Sri Nrsimha Worship in Puri, Part Three

BY: PROF. PURNA C. MOHAPATRA

Sri Sri Prahlada Narasimha


Jul 23, 2012 — JAGANNATHA PURI, ORISSA (SUN) — The last in a three-part exploration of the worship of Lord Nrsimhadev in Jagannath Puri.


Lord Nrsimhadev's Associations with the Shaiva and Jagannath Cults

Traditionally, seven Sahis (avenues) of Puri were set up encircling Sri Jagannath Temple with a view to have Sevas of the Lord and to protect the shrine during times of crises. Each Sahi has an akhada (center). Under each of the akhadas there are some jagaghars (training centers). These jagaghars are the centre of physical and cultural training like kusti (wrestling), Oddisi song, Oddisi dance, Gotipua dance, and special Jaga Sangeetas under reputed gurus.

The term "jaga" in Oriya connotes a "place" like jagar of Himachal Pradesh. These jagagharas in Puri are the genuine centres of cultural awakening at the grass root level. Considering from this angle it may not be out of place to state that the term jaga is derived from the word "jagarana", which means to keep awake. The members of these jagagharas worship Hanuman (Mahavir) and Narasimha as the sources of power and strength. Even some jagas have been named after Lord Narasimha, like Narasimha Ballav and Nrsingha Ghar.

Narasimha is also associated with Saivism, as has been analysed by Eshmann. She states that the representation of Lingodbhava, where Siva appeared from the endless flaming Lingam, is usually represented as a huge column resembling the sense of Narasimha bursting out of the pillar. To support her view, we find a description in Vishnudhramottar Purana pointing to the face of Narasimha and manes surrounded with flames.

The flaming Lingam of Saivism and the flaming manes of Narasimha cult have close affinity. Eschmann has also stated another story from Visnudhramottar Purana where a devotee worships the Lingam until he has a vision of Narasimha appearing from it. This connection is represented in one of the early Siva temples in Orissa, near Baramba called Simhanath. The figure of Simhanath is carved on the front entrance. A standing human figure with a lion head holding a trident is locally known as Simhanath. This speaks of Siva-Narasimha or Siva incorporating Narasimha.

The panels of Bhimeswar and Madhukeswar temples at Mukhalingam contain Narasimha images. In the Lingaraj temple premises there is a Laxmi-Narasimha image. At the Manibhadreswar temple at Bhubaneswar and Nilakantheswar temple at Denua, Sri Narasimha is the Parswadevata. In Puri, the association of Narasimha with Siva is intimately noticed. Near all the Narasimha temples, there are Siva temples. Near Chakra Narasimha temple, there is Panchabati Siva temple. Similarly, near Pandu Narasimha temple, there is Jameswar temple, and inside the Jagamohan of Jameswar temple there is the image of Narasimha. In the temples of Lokanath and Kapalalochana, the images of Narasimha are there.

A Narasimha image was found in the earth while the digging of the compound at Grameswar Siva temple in Kanchi Sasana was going on. The beautiful image was made of chlorite. Another interesting feature of this Siva temple is that there is a Narayan image at the right door-jamb as Dwarapala. Another peculiarity of this temple is that animal sacrifice was given during Dasahara every year at the sanctum of this Siva temple. This shows the close association of tantricism [a degeneration of Vaishnavism].

Another resemblance between Lord Narasimha and Siva is the Ugra form. The Vidarana Narasimha is Ugra as Lokanath of Puri, on whose name the local people fear to take vow. In some Puranas, Siva is Kirtimukha. In some Narasimha images there is Kirtimukha. Ananta is sometimes described as Sankarsana or Siva, as well as Narasimha. Eschmann has rightly pointed out a Saiva element in Narasimha which probably also led to his worship as a tutelary god of the latter Gangas.

