Konark: Temples and Tourism

konark sun temple

Konark is a small town in the Puri District in the Indian state of Orissa and is located near the city of Bhubaneshwar. This may be a small town but carries immense importance because of the presence of the Sun Temple here. However, the deity in the temple has been shifted to Jangannth Puri and every year a humungous procession carrying the deities on a huge chariot can be witnessed here. In fact the etymology of the word Juggernaut is this procession which is truly a sight to behold.

There are numerous temples scattered near Konark; however, the Sun Temple has immense historical and religious importance; especially for Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains. Although some parts of the Sun Temple have been destroyed over the years, the exquisite carvings and the artistic splendor are still intact for aesthetics, artists, and pilgrims alike. This temple is a World Heritage Site and the unique feature of the temple is that the entire edifice was made to resemble a chariot; the chariot of the Sun God.

The temple is now partly in ruins but the Sun Temple Museum is an interesting place and houses many artifacts that were found in the premises of this exquisite temple. The various deities and sculptures made of stone tell their own story and the great writer Rabindranath Tagore once observed that –“here the language of stone surpasses the language of man”. The temple has numerous beautiful carvings of animals, flora, mythological creatures, and some frank erotic art. Built by oxidizing ferruginous sandstone, the temple was completed in the 13th century and stands aligned in an East-West direction.

The construction of the main sanctum and the audience hall was simultaneous and the sanctum is 229 ft high and the latter is 128 ft high. The temple compound measures about 857 ft or 261 m by 540 ft or 160 m. The only intact structure is the audience hall that still stands which is not the case with other parts of the temple such as the dining hall and the hall used for performing arts such as dancing. The temple is said to have been destroyed by Islamic invaders in 1508 and all the deities and surrounding temples are also mute victims as well as witnesses of barbarism and destruction carried out by Muslim invaders.

After the Islamic invaders took control of Orissa, they started destroying numerous temples and the presiding deity was buried under the sand for several years by the Pandas of Konark. The sun image is now in the National Museum of Delhi. Unfortunately, since the deity of lord Jagannath was taken away, pilgrims stopped coming to Konark for sun worship.

The famous temple of Lord Jagannath is now located around 20 miles from Konark and is an important pilgrim site for Hindus and Buddhists which draws thousands of pilgrims; especially during the Rath-Yatra or the chariot festival when a sea of humanity pulls the humungous chariot, which carries the three deities, with ropes with an intense religious fervor. It is believed among Hindus that pulling the chariot washes away all the sins and is a form of penance, and many pilgrims take part in this one of a kind procession.

The Jagannath Puri temple is one of the most visited pilgrimage sites in India and is dedicated to the worship of Lord of the Universe, or Krishna. The temple was built in 1174 CE; however the original temple that stood here was constructed in the year 1078-1148 CE. The temple has been said to be constructed after the finding of a deity of Krishna near a fig tree in the form of a dazzling blue Jewel. However, the jewel was hidden by Dharma on the sea-shore and was later discovered by a king who performed penances as per the orders of Lord Vishnu in order to find a floating log from which the deity was created.

The structure of this huge temple is unique and the complex covers an area of about 37,000 sq. meters. The complex is fortified with a wall and the premises contain more than 120 temples and shrines. The cultural and religious importance of the temple makes it one of the aesthetically and religiously very important for pilgrims and visitors. The main temple is curvilinear and the temple tower stands 214 feet high under which the deities reside. There are many other entrances, deities, and pillared halls that dot this architectural wonder. However the Rath-Yatra is the festival when thousands throng to get a glimpse of the huge chariot that is pulled by devotees and pilgrims. The festival takes place in June and can stun a person to the point of mesmerizing because of the exquisitely decorated chariot surrounded by thousands of pilgrims.