Shankha-kshetra: Narasimha Temple

BY: SUN STAFF - 3.11 2020

Sri Sri Laksmi-Nrsimha, Puri Dham

A seventeen-part series on Sri Jagannath Puri Dham.

In our last segment of this series, as an example of the depth and complexity of Jagannath Puri Dham, we described the many temples and shrines dedicated to Lord Nrsimhadev that reside within Shankh-kshetra. Today we'll explore one of those temples in more detail. The Narasimha Temple near Gundicha is one of the most important mandirs in the Holy Dham.

As described by Ratnakar Mohapatra, the temple of Narasimha is one of the most ancient Vaishnava Shrines in Puri. It was constructed around the late 13th century. Situated near the northeast boundary wall of the famous Gundicha Temple, the Narasimha shrine is mentioned in the Skanda Purana. It is said to have existed at the time King Indradyumna visited the place. Indradyumna is said to have built a temple for Narasimha and installed the deity therein, with the help of the Sage Narada. Indradyumna also performed thousands of asvamedha yajnas in this temple, thus the Deity is known as Yajna-Narasimha.

The Nrsimha Temple sits a few feet above street level and it's surrounded by high masonry walls, with entrance steps on the western side. The temple also faces west. The temple is comprised of three main structures: the vimana, the jagamohana, and the natamandapa. The main temple style is known as pancharatha rekha deula, fronted by a pyramidal jagamohana and a rectangular natamandapa. All the structures within the premises are thickly plastered in lime mortar and painted in colours. The temple is built with a local sandstone known as baulamala pathara.

The vimana is 60 feet high and sits on an unadorned plinth that is four feet high. There is very little ornamentation, except for three jhapasimhas. Within the vimana are three central niches with shrines for Lord Varaha, Trivikrama (Vamana), and Lord Vishnu, who are the parsvadevatas of the presiding Deity. Lord Varaha is on the south side, Trivikrama is in the north with Sridevi and Bhudevi, and Lord Vishnu is on the east side.

In the sanctum sanctorum is a remarkable image of Sri Sri Lakshmi-Narasimha, the presiding Deity of the temple. The Deity is installed on a high masonry simhasana, six feet in height and 4 feet wide. The Deity itself is 5 feet tall, carved in black chlorite.

Lord Nrsimhadev holds a chakra in His upper right hand, conch in upper left hand, and His two lower hands are stretched over His knees. The Lord is seated in yogasana posture with both legs crossed and tied near the knee, in a calm mood. Lakshmi Devi has been installed on the left lap of Narasimhadeva. The pedestal of the Deity is richly carved with scrollwork, flower designs and Garuda figures. The background slab is finely decorated with a trefoil makara head arch.

Along with the presiding Deity, there is another Narasimhadeva image on the backside of the main Deity. This one is not Lakshmi-Narasimha, but rather an ugra form of the Lord, with his two lower hands plunged into the abdomen of Hiranyakashipu.

While the sanctum is very plain, having little ornamentation, over the doorway of the sanctum leading to the jagamohana is a beautiful carving in the door lintel of Gajalaksmi, with the navagrahas above. The figures of Jaya and Vijaya, Lord Vishnu's transcendental doorkeepers, are carved into the base of the doorjambs.

In the pyramidal structure of the jagamohana there are various carvings depicting Krsna lila scenes. A short Garuda sthambha is installed on the east side of the natamandapa, about four to five feet high, with a kneeling figure of Garuda atop it. A four-handed Narayana is nearby, installed in a wall niche.

Lord Nrsimhadeva residing at this particular temple is closely related to a number of rituals at Jagannath Puri Temple. During festivals, flower garlands (ajnamalas) are removed from Lord Jagannatha and kept here. This temple is also associated with the Navakalevara (new body) ceremony of Lord Jagannatha.


Sources: 'Narasimha Temple at Puri' by Ratnakar Mohapatra, Orissa Review.