Himalayan Art Resources item no. 13639.
The triad worshipped herein – Jagannatha or ‘Lord of the World’– together with Balabhadra and Subhadra, is a rare, syncretic amalgam of not just the Hindu traditions of Vaishnavism, Shaivism and Shakta but is also revered in Buddhism and even finds mention in Jain religious literature. Some consider the abstract, somewhat aniconic representation of the deities –carved out of wooden logs – to be related to autochthonous, pre-Vedic practices. It is true that the brightly painted square faces, pillar-like bodies and circular geometric features makes this image instantly identifiable although the artists of the present painting have depicted the triad in a decidedly more anthropomorphic style.
What is certain is that the creators of this work had precise knowledge of the temple complex at Puri. Starting with particular architectural elements such as the Singhadwara or lion gate guarding the entrance and the Arunastambha pillar in front of the sanctum, to the depiction of every single subsidiary shrine dedicated to a plethora of deities including Vimaladevi, Mahalakshmi, Saraswati, Bhuvaneshwari, Ganapati, Hanuman, Eshaneshwara and the complete dasavataras of Vishnu, and culminating in the Nilachakra disc atop the central dome with its long curling pennant, every single detail is lovingly observed and rendered with care and precision, especially the preparation of the mahaprasad or ritual food offerings that are slow cooked in earthen pots balanced one atop the other. The grand processional worship of the images outside the temple complex in the annual Rathayatra festival is also represented. An especially charming touch is the boat plying the waters below guided by the local Nuliya fishermen in their peaked caps.
The margins of the paubha are just as remarkable as the central image. Rendered against a bright red ground typical of Nepali scroll painting are the heroic exploits of the divine Lord Krishna related in the Bhagavata Purana. We see Krishna in his childhood and youth subjugating demons, engaging in play with his companions or gopis and ultimately vanquishing his evil uncle Kamsa, each narrative represented through a single, climactic visual. On the top in horizontal format are key scenes from the final chapters of the epic Ramayana depicting Lord Rama’s victory over the demon king Ravana.
The cult of Lord Jagannatha was popular in the Kathmandu Valley since the time of the Malla rulers. Kathmandu’s Darbar Square is home to at least two shrines dedicated to Jagannatha built by Mahendra Malla and Pratap Malla in the late Sixteenth Century. Rulers of both the Malla and later Gorkha dynasties sent lavish gifts to the temple at Puri and visited the shrine personally to worship. The paubha was clearly created to commemorate such a ritual pilgrimage and indeed the words '... malla' in Devanagari script are indistinctly inscribed below the turbaned Royal figure with folded palms seen kneeling on the left of the deity, thereby confirming an Eighteenth Century date for the painting.
Compositional elements of the painting - the denouement of the figures, their style of dress – display a connection with Rajput painting from Central India of the Eighteenth Century. For other large format scroll paintings depicting specific landscapes and festivals, albeit of slightly later date, see Pratapaditya Pal, The Arts of Nepal, Volume Two: Painting, Leiden, 1978, nos. 164 and 165. Also compare with a paubha depicting a Vishnu shrine from the Richard and Magdalena Ernst Collection, see Sotheby’s New York, March 22, 2018, Lot 901.
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