Sun Temples – Architectural Brilliance

Cover Story, Mar 2017

Vedic scriptures refer to the sun as Surya or Aditya, the sun god. Vedas full of hymns describe the celestial body as sustainer of life on earth. Worship of Sun in India is an ancient practice.

KONARK SUN TEMPLE
Commonly known as Konark, it is located 35 km from Puri and 65 km from the capital city of Bhubaneshwar, Odisha (earlier Orissa.)
An architectural marvel, Konark derives its name from the Sanskrit word ‘Kona’ and ‘Arka’, which means ‘Corner’ and ‘Sun’ respectively. Combined, they form “Sun of the corner”. The temple dedicated to Sun God has three different images of the Sun God at its three sides which catch the rays of the sun during morning, noon, and evening.

Sun Temple of Konark is grandest of all Sun temples in India. Built in the middle of 13th century, it represents the highest point in the Odishan (Orissan) architecture, and brings to fore artistic magnificence and engineering dexterity.
King Narasimhadeva I, of Ganga dynasty built the temple, with help of 1200 artisans within 12 years (1243-1255 A.D.). Since the ruler used to worship the Sun, the temple was considered as chariot of Sun God. Konark Temple was designed in a decorated chariot form with 24 wheels, each about 10 feet in diameter, and drawn by 7 mighty horses. It is difficult to understand how this huge temple was so wonderfully carved and completed in such a short time. Konark temple in its present ruined state is still a wonder. Rabindranath Tagore wrote of Konark: “here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.” Around the base of the temple there are images of animals, foliage, warriors on horses and other interesting structures. On the walls and roof of the temple, beautiful erotic figures are carved. Sun temple of Konark is a masterpiece of Odisha’s medieval architecture.

Widely known not only for its architectural grandeur it is also a masterpiece in stone for its sophistication and abundance of sculptural work. Konark is an exceptional mixture of marvelous architecture, heritage, exotic beach and salient natural beauty. The large structure of Temple seen today is actually the entrance of the main temple. The main temple which enshrined the presiding deity once had fallen off and only the remains can be seen. Even in its ruined state, it reflects unbelievable architectural skill of the architects who conceived and completed it.

Konark Sun Temple Layout

VAASTU EYE

Konark Temple is the best Sun temple in the world. In ancient times temples were epitome of knowledge, money, and power. The rulers depended on advisors, prayers, and the temple complex itself being the cradle of knowledge. The geometrical shaped marvel is one of the finest monuments ever made by man.

“Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.”

– R. Tagore

What is a geometrical marvel?

Square, rectangle, and well defined corners are all part of geometrical design and ancient rulers knew it well how it formed basis for perfect construction. They also knew astrology − basic aspect of Vedic literature − and were keen observers of stars. Astrology gives practical solutions to problems in life. During days of yore someone must have researched about building a temple for Sun, the life giver. In every living cell – in humans, animals, or plants − Sun infuse life. And the earth is in equilibrium within the Universe and therefore helps us live happily. If the earth moves 1% closer to the Sun (about 930,000 miles), living on earth would become intolerable. Indeed, earth has been designed and placed exactly where it should be by the Creator. That is why earth, one among the nine planets of our solar system, sports life and creativity not found anywhere. Equilibrium maintains life on earth.

Unesco World Heritage Site

Konark temple is a wonder beyond definition. Built in the middle of 13th century, it is a classic piece of engineering in stone. Said to be built during King Narasimhadeva I, the great ruler of the Ganga dynasty, over 1200 artisans slogged for 12 years (1243-1255 AD) to complete it. Since the ruler worshipped the Sun, the temple not surprisingly was built as a gorgeously decorated chariot for Sun God with chariot mounted on 24 wheels each a huge 10 feet in diameter and drawn by seven mighty horses.

Its architectural grandeur, sophistication, and abundance of sculpture, it is a work of marvel in stone. Despite being in ruined state, Konark temple evokes admiration for the unknown mastermind who visualised and built it.

Idol of Lord Sun on a given day sees the rays of the sun falling on it which reveals the current month. The entire calendar can be carved out from the rays of sun travelling into the temple and falling over the idol. If sunlight falls on the throat of the idol, it is a certain month. If on idol legs say it could be a month of winter. If sunlight isn’t visible it may suggest a different month. These are fine examples resulting from the geometrical shape of the temple architecture.

Today man is far advanced thanks to scientific research. We all know earth is titled 23.45. degrees and with this permanent tilt circles around the Sun. When the tilt is facing the sun it is summer in places above equator and winter in the places below equator. When the tilt is away from sun it is winter in places above equator and summer in the places below equator. This tilt gives rises to seasons.

