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Konarak Sun Temple - Chariot of The Gods

Unique even among India’s abundant architectural galleries, Konark is now a World Heritage Site. A few kilometer from Puri and Bhumaneswar, Konark like Cuttak was an active port of the wealthy old Kalinga kingdom. The sun God’s unforgettable immobils stone chariot was a landmark on Orissa’s coast. But the sea has now receded, and this shrine s now surrounded only by the windswept coastal plain dotted with coconut, cashurina, and mango trees.

The temples at Bhubaneshwar, Puri and Konark were built between the 7th and 12th centuries, during the Hindu revival era in the reigns of the Kesari and Ganga kings, when Kalinga controlled the maritime trade with China, Burma, Siam, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Java, Sumatra, and Bali, plus the land routes to South India from Bengal and Bihar.

Konark’s chief patron, king Narasimhadeo 91238-64), wanted the Sun God housed as Aryan mythology conceived him, blazing his way through the heavens on the chariot of time, pulled by seven superb white steeds. When the early Aryan chieftain performed the sacrifices enjoined by the Vedas, he acted as the son of Surya, the Sun God. His tent or chariot were marked by his rank emblem, a banner with the sun devise. And vimana means chariot. The most magnificent example of the vimana existing in India is undoubtedly at Konark. To simulate the appearance of a wheeled chariot, the longer sies of the terrace over which the temple stands were ornamented with reliefs of 12 massive, beautifully carved wheels, more than 10 feet (3 meters) in diameter. Each of these giant wheels is a faithful reproduction of the real thing in stone, complete with intricately carved hub, spokes, and pins. To complete the illusion of the solar chariot, colossal free-standing statues of seven galloping horses were installed before the main entrance. But one is missing. The parapets on either side of the flight of steps leading to the entrance too are actually a row of richly caparisoned, life-size prancing steeds straining at their harness.

He Orissa temples (Deul) consist of a sanctum, one or more front porches (Jagmohan) with pyramidal roofs; a dance hall (Nat Mandir), and a hall of offerings (Bhog Mandir) apart from the inner shrine (Garbha Grihya) where the deity resides. Temples with semi-cylinderical roofs like those at Puri are called Khakera Deul. Temple architecture throughout the Indian subcontinent has included sculpture since the Gupta era. Both the main Deul, Jagmandir, and Nat Mandir of the Sun Temple are covered with beautiful sculptural friezes and carvings.

But the grandiose Sun Temple complex conceptualized by Narasimhadeo was never finished, and the inner sanctuary had to be filled up to sustain the heavy crumbling roof in the last century. Konrak chiefly consists of the chariot dubbed the Black Pagoda by the British, and its lofty ceremonial hall. The great cube of masonry forming the temple basement is ornamented with those amazing freestanding stone wheels. The lowest zone of this base has a continuous elephant and hunting frieze, among which one finds intriguing mythological beasts like the Gaja Singha, a lion riding an elephant. A series of niches separated by widely projecting pilasters are full of superb erotic sculpture. In the Indian ethos, Kama or physical fulfillment and pleasure have always been intrinsic, necessary interludes on the path to final liberation or Moksha, and reunion with the soul’s Divine beloved. The facades of the hall proper are divided by two carved friezes with string courses. The pyramidal roof which rises above this consists of corbelled vaulting with a pleasantly wavy curvilinear effect. Three distinct terraces recede to the Shikhar’s huge stone lotus.

The monumental statues of female musicians lining the roof terraces visible from a distance draw the eye to the superbly polished green chlorite reliefs of the Sun god standing in a frontal pose, between his twin charioteers and the dawn maidens. The horses carved on the plinth too have that vibrant sense of motion which distinguishes Konark’s sculpture.

The adjacent Maya Devi temple is also carved with erotic sculpture, stone carvings of dancing nymphs, musicians, floral motifs, hunting and court scenes. Twin lions guard the entrance. And on each side of this temple stand an enormous elephant and a war horse trampling fallen warriors.

Music and dance always formed an inherent part of every Indian festival and socioreligious ceremony. Great temples and shrines had their traditional schools of dance and drama, which suffered a decline during the Buddhist, Islamic and British eras. In recent years various dance festivals have been organized and staged every winter at places like Konarak, Khajuraho, and Mahabalipuram, offering a combination of culture and entertainment to an international audience keenly exploring these architectural marvels.

