Why is Konark called the Black Pagoda

Where Surya's stony team thunders across the earth #

The sun temple in Konarak, India #


Günther Jontes

All photos are recordings made by the author from 1978 to 2004 from his archive "Bilderflut".

The huge ruins of a temple dedicated to the Hindu sun god Surya rise on the coast of the northeast Indian state of Orissa. It has been a landmark for seafaring from time immemorial and, in contrast to the Jagannatha Temple of Puri with its whitewashed walls, was called the “black pagoda” because of its darkened formations. Today it lies a short distance inland and its once 70 meter high tower above the Holy of Holies collapsed a long time ago. But the foundations that support the sun chariot with their kilometer-long rows of reliefs, the niches with the figures of the god, the entrance to the former dance hall have been preserved. And the characteristic of this temple, which has long been a World Heritage Site, is the fact that the entire complex was designed as a carriage on stone wheels, which is pulled like the mythical vehicle by stone horses.

There is hardly a place in this architecture that is not richly covered with figurative and ornamental decoration. All areas of the divine and human, the mythical and the cosmic are involved. Miniature representations in rondeaus, niches only rarely grow beyond the monumental, such as the images of the sun god, the cart horses or the elephants warding off enemies. There is no end to looking in detail.

The temple was built in the 13th century AD by a king of the dynasty ruling Orissa in place of a previous building. He probably wanted to celebrate a military victory with it. Burglary Muslim robberies in the following times attacked it with the damage to the cult statues and some figural representations. But what is left still heralds an architectural feat. The fact that the temple became a ruin may have to do with the fact that nature reclaimed its rights, sand from the nearby beach sanded off some details and the cult around the sun god no longer reached the same intensity as the main gods Shiva, Kali and Vishnu.

What is it with the sun god? His name Surya is the old Indian expression for "sun". In terms of linguistic history, it corresponds to the Greek helios, the Latin sol, the Old High German sunna. Sanskrit belongs to the Indo-Aryan group of Indo-European languages. The Indians regard the god as the personification of the heavenly body, the sun, of light and warmth. In the Vedas, the oldest Indian religious traditions recorded orally and then also in writing, it already occurs, but could never rise to the level of the main deities Vishnu and Shiva. That is why the number of temples dedicated to him is rather small.

Surya is one of the Adityas, the twelve Vedic deities, headed by the thunder god Indra as king. He is also considered a manifestation of the fire god Agni on earth. Its symbol is the sun wheel swastika, the swastika as a symbol of salvation. He is also considered to be the brother of Indra and Agni. His parents are the sky god Dyaus, who corresponds to the ancient Zeus and Iupiter, and the personified earth Prithivi. His sister is Ushas, ​​the goddess of the dawn, who can be compared to the Greek Eos. So you can see that the Indo-European linguistic and mythological entanglements are quite clear.

His statues in open niches show on the one hand the mutilations by the Muslim barbarians, but on the other hand also the incredible delicacy and overwhelming taste with which the sculptors executed the details of his clothing.

Surya is shown three times as a portrait and thus symbolizes sunrise, noon and sunset.

His chariot (Skr. Vimana) was made from the rays of the sun by the heavenly craftsman Vishvakarma. He is pulled by seven horses that correspond to the seven days of the week. His charioteer is Aruna, the god of the coming morning. One of Surya's wives also accompanies him on the wagon. It's Chhaya. Her name means "shadow". So it is seen as the opposite of the shining sun. Everything also has its counterpart.

The stone chariot is pulled by seven fully bridled horses.

Wrathful mighty horses and elephants flank the chariot and destroy onrushing enemy warriors.

In the whole structure there is a mysticism of numbers that is related to time. The sun determines this through its course across the sky. The car rolls on 24 wheels, which stand for the moon phases of the Indian course of the year. These wheels are miracles in their own right. They have eight spokes that mark the old division into the time units of the day.

The wheel hub and spokes are richly decorated in the finest work. Deities, mythical creatures and lovers can be found in miniature circles.

The exact construction made of wood, but reproduced in stone, can be studied on the wheel hubs.

In addition to the temples of Khajuraho, Konarak is particularly famous for its lustful, for European eyes daring erotic depictions. The all-encompassing generative power of nature, which emanates from the light and warmth of the sun, form the spiritual-historical background of these images, which in no way appear lascivious to the Indian and are part of an ars amatoria, as it is also expressed in the ancient Indian Kamasutram, the textbook of the art of love.

The idea of ​​a sounding cosmos is also familiar from classical antiquity in Greece and Rome. In Somnium Scipionis, a dream tale by Cicero, the image is drawn that the earth is in the center of spheres that represent the orbits of the planets and each of which emits its own sound and thus the universe is filled with unearthly sounds. In the Prologue in Heaven in Goethe's Faust I this is expressed in the following way:

The sun shines the old way
In fraternal spheres, singing contests
And their prescribed journey
Complete it with a thunderous walk.
The sight of them gives strength to the angels.
When nobody wants to fathom them;
The incomprehensibly high works
Are as wonderful as the first day ...

In the sun temple of Konarak you can hear with your inner ear how these wheels of Surya's chariot roar across the stone floor. And that this idea persists equally among thinkers and poets across epochs, is shown in Goethe's Faust II in the song of Ariel:

Listen! Listen to the storm of the hearing!
Sounds for ghost ears
The new day was born.
Rock gates creak with a rattle,
Phöbus ’wheels roll with a crackling noise.
What a noise the light brings.

Surya's chariot is built from the ground up and even the base is richly decorated and is carried by small elephants.

Everything has been thought of. Gargoyles with grotesque heads divert the water that shoots from the sky during the torrential monsoons.

The sun temple of Modhera in the federal state of Gujarat is far from being built up so powerfully and severely mutilated by Muslim robbery. It also has a cult pond, which gives the facility a completely different character than the Konarak World Heritage Site.

The mutilated Surya from Modhera on his car. The Muslims' hostility to images turns into barbarism. One can still recognize the two lotus blossoms in the hands of the god as his attributes.