Cosmic Geography of Puri Temple. A Sankhalavi Pata depicting the sacred geography of Puri


Kalakriti Archives

Kalakriti Archives
Hyderabad, India

These are symbolic representations of the ritual topography of city-temples. So significant are these places in the Hindu world that they are often referred to as tirthas or divine ‘crossings’. Presented here are rare and early examples of pilgrimage souvenirs painted by the hereditary citrakaras or painters associated with the great temple of Jagannath at Puri in Orissa in eastern India. Patas (Entry A) of this type are almost impossible to date accurately, but the vigour of the line, the colours and the state of the painting suggest a possible date in the third quarter of the nineteenth century. The earliest known by far is one in the Victoria and Albert Museum dated 1670. Sankhalavi pata is a layout that envisages the sacred area of Puri being in the shape of Visnu’s conch or sankha with the temple at its heart, here with its head to the north and its tip to the south. The layout of the conch is variable in all these examples.

Jagannatha is ‘Lord of the World,’ a form of Krishna worshipped at the famous shrine at Puri together with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadra. All three of the images are more stumps, but those of Jagannatha and Balabhadra also have projections functioning as arms. The cult is an example of the characteristic ability of Hinduism to absorb popular local or even tribal cults into the mainstream. The present great temple at Puri was built by Anantavarman Chodagangadeva in the twelfth century to house these images that on account of the exigencies of the rituals to which they are subjected are regularly repainted and renewed by hereditary castes of painters, who are also responsible for painting the
anavasara patas or painted representations placed in the shrine when the main divinities are taken out.
In the centre of the pata are (left to right) the images of Balabhadra, Subhadra and Jagannatha as housed within the vimana of the great temple at Puri, whose chief mandapa or jaganmohan as it is called in Orissa together with the temple sikara (tower) behind are shown schematically. The stump of the Sudarsanacakra or Visnu’s discus that is also present in the shrine is not represented. The two temple towers to the left represent the other two sacred chambers of the temple, here positioned at right angles rather than axially as they are in fact, i.e. the natamandira and the bhogamandira with Garuda on his column and the worshipping Raja of Puri (responsible for the administration of the temple). The images’ faces are depicted as painted on their actual iconic forms, but here they are given limbs – four arms each in the case of the two male divinities, and two for Subhadra – Balabhadra and Subhadra are dancing while Jagannatha is seated cross-legged on a throne. Similarly to Srinathji at Nathdwara, the images at Puri change their garments many times a day and wear different garments (vesa) for different festivals. Here they are depicted as they are dressed for Jagannatha’s ritual appearance as Raghunatha or Visnu’s avatar as Rama.
Within the rectangular enclosure wall of the temple are depicted many of the different shrines and their divinities that make up the surroundings of the massive complex In addition to various images of Krishna either as Jagannatha or in more human form, and to other aspects of Visnu, there are temples to Siva with sivalingas, Ganesa and many goddesses. On the left the standing lay figure in adoration is the ‘Raja of Puri’ who is the hereditary guardian of the shrine. The Rajas of Khurda, last descendants of Orissa’s Hindu ruling dynasties, fulfilled this office from 1807 under the British administration. Behind him is the Garudastambha or pillar surmounted by Garuda, Visnu’s eagle mount, placed in the Natamandira. Below we see some of the activities in the vast kitchens that feed the gods and the pilgrims – servants carry bhoga the ritual offerings up the steps to the temple, while from the kitchen runs the drain through the perimeter wall into the ocean. Right up at the top within the wall are four of the ten avatars of Visnu (fish, tortoise, boar, man-lion) that are continued across on the right side (dwarf, Parashurama, Rama and Kalki with his horse). Six of them are represented again in the shrines to the right of the main complex with this time a four-armed Buddha and Krishna himself added. These represent the actual shrines of the various parsvadevatas, the sculptured images adorning the walls of the vimana. Underneath the main images are scenes of priests performing arati (circling the images with a ritual flame while ringing a bell) with piles of sweetmeats offered as bhoga, while below are the painted anavasara images that take the place of the main idols when they are taken annually for their bathing and chariot festivals and the subsequent repainting. The painted images are more human-like than the actual idols. At the very bottom is the enshrined image of Jagannatha as Patitapabana or Lord of the Fallen, where untouchables worship at the main eastern gate of the temple, and on either side the lions that guard it. To the right the images are being bathed, that happens every year on the full moon day of the month Jyestha (May/June) when the images are carried from the shrine and placed on a platform here where they can be seen from outside the wall. The images are then repainted while their anavasara replacements are placed in the shrine, immediately prior to the great Car Festival starting the second day of the bright half of the month Asadha (June/July).

Outside the main temple enclosure the lobes of the conch indicate the extent of the sacred geography of Puri. In the centre on the left are representations of the three divinities being taken in their manywheeled chariots in the great Rathayatra procession with the Sudarsanacakra (a stump representing Visnu’s discus) also represented. Above is represented a dancing Krishna with cowherds and the Kumara or Sudarsana utsava, a festival especially for the Sudarsana representation. Below are further representations of other temples in the town. On the right are representations of the main idols in other shrines, including the Jagannatha triad now placed in the Gundica temple, the objective of the annual chariot procession. Below is indicated the Chandanyatra or Sandal festival when Madan Mohan representing Jagannatha accompanied by Lakshmi and Sarasvati is placed in a boat in the Narendra lake followed by another boat with five sivalingams representing the five Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata. At the top the reclining figure seems to be another representation of the Raja of Puri. Outside the lobes of the conch are a procession of pilgrims continuing across to the other side and a representation of the 18-arched Atharanala bridge over the river Bhargavi that all have to cross when approaching Puri. Unusually in our pata the temple tower is being daringly scaled and from the top men wave what appear to be lamps – they would seem to be guiding in, no doubt at night, this party of pilgrims.

Narrative episodes are suggested in the four corners. These are unfortunately somewhat damaged, but they are probably by a different and superior artist to the main body of the work. Their line is much tighter and livelier. In the top left corner is represented the Kanchi avijana when the Raja of Puri on his elephant went off to fight the Raja of Kanchi in the south to force him to give him his daughter and the Jagannatha and Balabhadra went along on horseback as well - on the way they meet the milkmaid Manika who gives them curd to drink as depicted here. In the top right corner is represented Rama (mounted on Hanuman), the other principal avatar of Visnu, and his brother Laksmana (on another monkey) and his bear and monkey allies defeating Ravana. In the bottom right is the elephant lord Gajendra, who prayed to Visnu for help when caught by his foot by a crocodile, while above Visnu mounted on Garuda is flying to assist him. To the right is indicated a mountain-top temple with an image of the Goddess. In the bottom left is the ocean with a large boat and what appears to be a representation of the Goddess killing the buffalo demon in a mountain-top temple along with a dancing Krishna.


  • Title: Cosmic Geography of Puri Temple. A Sankhalavi Pata depicting the sacred geography of Puri
  • Date Created: 1850/1875
  • Date Published: 1875
  • Physical Dimensions: 83 x 137 cm
  • Type: Map
  • Medium: Gouache on cloth

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