Asit Mohanty & Sibkumar Das
Sri Nrusimha is a recurring theme in all the rituals of Nabakalebara. In Indian mythology, Sri Nrusimha, the half human, half lion form, is the fourth avatar of Lord Vishnu. This deity exudes untamed ferocity and vibrant action. Anthropologists believe it denotes that state when humans were evolving from their animal characteristics both physically and mentally. Perhaps that is the reason most ancient cultures of the world have ‘half human, half animal’ images. Genetically, we humans have in us all the characteristics, powers and traits of animals, but what distinguishes us from animals is discipline.
Sri Nrusimha has been described in the sixteenth chapter of ‘Skanda Purana’, which is preceded by a chapter in which there is a description of the establishment of the first ‘daru’ idols of Sri Jagannath temple. At the request of King Indradyumna, Lord Brahma, one among the Trinity of Hindu mythology, had come over for ‘pratistha yagna’ of the first ‘daru’ or wooden idols of the temple. The eighteenth chapter of ‘Skanda Puarana’ elaborates how Sri Nrusimha, pleased by the worship, had appeared in his ferocious form before Lord Brahma and King Indradyumna. As this image had appeared from the ‘yajna’, it was called ‘yajnanrusimha’.
Numerous eyes, ears, faces, noses, waists and appendages had appeared in this glowing image of Sri Nrusimha. It appeared as if his lustre had pervaded all through heaven and earth. It took the shape of ‘kalagni’ or eternal fire trying to engulf the whole universe. Witnessing this ‘R-rudrarupa’ or terrifying image, sage Narada asked Lord Brahma; “Why has the Lord taken up this frightening appearance? What kind of leela of the Jagatpati Hari is this?”
According to ‘Skanda Purana’, Lord Brahma answered in a jovial way with a smile. He said, “Hey Narada, thinking it to be made of ‘daru’ or wood, ignorant persons may neglect or disrespect this ‘Brahmarupi’ (image of Brahma) deity. So, after getting worshipped with ‘Paramesthi mantra’ the Lord has taken up this terrifying appearance. He had slain demon King Hiranyakashipu with this fearsome form. This image is like the ‘kalagni’ of the colossal glowing identity of the Lord. Worship of this deity can provide us salvation. “
This description of ‘Skanda Purana’ suggests that Sri Nrusimha and Sri Jagannath are the same entity though identified as different. Sri Nrusimha represents the fierce untamed potential in us. Sri Jagannath is the peaceful, disciplined, calm state of the same entity. It passes on the message that everything in this universe, whether fierce or calm, is a manifestation of the same energy. The perception of untamed potency in ourselves can lead us to reach the state of disciplined calmness.
Throughout Nabakalebara rituals, Sri Nrusimha serves as the key element of rituals. The idol of Sri Laxmi-Nrusimha is placed on a special pedestal named ‘Nrusimha Mandap’ erected near the ‘yajna mandap’ before the start of ‘pratistha yajna’ of new idols. Image of Sri Nrusimha described in ‘Skanda purana’ and other scriptures is used in traditional ‘patta chitra’ paintings of Odisha with some minor changes. This popular painting is called ‘Yajnanrusimha’.
Next: Untamed potency and tamed kinetics metaphor in Nabakalebara