In Rig Veda (around 2500 BC) it is
mentioned about the worship of a "wooden deity" near the sea shore:" adoh yat
daru plavate sindhohpare apurusham" meaning "that log of wood being washed by
the sea is beyond the scope of metabolism". Initially parameswara was used which
was subsequently changed to Purusottama and Jagannath. Some even say that the
deity is older than the Vedas. Adi Sankaracharya (788-820 AD),however,saw the
deity of Jagannath only on the Ratnavedi (the seat of gems).
Some, as stated above, observe that the
deities have the simplicity and crudeness of folk sculpture and ascribe to
tribal origin.The forms of Purusottama, Balabhadra and Subhadra are
significantly different from the traditional shape of Kondhs, Gonds and
Shabaras who worship Buddadeo(ancestors), Linga(Phallus) and Jangha(thigh).
The main deities of Jagannath temple
at Puri are all made of wood taken from the "neem tree" (Melia Azadirachta
Indica).The height of deities is between 2.5 to 3 meters.when touched the
deities give a soft feeling instead of hardness of wood. This is due to the
layers of pure silk warpped on the core wooden body.
The colours of Jagannath, Balabhadra
and Subhadra are black, hite and yellow respectively. Social anthropologists
interpret these colours to represent the three races of mankind viz.
Negroids, Europeans and Mongoloiads. In the empirical language of physics black
is the most ideal absorber of radiation, white a good reflector and the yellow
one of the unadulterated primary colours. However, none knows why these
earless, legless, tribal forms with oversized heads beckon to people to keep the
traditions go!While the eyes of Jaganath are regular circles, the eyes of
Subhadra and Balabhadra are oval. The head of Balabhadra is scalloped with a
semi-circular lobe indicating a hood of a serpentSubhadra's head a tiara and
Jagannath a straight line.
Different meanings have been
attributed to the deities by various sects and schools of thought which may be
classified in a nonexhaustive manner only: