A rare 19th century album of photographs of the Sun Temple at Konark, Orissa

India, late 19th century
29 platinum prints of variable dimensions

The present album is an important collection of 29 photographs taken at the end of the 19th century of the Sun Temple at Konark, a majestic 13th century structure in Orissa. Attributed to the King Narasimhadeva I of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty, and believed to have been built circa 1250, the temple is dedicated to Surya, the Hindu solar god. According to Vedic mythology, Surya is glorified as a creator and all-seeing god, source of life and knowledge. With his rays of light he expels not only darkness but also evil dreams and diseases, and is thus worshipped for his healing and protective powers.

The magnificent architecture of the Sun Temple is carved from stone and forms the shape of a high chariot with large wheels and several horses. It is a symbolic vehicle for the Sun God, oriented towards East so that the first rays of light fall on the temple entrance. Considered the high point of the Odisha style of Nagara architecture, it is still today an important pilgrimage site in Hinduism. It is ornamented with intricate sculptures and reliefs, whose themes and iconography include erotic kama and mithuna scenes.

The photographic album does more than document the wonderful structure; careful compositions focus on different perspectives of the temple, mainly on details of the masterful stone carvings. The striking large wheels can be seen as if attached to the magnificently sculpted walls and their significance can be interpreted as connected to astrological calendar and its “wheels of life” to symbolize the cycle of the soul and matter. Great attention is also given in the photographs to the numerous statues decorating the walls of the temple and their narratives, including erotic scenes with figures in different stages of courtship and intimacy.

Of Kornak, the great Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore wrote, “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.”


By repute made for the Governor General of Bengal;
Private collection, UK.


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