Konark is on the east coast to the north of Puri, in Orissa. Under the Ganga Kings, the Orissa empire extended right up to the Godavari in the South and to Maharashtra in the West. Choda Gangadeva, the first king, built the temple at Puri in the eleventh century. Another famous Ganga King, Narasimhadeva, built this one in the thirteenth century. Narasimhadeva built it in memory of a great victory. It is as if the sun god had cast his magic eyes over hard stone. The elephants, centaurs, gryphons, gods and goddesses that emerged from the grey walls, are bubbling with life. Krishna’s son Samba is said to have worshipped the sun god. He was afflicted by a dreadful disease and a sage advised him to pray to the sun, the supreme healer. Samba came here, to the banks of the river Chandrabhaga. Every morning at sunrise, he stood in the water praying to the golden orb as it rose. For long years he prayed to the thousand-rayed one to restore him to health.
At last, one day, while in prayer, Samba saw a golden lotus floating towards him. Amid the petals he found a beautiful image of the sun god. With deep love Samba embraced the idol. He was miraculously cured! Transported with happiness, be built a temple for Surya on that very spot. A great ribbed sikhara has been built over the top of the garbhagriha. The shrine and the audience hall are carved together to make the wheeled chariot of the sun god.Seven richly caparisoned mares draw the great stone chariot. The mares represent the seven days of the week.The three middle ones face straight ahead, but the pairs on either side face the past and the future. The colossal wheels denote the twelve months of the year. Each wheel has eight spokes—the eight parts of the day and night. Figures are carved on each spoke. If you look at them you would think they moved, for on each wheel the figures are seen in different postures. Some say they show the position of the sun as he moves through the zodiac.
The image of Aruna, the charioteer of the sun god once stood at the head of the chariot, between the audience chamber and the dancing hall. The dancing figures of carved beauties on the topmost ledge are most striking. Cymbals in hand, these seem ready to spring into dance at a moment’s notice. The image of Surya rests on the pedestal. The sikhara is so placed on the shrine that the first rays of the sun kiss the image each morning. There are a couple of Surya images behind the garbhagriha. Majestic and noble, Surya’s face smiles proudly. In his two hands are lotuses. The ancient sun worshippers came to India with hordes of foreign Hunas wearing boots. Surya’s rays embrace the whole world. He is the giver of light and life. He gives courage, power and might.
The most glorious sight in the world is when the sun god rises to the heavens. His golden chariot, drawn by seven bay mares, flood the sky with an orange glow. Aruna is seated in the driver’s seat, and behind him, glorious and powerful, sits Surya. The figure near him is her shadow. Samjna, the daughter of the architect of the gods, loves her husband Surya dearly. She tried to be near him but can not bear the heat of the sun, and has to go away. However, she left her shadow, Chhaya, near Surya. The sun god suspected nothing for Samjna had instructed the shadow well. Then her son Yama who loves his mother learns the truth and tells his father. Surya is furious. Samjna hears the sun god thundering into her father’s house, and flees to the cool glades of the mountains. There, disguised as a mare, she feels screened from Surya’s fierce eyes. The architect meets the sun’s flaming anger with a cool face. ‘Please try to understand. Samjna tried very hard but she just could not bear the heat of your rays. I am the architect of the gods and can mend and mould forms. Would you allow me to take off the keen edge of your sharp rays?’ Surya thought a little, then agreed. The architect set his wheels in motion. When he finished the sun god looked even more wondrous than before but his rays were milder and softer. Surya took the form of a horse and joined Samjna on the slopes of the Himalayas. “To them were born the Asvins, the twin gods. The sun god pardoned Chhaya, the shadow, and gave her a place beside him as his other consort. To her was born Sani, who later became one of the nine planets.”
The sun rides high in the heavens now, his face glowing in triumph.