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Konarak – Sun Temple – Architecture

Architecture of the Konarak temple


The Konarak temple was conceived as a huge and colossal chariot drawn by a team of seven horses depicted in the galloping mode. The entire temple was planned in such a way that it is fitted with twelve pairs of exquisitely decorated stone wheels. The horses were conceived in such a way that the Sun God (Surya) himself drives this chariot, his place being inside the garbhagriha. The Konarak temple also marks the culmination of the temple building architecture in Orissa. The humble beginning made in temple building activities in the 7th century A.D. (Parasuramesvara Temple being a classic example) passed through a process of efflorescence (e.g. Lingaraj Temple in the 11th century A.D. and the Jagannath temple in the 12th century A.D.) and finally culminated in the Konarak Temple in the 13th century A.D.

Apart from the depiction of the stone wheels and the caparisoned horses drawing the colossal chariot of Sun God, the Konarak Temple is a typical example of the Orissan temple architecture. The temple is not different from those of other regions. On plan, the temple consists of a deul (sanctum sanctorum or the sanctuary), antarala, jagmohana (porch or the mahamandapa) and a bhoga-mandapa, the latter being detached from the main temple complex as a separate unit, but along the same alignment with the main temple. The only variation from the other temples of Orissa and that can be viewed here that the temple proper stands on a huge platform, the sidewalls of the platform utilised for the depiction of the richly embellished stone chariots.

The deul is a typical rekha deula of the Orissan order marked by the curvilinear sikhara, which could have originally marked with the typical karma-amalakas. The jagmohana (frontal porch, mahamandapa) is the typical pidha deul with receding pidhas resembling a pyramidal roof. Both the rekha and pidha deuls were crowned by amalaka and a stupi. The rekha and pidha deuls are square on plan inside, while the outside is a typical example of a pancha-ratha structure known as rathas or pagas in Orissan architecture. The central projection, also the most pronounced one is known as raha paga, while the middle one is anuratha-paga and the corner one is known as kanika-paga. Apart from these major projections, numerous other minor projections and recesses could also be discernible.

On elevation, both the pidha and rekha deuls are divided into the components namely, pishta (or jangha, the platform), bada (the wall portion, the vertical wall), gandi (the portion immediately above the bada, the ‘the trunk portion of a body’; in a rekha deul it is curvilinear, while in a pidha deul it is pyramidal) and mastaka (the crowning element, ‘head’; it consists of beki (neck), amala, khapuri, kalasa). It is also easily discernible that there is no marked difference between the pidha and rekha deuls up to the top of the bada portion. The bada portion further consists of pabhaga (foot) which is composed of five broad mouldings, tala jangha (lower shin), bandhana (a set of mouldings which divides the jangha into two, namely the tala and upara jangha), upara jangha (upper shin) and the veranda which is again a set of mouldings, the number may vary, here in the pidha-deul there are ten mouldings.

The pidha-deul as described above is in the form of a stepped pyramid with receding tiers of pidhas, arranged into three tiers, called as potalas. The gandi portion of the pidha-deul is preserved fairly at the Konarak temple. However, the gandi portion of the rekha-deul and a large part of the bada had collapsed long ago. Even the extant remains of the rekha-deul remind us of the typical superstructure it should have once had. The bhoga-mandapa as stated above is detached from the main temple structure. The mandapa is a pillared edifice, now open to the sky.

The stones are laid in ashlar masonry, the individual stones were carved and finished smoothly and hence the joints are less visible. These stones were placed on one another firmly due to their own weight supplemented by the use of iron dowels to hold them properly in their place.

The evidence indicates that three different kinds of stones were used in the temple construction. The stone type known as khondalite was used largely for the temple construction while the high quality chlorite was used for the doorjamb and some sculptures. The interior core of the temple and other structures were largely constructed using the laterite stones. The selection of khondalite which is a variety of garnetifeours felspathic gneiss that is prone to easy weathering and chemical alteration had been a major cause in the gradual disintegration of the temple. Most of the garnet composition is decomposed into a spongy mass of oxide which is further deteriorated by the saline winds and heavy rainfall witnessed in this region. Hence it is been an arduous task conserving this temple.

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