Puri: Jagannatha Temple: Relics

Peter J. Claus pclaus at HAYWIRE.CSUHAYWARD.EDU
Sun May 3 15:44:03 UTC 1998

On Sat, 2 May 1998, Vidyasankar Sundaresan wrote:

> "brahma-padArtha" is put into the idol by a non-Brahmin tribal priest,
> who is blindfolded when he transfers it from the old idol. It might be a
> tribal artefact that has nothing to do with either Buddhism or
> Brahminism in its origins.

That it is transferred by a "tribal" (an unfortunately meaningless term)
with eyes closed, reminds me that the Kannada-speaking Kadu Gollas (who
have their own temples inside their settlements) keep their 'idols' inside
a box (peTTige) covered with red cloth.  The box is NEVER opened except by
the priest once every 20 years or so when the idols are washed in a river.
Even then the priest is not supposed to look directly at them. When asked,
many told me the idols were 'lingams'.  Once, however, a priest decided it
was Ok to show me what was in the box and it turned out to be small bells
and other very old metal objects and a few small stones which could,
arguably, be called lingams. This, as it turns out, is just like what
peoples such as the Chenchu and Todas have in their temples.

And (more to the point of this discussion) the idols/relics are associated
with (in some sense the remains of) ancestoral deities:  human ancestors
who led heroic lives / died heroic deaths for whom Golla oral literature
maintains long (4-6 hour recitation)  ballad/epic stories.  If (as I think
Eschmann et. al. argue) the Puri temple was once a 'tribal' one, it is not
hard to link the idea of a dead and buried ancestor (whose descendants
would retain the right to perform some basic act of worship)  being
transformed into Jagganatha.  In fact, Gollas perform rituals at a number
of temples to which the general public (all other castes) come and receive
prasada and other forms of blessings and cures. Some of these have become
very big and famous.  SOme are now (as many no doubt were in the past)
are being taken over by Lingayats and Brahmans.

The Gollas are not, of course, unique in ANY of this. This is a common
substratum of South Indian (to include Chattisghar and Orissa, at least)
religious culture.  Unfortunately, with the concentration on Brahmanical
ritual and Sanskrit in Indology, a broad (perhaps 60% of all people living
in India partake in it!) and important variant of Indian culture is

Peter Claus

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list