India's Sun Temple in Konark dazzles visitors

Massive 13th century chariot-shaped temple is a Unesco world heritage site

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Six galloping stallions intricately carved out of giant stones remain frozen in time at one of India’s stunning ancient temples, near the Bay of Bengal.

The horses' manes flare out behind them to illustrate their majestic speed as they pull the giant chariot-shaped Sun Temple at Kornak – a Unesco world heritage site.

Two dozen giant wheels are intricately carved into the massive pyramid-shaped structure depicting the mythological chariot being pulled to heaven.

Within the wheels are sundials which can be used to calculate time accurately to a minute.

The 30-metre tall temple in the Puri district of the eastern Indian state of Odisha, is one of the country's three historic temples dedicated to the Hindu sun god Surya.

It was built in the 13th century during the reign of the King Narasimhadeva-I, who ruled the region from 1238 to 1264AD.

The temple is considered an architectural marvel due to its scale, and its personification of divinity continues to attract millions of visitors today.


King Narasimhadeva-I was one of the kings of the Eastern Ganga dynasty which ruled from their capital in Kalinga.

The Hindu dynasty ruled what is roughly now the state of Odisha – previously called Orissa. They were one of the most powerful dynasties on the Indian subcontinent from the 5th Century to the 15th Century.

The temple was built to commemorate the king's victory over Tughral Tughan Khan, the Bengal governor of the Mamluk dynasty of Delhi.

King Narasimhadeva defeated the Mamluk forces in 1243 at the Battle of Katasin, now just inside West Bengal, bringing prestige to the Eastern Ganga dynasty and securing it against invasion attempts from northern Muslim dynasties.

Construction of the temple began in 1250 and took 12 years, according to Unesco.

The Eastern Ganga dynasty's 400-year rule of the region came to an end in 1434, when they were succeeded by the Gajapati dynasty.


The temple is the epitome of Kalinga masonry and architecture. About 1,200 craftsmen and artists were involved in its construction, according to the Archaeological Survey of India.

The main structure is designed in the form of a colossal chariot that Hindus believe was used by Surya. Its 24 carved wheels are around 3.6 metres in diameter and represent the cosmic cycles of time.

It was built primarily out of three types of stone: chlorite, laterite, and the local khondalite rocks.

The complex covers 25 acres and includes a shikhara, or spire, halls and a tower.

Legends claim that the architecture of the temple is so elaborate that the first rays of the rising sun fell on the image of Surya in the inner sanctum of the temple, which is now sealed off.

Intricate carvings throughout the temple complex depict scenes of women getting ready, men preparing for war, musicians, animals and celestial beings.


It is believed that the temple was once more than 60 metres tall but much of it is now in ruins.

Historians believe the structure was damaged by attacks by hostile armies and natural catastrophes such as cyclones, lightning, earthquakes and even soil erosion as it is close to the sea.

It was found in ruins by James Fergusson, a Scottish architectural historian in the late 19th century.

Restoration efforts began in 1900, after a British lieutenant governor Sir John Woodburn visited the site. A year later archaeological surveyor T Bloch had unearthed the mammoth structure.

As the earth, debris and plants were cleared away, the broken stone wheels, horses and many damaged statues and sculptures were revealed.

The temple’s crumbling inner sanctum was filled with sand and sealed by the British rulers to prevent any further collapses.

The complex was handed over to the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) in 1936, which has been carrying out conservation works since then.

The ASI began the process of removing the sand from the temple this year. It plans to install a stainless-steel support to distribute the weight evenly around the structure and open the inner sanctum to visitors.


The Sun Temple was declared a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1984 for its “outstanding universal value”.

One of its giant wheels is depicted on India’s 10 rupee note, highlighting its importance to the country's heritage.

The site attracts more than 2.5 million tourists every year, according to the government.

The state government also organises the Konark Dance Festival, one of the biggest events of its kind, against the backdrop of the majestic temple every year. Many celebrated dancers and musicians from around the world perform at the five-day festival.

Visitors continue to be awe-struck by the temple, almost 800 years after it was built.

“It is one of the most stunning monuments I have seen. The carvings and the colour of the monument are breathtakingly beautiful,” said Barun Das, a resident of neighbouring West Bengal who was visiting the temple.

“I was always fascinated by its giant wheels on the currency note and today, I could see it.”

Updated: December 31, 2023, 4:30 AM