One of the five major sects within Hinduism is the Saura cult which revolves around the worship of Sun God.
However, Sun worship in Ancient India had a connection with Iran. According to Bhavisya Purana, it was Magi sun worshipers of Iran who had introduced the formal sun worship in India. Once Sun temples had got built all over India, but most of them have been lost. Among the remaining temples, two most significant are at Modhera in Gujarat and Konark in Odisha.
The Modhera Sun temple is located on the bank of Pushpavati, about 100 km north of Ahmedabad. The temple was built in the 11th century by King Bhimdev of the Solanki dynasty. The temple comprises three separate, axially aligned and integrated elements, Surya Kund, Sabha Mandap and Guda Mandap. The Surya Kund is a large rectangular tank. It was used for storing rain water. It is proportioned with innumerable stone steps leading devotees down to its base. There are 108 miniature shrines surrounding the tank. The prominent sculptures in the tank are of Lord Vishnu, Lord Gannesha and Sitalmata.
Two huge ornamental arches called ‘torana’ forms a gateway to the Sabha Mandapa. The Sabha Mandapa is a magnificent pillar hall having 52 intricately carved pillars, suggesting the 52 weak in a year. The carvings include episodes from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and Krisnaleela.
The sanctum santorium is the main temple designed like a lotus flower. However, it has been badly vandalised and plundered by Mahmud Gazni. The exterior walls have depiction of Sun God along with eight direction deities. The Sun God is shown wearing high boots, an Iranian influence.
The Sun Temple at Konark was built in the 13th century AD. Among all North Indian temples the one that stands unparalleled in terms of both architectural conception and sculptural brilliance is the Sun Temple at Konark. The temple is massive and designed as a chariot of Sun God with 12 pairs of wheels and drawn by 7 horses. It is a monument of epic imagination. The main temple is characterised by a curvilinear tower, which is no more extant.
The Hall of Dance or Nata Mandira is built in front of the jagmohana. It was used for the performance of dance. The roof has collapsed. The Nata Mandira has charming and best specimens of Odishan sculptures.
The exterior walls from the base to the top are embellished with an amazing variety of bold sculptures and delicate carvings. They can be categorised as deities, musicians, daily life, birds, beasts, birds and erotic sculptures. Besides, there are life sized war elephants and horses.
Both Modhera and Konark are unique in their own ways, and together form part of India’s incredible artistic heritage.