The Jagannath Temple

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Size: 12 x 13.5 inches
Medium: Pigments and Lacquer on Cotton Cloth
Period: circa 1900s
Origin: Orissa, Puri district


Puri painting, one of India’s oldest popular iconic traditions, is associated with the regional cult of Jagannatha, a manifestation of the god Vishnu, and with the ancient pilgrimage centre of Puri in Orissa on the eastern coast of India on the Bay of Bengal, where the cult took hold. The cult evolved from a synthesis of local tribal gods and Hindu deities worshipped today as Jagannatha, Balabhadra, and Subhadra. Jagannatha, literally meaning “Lord of the World” is a form of Krishna, the eighth incarnation of Vishnu. Balabhadra is Balarama, the seventh incarnation of Vishnu and Subhadra is Krishna’s sister. The painting tradition evolved to serve the cult, with painters playing an important role by performing certain tasks at particular times in the elaborate cycle of rituals.
This complex image is a conceptual map of the great Jagannatha temple at Puri and other sacred sites in the temple town. This type of composition is locally known as the shankhalavi pati (sacred places painting) and was produced for pilgrims to carry home for display and private worship of the Jagannatha trinity. It also created a visual aid to remembering and renewing the entire pilgrimage experience. The visual metaphor of the shell is used by the artist to effectively include sacred (and secular) scenes and sites beyond the walls of the temple compound.
The Jagannatha temple complex dominates the diagram, showing the central shrine midway up a slender shikhara or tower. The two male figures, Jagannatha and Balabhadra are shown dancing with raised yellow wing-like ‘arms’ and the female Subhadra standing between them. The composition imaginatively combines both floor plans and elevations of the temple structure, with eye-level views of the multitude of activities taking place within the compartmentalised architectural spaces. In the panel immediately below the sanctuary are three tribal priests, with hands joined in prayer, individually worshiping within small shrines. At the base of the temple is represented a pair of leogryphs, indicating the Lion Gates flank a midget image of Jagannatha, enclosed in a shrine visible to untouchables.
Represented around the sanctuary are four panels with Shiva and Hanuman to the right, and Brahma and Garuda to the left. Ten smaller panels, five on either side arranged vertically depict the dashavatars (ten incarnations) of Vishnu, Jagganatha replacing Buddha as the ninth avatar. Flanking the temple shikhara (spire) at the top are two panels with the lingam and yoni flanked by ritual lamps on the left, and a midget deity flanked by ritual lamps on the right. A narrow border of abstracted white lotuses frames the image.
The painting is made using opaque, water based pigments and lacquer on cotton cloth. The size of the artwork is 12 x 13.5 inches without frame, and 19.5 x 21 inches with the frame.