About 65 km from Bhubaneswar and 35 km from the sacred city of Puri, is the great Sun Temple of Konark. The temple dedicated to the Sun God or Surya is a masterpiece of Orissa's medieval architecture and has been designated a United Nations (UNESCO) World Heritage Site.
Built in the thirteenth century by King Narasimhadeva, it is in the shape of a celestial chariot for carrying Surya, the sun god, across the heavens. Seven horses pull the chariot, with twelve wheels on either side. These symbolise the divisions of time. The seven horses representing the number of days in a week and each wheel representing an hour of a fortnight.
In the medieval period, when the temple was on the shore (the shoreline has receded more than 3 km today), it was used as a navigational aid by the European sailors on their way to Calcutta. They used to call it the "Black Pagoda" to distinguish it from the "White temple"-the Jagannath Temple at Puri. An earlier Surya temple existed in Konark as long back as the 9th century but most of the existing structure dates from the 13th century
The Sun Templ e built in the thirteenth century was conveived as a gigantic chariot of Sun God, with twelve pairs of exquisitely ornamented wheels pulled by seven pairs of horses. Majestic in conception, this Temple is indeed one of the most sublime monuments of India, famous as much for its imposing dimensions and faultless proportions as for the harmonious integration of of architectural grandeur with plastic allegiance. It is admittedly the best in Orissa. Its fine traceries and scroll work , the beautiful and natural cut of animal and human figures, all give it a superiority over other temples. The chief quality is its design and architectural details. The Sun temple belongs to the Kalinga School of Indian Temples with characteristic curvilinear towers mounted by Cupolas. In shape, the Temple did not make any major departure from other sikhara temples of Orissa. The main sanctum which (229 ft. high) was constructed alongwith the audience hall (128 ft. high) having elaborate external projections. The main sanctum which enshrined the presiding deity has fallen off. The Audience Hall survives in its entirely but of the other two viz the Dancing Hall(nata Mandir) and the Dining Hall (Bhoga-Mandap), only small portions have survived the vagaries of time. The Temple compound measures 857 ft. by 540 ft.
The alignment of the Sun Temple is on the east-west direction. The Temple is located in natural surroundings, abounding with casuarina plantations and other types of trees, wchich grow on sandy soil. The environment is by and large unspoiled. Gentle undulating topography around the Sun Temple lends some variation to the landscape
The size of the temple is awe-inspiring. Legend has it that the king was so passionate about its construction that he let it consume 12 years worth of the revenues of the kingdom. The main tower has now collapsed but was built in the same form as the Jagannath temple at Puri. It towered to 227 feet. The three main images of Surya on three facades are carved in chlorite stone and stand in the formal frontal position often used to portray divinities in a state of spiritual equilibrium The porch structure exceeded 120 feet in height. Below the high platforms of the tower and the porch are the 24 stone wheels.
The third major component of the temple complex is the detached natamandira (hall of dance), which remains in front of the temple. Of the 22 subsidiary temples that once stood within the enclosure, two remain the Vaishnava Temple and the Mayadevi Temple. At either side of the main temple are colossal figures of royal elephants and horses.
Though the motivation for building the temple is not known, Narasimhadeva, probably constructed it as a victory monument, after a successful campaign against Muslim invaders.
The carvings on the temple give an insight into the social environment of royalty in the 13th century. There are wonderfully carved images of hunts, lovers, deities, dancers, birds, animals, and mythological creatures as also other intricate designs. The temple is also famous for its erotic sculptures celebrating the joys of living.
The Museum: The Sun Temple Museum run by the Archaeological Survey of India has an excellent collection of sculptures from the temple ruins.
Konark beach: Konark beach is calmer than the Puri beach, which tends to get very rough. However, the waters tend to be trickier - even strong swimmers need to be wary. The immense backdrop of the Sun Temple looks breathtaking when illuminated in the evening.
Chandrabhaga beach: Close to the Sun Temple of Konark, is the lovely quiet beach - of Chandrabhaga. The beach is not crowded and one can spend a few quite moments contemplating the beauty of the surroundings. In the month of Magha Saptami (february), the Chandrabhaga Mela, is celebrated with much fanfare. On this day pilgrims come to take a holy dip in the pool and then converge on the beach to watch the sun rise over the sea.
Konark Dance Festival: Dance has always been an integral part of worship in Orissa. Nearly all temples in Orissa incorporate a dance hall. Odissi, the traditional classical dance of Orissa owes its revitalisation to the discovery of the ancient treatise on dance, the 'Abhinaya Chandrika' and the study of ancient sculptures on the walls of temples by dedicated artistes. Konark Dance Festival, a mega-celebration of classical dance forms in India, is held in winter every year.