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Introduction | Jagannath | the Epics | Gods and Goddesses | Folklore and Erotic Themes | References
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Pata-Chitras of Orissa:
An Illustration of Some Common Themes

by Bernard Cesarone

click on small images for large images with captions

II. Themes Related to Jagannath

A large number of pata-chitras have been devoted to the god Jagannath. To better appreciate these paintings, it may help to know a little about the images in the Jagannath temple in Puri. The statues of the Jagannath triad are, according to the scholarly jargon, "aniconic." They are abstract figures with very dominant faces and the absence of any lower limbs. The figure of Subhadra also lacks arms. The three figures are carved from neem wood. The deities stand on a platform in the sanctum of the temple, Balabhadra on the (viewer's) left, Subhadra in the middle, Jagannath on the right. To the right of Jagannath is the sudarsana chakra, a postlike structure that may have originated in processional Siva lingas, but that also has some parallels in pillars seen in orthodox Vaishnava contexts, in folk settings, and in tribal areas.12

The image of Balabhadra in the Puri temple is approximately 6 feet tall. Balabhadra's face is white, his eyes are oval-shaped, and his stumplike arms are at eye level. The Subhadra statue is yellow and stands about 5 feet tall. The goddess's eyes are also oval. Jagannath, like Balabhadra, is 6 feet tall. His color is black and his eyes are round and large. The sudarsana chakra is approximately the same height as the two male deities. It is red in color.13

1. Wood statues of the Jagannath triad

While discussing the statues in the Jagannath temple, let us deviate slightly from the chitrakaras and pata-chitras to note that in the vicinity of the Puri temple or in nearby Raghurajpur, wood carvers produce painted images of the three deities for pilgrims. Some of these wooden deities may be used in home altars or shrines. Figures 5 through 7 and Figures 8 through 10 illustrate two sets of carvings of the Jagannath triad.

Figure 5.

Figure 6.

Figure 7.

In the first set of carvings, the deities are shown in bada-singhara vesha, which is the "dress" of the gods at the end of the day (veshas will be discussed in greater detail below), in which they are adorned with a silk cloth and decorated with flowers. Here we see the red-and-green garlands of flowers. Balabhadra is shown with a white face, oval-shaped eyes, stump arms just below eye level, and a snake's head on top of his own head. As mentioned in the introduction, Balabhadra is identified with Balarama, who himself is identified with the snake god Ananta; hence the iconography of the snake's head. In the carving of Subhadra, note the yellow face, oval-shaped eyes, and absence of arms. And in the third carving, note Jagannath's black face, prominent round eyes, and stump arms just below eye level.
Figure 8.

Figure 9.

Figure 10.



Wood Temple
Figure 11a.

Temple with Jagannath 
deities; doors closed.
Wood Temple
Figure 11b.

Temple with Jagannath 
deities; doors opened.

In the second set of pictures, note the same characteristics for each of the three deities. Besides these images of the individual deities, small wooden altars are also constructed that mimic the sanctum and the tower of the Puri temple. These carvings may contain small images of the triad. Figures 11a. and 11b. shows such a wooden altar.


Thus, these wooden figures are meant to resemble the temple's images and to remind the devotees of the gods whose darshan (viewing) they received while visiting Puri, thereby stimulating their devotion upon their return home. The same function is true for the pictures of the Puri triad in the Jagannath patas we will now examine.

2. Veshas of Jagannath

During the course of the day's ritual activities in the Jagannath temple in Puri, the god Jagannath (as also his siblings) is dressed in various ornaments and clothing. The term vesha (dress, costume) is used to describe these presentations of the deity. On particular feast days or occasions, special veshas may also be used.14 In pata-chitras, the Jagannath trinity is painted in some of the veshas.

Bada-singhara vesha

The bada-singhara vesha is the most elaborate costume of the day, which occurs just before the deities are put to bed around 10:30 p.m. In this dress, the three deities wear silk cloths on which the text of the Gita Govinda (a poem cycle by the medieval poet Jayadeva that celebrates the love of Krishna and Radha) is written. They are also garlanded with flowers. This is the vesha most commonly depicted by the chitrakaras.15

Pata chitra. Jagannath triad.
Figure 12.

Balabhadra, Subhadra, and 
Jagannath in bada-singhara vesha.

