Exploring Konark Sun Temple

Imagine a colossal chariot with twelve ornamental wheels drawn by seven horses emerging from a blue sea. This is the epic vision that envisaged the design and architecture of the famous Konark Sun Temple. Narasimhadeva-I of the Ganga dynasty built it in the 13th century, and its sheer size and design with exquisite carvings make the Sun Temple the magnum opus of Kalinga architecture. It took 1200 men 12 years to construct the Sun Temple, which is known for its architectural brilliance and is nothing short of an engineering marvel. It received a UNESCO World Heritage Site tag in 1984. Rabindranath Tagore described it as “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man”.

Having visited the Modera Sun Temple in Pattan, Gujarat, six years ago, the Konark Sun Temple has long been on our wish list. Read on to know how we went about exploring the Konark Sun Temple.

Sun Temple Konark @Rafiq Somani

Konark Sun Temple Museum

We enter the temple complex after lunch at two in the afternoon. The sun is blazing on our heads, and sweat is tricking down. Exploring the temple at this hour will be exhausting, so we decide to first explore the museum and later the temple complex. It helps that the museum is airconditioned and will give us a good background of the temple’s history, structure and details. The galleries are chock-a-block with information panels, models, and original pieces of the temple recovered from the site. Stories, myths and legends woven around the sun temple are displayed. The numerology behind the temple and its structure are explained. The galleries even have models that show you what the temple was earlier and how it stands today.

Entrance of Konark Museum @Rafiq Somani

Models of Original and Current Sun Temple complex at Konark Museum @Rafiq Somani

Exhibits and Replica of Wheel of Konark at Konark Museum @Rafiq Somani

Sun God Statutes at Konark Museum @Rafiq Somani

It’s time for us to watch a movie showcasing the temple’s history, construction, challenges, and rise and fall. It is beyond the scope of this article to spell out the details, so we will restrict ourselves to our actual experience of exploring the temple complex.

Movie Screening at Konark Museum @Rafiq Somani

Finding a Guide

Next, we try to find ourselves a guide, which turns out to be daunting since most have left for late lunch or are waiting to receive guests who have pre-booked their services. After almost 15 -20 minutes, we get hold of a guide and begin with our exploration.

The Origin

Our guide explains that the name ‘Konark’ is a combination of the Sanskrit words ‘Kona’ meaning ‘corner’ and ‘Ark’ meaning ‘sun’. The temple was built on the banks of the Chandrabhaga River, which merged into the Bay of Bengal. The river has changed its route, so we no longer see the sea near the temple. Konark Temple was called ‘Black Pagoda’ by European sailors since it looked like a tiered structure in black. The Jagannath Temple in Puri was called the ‘White Pagoda’. They were both landmarks for voyagers in the Bay of Bengal.

Original Structure vs Now

The following pictures will help you understand the temple’s original structure and what it is like today. 

Guide Map of Konark Sun Temple @Rafiq Somani
Original Konark Sun Temple Complex Layout (Source: https://recipeoftravel.com/konark-sun-temple/)
Comparison of original and current structures of Konark Sun Temple (Source: http://thekonark.in/konark-original-state.html)

Initially, the temple complex consisted of a Deul or Main Temple (1). Only a fraction of it can be seen today. In front of the Deul or Main Temple is the Jagamohana or Assembly Hall (2). It is what we can see today; many tourists mistake it for the Deul or Main Temple. Seven horses (3) are carved on the Jagamohana or Assembly Hall staircase. You can only see their ruins today, except for one horse in relatively good condition. There were lion-elephant figures (4) in front of the horses. These have been moved, and you will see them near the main temple.

There was an Aruna Stambha/Pillar (5) between the Jagamohana/ Assembly Hall and Natya Mandir. It has been moved to Puri, and one can see it in front of Jagannath Puri Temple. The Natya Mandir (6), or Dancing Hall, is in front of the Jagamohana Assembly Hall. Its roof has fallen, and one can only see the platform and pillars. The Lion Elephant figures (7) are in front of the Natya Mandir. (While exploring the temple complex, we saw these structures in reverse order 7-1; hence, the travelogue has also been written in this order.)

Gajah Simhas/Elephant Lions

The first thing that attracts our attention as we enter the temple complex is a pair of elephant lion statues at the entrance of the Natya Mandir. These sculptures depict a lion trampling an elephant, which is crushing a human.

Gajah Simhas or Elephant Lions at the entrance of Natya Mandir/Dancing Hall @Rafiq Somani

Later, we see two other Gajah Simhas near the Jagamohan/Assembly Hall and Deul/Main Temple platform. Everyone is eager to pose for a selfie with them!

Gajah Simhas/Elephant Lions in Konark Sun Temple Complex @Rafiq Somani

Natya Mandir/Dancing Hall

Just beyond the Gajah Simhas is a staircase leading to the Natya Mandir, which served as a Dancing Hall. The roof of the Natya Mandir has long given way, and only the platform and pillars remain. The carvings on pillars and platform are enormous. Women in various dancing poses, playing myriad musical instruments like drums, cymbals, and daf. Soldiers, hunting scenes, erotic couples, deities, so much to see. We see tourists standing at the corner of the Natya Mandir and posing for a picture with their arm extended, like they are touching the top of the Jagamohana.   

