Purusottama Jagannath is Purusottama Narasimha

December 21, 2006 at 9:05 am Leave a comment


Dec 20, PURI, ORISSA (WED) — The Supreme Lord of the Universe Jagannath is invariably called Purusottama, and his abode Sriksetra is known as Purastama or Purusottama Ksetra. The deep reverence to Lord Purusottama is found in the very beginning of the invocatory verses of the Sirpur Stone Inscription of the Panduvamsi queen Regent Vasata, who ruled Kosala as dowager queen in the first half of the 8th century A.D. on behalf of her minor son, Balarjuna (later on known as Mahasivagupta Balarjuna). In 1904, Henry Cousens discovered this inscription engraved on a thick red-coloured stone-block around four feet in length and two feet and a half in breadth. This inscription was edited by Hiralal. (Epigraplia Indica, Volume- XI, PP- 184-202 ff).

In the first line itself the queen paid her deep reverence to God Purusottama. (Om! Narasimha Purusottamaya //) The three verses immediately follow, narrating the greatness of the Lord in His Narasimha avatara. The translation by the late Dr. Satya Narayan Rajaguru runs like this:

    (Vr.1) “Let the discus-holder’s foot protect you – the foot whose sharp claws emitted a sound like that of gunji berries (shaken) by the gust of strong winds passing through the long spaces between each other, and (looked) terrific (more so) with the jaws shining with the flame of rays (emanating) from the nails, when they being lifted up, tore through the mass of dark clouds in the sky and revealed the star with pearly brilliance, like a lion who, having overcome that storehouse of darkness; – the elephant, jumps about scattering brilliant pearls (torn from his temples).

    (Vr.2) Let that Narasimha protect you, who looking with eagerness at (his own) nails, for the enemy (Hiranyakasipu) who had not been secured for being torn with these (claws), happened to see him hiding through fear in the cavern-like cavity in the interior of the deep hollow of those (nails), with a laugh (at his foolishness in taking shelter in the place where he could be easily crushed out) joy (at finding him out) and contempt (at the miserable creature) he split the demon at once with the print of the other claw and threw him away with wrath like dirt that had collected there.

    (Vr.3) As if bearing the jaws like a beautiful conch and the tongue like a sword, with the face burning like the discus (and) with the eyebrows (as it carrying) the mace, this form of Vishnu born for devouring, like sins, the demons, presented the appearance of the god of death…”

In the Vayu Purana and Padma Purana we get the account of Narasimha avatara (one among ten avataras of Visnu) killing the demon Hiranyakasipu. In the Kurma Purana also we find the brief account about the Narasimha avatara or the man-lion incarnation of Visnu. The Saura Purana also follows the Kurma Purana in stating a short account.

Noted iconologist T. Gopinatha Rao has found from the texts Silparatna, Vaikhanasagama and Visnudharmottara that the Narasimha images are of two types: Girija-Narasimha and the Sthauna- Narasimha. Girija Narasimha is also called Kevala Narasimha or Yoga Narasimha. A third category of Narasimha image is called Yanaka Narasimha, in which aspect Narasimha is depicted as seated upon the shoulders of Garuda or upon the folds of Adisesa. There are some images depicting the seated figure of Yoga Narasimha and goddess Laksmi. Those are called the images of Laksmi Narasimha.

Although Purusottama Narasimha has been mentioned in the 8th century Sirpur Stone Inscription of the Panduvamsi queen-regent Vasata, the worship of Kevala Narasimha in the upper Mahandi valley was prevalent also in the Nala kingdom in the 5th-6th century A.D. due to the influence of the Vakatakas of Nagavardhana, whose titulary deity (Istadevata) was Kevala Narasimha. Therefore we get three Kavala Narasimha images, one at Podagad in the Umerkot Tahsil of Nawarangpur district and another two at Sarguli-Deulpada and Parua-Simdapada.

