Konark Temple : Abode Of The Sun God, Orissa

Konark Sun Temple

Which is the only god worshipped across the world?

Err… Not sure

One and only – The Sun!! And that is why this is the greatest temple in the world.

Ehhh… Everyone doesn’t worship the sun.

Who doesn’t? In Egypt he is known as Ra, in Greece as Apollo, in Rome as Helios, even the Incans worshipped the Sun…..

Yea… *polite smile*

I was thinking about how a lot of Christians don’t do surya namaskar because it is “bowing down to the Sun”. But I quite enjoyed this vehement proclamation by my guide at the Konark Sun Temple.

I often enjoy the very emotionally charged and culturally strong rhetoric I get from a lot of the Indian folks. Whether it is sharing confidently the stereotypes of ‘Madrasis’ or claiming the supremacy of their Gods. I find this everywhere. In India and I suspect in places across the world.

People hold their culture, their thoughts very strongly as it is a big part of their identity. If their thoughts kept getting challenged all the time they will start to feel insecure or they will shut down. Depending on the specific matter there is a time to challenge yourself and evolve/adapt. Or there is a time to dig deep into your cultural roots and indigenous personality because otherwise you may end up compromising on wisdom of old.

So I love having these conversations,  understanding the pulse of different people… And with thoughtful communications I can manage to get some points across when I think differently too.

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As I was approaching the Sun Temple, I had heard quite a bit already. How awesome it is. And how the foreigners have destroyed a lot of what it was due to concerns that the temple cause ship wrecks, and also probably just to desecrate someone else’s culture. After research of course I realized that a lot of it has been lost because of overall Indian apathy. I was a bit bugged at the public for painting the picture for me – this raises my expectations and I get worried whether they would be met. Almost I feel like I HAVE to be impressed with this place….  so naturally there is a rebellious spirit to say ‘Naah, it’s crap’. So this is why I get a bit bugged when people talk a lot and paint pictures for me.

As I went closer it wasn’t like anything I had thought of. In many ways it was normal… Normal like the temples at Halebeedu & Belur in Karnataka, Vijayanagara temples at Hampi… Normal, brilliant temples I have been privileged to see earlier in India.

The carvings are great – detailed and interesting. The stone used for this temple doesn’t allow the level intricacy seen in the soap-stones of Halebeedu & Belur but this was great work too.

Konark Sun temple

It took me a while to understand that the temple is in the form of a chariot with 24 wheels, and 7 horses pulling it. 4 horses on the right side and 3 horses on the left side. The guide explained to me that because the number of horses on each side are different, it means that one side moves faster than other side => it is a chariot moving in the circular direction, as the sun moves.

It was good to have a guide point these things out for me… As you move in the clockwise direction to see the temple – it is the same direction as the chariot is shown to move and the same direction that a Hindu (geographical identity) will do parikrama in any temple.

You are tracing the sun’s journey.

Konark Morning Sun
The morning Sun idol – Konark

The first quarter of my parikrama I came to the idol of the morning sun. He exudes a certain quality. Shoes on, embellishments and a Buddha look. The idols were of a dark green stone which strongly resembled the copper idols which become green after oxidation. No other temple came to mind with similar stone idols. I wanted to so much enter the temple and see the main idol, the one that is said to have been floating mid air due to magnets and metals. But I had to reconcile with the fact that the main door was sealed, magnet removed, main deity elsewhere. It felt criminal.

This temple with the metal and magnets reeked to me of a full fledged yantra of some sort. A massive yantra dedicated to the Sun, I can only be humbled by it’s immensity and possibilities. I was getting an idea why of all the awesome Indian temples this one got the UNESCO World Heritage site tag way back in the 1980s. This temple exudes an aura of So Much More. One can’t help feel amazed and mystified with what it would have been in peak days after completion.

This is when the guide told me about some perceived vaastu faults with the temple. It was because of these vaastu faults it was broken apart he said. I didn’t argue much. I wasn’t going to consider consequences of colonialism & conquest as vaastu faults.

Victim blaming doesn’t happen only in rape cases, it is a basic human tendency. And often the root lies in misunderstanding the karmic theory. Life is a series of cause and effect. A certain effect happened in your life because of some causes. The misunderstanding happens in identifying the causes. Yes, the temple was broken by invaders. This was an effect. But the cause need not necessarily be within temple architecture.

One cause was that the temple was built in a time period of lot of violence and brutality on the planet.

One will be impacted by the time period one is born in.

Another cause was that the culture that built the temple wasn’t strong enough to defend it.

One will be impacted by the people one is born amidst – their strengths, their weaknesses and so on.

Third cause was geographic – Proximity to the sea implies greater threat from outsiders and also effect on ships – wrecks in the area would invoke their ire.

So you see lot of causes for the destruction but not necessarily because the vaastu was wrong.

Konark Sun temple vaastuThe carving of Yama the death god, placed in the right direction as per Vaastu. It is supposed to face the fire element. So the kitchen building was placed that side symbolizing the fire element. The error however came when a small well was created right by the kitchen. Thus water trumps fire & the vaastu was disturbed.

ship wrecks at Konark Due to the Magnet in the Sun Temple

When I heard the story of ship wrecks near the temple due to a big magnet inside it I didn’t think much of it. But when I was visiting the temple I thought it a very intriguing and diabolical idea. A dacoit tribe – building a temple with a magnet to lure ships in and loot them. India’s intriguing and totally crazy kind of cultural wealth allows for this, such things could happen. But probably not here – the temple was way too grand a creation for such a small mischief.

