Located in Eastern Odisha’s town of Konark, the Konark Sun Temple is a magnificent structure designed in the form of the grand celestial chariot carrying Lord Surya, the sun god. The temple was built in the thirteenth century by King Narasimhadeva I of the Ganga Empire as a tribute to the sun god. The massive structure of the Konark Sun Temple represents the glory of the Ganga dynasty. This structural, architectural, and sculptural marvel marks the greatest point of achievement of the Kalinga architecture. In the year 1984, the Konark Sun Temple was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO.

Image sources: Aerial View of the Konark Sun Temple ©www.traveltra.com

The name Konark is derived from the two words Kona meaning, corner, and Arka meaning sun. The chariot has been sculptured as if mounted on two rows of twelve wheels, each wheel is about 10 feet high, and drawn by seven horses. It is said that the wheels represent the twenty-four hours in a day or the twelve months in a year and the seven horses represent the seven days of the week. This narrative capacity of its sculptures, the magnificent architecture and its representational power, make the Konark Sun Temple unique.

The Architecture And Construction Of The Konark Sun Temple

The stones Laterite, the greenKhondalite, and Chlorite were used in the construction of the Konark Sun Temple. These stones were cut, finished, and polished before being joint together. Iron clamps and dowels were used to bind the stones together.

The Layout Of The Sun Temple

The Konark Sun Temple complex consists of the following three units:

  1. The Natamandapam or the dance hall
  2. Jagamohana or the frontal porch
  3. The RekhaDeul or the sanctum
Konark Sun Temple-Ancient Indian Structural Marvel-Plan of the Konark Sun Temple
Image Sources: Plan of the Konark Sun Temple ©www.pinterest.com

The above three units lie along the temple’s east-west axis. Within the complex are two smaller temples built as a tribute to the Goddess Mayadeviand Lord Narayana. The terrace and higher levels of the Konark Sun temple structure contain bigger and more significant sculptural and architectural work when compared to the other portions of the temple structure. The sculptural themes include images from the royal life, cravings of animals, mythical forms, scenes of military crusades, images of musicians and mythological narratives as well as sculptures of Hindu deities, including LordsKrishna, Shiva, Indira, Narasimha, and Vishnu. Some of the intact sculptures of the deities were removed and relocated to various museums in European countries and other cities within India before 1940.

The Controversy In The Restoration Of The Konark Sun Temple 

However, this Thirteenth-century marvel made its way into a controversy over allegations on the inadequacy of restoration work.

It was alleged that its stone carved structures were being replaced with plain blocks of lower quality stones causing irreplaceable loss to the architectural and sculptural reputation of the temple. This issue highlights the need for a formal system to identify and restore the cultural heritage of the country. Apart from the preservation of history, growth of literature and knowledge, the protection and conservation of cultural heritage sites, practices, and art forms can significantly boost the country’s economy through tourism and investments.

Gaps To Be Addressed In Heritage Conservation

Why is India unable to ensure the holistic preservation of its heritage sites?

  1. Heritage conservation in India is limited to its Aesthetic aspect
  2. No formal system is in place to test, recognize and engineer a scientific structural strengthening technique for restoration
  3. The large gap between engineering/architecture education and traditional construction methods and its history
Konark Sun Temple- Ancient Indian Structural Marvel-Conservation Process
Image Sources: Sun Temple during the restoration process

The Structural Status Of The Konark Sun Temple

Apart from the frontal porch, plinths and lower walls of the sanctum and some of the pillars of the Natamandapam or the dance hall, the other portions of the thirteenth-century magnificent structural marvel are now merely skeletal, owing to severe damages during a sixteenth-century invasion by the sultan of Bengal. Further structural decline and collapse are said to have occurred due to environmental changes and its structural impacts such as soil incompatibility due to settlement and seepage and the weathering of the stones used. The loose stones, sculptures, and panels from the collapsed portions of the temple have been removed and relocated to the Konark Museum, Odisha, and the National Museum, Delhi.

Having been designated as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, the Konark Sun temple complex is conserved by the National Framework of India under itsAMASR act- short for Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Sites and Remains Act of 1958 and the AMASR Rules of 1959.

It has also been listed under the conservational comprehension of the Archaeological Survey of India.

Konark Sun Temple On The Indian Currency Note

One of the beautifully carved chariot wheels of the Konark Sun Temple has been featured in the rupee ten denomination banknote announced by the Reserve Bank of India in January 2018, depicting India’s unparalleled cultural heritage.

Konark Sun Temple-Ancient Indian Structural Marvel-Sun Temple on the Currency Note
Image Sources: Konark Sun Temple, Chariot Wheel on the Currency Note

Architectural Journalist

Rethinking The Future

Sowmya is a civil engineer and an illustrator from Madras. She is a tree hugger and a crazy dog lover who strongly believes in environmental rights and sustainable engineering for a better tomorrow.

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