In the foot of a hill situated to the north of Podagad hill, a modern temple has been constructed where the image of Kevala Narasimha called the “Bhairava Narasimha” is worshipped as the central deity. Two-handed Narasimha in the pacified form is sitting in a graceful Maharajalila posture, holding a cakra in his right hand by placing it on the ground and putting his left palm on His right thigh. A Hara is round his neck and another on His chest, while a yajnyopabita is on his body. Four front-faced seated Yaksa figures are carved in a row on the pedestal of this image, measuring eighteen inches in length and four inches in breadth. In the Narasimha images at Sarguli and Parua the Yaksa figures are absent.

The Sarguli Kevala Narasimha sculpture is made of black granite. All the three Kevala Narasimha images of Podagad, Sarguli and Parua are two-handed and seated in the majestic Maharajalila posture. The srivatsa symbol is carved on the chest of the Kevala Narasimha image at Parua-Simdapada, which symbol is usually found on the chest-portion of the Visnu image. The lion mane of the Lord is flowing from the head portion on His back as well as both shoulders. His lion face is completely calm and serene.

A huge Kevala Narasimha image of around five feet height is worshipped in the Garbhagrha of a flat-roofed temple at Ramtek near Nagpur city of Maharashtra State, which is strikingly similar to all three Kevala Narasimha images found at Podagad, Sarguli and Parua in the Nawarangpur district of Orissa State. As the temple at Ramtek is dated to the 5th-6th century A.D., i.e. the Vakataka rule from Nagavardhana (present Nagardhan near Nagpur), the worship of Kevala Narasimha might have been instituted by the Vakatakas when they attacked the Nala kingdom, occupied the capital city Pushkari (present Podagad), and burnt down and devastated their capital city some time around the 5th-6th century A.D.

The association of Yaksa with Narasimha is found in another Nrsimha image at Sarsara (Banei) in Sundargarh district also. A huge stone block measuring around 48″ in height and 30″ in breadth is found at Sarsara, having the image of a four-handed standing Narasimha, killing the demon Hiranyakasipu by placing his body on His right thigh, which is slightly raised. The lion-faced god is depicted as cat-faced, which seems to be a peculiar phenomenon in western Orissa. Such a cat-faced, four-handed Narasimha image seated in Maharaja-lila on a high pedestal has been discovered from Maraguda in Nuapada district, which is dated to the 6th century A.D. The cat-faced and lion-bodied feline form of Lord Narasimha is worshipped as the central deity of the Narsinghnath temple in Bargarh district as Lord Narsinghnath. The earliest temple at Narsinghnath is believed to have been built by Queen Vasata, the mother of the Panduvamsi king Mahasivagupta Balarjuna sometime in the second half of the 8th century A.D. The top portion of this Sarsara stone slab bearing the Narasimha image is designed like a Caitya window with a squatting Yaksa figure carved inside it. This design is flanked by two lotus-rosette motifs on both sides.

A specified form of Narasimha figure, four-handed and seated in the Lalitasana, is found at Khariar Museum in Nawapada district of Orissa. It is dated to the Sarabhapuriya period, the 6th century A.D. as it has been collected from the historic Maraguda valley and belongs to the Sarabhapuriya period.

Another place where we get four depictions of Narasimha is in the Narsinghnath temple at Paikmal in the Bargarh district of Orissa. The Yoga Narasimha images, one diminutive image seated in Utkutikasana, worshipped by a profiled male figure in the gelaba scroll of the eastern doorjamb of the Jagamohana, and another one in a small niche in the baranda portion of the southeast side of the vimana. In both the cases, the Lord is seated in the Utkutikasana, the legs being maintained in the required position by the Yogapatta belt going round them and the back of the body.

Another very interesting standing image of Yoga Nrsimha is found at Narsinghnath. To the north of the temple, there is a small room where one four-handed figure of Narasimha is enshrined. It is a pacified form of the Lord known as Yoga Narasimha,” He is standing in Samabhanga and holding a sankha and a cakra in his upper left and right hands respectively. A gada is in the lower left hand of the Lord, which is firmly placed on the pedestal. His lower right hand is in Varada. In both sides of his legs, there are standing figures of two lady attendants. The lady near the Gada, wearing a Mukuta, seems to be Laksmi. The eyes of the Lord are half-closed and Jata forming many stripes is hanging on both shoulders. The strange characteristic of this figure is that there are long boots covering both legs of the Lord up to knee portion. The Lord’s body is heavily ornamented with all ornaments like Hara, Keyura and Katisutra, etc. The figure is of the height of about four feet.