The highest spiritual ecstasy is often reached by those fortunate enough to be submerged in the mesmerizing audio-visual spectacle of such dance festivals. At Konark the backdrop of that superb floodlit Sun Chariot dominated the best of them. Having evolved from classic and folk traditions, Odissi dance has great fluidity and charm, plus the sensuous erotic overtones of Konarka’s sculpture. Innovative Saraikells and Mayurbhanj Chau dance dramas; and the Kuchipudi, Bharatnatyam, Manipuri, and Kathak styles of classical dance with their different costumes, themes, and musical accompaniments provide welcome variety every evening during the three-day festival.

The impressive Rath yatra of Puri is held two days after the new moon in June. One of Hinduism’s four greatest pilgrimage centers, Puri’s White Pagoda houses cared woodenimges of Lord Jagannath, his brother Balbhandra, and sister Subhadra. There are taken out in annual procession to their seaside garden, attracting lakhs of frenzied devotees all eager to gain merit by pulling the Universal Lord’s gaily decorated chariot through the crowded streets.

The Kalinga Bali Yatra celebrates Orissa’s ancient seafaring tradition. Between 400 B.C. and 1200 A.D., Orissa exported Indian culture, religion, philosophy and art forms along with its precious stones, textiles, perfumes, medicinal herbs, elephants, ivory, horses, horn swords and metalware to Bali and other Far Eastern ports. On Kartik Purnima or the October-November full moon, people throng the beaches to launch lamps nestling in banana bark boats into the sea chanting, ululating, and blowing conch shells to appease Varun Devata, lord of the oceans.

Chaitra Prabha in March-April is the regional harvest festival celebrated with colourful tribal dances, including Orissa’s famous innovative Chau.

Dates for all these festivals vary each year according to the lunar calendar, so check with the nearest Orissa Tourism office by phone or fax. Advance booking is also essential for hassle free travel and assured accommodation during the Konarak and Puri festivals.


By Air

Indian Airlines, Jet Air, and Sahara connect Bhubneshwar to Delhi; Calcutta, Madras, Hydrabad and Nagpur. The airport is 3 km from the capital. Tourist information counter and Hotel & Restaurant Association of Orissa give detailed accommodation information, Taxis and mini buses are available for transfer.

By Rail

On the main Calcutta-Madras line, Bhubaneshwar is well connected to other parts of India. Dhauli Express from Calcutta; Neelanchal, Utkal, and Rajdhani Express from Delhi; Falaknuma and Konarak Express from Hyderabad reasonably fast trains, with computerized tickets and reservations available.

By Road

Orissa State Road Transport Corporation and private buses provide links with all parts of the state, particularly places of tourist interest. Deluxe coach services from Calcutta, Bijapur, and Vishakapatnam available.

Local Transport

Taxis, private air conditioned tourist cars, mini buses and deluxe coaches for sightseeing cycle rickshaws and three wheelers used for short distances.

Places of Interest

Bhubaneshwar, city of 1000 temples and new state capital, Lingaraj, Mukteshware, and Raja Rani temples recommended. Orissa State Museum has fine Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain sculpture. Handicrafts Museum and Tribal Research Museum showcase folk art including Patna Chitras, Tarkashi silverware, Ikat sarees, Pipli appliqué work, wooden masks, and stone carvings.

Puri, pilgrimage center and sea resort with good beaches and restful waterfront hotels. Dhauli, site of Emperor Askoka’s victory over the Kalinga army in 361 B.C. and conversion to Buddhism. Remarkable Ashoka edicts carved on stone elephant, ancient Buddhist sculpture, and brand new Japanese Peace Pagoda.

Chilka Lake resort and Nandankanan wildlife park.


Konak: Panth Niwas and Travellers Lodge.

Puri : Mayfair Beach Resort, Toshiba Sands Resort; Hans Coco Palms; Holiday Resort in the Deluxe class. Nilanchal Ashoka, Puri Hotel and South East Railway Hotel are three star.

Bhubaneshwar : The Oberoi, Kalinga Ashoka, New Kenilworth, Swosti, and Prachi in the upper bracket. Keshari, Safari International, Meghdoot, Anarkali, and Panthaniwas for budget class.

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