Natya Mandir/Dancing Hall with Gajah Simhas of Konark Sun Temple @Rafiq Somani
View of Natya Mandir/ Dancing Hall from Jagmohana/ Assembly side @Rafiq Somani

Intricately carved columns of Natya Mandir/Dancing Hall @Rafiq Somani

Details of Natya Mandir/Dancing Hall @Rafiq Somani
Tourists standing on Natya Mandir and extending their arms as if to touch the Jagmohana/Assembly Hall for a photograph @Rafiq Somani

Jagamohana/Assembly Hall

What we have seen in pictures of Konark temple is actually the Assembly Hall or Jagamohana. The Deul/Main Temple crumbled long ago, and only ruins of it remain. The roof of the Jagamohana is in pyramid shape. The eastern staircase is in front of the Natya Mandir. The doorway is made of a blue chlorite stone frame. Our guide explains that the Britishers filled it with sand and stones to safeguard the Jagmohan from collapsing.

Jagmohana or Assembly Hall. The main duel/temple was behind this but crumbled long ago. @Rafiq Somani

Seven Pulling Horses

According to Hindu mythology, the Sun God’s chariot is pulled by seven horses. The Konark temple is designed as a chariot with wheels drawn by seven horses. These seven horses are on both sides of the eastern staircase leading to the Jagamohana- four horses are on the right side, and three are on the left side. Sadly, these horses are in ruins and haven’t stood the test of time. We could only see one in relatively good condition. Our guide explains that the seven horses have various representations: the seven days of the week, seven colours of the sun rays, and seven musical notes.   

Pulling Horse of Konark Sun Temple @Rafiq Somani

 The Deul, or Main temple

The Deul, or main temple, housed the Sun God and had a curvilinear shikhara. Most of it has crumbled; one can see only the lower portion. The main temple was surrounded by smaller shrines containing niches with Sun God in various forms.    

Left side crumbled Deul/Main Temple with Sun God statute in a niche and right is Jagmohana Assembly Hall @Rafiq Somani

Sun God Statutes

There are three Sun God statues made with chlorite in niches. These statues are bluish-green, and had it not been for our guide, we would have missed seeing them since they are high up. The Sun God Statutes are positioned in three different directions to receive the sun rays at dawn, noon and dusk. They are called:

Prabhata Surya or Morning Sun

Madhyana Surya or Mid-Day Sun

Astachala Surya or Evening Sun

The first two sculptures show the Sun God wearing boots, which is probably a foreign influence, while the third sculpture shows the Sun God riding a horse.


The Jagamohana/Assembly Hall and Deul/Main Temple are on a common platform, which has the horses and wheels. It is intricately carved with amorous couples, gods and goddesses, mythological creatures, birds, animals, floral and geometrical designs, and numerous others. The naga and nagis figures, depicted as half human and half snake, are common occurrences. Scenes from everyday life, royal processions, women admiring themselves, and erotic sculptures find a place.   

Platform of Sun Temple with Intricate Carvings @Rafiq Somani

Erotic Sculptures

From self-stimulation, heterosexual couples, to same-sex couples, to even threesomes, you have at it all on the facades. They remind us of our visit to Khajuraho temples, which have become infamous as the Kamasutra temples. Our guide explains that these erotic statutes were intended to test whether the devotees could embrace celibacy. Eroticism may be considered unabashed to many, but in ancient times, it was normal to depict it in sculptures like the rest of life’s aspects. I find it strange when guides whisper in the ears of males the details of these erotic sculptures. Who was/is more liberal in thinking? The ancient kings and artists who brazenly depicted human primordial instinct in temples or us so-called modern people who still find it hard to speak about sex in all its 50 shades of grey!

Wheels of Konark Sun Temple

The temple has 12 pairs or 24 beautifully decorated wheels. Six wheels are on either side of the Deul/Main temple, four on either side of the Jagmohan/ Assembly Hall and two on either side of the steps on the eastern side leading to the Jagamohana/Assembly Hall. The number 12 is significant and corresponds to the 12 zodiac signs. The 24 wheels signify the number of hours in a day. The wheel of the Konark Sun Temple is depicted on the Indian 10 rupees currency note.

Carvings on Wheels

Our guide shows us the details of the wheels. Each wheel has a central hub/axel with sixteen spokes (8 broad and eight thin). Although all the wheels are similar in size and layout, the carvings and detailing differ. The axles of the wheels have carvings of deities, animals, gods and goddesses. The broader spokes of the wheels are sculpted so that they broaden at the centre like a diamond and are thinner at the ends. Each diamond has a medallion with carved details like erotic figures, hunting scenes, deities, etc. The rims/circumference of the wheel has intricate designs of floral patterns, birds and animals.

Wheels as Sundials 

Our guide explains that each wheel is 9 feet 9 inches in diameter. The wheels functioned as sundials and can tell the time of the day. Each wheel is divided into eight broader spokes and eight thinner spokes. The distance between the broader spokes represents 3 hours or a pahar. The distance between a thinner and the next broader spoke represents 1½ hours (90 mins). There are 30 carved beads between the thinner and the next broader spoke; thus, each bead represents 3 mins (90 ÷ 3= 3). Time was shown in an anti-clockwise direction on the sundial, with the top broader centre spoke representing midnight.