The Jagannath pata shown in Figure 12 represents the deities in bada-singhara vesha in the inner sanctum of the Puri temple. This is the same vesha which is depicted in the wood carvings above. Balabhadra is white with oval eyes; Subhadra, yellow with oval eyes; Jagannath, black with round eyes. The male deities have stump arms. The deities are garlanded with flowers as part of this vesha. To the proper left of Jagannath (viewer's right) is the sudarsana chakra, postlike with a chakra or wheel on top. The deities are standing between two pillars. The painting uses the traditional red background and has a double border, an outer border with a wavy leaf design, and an inner narrow border with a floral design.

Gaja uddharana vesha

Sometimes Jagannath is depicted in a particular role. He may be identified with one of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, such as Narasimha, in which form Vishnu slew the demon Hiranyakasipu. Or he may be depicted as the spouse of Lakshmi. Or Jagannath may be shown in one of the incidents from the life of Krishna, such as the kaliya dalan episode in which Krishna subdued the snake demon Kaliya.

In Figure 13, Jagannath is shown as the rescuer of an elephant. This is his gaja uddharana vesha, or "elephant-rescuing dress." This vesha refers to the story in which an elephant was seized by a crocodile. The elephant prayed to Vishnu and the god came to his rescue.16

Pata chitra. Jagannath triad.
Figure 13.

Balabhadra, Subhadra, and 
Jagannath in gaja-uddharana vesha.

This painting shows Jagannath in gaja uddharana vesha, or the "elephant-rescuing dress," accompanied by his two siblings. The act of rescuing the elephant was performed by Vishnu, with whom Jagannath is here equated. Each of the deities is crowned and stands on a lotus pedestal. Beneath Jagannath is shown the scene of the crocodile seizing the elephant. The male deities are four-armed and dressed in yellow garments. The two-armed Subhadra wears a dark green garment. The background of the painting is a sort of peach color. The painting has the common double border, the outer and wider border with its wavy leaf design; the inner and narrower, with the stylized floral design.


3. Scenes from the mythology of Jagannath

Kanchi avijana

One of the most popular stories related to Jagannath is that of kanchi avijana (or journey to Kanchi, sometimes called Kanchi-Kaveri). According to this story, the daughter of the Raja of Kanchi was betrothed to the Raja of Puri. That year, the Raja of Kanchi came to Puri to pray to the Lord in the Jagannath temple on the occasion of the annual ratha yatra (car festival). Now, the Raja of Puri was a servant of Lord Jagannath and, as part of his service at the time of the festival, he was sweeping the area where the chariots were kept. When the Raja of Kanchi entered the temple precinct and saw this occupation of his future son-in-law, he became enraged. He returned home and sent back word that he would certainly not give the hand of his daughter in marriage to one who performs the vile work meant for an untouchable. The Raja of Puri, on his part, was deeply insulted at the retraction of a wedding arrangement. He attacked the kingdom of Kanchi, but he was soundly repulsed.

Pedi - kanchi avijana
Figure 14.
Kanchi avijana.

The Raja of Puri returned home, defeated. He prayed to the deities of the Puri temple. Moved by the prayer of their devotee, Jagannath and his brother Balabhadra, unknown to the Raja, left their places in the temple and undertook a horseback journey to Kanchi. On the road, they grew thirsty and chanced upon the milkmaid Manika, who gave them milk to quench their thirsts. In return, they gave her a ring. Later, the Raja himself passed by with his army. When he learned from Manika what had happened, he understood from seeing the ring that the two horsemen were Jagannath and Balabhadra and that the deities had answered his prayer. He proceeded to Kanchi and subsequently conquered that kingdom and brought back the princess to be his bride.17

The picture in Figure 14 above, shows Manika with a pot of milk balanced upon her head. The light-skinned Balabhadra, riding a black stallion, offers a finger ring to the girl, who is extending her hand to receive it. The dark-skinned Jagannath follows behind on a white stallion. Both deities carry lances. Stylized vegetation is present on the ground. The picture has the traditional red background. The common double border is present. The wider, external border consists of two horizontal bands of a wavy leaf design and two vertical bands, each of which shows a stylized tree. This picture is somewhat worse for wear, as some of the paint has been lost.

Figure 15.

Pedi (dowry box); scene of 
Krishna lifting Mt. Govardhan.

As noted in the caption to Figure 14, this pata-chitra is attached to a pedi, or dowry box. Figure 15 shows a larger view of this dowry box. The facing picture is an illustration of the scene of Krishna lifting Mt. Govardhana. Above that scene is a female drummer. For many of these dowry boxes, each side of the box, as well as each section of the pyramid-shaped cover, includes a painted scene, typically from the life of Krishna or Rama. These pictures are often done painted on cloth—a typical pata-chitra—and are then pasted on to the wooden surface.18 Such is the case with this particular pedi.

