Dedicated to Surya or the Sun God and designed like his chariot, the massive and magnificent Sun Temple at Konark (kona meaning angle and ark referring to the sun) is one of the finest examples of ancient Indian architectural heritage. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, the breathtakingly splendid temple was once described by Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore as the place where the language of stone surpasses the language of man. Situated around 30 km from Puri, the temple, seemingly rising from the depths of the sea, is just 2 km away from the Bay of Bengal coastline. Built in the 13th century by Ganga king Narasimhadeva I, the temple with stunning sculptural details, marks the most evolved period in the Kalinga architecture. It is said that the temple was designed in such a way that the rising sun's first rays would illuminate the deul (sanctuary) and the presiding deity. The temple stands on a base of a total of 24 intricately carved wheels, 12 on each side. Four of the 24 wheels can be used as sundials to tell the time!

According to experts, the temple was used for prayers only for a short period and in the 17th century, the presiding deity may have been moved to Jagannath Temple in Puri. The main entrance of the temple, the Gajasimha (gaja meaning elephant and simha referring to lions) derives its name from two massive stone lions crushing elephants. This gate leads to the finely carved Natya Mandapa (dancing hall). Wide steps that are flanked by horses rise to the Jagamohan (assembly hall). Though carved in stone, the life-like horses seem to be straining at their reins, each sinew bulging. The temple has three impressive carvings of the Sun God at three strategic locations to catch the sun at dawn, noon and sunset. The carvings at the base of the temple and on its walls chronicle everyday activities. While the Konark Temple is unique, there are several other chariot-temples in the places like Hampi (Karnataka), and Mahabalipuram (Tamil Nadu). The Konark Sun Temple is visited by lakhs every year and the annual Konark Festival held here is famed for its cultural importance.

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