The fourth one is the usual image of Lord Narasimha killing the demon king Hiranyakasipu, which is fitted to the western Parsvadevata niche of the Narsinghnath temple. The lotus-petaled design of the pedestal and the trefoil torana with the Kirtimukha motif in the centre of its apex occur in this sculpture also. In both sides of the top portion there are two round lotus-rosette motifs. The Lord is seen to be standing in Dvibhanga posture and killing the demon by putting his body on his slightly raised right thigh and tearing the entrails of the demon in the claws of his lower hands. A gada is in his raised upper left hand, while the upper right hand is broken. A male figure with Mukuta on his head and both his hands folded in obeisance, probably Prahalad, the son of Hiranyakasipu, is standing in the right side of the pedestal to the proper left of the Lord.

Another exquisitely carved Narasimha image is found in the Jagannath temple at Sonepur, situated near the completely destroyed place of the erstwhile Maharaja (foundetary ruling chief) of Sonepur. The image of Narasimha fitted to the western parsvadevata niche exhibits the scene of lord Narasimha killing the demon king Hiranyakasipu, tearing apart his belly by piercing claws, while both his hands in obeisance, his body is upheld by the Lord on his right thigh which is slightly raised, the leg resting on the toe. The anthromorphic form of Garuda in profile and Prahalad, the son of Hiranyakasipu, also in profile are to the proper right and left of the Lord respectively. They both are seen standing on either side of the pedestal, praying to the Lord with both hands folded in obeisance. Although in this pose Lord Narasimha has usually a fearful appearance, in the case of this figure there prevails a serene calmness on his face and both his eyes are closed. In the upper left and right hands, which are raised up, the Lord is seen holding a sankha and a cakra, respectively. There is an oval-shaped halo forming the prabhamandala behind his head. The mukuta is conical in shape, resembling the top portion of the pidhamundi design. Just above the forehead a thin band of beaded strings with a flower-pendant in the centre is tied on the mukuta. A long vanamala is hanging up to the knee-level from the neck of the Lord. A long scarf is put round the shoulders of Narasimha, and hanging on both sides of his body (OHRJ Vol. XLIV, No.1-4).

Two images, one of four-handed Mahisamardini Durga and the other of Narasimha killing Hiranyakasipu are worshipped on one pedestal inside a triratha temple, built in the laterite stone at Belsaragad in Sundargarh district. The Narasimha cult was so popular in the upper Mahanadi valley that in another small triratha style stone temple at Gandharla, on the right bank of river under in the opposite side of Sindhekela in the Titilagarh sub-division of Balangir district, also till to-day Narasimha is enshrined and worshipped since the 8th century A.D.

We find diminutive figures of Dasavatara (ten incarnations) of Lord Visnu carved in both edges and beneath the feet of two Visnu images found at Saintala. Such depiction of the Avataras, including Narasimha killing Hiranyakasipu, is found carved in both side edges of Visnu images found at Dadpur in Kalahandi district and Kapilapur (Pujaripali) in Jharsuguda district also. The Kapilapur and Dadpur images belong to the 11th-12th century A.D.

The Dasavatara concept became extremely popular all over Orissa by the beautiful composition of Gita-Govinda by Mahakavi Jayadev in the 12th century A.D. Even during the reign of the Chauhans at Sambalpur, they have carved out the Dasavatara of Visnu in both side of the doorjamb of the Garbhagrha of the Radhakrisna temple, inside the Gopalji Math precinct belonging to the 17th century A.D. The images of Nrsimha killing Hiranyakasipu are also found in the Samlei, Bad Jagannath and Radhakrisna temple Parsvadevata niches. The Narasimha image, depicting the god as killing the demon Hiranyakasipu is found carved in the south Raha niche of the upper Jangha portion on the north side of the brick-built, exquisitely sculptured Indralath temple at Ranipur Jharial in Titilagarh subdivision of Balangir district, belonging to the 10th century A.D.

