Konarak

c. 1258
Orissa, near Puri


The astonishing Surya temple at Konarak (sometimes spelled "Konark") was built by King Narasimha I (1238-1264) of the Eastern Ganga dynasty as an offering, it is said, to commemorate the king's military victories, greatness, and piety. Konarak had long been a center of sun worship, which is rare in other parts of India. Even in its present ruinous and eroded state (rear of sanctuary, photo) the temple exudes grandeur in its size, its design concept, and in the detail and excellence of its carving. Its enormous sanctuary tower collapsed in the 19th century; the large pyramidal roof in the photo (38.4m, or 126ft) covers only the temple's jagamohan, or entrance hall. The sanctuary tower was about twice as tall.

The temple faces east (plan). It was conceived as the chariot of the sun god, Surya, carried upon twelve pairs of wheels representing the months, and drawn by seven horses representing the days of the week (following pages). The idea of a temple as the chariot of its god is not unique to Konarak, although this is certainly the most splendid instance; see the glossary entry about rathas for additional examples.

Seen from the east in this photo are the remains of a columned dance hall in front of the jagamohan. The dance hall is elevated upon a tall platform, and fronted by curious oversize images of rampant lions (following page).