The name Konark derives from the combination of the Sanskrit words, Kona (corner or angle) and Arka (the sun), in reference to the temple which was dedicated to the Sun God Surya. The term Kona likely refers to the corner direction in which the temple was aligned to face the sunrise. The monument was also called the Black Pagoda by the European sailors. In contrast, the Jagannath Temple in Puri which was called the White Pagoda. Both temples served as important landmarks for the sailors.
Konark Sun Temple, also called Konarak Sun Temple and Surya Deula, is a 13th-century CE Sun Temple at Konark about 35 kilometres (22 mi) northeast from Puri on the coastline of Odisha, India. The temple is attributed to king Narasimhadeva I of Eastern Ganga Dynasty about 1250 CE.
The temple complex is dedicated to the Hindu god Surya. It is currently a 100 feet (30 m) high chariot with immense wheels and horses, all carved from stone. Much of the temple is a ruined structure. The structures and elements that have survived are famed for its intricate artwork, iconography and themes including the erotic Kama and mithuna scenes. It is a classic illustration of the Orissan style of Hindu temple architecture. Prior to its ruin, the chariot temple was over 200 feet (61 m) high.
The cause of the ruin of the Konark temple is unclear, disputed and a source of controversy. Theories range from natural damage to the ruining of this temple after it being sacked several times by Muslim armies between the 15th and 17th centuries. This temple was called "Black Pagoda" in European sailor accounts as early as 1676, because its great tower appeared black and served as a landmark for ships in the Bay of Bengal. The contemporary temple was partially restored by the conservation efforts of the British India era archaeological teams. In 1984, it was declared a UNESCO world heritage site. It remains a major pilgrimage site for Hindus, who gather here every year for the Chandrabhaga Mela about February.
The Konarak Sun Temple was built from stone in the form of a giant ornamented chariot dedicated to the Sun god, Surya. In Hindu Vedic iconography, Surya is represented as rising in the east and traveling rapidly across the sky in a chariot drawn by seven horses. He is described typically as a resplendent standing person holding lotus flower in both his hands, riding the chariot marshaled by the charioteer Aruna. The seven horses are named after the seven meters of Sanskrit prosody: Gayatri, Brihati, Ushnih, Jagati, Trishtubha, Anushtubha and Pankti. Two females typically flank Surya, who represent the dawn goddesses named Usha and Pratyusha. The goddesses are shown to be shooting arrows, a symbolism for their initiative to challenge darkness. The architecture is symbolic with twelve pairs of wheels corresponding to 12 months of the Hindu calendar, each month paired into two cycles (Shukla and Krishna).
The Konark temple presents this iconography at a grand scale. It has 24 elaborately carved stone wheels which are nearly 12 feet (3.7 m) in diameter and are pulled by a set of seven horses. From inland during the dawn and sunrise, the temple appears to emerge from the depths of the blue sea carrying the sun.