The Sun temple at Konarka, popularly known as ‘Black Pagoda’ was the fullest manifestation of the Kalinga style of architecture. Architecturally, it was 148pecimen in stone. This monumental temple was constructed by Narasimhadeva I or Langula Narasimhadeva in the 13th century A.D. The legend goes on that 1200 Odishan artists took 12 years for the construction of this gigantic structure. Situated at a distance of 35 kms to the north-west of Puri on the river bank of Chandrabhaga, the Sun temple has allured the attention of tourists from all over the world.
Konarka is popularly known as Arkakshetra connecting the worship of the Sun god. The temple consisted of the Vimana, Jagamohana and Natamandira. The Vimana is now lost due to the fall of stones from the top of the temple. The existing Jagamohana (Mukhasala), designed with a pyramidal roof, stands on a high platform. The 24 wheels, carved on the sides of that elevated platform upon which the Deul (sanctum) and Jagamohana (porch) stand, represent the 24 hours of a day. A group of 7 spirited horses sculptured on the sides of the staircase denote 7 days of a week. The wheels and horses together present the idea that the temple was designed in the form of a colossal Solar Chariot. The Jagamohana contained three doors each with attached steps. However, all these doors and steps have been blocked up and the interior filled up with sands. The Vimana and Jagamohana were planned in the Pancharatha style.
The Natamandira was planned as a detached building in front of the main temple. It had approachable flight of-steps on four sides. It is a lavishly carved pillared structure. All over the structure am depicted dance and musicai performance that consist of Pakhoaj (leader braces and wooden blocks for producing designed intonation), Dholak (barrel shaped double faced longish drum), Sahanai (large pipes giving sweet music), Karatalas (large metallic cymbals with strings), Vina (strined musical instrument), Vamsi (flute) etc. In front of the eastern flight of the Jagamohana stood a colossal chlorite pillar, known as Arunastambha. As stated earlier, it had been shifted from Konarka and installed in front of the temple of God Jagannath at Puri during the Maratha rule. The main temple, that contained the idol of Sun god, was 230 ft. high, the biggest in the “Whole India. However, it is ruined. The compound of the temple is 877 ft. x 540 ft. It is really a wonder, how such big stone slabs were carried on to the top for the construction of this temple. It is suggested by the archaeologists that after 149pecime the structure from the ground by sands, the big stones were placed over it.
The Sun temple of Konarka is remarkable for its variety of sculptures. Among them are the deities, musician-nymphs of the celestial sphere, secular sculptures, erotic figures, birds, beasts, acquatic animals, mythological figures, motifs reflected in figures, decorative bodies etc. Among the deities the most remarkable are the chlorite images of Surya in the three projected southern, western and northern niches of the Deul the rising sun, mid-day sun and setting sun respectively. The artists very rightly matched their talent with creation by depicting the rising sun with a smiling face, the midday sun with grave look and the setting sun with faded look.
The Navagraha sculpture of the temple is another piece of architectural creation. From the left to right the planets have been installed in this order as such the Ravi (Sun), Chandra (Moon). Mangala (Mars), Budha (Mercury), Brihaspati (Jupiter), Sukra (Venus), Sani (Saturn), Rahu (the ascending node) and Ketu (the descending node). Now the Navagraha slab is kept inside separate temple. The worship of Siva (in the form of Linga), Purusottama (God Jagannath) and Mahisamardhini (Durga) is gleaned from the sculptural remains of the Sun temple of Konarka. Four such sculptures have been preserved in four different places viz. one at Sun temple of Konarka, one in Konarka museum, one at the National Museum (New Delhi and the last in the Bhogamandapa of the Jagannath temple at Puri. A noteworthy feature of the Sun temple of Konarka is the three outstanding animal figures which guarded the three starcases of the Jagamohana. Among these figures Gajasimhas (lion on elephant) find place in the east, elephants on the north and warhorses, on the south. These animal figures express the artistic skills of the Oriya sculptors.
The Sun temple at Konarka is a specimen of sculptures. Several sculptures like the decorated doors, royal chambers, the procession of king to receive the warriors, musicians playing on various musical instruments, meditation of saints, figures of elephants, horses, camels, snakes, divine and semidivine figures etc. bear ample testimony of the creative mind of the Oriya artists of that period. Very interesting is the depiction of a ziraffe eating grapes on the temple wall of Konarka. It was an African animal. It is not known how the Oriya artists came in contact with this animal. Be that as it may, it was definitely a noteworthy feature of the temple art at Konarka.
A notable feature of the architecture of the Sun temple of Konarka is the presence of erotic figures in the walls. Like the Khajuraho temple, the obscence sculptures of Konarka, depict the sensual pleasures of human life. It is a clear indication that human life is equal to the life of beasts. The aim of such depiction was perhaps that a pilgrim who visits the temple should not be swayed by the mundane life but should control hissenses to get victory over it. A. K. Coomarswamy, a notable art historian remarked regarding these sculptures as such: “Love and desire are part of life. Life is a veil behind or within which is God. The outside of the temple is an image of this life, Samsara, and the carvings on it present everything that belongs to Samsara and perpetuate illusion, every bond and each desire of loveliness that binds men to the wheel of life and death.”
N. N. Bhattacharya comments on the erotic sculptures of the Sun temple of Konarka stating that it was the reflection of the abnormal sexual desires of the dominant class of the man whose magnificence was responsible for the construction of this temple. However, its importance has been rightly painted out by Robert Ebersole as such : “Even if one elects to dismiss the intrinsically superb sculptural qualities of the erotic figures, there still remains a tremendous number of morally acceptable example which attest to the fact that the temple of the Sun represents the culmination of medieval Hindu art and the supreme achievement of temple sculpture.”
Really, the Sun temple at Konarka is the finest specimen of the creative genius of the Oriya artists. The Kalinga style of art reached the pinnacle of perfection with the erection of the Sun temple at Konarka. From the point of elegance, balance and beauty this temple, the only temple in Eastern India which got distinction to be one of the seven wonders of the world. Besides these two great temples of national and international importance, the Ganga period also witnessed massive temple building activities. The temple of Ramesvara, the temple of Gangesvara at Bhubaneswar were built by Chodagangadeva. The temple of Chintamanisvara near Laxmisagara in Bhubaneswar was built by Lakshmi Devi, the wife of Chodagangadeva. The Anantavasudeva temple, located on the eastern bank of Vindusarovara was another important temple of that period which was built by Chandrikadevi, the daughter of Anangabhimadeva III. Another important temple of the Ganga period was Meghesvara temple of Bhubaneswar, constructed by Svapnesvaradeva, the brother-in-law of Rajaraja II and the Commander-in-chief of the Ganga army. Further, the Yamesvara temple, Mitresvara temple, Varunesvara temple, Bhaskaresvara temple, Chitresvara temple, Parvati temple (in the complex of the Lingaraj temple) all in Bhubaneswar belonged to this period. Among other temples, the Sobhanesvara Siva temple at Niali, the Dakshaprajapati Siva temple at Banapur, the Kshirachora Gopinath temple at Remuna in the Balasore district, the temple of Mukhalingam, Simhachalam, Narayanapuram, Tekkali etc. were also constructed during the glorious days of the Gangas.
www.historyofodisha.in is an initiative of Brajabandhu Mahanta, with active support from Smabhunath Mahanta to share the glorious past of Odisha among the students and general readers of history.