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Konark Temple, also known as the ‘Sun Temple’ or ‘Black Pagoda’ is located in the eastern Indian state of Odisha. The name is derived from two Sanskrit words ‘Kona’ which means corner and ‘Arka’ meaning the sun. The temple was built in the 13th century by emperor Narsingha Deva I and is dedicated to the sun god, Surya. European seafarers named it “Black Pagoda” because it served as a mile marker indicating that they have reached the coast of the Indian subcontinent and appeared black from a distance. Let’s jump into the legend surrounding the construction of this magnificent temple.
The temple is built to represent a chariot with 12 wheels and seven horses that Surya rode across the sky to cause day and night. Designed in the Kalinga style of architecture, UNESCO declared it as a ‘World Heritage Site’ in 1984 and is featured in the Indian ten-rupee bills.
Legend behind temple construction
There is an interesting legend surrounding the construction of the temple. Emperor Narasingha Deva I wanted the temple to be constructed near the sea ( Bay of Bengal) to celebrate the trade relations that flourished under his reign. The site was therefore surrounded by sea on one side and a river named Chandrabhaga (now dead) on the north. It facilitated easy carriage of materials to the site. A mason named Bishnu Pada was appointed as the chief architect. The emperor wanted the walls of the temples to be adorned with carvings and sculptures depicting everyday life of the people of his kingdom, Kalinga (now Odisha). Therefore, one can see battle scenes, erotic sculptures showing the union of man and woman, woman dressing themselves, animals, trade, weddings etc. One unique carving shows a giraffe which at the time were only present in Africa as a native species.
Its mind blowing because the distance between Kalinga and the continent of Africa is a whooping 5,851 kilometres (3,635 miles). The temple also features dragons and other mythical feature probably to represent trade links with China.
Legend surrounding construction
Bishnu Pada and his men began the construction work of the massive temple. Being close the sea and the river, the foundation was not stable. It took nearly 12 years for the masons to almost complete the temple. But there was one major problem. The top of the temple ‘Kalasa’ could not be placed by any member of the team no matter how hard they tried. Bishnu Pada began to worry because they were under strict contract with the emperor. He refused to let them leave unless the temple was completely constructed.
Around this time, Bishnu’s son named Dharma Pada came to visit his father. He was born a month after his father left for work and therefore, he didn’t get a chance to meet him. Reaching the temple site, the father and son were delighted to finally meet each other. But Dharma noticed the sad longings in his father’s eye. Upon inquiring he found that all the experienced masons including his father failed to place the ‘Kalasa’ at the top of the temple. Fearing execution of his father alongside his men, Dharma decided to step in. He took the ‘Kalasa’ and climbed the temple. Upon reaching the top, he successfully placed it.
All the men were rendered speechless that the 12-year-old kid was able to achieve the feat which hundreds of grown men couldn’t. Everyone started celebrating and Bishnu felt extremely proud. But soon silence fell. The masons realized that if the emperor found out about the kid’s feat, he would immediately execute them. They expressed their concerns to Bishnu. Overhearing the conversation, Dharma understood the dilemma. He did not want to take credit for his father’s years of hard work. According to legend, he ran up to the top of the temple and plunged into the sea, ending his life. In the process, he saved the lives of hundreds of masons and his father.
Another folklore associated with the temple is about the main idol of the temple. It is said that the idol was that of Surya, the son god and was made entirely out of some mysterious metal. Four powerful magnets were placed on each side of the idol, making it levitate. The temple was created in such a manner that when the sun rose in the sky at dawn, the first rays of the sun fell on the idol.
Sadly, over the years the main temple has completely collapsed due to multiple invasion by Muslim rulers and the idol stolen. But the secondary structure still stands. Konark is truly the personification of divinity. You can lose yourself in the myriad carvings across its entire body. Over the years, the sea has receded few miles away, the river has dried up completely yet somehow this magnificent structure has managed to stand tall.