Mystery behind the image of Lord Jagannatha
The images of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra give an impression of uncouth figures. It is not at all artistic while its significance is not at all understood. The conception that led to the production of strange images of Sri Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra has yet to be traced, stranded in mystery- a legend.
“Saraladasa in his Vana Parva of his Mahabharata says that King Indradymna on opening the doors found that there were three images of Vishnu without hands and feet. They were shining with the halo of the Great Buddha. There were no ears, no nose and no eyes. There were no fingers and no toes. The Great Buddha had appeared in the form of three lives”.
To my mind they are artist’s dreams, ideals, allegories, they are symbols of something beyond themselves, of unconscious make belief of aspiration. It is only a symbol to help towards conceiving which is transcendental, but immanent, the bearing that is becoming. So the God himself when conceived was not the reality but only a symbol to help towards conceiving the reality.
It symbolizes the whole spirit of Indian thought. What Barth says of Buddha is applicable to the trinity: “finished model of calm and sweet majesty, of infinite tenderness for all that breathes and compassion for all that suffers, of perfect moral freedom and exemption from every prejudice. And the nation and the race which can produce such a magnificent type must have deep reserves of wisdom and inner strength”.
The images are calm and impassive, above passion and desire, beyond the storm and struggle of the world. So far away He seems out of reach, yet again we look behind those still unmoving features. There is a passion and an emotion strange and more powerful than the passions and the emotions we have known.
In the words of Havell “they are faces which incarnate the stillness of the depths of the ocean, the serenity of an azure, cloudless sky, beatitudes beyond mortal ken”.
It is a great national art which affords an intimate revelation of national thought and character; it is only to be appreciated if the ideals behind it are understood.
The intention behind such a conception was to make the central ideas of religion and philosophy intelligible to the masses. It is the divine architect who conceived beauty as subjective, not objective; it is a thing of the spirit, with a deeper significance, a vision of the inner truth.
The conception behind the images is unique, monstrous and abnormal. Those who consider the images as ugly are struck by their vitality. A massive shape, seemingly dead weight from one vantage point suddenly comes to life as you walk slowly around it. It seems to stir and breathe. Two separate pieces merge into a single vibrant body; that body turns as you complete your circle. The figures stretch their hands and look around one family group.
It is all an abstract art, painting, a dream image which in the words of Kandinsky, Gabo and Wordsworth “A picture is primarily an animation of an inert plane surface by a spatial rhythm of forms and colors”. Or in the language of Braque’s “color has a reality in itself, a life of its own, a geometric form, has also reality in itself dependent and plastic.”
If we have studied Picasso, we may conclude “A woman is a woman according to history but to Pablo Picasso, the most famous artist, a woman is something else again, a combination of lives, forms and colors”. This is exactly precisely what the Master Architect must have conceived while he took an attempt to give shape to the unknown transcendental and which is beyond the comprehension of human mind- the Brahman, the God-head.
True art is an unerring expression of mind and a national art is a true reflex of national character. The nature and excellence of art constitute a sure means by which we can understand essential characteristics of a nation and make a fair estimate of its greatness judged from the artistic conception behind the three images we can fathom into the depths of mysticism behind them.
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The art in India has a significance of its own; it has been powerfully attested by India’s philosophy, traditions and mythology. In a letter to his friend Zelter, Goethe endeavored to vindicate himself: “In oriental art I find a poetry, a religion, a mythology, a moral law befitting my years unquestioned submission to the will of God, serenity in the contemplation of the transient, ever recurring cycle and spiral of all earthy action, purged of dross, symbolically resolved” Eastern art intrinsically reveals the eternal principle reverence for the transcendental, reverence for the tradition of a thousand years of evolution, subjection of the purely technical and material, to an inner untrammeled creative power.
To understand the secret behind the images one has to reveal the meaning of the poetry of color in abstractionism. To understand this piece of art, it requires some awareness of colors, sense of design and flavors. It is a painting of a dream image. The image of Sri Jagannatha is painted black and that of Balabhadra is painted white which explains the non-existence that is black, the negation of all colors and the white, the existence or expression, the presence of all colors.
In between the two images is seated Subhadra who is painted in yellow. This conception is impregnated with the Mother-cult which was called Tantra in India; we came in sculpture to the woman element between nothingness and expression. This is found in Barahamihira’s Ekanamsa of the 6th century AD, between the images of Krishna and Balarama now found in Lucknow Museum. This old tradition specifically found expression in Uddiyana in Subhadra between Sri Jagannath and Balabhadra.
Aticle by Asit Kumar Basu