H.V. Stetencorn narrated that in western Orissa, people give more emphasis to the Narasimha aspect of Visnu and the trend was finally found in the Jagannath cult of Puri. G.C. Tripathy has tressed the Tantric element, which instigated the devolvement of the Narasimha cult from Vaisnavism. They see some affinity between Lord Jagannath's body and the Lord Narasimha's appearance from the pillar. Eschmann has postulated that the head of Lord Jagannath may be symbolic of a lion head, with the Lord's round eyes being typical features of Lord Narasimha's. According to Indradyumna legend, the satiated god assumed the form of Saumya Narasimha with chakra and bow in His uplifted hands, with His two main hands on the knees. Balabhadra covers the head of Narasimha with a thousand hoods.

Narasimha is the guardian Deity of the temple and all the performances, from cooking to puja, are preceded by offering to Lord Narasimha first. The initiation by a new servitor (sadhibandha) starts with worshipping the Khamba Narasimha (image of Laxmi-Narasimha) on the first pillar of Jagamohana. The Palia Pujapanda sits at this pillar and offers the bhoga of the public to Narasimha, then to the Lord, and at the time of pahuda (door-closed), offerings are also given here.

Lord Narasimha is described as the protector of Lord Jagannath, and the protector of Nandighosha chariot. It is customary that a wooden image of Narasimha after due ritual (rath-pratistha), completed by the deula-purohit, the only strotriya Brahmin servitor of the temple, is to be brought with proper procession with bijekahali and other vadyas to the chariots (Hanuman and Bhubaneswari for Balabhadra and Subhadra, respectively).

Lord Narasimha is also one of the nine parswadevatas of the said chariot. In the Nabakalebara the role of Lord Narasimha is indispensable. The new images of the Lords are to be consecrated in presence of Narasimha and trees selected for image making are to be cut also in the presence of Narasimha. These rituals are called as banajaga.


Sri Nrsimha Pada


In all these above rituals, Mantraraja, the Mantra of Lord Narasimha, are only to be recited by the Brahmins. Yajna- Narasimha is associated in the process of the journey of the logs of the Lord. Narasimha is one of the Vesas of the Lord on the 13th day of the month of Kartik and Lord Jagannatha is worshipped as Narasimha on the 14th day of lunar fortnight of the month of Vaishakha (Narasimha Chaturdasi).

Angyamala (garland) of the Lord is taken on this day to Chakra Narasimha for His birthday-celebration. The birthday celebration of Narasimha is celebrated at the temple of Narasimha, near Muktimandap. On the said day, Lord Narasimha's image (from Dakhinighar) visits Jagannath Ballav Math. On the 9th day of the lunar fortnight of the month of Srabana and the 14th day of lunar fortnight of the month of Margasira, Laxmi-Narasimha move around the city.

Lord Narasimha is treated as the embodiment of valour and energy. Sometimes Sudarsan is linked with Narasimha. Sudarsan is the Ugra aspect and the working force. Similarly, Narasimha is the Ugra form of Visnu. When Sudarsan is consecrated, it is recited that he belongs to Narasimha group. Representation in sculpture is made on the combined aspect of Narasimha and Sudarsan. Sudarsan in the form of the wheel is found at the back of the image of Narasimha in the sculpture Chakra Narasimha. Sudarsan is the moveable image of Narasimha. It is claimed by scholars that Jagannath and Narasimha are inseparable, and all the four Deities of Jagannath pantheon are linked intimately with Narasimha: Balabhadra as Ananta, Subhadra as post, Sudarsan as fury and Jagannath as Narasimha, speak the story of intimacy of Narasimha in Jagannath consciousness.

The Narasimha sculptureS found at Puri are two-armed to twenty-armed images. Important among them are the Garuda-tosana Narasimha, eight-armed Pandu Narasimha, Narasimha sitting on Garuda. All the parswadevatas are in vidarana posture. These images are made of different varieties of stones, but chlorite is common. Metal images of the jagagharas and maths are of astadhatu. Some of these institutions worship the salagramas with Narasimha, chakra and sankha drawn upon them, and are also called Chitra Narasimha.

It is unique in Puri that the amalgamation of several cults are found here. This includes safely the Narasimha Upasana. The most common images of Lord Narasimha found in Puri are Laxmi-Narasimha in utkurita posture. The Ugra aspect of the Deity is not there, rather it represents elements in the character of Purusottama.


Adapted from an article by Professor Mohapatra in 'Orissa Review'.


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