Vol. 17 No. 1 (2008): Journal of Vaishnava Studies
Journal of Vaishnava Studies

In many ways, Lord Jagannåtha (Jagannath) is unique. For example, in keeping with his rather all-encompassing name (“Lord of the Universe”), over the course of centuries he has been identified with nearly every deity in the Hindu pantheon, from tribal image to Buddha, from Kåmadeva to Nara­siµ­ha,
from Shiva to the Goddess. Most prominently, of course, he is identified with Ûrî Krishna. But even here a certain uniqueness shines forth: he doesn’t look like Krishna at all.
Krishna’s form is usually described as the pinnacle of beauty, with large lo­tus eyes, exotic blue complexion, raven black hair adorned with colorful peacock feather, a mischievous smile and a silver flute caressing his inviting, reddish lips. But Jagannath doesn’t share those characteristics, at least not to the common eye. His appearance is almost crude. Although he is Krishna himself, he is abstract, stylized, visually primitive. His body shows no legs and two arms dart out from his sides, his hands indicated merely by outline drawings of a discus and a conch, the symbols of the divine Vishnu. His large form
is jet black, and so are his eyes, which are almost comically round, encircled, as they are, by red lining and by the whites of his divine oculus. He is baldly rectangular in shape, as if purposely mocking the elegant and graceful beauty we’ve come to identify with Krish­na. A thoughtful onlooker could imagine Lord Jagan­nath saying, “Don’t view beauty superficially. Look deeper. Only then will you truly understand me.”