Badhia paintings

A very common and traditional type of pata-chitra is the badhia painting. This motif is more or less a schematic representation of the Jagannath temple in Puri. The larger the painting, the more details of the temple complex are included in the picture. Scenes from various festivals in the yearlong series of religious events are also included in the badhia. When the badhia is oriented vertically, it is called a thia-badhia.

There are some typical elements of badhia paintings. Most typical is the central tower of the temple in which are placed the triad of deities. Also within the tower space is the Garuda pillar with Siva and Brahma facing it. At the top of the painting is a dasavatara scene, or a depiction of the ten incarnations of Vishnu. The panels that run down the sides of the painting depict various scenes from the mythology of Jagannath, Rama, or Krishna; or they highlight various festivals within the temple. The panels at the bottom of the painting show scenes from festivals, such as the car festival. They may also show the lions at the lion gate and a fish swimming in the sea, indicating the Bay of Bengal.19

Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16.


The thia-badhia depicted in Figure 16 was painted by the wife of Jagannath Mahapatra of Raghurajpur. So this author was informed by Sudarsan Mahapatra, Jagannath's son during a visit to Raghurajpur in 1999. Jagannath Mahapatra, who passed away in the late '90s, was an award-winning painter and one of the best-known chitrakaras in his village and in all of Orissa. His studio, shown in Figure 17 below, is now run by his son.


Jagannath Mahapatra studio
Figure 17.

Jagannath Mahapatra studio

This particular pata-chitra shows many of the typical scenes of a badhia painting. In the middle of the painting, rising vertically, is the main shikhara, or tower, of the Jagannath temple in Puri, in which reside Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Jagannath (from left to right). To the (viewer's) right of Jagannath is the sudarsana chakra. The deities are garlanded in their end-of-the-day bada-singhara vesha. Immediately below the deities are priests performing worship. (See Figure 16b. below.)

To either side of the main tower are subsidiary towers in which stand Siva (on the left side, wearing a snake headdress) and Brahma (on the right side, four-faced). These two deities are making obeisance with folded hands. This would typically be to the Garuda pillar, which in this painting is to the left of Siva. That subsidiary tower shows a pillar on which sits the eagle Garuda, the bird upon whom Vishnu rides. Opposite the Garuda pillar, on the far edge of the painting, is a figure who may represent the King of Puri making obeisance to the pillar.20 (See Figures 16a. and 16c. below.)


Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16a.

Siva; Garuda pillar; Rama
Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16b.

Balabhadra, Subhadra, Jagannath
Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16c.

Brahma; "magic deer"

To the left of Siva and right of Brahma is a separated scene. Rama (in green) is hunting the magic deer (fleeing on the right). This represents an episode from the Ramayana in which a demon took the form of a deer to enchant Sita, Rama's wife, as a prelude to abducting her. (See Figures 16a. and 16c. above)

At the top of the painting, in an arc above the temple tower, are the dasavataras, or ten incarnations of Vishnu. Although they are not all identifiable in this sketchy presentation, they are, from left to right: (1) matsyavatar, or the fish avatar, with a human torso above a fish body; (2) kurmavatar, or the tortoise avatar, likewise with a human torso above the animal body; (3) varaha avatar, or the boar avatar; (4) nara-simha, the half-man, half-lion incarnation; (5) bala, the dwarf; (6) Parasurama, a warrior; (7) Rama, hero of the epic Ramayana, who is often painted green in pata-chitras; (8) Balarama, the brother of Krishna; (9) Jagannath himself, who often, in Orissan painting traditions, takes the place of Buddha, the ninth incarnation; and (10) Kalki, who will come at the end of the world to bring about the dissolution of the universe; Kalki is usually represented by a rider on a horse, but he is sometimes—as here—indicated merely by the horse (in this case, a somewhat sketchily rendered horse!). (See Figure 16e. below)

To the left of the arc of avatars is the Kanchi-avijana scene in which Balabhadra and Jagannath are receiving a drink from the milkmaid Manika. Beneath this scene is one of Vishnu asleep on the cosmic ocean. To the right of the dasavataras are Rama (in green) and his brother Lakshmana (in yellow) battling Ravana, the multi-headed demon king of Lanka. Below this battle scene is a row of monkeys in the army of Hanuman, who supported Rama in his war against Ravana. (See Figures 16d. and 16f. below)

Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16d.

Kanchi avijana; Vishnu
Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16e.

Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16f.