Uttarayana is the point in orbit where the tilt is away from the Sun. As earth continues to circle around the Sun we see the latitudes of the sun gradually increasing towards north. This continues till we hit the point where the tilt of the earth is very close to sun. It happens to be longest day on earth and from that point length of days start receding or becoming shorter and reaches a point where the day is the shortest. Then it called Dakshinayana.

Uttarayana and Dakshinayana are apparent motion of the sun moving up and down. When we see the motion of the sun moving towards north, we call it Uttarayana. Towards south is Dakshinayana. This also gives rise to seasons. Uttarayana occurs on December 21st/22nd of every year when it is winter solstice (solstice: sun at highest or lowest point in the sky at noon) and is beginning of Uttarayana. Summer Solstice is beginning of Dakshinayana. This wisdom was prevalent in the olden days and thanks to it our ancient rulers designed and built the Konark Sun temple.

In 1970s, scientists called it Vibgyor which denotes the seven colours of the rainbow or seven colours that comprises sun’s rays. They are Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo and Violet. In the same way, as the Konark Temple shows Sun was depicted with seven horses yoked to a chariot. For man horse is fastest among domesticated animals and conveys journey of time.

Unesco World Heritage Site

Secondly, Sun has two sons. Elder Saturn and younger Yama Dharmaraj. One as a planet leads to hardships in life while the other decides death. This is reflected in the temple’s main entrance which is guarded by two lions.

Konark temple being a geometrical marvel traces the journey of Sun over a period. People with problems worship Sun as it removes darkness and obstruction. For a happy life, right balance is needed and that is called moderation or living in equilibrium with nature.

Technology can help to a certain extent but it is useless without life. Doctors perform surgeries like angioplasty only if the person is alive and heart is functioning. Mankind owes a lot to this temple. It is not merely a tourist spot where people come to click pictures and selfies. It is a standing ovation to genius of our ancestors. Indeed, if one understands the ancient wisdom we would know it is one of the finest monuments world had ever seen.

“Konark temple being a geometrical marvel traces the journey of Sun over a period. People with problems worship Sun as it removes darkness and obstruction. For a happy life, right balance is needed and that is called moderation or living in equilibrium with nature.”

Sun Temple, Modhera (Gujarat)

Sun Temple, Modhera

The Sun Temple, Modhera, at Modhera in Gujarat, is another fascinating temple dedicated to Sun-God Surya. It is situated on the banks of river Pushpavati. It was built in 1026 AD by King Bhimdev of the Solanki dynasty. This was the time when Somnath and the adjoining areas were plundered by Mahmud Ghazni and reeled under the effects of invasion. The Solankis, however, regained much of their lost power and splendor. Anahilvad Patan, the Solanki capital, was restored to glory. Royalty and traders jointly contributed to build grand temples.

Solankis were considered to be Suryavanshi, Gurjar or descendants of Sun god. The temple was so designed that the first rays of the sun fell on the image of Surya at equinoxes. The temple is partially in ruins after it was also finally destroyed by the Allauddin Khilji.

However, enough has remained of the temple to convey its grandeur. Today prayers are not offered at this temple which is under the supervision of Archaeological Survey of India.

Sun Temple, Modhera (Gujarat)

This temple too is example of unique architecture. IT comprises three separate, axially aligned and integrated elements: Surya Kund, Sabha Mandap and Guda Mandap.

Surya Kund

Surya Kund

This Surya kunda, also known as Rama kunda, is a large rectangular stepped tank measuring 53.6 x 36.6 meters under the east face of sabhamandap used to store pure water. Devotees were required to perform ceremonial ablutions before worshiping the Sun God.

The Suryakund is a finest example of geometrical architecture. The organization of stone into composition gives shape to a dazzling pattern of art. It is proportioned with innumerable stone steps leading devotees down to its base. 108 miniature shrines are carved in between the steps inside the tank. Also, the number 108 is considered to be auspicious by Hindus as Hindu rosary has same number of beads.

There are four terraces to descend to reach the bottom of the tank. Small pyramid-shaped steps are for each terrace. God and Goddess depicted in immortalized stone unfold the sculpture wealth: Lord Vishnu, Lord Ganesh, Lord Nataraja, Sitlamata’s present a marvel that was created during Solanki era. Two huge ornamental arches called Toran forms gateway to the Sabha Mandap.

Sabha Mandap

Sabha Mandap

This hall of religious gatherings is a magnificent pillared hall. It is open from all sides and has 52 intricately carved pillars representing 52 weeks in a year. The carvings depict episodes from the Hindu epics of Ramayan, Mahabharat and Krishna Lila (i.e., story of Lord Krishna).

Between the Sabha Mandapa and the sanctum sanctorum is a beautiful hall with pillars and arches, whose facade has been renovated and partially redone. The walls have 12 niches showing the different aspects of the Sun God in each month.