Designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the remarkable Temple of Konark (also spelled Konarak) is located on the Bay of Bengal on the eastern coast of India, about 240 miles south of Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta). The nearest major city is Bhubaneswar, capital of the state of Orissa and home to hundreds of sacred Hindu temples. Other nearby attractions include the Jagannath (a form of Vishnu) Temple in Puri, one of the four most sacred Hindu pilgrimage sites, which include the holy city of Varanasi on the sacred Ganges River. Puri is also known as a popular beach resort.
The Temple at Konark is of a most unusual design, in the form of a huge chariot for the sun god Surya. The massive chariot has twelve pairs of wheels carved from stone, each with a team of seven galloping horses (only one of these seven pairs survives today). It is known as the Konark Sun Temple because of this relationship to the sun god. The temple is famous for its exquisite and intricate stone carvings covering every inch of the entire massive structure and which rival those found on the Khajuraho Temples. Like the temples at Khajuraho, there are also well-known erotic sculptures. And, like Khajuraho, the erotica can be found on lower tiers of the Konark Temple and are not associated with the carvings of gods and goddesses, which appear higher up.
As in the mythology of Greece, the sun and the chariot of the sun god, represent the passage of time. The Konark Sun Temple and its teams of horses face east, so that the chariot can be pulled towards the rising sun. Each wheel has twelve spokes, representing the twelve months of the year; the seven horses or each team represent the days of the week; eight spokes in each wheel represent the stations of a woman's ideal day.
The Temple of Konark was built about 1250 AD to celebrate defeat of the Muslim invaders. It is said that powerful magnets placed in the tower empowered the king's throne to float in the air. European sailors often used the tower to navigate the shores along the coast of the Bay of Bengal, but they dubbed the temple the "Black Pagoda" because of the large number of shipwrecks in this area. They said the effect of the magnets caused tidal changes that brought about the wrecks.
Muslim invaders returned in the fifteenth century and the Konark Temple was badly damaged. For centuries, the forces of nature caused even further damage, and it lay under a huge mound of sand until archeologists from England uncovered and began restoring it in the early twentieth century. Fortunately, like the great Pyramids and Sphinx near Cairo Egypt, the sand acted as protection from the elements, and the incredibly intricate and rich carvings on the lower parts of the temple were quite well preserved.
Once you pass through the Konark Sun Temple entrance guarded by two huge lions, each crushing a war elephant, you find yourself in the Hall of Offerings, site of sacred temple dancing. Past the porch is a shrine containing one of the Konark Temple masterpieces, a beautiful statue of Surya carved from a high quality green chlorite stone.
There is inexpensive transportation to Temple of Konark from both Puri and Bhubaneswar, and you can even book guided tours from these two cities. But the most efficient way to visit is to purchase a package vacation that has the site on its itinerary.