Lakshmana, Rama, Ravana; monkey army

In the center of the bottom horizontal panel is a depiction of the Lion Gate at the eastern entrance to the temple complex. The pillar in front of the gate is shown, as well as Patita-pavana, or Jagannath in his form as "Lord of the fallen." To the right of this scene is the seashore with a fish swimming in the Bay of Bengal. This identifies Puri as a seaside town, though the Jagannath temple itself is a few kilometers from the sea. (See Figures 16g. and 16h.below)

Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16g.


The other scenes in the bottom two rows show various festivals at the Jagannath temple. At the left of the row above the bottommost is a representation of the Puri temple kitchen,21 a huge room, from which thousands of devotees are served daily. Moving to the right, the next scene is a pahandi, or the act of moving the three deities to their respective rathas, or cars, at the time of the ratha yatra, or car festival.22 Then, after the picture of a devotee (or priest) and a lion, is a scene of the snana yatra (bathing festival). This is the festival on the full moon day of Jyestha (May-June) just before the ratha yatra. The deities (as well as the sudarsana chakra) are carried outside the temple to a bathing platform in the temple complex, where water is poured on them. The chitrakara paints four inverted lotus flowers on the wall behind the deities and the sudarsana chakra at the bathing area. The scene in this painting shows the three lotuses that are related to Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Jagannath. (See Figures 16g. and 16h.)

Pata-chitra. Badhia.
Figure 16h.


The rightmost picture in the row above the bottom represents chandana yatra (sandalwood festival). In this festival, which begins during the bright fortnight of Vaisakh (April-May), images of Krishna, Lakshmi, and Sarasvati are carried to the Narendra reservoir in Puri, where they are placed on small boats and rowed around the reservoir. Chitrakaras paint the walls of the small temple that is at the side of the Narendra reservoir, as well as wood carvings on the small boats.23 This small scene on the badhia shows one of the boats with a deity. (See Figure 16h.) Finally, the scene at bottom left represents the ratha yatra (car festival). Here, instead of showing the deities in their chariots, the artist has continued the earlier theme by showing the inverted lotus flowers that represent the deities.24 (See Figure 16g.)

Other scenes on this pata-chitra show worshiping priests or devotees, and various "fillers," such as birds and the four-dot pattern common to pata-chitras. Note that, on the whole, this pata-chitra uses the traditional solid red background to the scenes, with some variation with the use of yellow and green. The painting has a double border with flower-and-leaf patterns.

Continue to Part III:  Themes that Illustrate Episodes from the Epics

Text and pictures ©  2001 by and Kalarte Gallery.
All items collection of the author or Kalarte Gallery unless otherwise noted.

[12] Starza (1993) provides information about the processional Siva lingas (p.70), Vaishnava pillars (p.97 ff.), modern folk parallels to the sudarsana chakra (p.102 ff.), and stakes or pillar-like icons in tribal settings (p.105 ff.).[Return to text]

[13] These descriptions are from Starza (1993, p.94-96).[Return to text]

[14] Mohanty (1984, p.10) lists some of these veshas, and Das (1982, p.117-119) lists and describes several veshas.[Return to text]

[15] According to Das (1982, p.117).[Return to text]

[16] This mythological event is celebrated on the full moon day in the month of Magha (January-February) (Das, 1982, p.119).[Return to text]

[17] This story is recounted by Mohanty (1980, p.7). Das (1982, p.120) notes that this story is mentioned in a chronicle of the Jagannath temple, in relation to King Purushottama of Orissa. This king, who ruled from 1466 to 1497, wished to marry the princess Padmavati of Kanchi but was denied her hand by her father. However, the historicity of this event is not certain. At any rate, the story was popular soon after Purushottama's reign, as a text of the first half of the sixteenth century mentions a kanchi avijana scene in the Jagannath temple. There is currently a prominent relief in the jagamohana (prayer hall) of the Jagannath temple of Puri that depicts this scene. [Return to text]

[18] Mohanty, 1980; Cooper & Gillow, 1996.[Return to text]

[19] Das, 1982, p.119-120.[Return to text]

[20] So Mohanty (1980, p.10) identifies a similar scene in another badhia painting.[Return to text]

[21] Mohanty (1980, p.10 and plates 14 and 15) identifies other patas that show a scene of the temple kitchen. [Return to text]

[22] Mohanty (1980, p.10). [Return to text]

[23] Das (1982, p.67, plates 7 and 8) shows an illustration of chitrakaras'  wall paintings on the temple next to the Narendra tank. [Return to text]

[24] Mohanty (1980, p.10 and Plate 15) identifies a scene of the inverted lotuses in cars as that of the ratha yatra. [Return to text]

Table of Contents
Introduction | Jagannath | the Epics | Gods and Goddesses | Folklore and Erotic Themes | References | Articles