Harnessing The Sun’s Might

Konark is a significant spot for Sun sadhana. If someone wanted to do some spiritual practices with the aid of the sun then in India, Konark is one of the best places due to its situation with respect to the sun. I am yet to understand exactly what the guide meant when he said ‘first ray of sun in the country falls here’ or some such thing. Sadhguru mentioned that sun rays in Konark are at a certain angle which made it very conducive to do sadhana there. Karna, the child of the Sun god came here to do a lot of his sadhana. So I find it really sad that a brilliant sun temple built at the right place for some Sun sadhana was blamed of causing ship wrecks and desecrated.

Konark Sun Temple
Erotic carvings alongside other ones…

The Sun temple very interestingly also has erotic sculptures haphazardly mixed up with other cultural and religious sculptures. The seemingly random placement of these sculptures could suggest that the artisans and the culture at the time didn’t really differentiate between various activities of life including sexual ones. Other stories depicted include a panel of carvings of a dancer-girls day, her preparations, getting ready, sexual activity at night and so on.

It was a bit funny because I was solo and clearly the guide had hesitations regarding explaining those sculptures to me. Only one time he mentioned them, he said that the temple juxtaposes ‘good’ activity – the religious stuffs with ‘bad’ activity – the sexual and pleasure stuff. But again without bothering to argue with him, I just dismissed this line of thought.
I think Sadhguru sheds light on the erotic sculptures well in his Kamasutra video here,

All the temple chariot wheels are also sun-dials – so quaint and lovely I thought – but the overzealous guide spoiled the moment by over dramatizing the greatness of this matter. He pretended that he did not know what time it was (I saw him taking a look at his mobile just before though), then went about calculating the time using one of the wheels as sun dial. It was funny cause the day was so cloudy and there was no sun… He was trying to impress on me about how great a feat it was that this temple which is 1000 years old should have such technology.. But I have come across enough examples so I already accept it. The over drama was just tiring.

Konark Temple Wheels
The guide showing me that this is a Sun dial in an over dramatic manner
Konark Temple Wheel
The wheel on the left hand side is the one that is shown on Indian rupee notes… specifically I believe the 20 INR note.

So I keep having a lot of differences with what guides are saying and in general their attitude towards the monument so I don’t prefer them. The three or four guided tours I have been part of it in India are either over dramatic like this guide, boring like a lecture or a listing out of facts by a person. It just does not sync with my excitement for the monument and to actually here some intelligent conversation about it. But it is tricky to spot many aspects of the monument unless there are some kind of pointers. I usually prefer audio guides, specifically if they are made by BBC. One of the best audio guides I came across was in Kangra Fort, Himachal Pradesh. Brilliant narration… it made me relive the fort life as a story. A lot of other places like Hawa Mahal, Jaipur, Taj Mahal – I always opt for the Audio guide and spend hours going through it slowly along with all extra chapters. Here at Konark I missed the audio guide. So, I very dubiously opted for a guide and dismissed him quickly too. He helped me get a certain gist of the temple, but clearly I had to gloss over many things he was saying.

As I went ahead around the temple, the feeling of entering the main sanctum was stronger. There was so much pull the monument still exerted. In a complete state it must have been magnificent.

Konark Temple Sun temples
The next Sun Idol as I went in the clock wise direction around the temple. It would be mid-day sun but so gentle and placid?
Konark Sun Temple
The third Sun idol all decked up on a horse – is this the evening Sun idol?

There is some confusion here,

The Mystery of the Three Sun Idols – Morning, Mid-day, Evening

These are the three idols I saw and have clicked,

Konark Morning Sun
The morning son idol – Konark
Konark temple
The second Sun Idol that I saw, also standing as the first one

Konark Evening SunThe third idol – evening sun? on a horse

This website mentions three different idols – http://www.thekonark.in/konarksungod.html So I am a bit confused. Where is the second horse idol that this site mentions? How come I didn’t see it. Also the second standing idol I saw – which sun is that if mid-day & evening Sun idols are both on horses?

If any of you readers know what I may have missed please let me know. I guess there is some simple explanation though I cannot figure what it maybe. Because the Sun temple clearly has three walls on which these three idols are placed – so there is no room for a 4th idol. The 4th wall of the temple is the one through which one enters the inner sanctum that is of course blocked.

Anyway, at the third idol where the Sun God was on the horse, I ran out of time, I had just an hour and half to look at this monument, so I bid my guide goodbye and looked around a bit more on my own. It was probably due to my shortage of time that it didn’t occur to me to ask about why mid-day sun was so serene and the guide also didn’t offer an explanation.

I backtracked to the second Sun idol and spotted more of the details like iron tacks into the rocks. This temple was a mix of metal, stone and magnet.

Moving anti-clockwise around the Sun temple was odd – like flying to the west – back in time. The guide was a bit shocked that I did that, maybe he was right. Ancient Indian temples work mysteriously 🙂

Konark temple
Iron tacks in the stones

Despite the various scaffolding and restrictions the temple is overall easily viewable. We can even touch the stone carvings where work isn’t going on. I really wanted to see the idols of Sun with all the various intricate carvings around it but as I tried to climb up to it, the guard waved me off 😉 So for that I would have to rely on other sources it seems.

I wish I had more time to spend here. I could easily spend 4 hours or so. Observing stuff, understanding, absorbing, meditating for a bit and also exploring the other structures around it. As of now I didn’t even visit those other structures.

Konark Temple
Saw this by the temple, but no time to visit 😐

As I started walking out of the temple, there were shouts from some men about a Shani temple nearby.  I would have explored if I had the time, but not sure who these men were. They didn’t look like priests, and they had no reason haggling people to visiting there. There are couple of boards of the shani temple and that should be enough. If people want to visit they would. I am not sure whether it is an old temple or what the story is. But that is for another time.

Have you ever been to the Konark Sun Temple? It is truly intriguing!

BTW if you want a postcard when I am traveling, you can sign up for it here.