray the principal poses as enumerated in the classic text on Orissan dance, the "Sangina Darpana".

Other women are shown in a variety of poses, which illustrate their relaxed and sensuous enjoyment of everyday living. Some are at their toilet, bathing, or wringing out their wet hair; others caress a child or adjust a scarf. Everywhere there is a languorous dwelling on the physical charm of these damsels, the divine attendants of the sun god's court. As at Khajuraho, life in all its pleasurable variety is seen as essentially feminine-delicate, creative, and beautiful.

THE GARGOYLE
As well as the 'Kanyas', some deities are depicted, including Ganesha and the Guardians of the Eight Directions of space, a common motif on temple walls. Also there are instances of a robust humor. One of these is in the gargoyle surmounting a pilaster. The gargoyle is in the form of a man, with the water pipe coming out between his legs. To appreciate this fully, one has to go right into the corner of the wall and look back up at the gargoyle. Then one can see that behind the man crouches a woman, grinning as widely as her playmate.

The Three-Tier System
The standing figures on the walls of the pavilion are arrayed in three tiers. Each figure is set in a protruding panel framed by running borders of vine leaves, tendrils, tiny elephants ducks, and animals. These tiers are punctuated further by vignettes of erotic couples locked in close embrace, soldiers on the march, and animals in various positions.

The background to all this intricate carving is a wall surface that is not continuous but regularly pitted with small holes, so that it resembles a honeycomb. It seems barely substantial enough to support the carving is a wall surface that is not continuous but regularly pitted with small holes, so that it resembles a honeycomb. It seems barely substantial enough to support the carvings that emerge so boisterously from its checkered shadows. The whole effect is one of fragility combined with softness.

This impression is accentuated by the way the scroll motifs tend to be concentrated at the corners of the building, and thus serve to soften any angularity it might have. Each register of frieze is deeply indented, and this adds to the play of light and shade that reduces the wall surface to one rippling arabesque that is at once lively and contained.

Indian Craft Traditions
It is worth remembering that Hindu temple art is squarely based on the indigenous craft traditions. This heritage has several important implications. On the technical side it insures the continuing skill of the stone carver, who inherits the trade from his father.

This skill is highly prized, for the carver who fashions unworked stone into life acts as a microcosm of the mysterious power that fashions the undifferentiated primordial matter into the world of name and forms and actively transmits them to his material. The scribe does the same with different materials and instruments. In the Indian tradition both primordial matter and pure spirit are eternal and divine; they represent the first duality to emerge from the one.

The craft tradition dictated content as well as form. The crafts were rooted in a worldview that was cosmological rather than theological. Their art is not morally educational in the sense of teaching what ought to be done to become "holy"; temples such as Konark and Khajuraho are non-moral. They communicate a vision of a world that is already holy by virtue of its beauty, richness, and exuberance.

DEVADASIS
The subjects of the carving are not merely decorative. They are records of what went on here. One important institution in the Hindu temple was the 'Devadasis'- the temple dancing girls. These girls entertained the public as well as performing dances to the temple god. They represented an incarnation of heavenly nymphs and portrayed myths and stories from the scriptures. The Devadasis would have danced here in this hall.

Sun Temple, Konark, OrissaBut however pure its beginnings, the Devadasi institution went into a spectacular decline. By the 18th century there was an entire colony of the girls living in Puri, an old center of Brahminical piety. Under royal guard, the girls were not allowed to marry, as they were officially " married " to Surya, the sun god they served.

However, not only the deity enjoyed their charms. The colony was popularly known as "the place where bodies may enjoy relaxation," and out of the six categories of Devadasis residing in this stately pleasure dome; one was called "those who are meant for the king only," and another "those who are meant for the inner apartments only." Perhaps the other four were generally available-at least to the upper echelons of society.

The Devadasi system was kept alive by the random recruitment of young girls, often from poor families who were probably only too pleased to see their daughters assured of a good living and themselves freed from having to find a dowry they could ill afford. Nevertheless, it would be wrong to see the system as nothing but a front for wholesale prostitution. Even in its last hours, the custom retained some of its former glory, and some of the Devadasis fulfilled their original duty.

The Orissan historian, Dr. K. Mansingha, recalls seeing a brilliant performance of the dancing art in the Hall of Celebration of Orissa's holiest temple, the Jagannatha at Puri. This was in the early years of the present century. Sumptuously clad in heavy gold jewelry from the temple coffers, a young Devadasi danced silently in front of the image for almost an hour. Only her guru, an old man, who played the pachawaj drum, accompanied her. When she had finished, many of her spellbound audience-men and women of all ages-spontaneously rolled over the very ground on which she had danced, so great was their appreciation.

The Classic Orissan Temple Structure
In the classic Orissan temple, such as the Lingaraja at Bhubaneshwar, there was a hall of celebration in addition to the Hall of Dance, in which the Devadasis performed. Here at Konark the two structures seem to have been amalgamated. The inner arrangement of the hall, divided into bays by thick pillars, falls into nine compartments, thus forming a ground plan known as the "Graha-Abha-Mandapa", used in ancient India for the construction of stages. This fact, together with the profuse carving of musicians, and so forth, would argue that this pavilion was a 'Natamandira'.

But it may well be that Narasingha intended to build another structure between this and the 'Jagamohana', much as happened at the Lingaraja, and it is a fact that the building farthest from the 'Deul' is generally a "Bhogamandapa" in Orissan temples. Whether this was his intention or not, this hall would also have been used for banquets.

Food was ceremonially offered to the sun god, and a portion of the offering returned as blessed and given to the devotees as consecrated. This custom takes place in every living Hindu temple. There is also the important ritual of feeding the Brahmins in order to gain spiritual merit, another custom still practiced. The southern door of the hall led directly to the kitchens.

From the inside one can see that the hall was aligned to the eastern door of the main temple. This was to allow the rising sun to fall on the image in the holy of holies each morning. There may well have been a ritual opening of doors to allow the light to shine through the hall, for there are large holes in the floor that were probably sockets for wooden doorjambs.

THE CEILING LOTUS
The building would have had a pyramidal roof, similar in shape to the roof of the porch of the temple. There is a finely carved piece from the ceiling now lying to the north of the hall. This is a fully opened lotus, with Surya on the pericarp surrounded by an inner ring of eight petals, and an outer one of sixteen. On each of the sixteen petals there is a dancer.

The Granite Beauty
One of the beautiful features of all the buildings here is the stone. A type of gneiss, it is garnetiferous, and time has exposed its glistening veins of different colors. Here in the hall, there is a predominance of muted heathery colors-purple, brown, and yellow. The tonal effect is one of mellow softness, emphasized by the rounded larval texture of the stone, weathered smooth by the years. MORE.........



Booking Information/Reservation