Images of Narasimha killing the demon king Hiranyakasipu are found in the Suvarnameru, Gokarnesvar and Ramesvar temples at Sonepur town, all belonging to the Chauhan period, i.e. 17th -18th century A.D. The Gundicha temple of Sonepur, rising to a height of around sixty feet, is dedicated to Lord Narasimha. An image of Yoga Narasimha is also fitted in its western Parsvadevata niche of this temple. A very interesting image of Yoga Narasimha with his consort Laksmi sitting on his lap is found in the Kunjaghar complex, just in front of the devastated royal palace at Sonepur. There is one independent image of Narasimha under a tree near the Suresvari temple at Sonepur, which might have been enshrined inside a temple in the remote past as the central deity. Broken images of Narasimha killing Hiranyakasipu are also found at Daspur Surda in Balangir district, Topigaon in Kalahandi district and Godhanesvar in Sonepur district, which testifies to the popularity the Lord was enjoying in His Nrsimha Form in the upper Mahanadi valley.

This cult of Narasimha has affinity with Saivism from the iconographic aspect, as suggested by the learned scholar late Anncharlotte Eschmann. “The representation of Lingodbhava, where Siva appears within or from the endless flaming lingam, usually represented as a huge column, resembles the scene of Narasimha bursting out of a pillar.” It was probably such an association which stands behind an image used in the Visnudharmottara Purana, where a devotee worships the Sivalingam until he has a vision of Narasimha appearing from it. (Visnudharmottarapurana, III, 354). Eschmann further writes: “The fact that the imagery of Narasimha has been applied to Bhairava is very interesting in the connection of Hinduization. Bhairava being a popular god, he could have had to ‘lend’ the imagery.”

It is certainly an advantage of the worship of Lord Narasimha that it is simultaneously important in both realms: popular religion and sophisticated theology. It is important to point out that the Kevala Narasimha image of Podagad in Nawarangpur district is worshipped as “Bhairava” by the local tribal populace. In this context, it is very interesting that Lord Jagannath is also worshipped both as Bhairava and Narasimha. In the tantric tradition He is even taken as Daksina Kalika (Niladrou tu Jagannatha Saksat Daksina Kalika Mahanirvana Tantra).

The discovery of the uniconic anthropoid stone images of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra at Tentelkhunti (Balangir district) from underneath a mound (temple ruins) in 2004 testifies to the fact that the Holy Triad were worshipped during the early Somavamsi period, probably by king Yayati.

As for the identification of Lord Jagannath as Narasimha, it has been stated by the noted German scholar H.V. Stietencron that even today, Narasimha plays an important role in the periodical renewal of the wooden Deity form of Jagannath. Jagannath is also worshipped in the Nrsimha Mantra. He further writes. “The worship of Purusottama Narasimha can be traced back to Sirpur in the upper Mahanadi valley, the ancient capital of Daksina Kosala. It is here that during the late Panduvamsi period we find one of the germs which later developed into the composite Jagannath cult of Orissa.

Here it may be noticed only that this development is closely linked with the political fate of the Panduvamsi dynasty which, being driven away from the political center by the Kalachuris, was forced to retreat into largely tribal areas of Bolangir and Sambalpur districts of western Orissa.” “Tantricism and Saktism were powerful rising movements at this period. These popular trends could to some extent be incorporated into the Vaisnava creed by means of the Narasimha cult. On the whole, however, Visnuism was slow and reluctant to adjust itself to Tantric requirements. Therefore, from the 8th to the 12th century, the general trend was in favour of Saivism, which was unrestrictedly free to accept or to promote Tantric and Sakta developments, and which even absorbed Tantric Buddhim to a large extent”. (Stietencron : 12-13) We also find early mention of the terminology “Jagannath” in the Jnanasiddhi, composed by the tantrik Buddhist (Vajrayana) king Indrabhuti of Samalaka.

Scholars are yet to identify exactly who Indrabhti was and what was the extent of his kingdom, as we lack historical, inscriptional or textual evidences. But this much we know — that Indrabhuti’s kingdom was situated on the bank of river Mahanadi. While going through the Oriya history book, titled ‘Anugola Itihas’, this scholar has come across seven tribal chiefs (dalapati) ruling over the Angul area in the 8th-10th century A.D., the first and last dalapatis being Indra and Anu.