Konark Sun Temple Wheels as Sun Dials @Rafiq Somani

Other Structures in the Konark Sun Temple Complex

Bhog Mandir/Kitchen

Besides the main temple, the complex houses other structures too. One of them is the Bhog Mandir or Kitchen, located south of Natya Mandir. A platform and pillars are all that remain of the kitchen. A well is located nearby, which probably supplied water to the kitchen.  

Bhog Mandir and Other Structures in Konark Sun Temple Complex @Rafoq Somani

Mayadevi/Chayadevi Temple

The ruins of this temple are in the southwest corner of the temple complex. It is dedicated to the wife of the Sun God Chayadevi/Mayadevi. A board tells us that it was constructed in the 11th-12th century. The temple consisted of a porch or Jagamohana and an inner sanctum or Deul (destroyed over time) on a raised platform. We see intricate carvings and sculptures on the platform’s façade and walls. A broken sun god statute, amorous couples, mythological figures, gods and goddesses and numerous other creatures can be seen. There are water outlets of yaali (a mythological figure which is a combination of a lion and an elephant) and crocodiles, too, from which water spouted out in ancient times.

Mayadevi/Chayadevi Temple in Konark Sun Temple Complex @Rafiq Somani

Details of Mayadevi/Chayadevi Temple @Rafiq Somani

Water outlets of Yaali at Mayadevi/Chayadevi Temple Rafiq Somani

Vaishnava/Brick Temple

Close to the Chayadevi Temple are the ruins of the Vaishnava Devi Temple.

War Horses

On the southern side of the Konark Temple are sculptures of two war horses. These are not to be confused with the horses that pull the chariot of the main temple. 


On the northern side of the Konark Temple are sculptures of two elephants. A warrior can be seen in the curled trunk of one of the elephants while a warrior is trampled under the feet of another elephant.

The Fall of the Konark Sun Temple

The precise date or reason for the fall of the temple is unknown. Numerous theories float that the temple was never completed; it was struck by lightning, earthquake, invasion, and destruction by Kalapahad, a general of the Bengal Sultanate under the reigning Karrani Dynasty. Another theory is that the loadstone on top of the temple had a magnetic effect which kept the entire structure intact. But it also caused the ships passing through the Bay of Bengal to be drawn to it, causing damage. The Portuguese voyagers took the loadstone that led to the temple’s subsequent collapse. Evidence is not available, so the real reason is still unknown.

Konark Sun Temple Light and Sound Show

If you plan to visit the temple in the evening, watch the Light and Sound Show. We had to proceed to Satpada, so we gave it a skip.

Konark Dance Festival

Every year from 1st to 5th December, the Konark Dance Festival is held at the Open-Air Auditorium, Konark. Classical dancers from all over India showcase their talent through various dance forms.

Shopping in Konark

The market outside the Konark Sun Temple is buzzing with tourists. Most of the artwork and handicrafts that we saw in Pipli and Raghurajpur art villages are up for grabs- Pattachitra paintings on bottles, coir toys, applique work items, handwoven mats, shells and shell craft, miniatures of Konark Sun Temple wheels. Cashew and Poppy Seeds are other hot favourites to buy. A lot of vendors will chase you around the temple complex, asking you to buy pearl jewellery. This is a racket where they pass off plastic pearls as genuine pearls, so beware.

Poppy seeds and Cashews at Konark Market and beware of people passing of fake pearls as real @Shameera Somani

Closing Remarks

It is more than 3 hours since we visited the museum and explored the Konark Sun Temple Complex. We are overwhelmed with all that we have seen. The Jagamohana/Assembly Hall itself is so large (39 metres), and one can imagine how taller (70 metres) the actual Rekha Deul/Main Temple would have been. The intricate ornamentation and workmanship of artisans, sheer size and architectural skilfullness are unimaginable. You will have to experience it first hand as our writings and photos are no match for it. 

We next explored Satpada’s Chilika Lake. You can read this travelogue here.   


Nearest Airport: Konark does not have an airport. The nearest airport is Bhubaneswar Biju Patnaik International Airport, with connectivity to major cities in India.


Konark-Bhubaneshwar: 65 km or 1 hour 15 mins.

Konark-Puri: 37km or 1 hour.

Konark- Chilaka Lake: 84 km or 1 hour 40 mins.

Where to stay: You can do a net search for hotels depending on budget and comfort.  

Travel Tip: The mornings are the best time to visit Konark Sun Temple, especially if you want to photograph the temple. Do get hold of a good guide, as many of them are just rattling details without evidence. Our guide was one of them who just unapologetically shared information that was far from the truth. Do the golden triangle of Bhubaneshwar, Puri and Konark together since they are within driving distance of each other.

Odisha Driver: Pintu-7978630261 He was not just our driver but also unofficial guide explaining the details of the monuments/places and narratives behind them.

Travel Planning Help: Om Leisure Holidays helped us plan this trip.