The Sun Temple of Konark stands on a beach on a deserted stretch of coast in the Indian state of Odisha, at the Bay of Bengal. For centuries, the tall building of the temple was used by sailors navigating to the shore. It was called the "Black Pagoda," to distinguish it from the famous Jagannatha Temple 20 miles up the coast, which was referred to as the "White Pagoda." For sailors sailing up India's eastern coast from the southern port of Machilipatnam to Saptagram near modern day Kolkata, the Black Pagoda was an important milestone.
Today, the Sun Temple stands nearly two miles from the ocean, but originally, the sea came to within a few yards of the walled enclosure. In times of storm during the monsoons, flood tides still advance menacingly toward it.
The 800-year-old temple was constructed in the form of a gigantic chariot of Surya, the sun god, emerging from the ocean. The chariot has 12 pairs of enormous wheels, representing the months of the year, and is drawn by seven great stone horses, representing the days of the week. Thus, its sculpture and architecture are metaphors indicating the central role the sun plays in human societies and lives.
The present temple at the site is only the latest of many. Konark was always an important site of sun worship. Legends of this site date back to the great Indian epic, the Mahabharat, and the temple finds mention in many Indian scriptures as a sacred site for the worship of the sun.
Planning Your Trip
Konark is one of the older temples in India, which makes it a popular tourist destination. The earlier you arrive, the better your chances of enjoying this place in peace. It is a good idea to avoid a weekend trip, as it is generally packed with domestic tourists going on a quick pilgrimage to various sites in Odisha. School children often make daytrips to the place on weekdays, so the temple is never completely free of tourist traffic, but weekdays during the non-peak seasons are the best bet for a calm, contemplative trip to the site.
Spend some time exploring the architecture. The temple is covered with beautifully sculpted scenes depicting everyday aspects of life from thirteenth century India. Unfortunately, a Mughal army invaded the region in the sixteenth century, looted the temple and brought the sanctum down. So it is no longer possible to enter the sanctum itself, but the exteriors offer ample evidence of the skill and competence of the architects and sculptors.
If you are a connoisseur of Indian art and culture, schedule your trip in December to catch the 5-day Konark Dance Festival. The festival attracts some of India's most renowned performers, and is a treat to watch, featuring some of the country's most sought-after classical dancers. The traditional dance performances accompanied by Indian classical music set against the magical backdrop of the ancient monument create a remarkable ambience.
The nearest airport to Konark is at Bhubaneshwar, the capital city of the state of Odisha. Bhubaneshwar is well connected with all major cities in India. From Bhubaneshwar, a taxi can cover the distance of 40 miles to Konark.