Thursday, 14 July 2011

National museum artefacts 4: Flummoxed

I'm feeling a bit lazy and unimaginative tonight (still in that weather-induced funk I blogged about yesterday) so it's another trip to the national museum I'm afraid. Tell me if these are boring you. However this one really is intriguing.

OK, so the information for this one explains that it is "King Narsimha worshiping Jagannatha", and that it dates from the 13th century in Orissa (on the east coast of India). Fine, you think. I guess that's the king on the right, and some sort of divine flunky in the middle who's lost his head. And on the left...

Well, yes, on the left. What's on the left? There are a couple of thrones, on one of which sits a female figure, and on the other one, well, let's have a look:

And a bit of a closer one:

My thought at this point was: What the hell is that? My best explanation was that at some point, SpongeBob Square Pants traveled back in time to 13th century Orissa and was immortalised as a god by local artist.

I've since looked the god up on Wikipedia, and apparently this is just what he looks like. In his most famous temple at Puri, Jagannatha "has a massive square head with the chest merging into one piece of wooden stump without any demarcation of the neck. The arms have been inserted in a line with the upper lip." In other words, Jagannatha is a god who looks like an ice cream cone with a face.

Against the better known pantheon of India's gods, all gorgeous figures with multiple limbs in lithe dancing postures, this definitely seems like a bit of an oddity - and without wishing to be disrespectful, a little bit comic. But then, when you've got this many gods, I guess some are bound to turn out a little bit unconventional.


carvaka said...

i thought jaganatha should be familiar. the "english" word juggernaut came from jaganatha.

he is actually not without his limbs , it is just that depiction is such.
there is a story behind it. though i am not sure about it's historical accuracy. apparently a king of orissa commissioned an artist to sculpt three idols - jaganatha, subhadra and balaram. the artist agreed on one condition that he would work in seclusion and none including the king was allowed to inquire about or inspect the unfinished work.

when months passed without any news , the king got impatient and barge into the "studio" , only to find that it is still a work in progress.

but since the king broke the pledge , the suclptor quit . and hence the incomplete idol.

ps: nice blog

Chris said...

That's a really fascinating story - thank you! English really gets its words from all over the place - there are a few words that I knew originated from Indian languages but I have to say I always assumed juggernaut was German in origin. Thanks for enlightening me, and glad you enjoy the blog!