As in the Samal area of Angul district there is a place called Vajrakot or Vajrakotta this place might have some connection with Vajrayana or the Tantrik Buddhism, as we get a large number images of gods and goddesses of Vajrayana in the Talcher, Angul, Rengali, Vajrakot, Riamal and Barkot (Deogarh) area, which were probably under the rule of Indra dalapati in the 8th century A.D. A few years back also explorers have come across a huge brick mound called Baisipahacha in the Angul area near Odsingia village (Odrasringa of the historical fame), on the left bank of river Mahanadi. Therefore this scholar believes that the kingdom of Indra was situated in between the right bank of Brahmani river and left bank of Mahanadi upto Sambalpur town.

This Indra was Indrabhuti, whose daughter Laksmikara was married to the son of the king of Sonepur. Laksmikara propagated Sahajayane, another form of Tantrik Buddhism and is treated as one among the Chaurasi Siddhas of Tantrik Buddhism. This Sahajayana of Laksmikara might have influenced the Sahajia sect in the later period. Most probably it is during the 8th century that Purusottama Narasimha got amalgamated with Lord Jagannath, the Supreme God of the Samala or Sambala kingdom of Indrabhuti, and popularly came to be known as Purusottama Jagannath.

The Indradyumna episode is so significant that sometimes Indradyumna, Indrabhuti and Indra Dalapati seem to be the same personality. But the fact that Indradyumna was a king of Malava and belonged to the dynasty of the Pandava, although Indrabhuti, the king of Samala were of all together different origins. While attempting to identify Indradyumna of Malava, the name of one celebrated king comes to mind of this writer, i.e. Shri Maharaja Indra, or Bharatavala of the Pandava dynasty, son of Nagavala and grandson of Vatsaraja, grand-son of Jayavala of Mekala. He was ruling sometime in the 5th century A.D., and might be identified with Indradyumna, who sent his Brahmin Minister Vidyapati to look for Lord Jagannath. As this king Indrabala was married to Lokaprakasa, the daughter (princess) of the Amararyakula of South Kosala kings, of which dynasty were great Bhagavata (Parama Bhagavata), he might have been allured to look for the great Lord Jagannath in Odra.


1. T.A. Gopinatha Rao, Elements of Hindu Iconography, Vol.I, Part-I, Indological Book House, Varanasi, 2nd Edition, 1971.
2. Jitendra Nath Banerjee, The Development of Hindu Iconography, Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt. Ltd., Delhi, 3rd Edition, 1974.
3. R.S. Gupta, Iconography of the Hindus, Buddhists and Jains, D.B. Taraporevala Sons & Co. Pvt. Ltd., Bombay (Mumbai), 1972.
4. Anncharlott Eschmann, Hermann Kulke and Gaya Charan Tripathy (Ed), The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa, Manohar Publications, New Delhi, 2nd Printing, 1986.
5. S.R. Nema, Political History of the Somavamsi Kings of South Kosala and Orissa, Oriental Publishers and Distributors, New Delhi, 1978.
6. Satyanarayan Rajaguru, Inscriptions of Orissa, Vol.IV, Orissa State Musum, Bhubaneswar, 1966.
7. Satrughna Mishra, Anugola Itihas, Sri Sri Jagannath Mandir Parichalana Samiti, Angul, 1997.
8. Thomas E. Donaldson, Hindu Temple Art of Orissa, Vol.I, E.J. Brill, Leiden, 1985.
9. Donaldson, Ibid, Vol.III, 1987.
10. The Orissa Historical Research Journal (Hereafter O.H.R.J.), Vol.XXXV, No.3 & 4, Bhubaneswar.
11. O.H.R.J., Vol.XXXVIII, No.1-4, Bhubaneswar.
12. O.H.R.J. Vol.XL, No.1-4, Bhubaneswar.
13. Orissa Review, Vol.LII, No.9, Bhubaneswar, April, 1996.
14. Orissa Review, Vol.LIV, No.9, Bhubaneswar, April, 1998.
15. O.H.R.J., Vol.XLVI, No.1, Bhubaneswar, 2003. The researcher lives at VR-23, Unit-6, Bhubaneswar

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