intriguing aspect of a certain virile deity in the Shaivite temples of
Bhubaneswar is that it closely resembles the Buddha. The deity known as "Lakulisa"
or "Nakulisa" was once widely worshipped in the temples of
Bhubaneswar by the devotees of the 'Pasupata' cult.
Since the end of the Gupta rule (5th-6th century A.D.), Pasupata, an esoteric school of Shaivism extended its sway to as far as Assam in the northeast, Nepal in the north, and Maharashtra and Karnataka in the south. The cult that originated in the Lata region of Gujarat was also popular in Orissa primarily for its catholicity that catered to the needs of various segments of society, including both ascetics as well as men of the world.
It is mentioned in the Puranas that Lakulisa or Nakulisa, who was the 28th or the last incarnation of Shiva founded the Pasupata sect. The Puranas add that 'Kusika', 'Kausika', 'Gargya' and 'Maitreya' were his chief disciples, and the founders of four different branches of the Pasupata School.
The followers of the Pasupata cult were heterodox, opposed to the principles of the 'Vedas' They led an iconoclastic existence, wore a loincloth, matted hair, and carried 'dandas' or staves. They also wore a 'Yogapatta' (the sacred thread), rosary beads, necklaces, armlets and bracelets of 'Rudraksha' ('Ustram' bead). They rolled over ashes that they applied on the sacred thread as well while worshipping Shiva. They lived on tasteless foods such as knobs, roots and raw fruits, and mostly lived in forests away from regular settlements, where they often remained in the 'Sirsa Asana' (headstand) for long hours.
Most of them were unmarried, engaged in the five sacraments and carried either a consecrated 'linga' (Shiva's symbolic phallus) or matted hair in the hands. Those who attained the perfect state of self-restraint wandered about naked. They also performed 'hasya' (laughter), 'nritya' (dance), and 'gita' (music) while meditating. The followers of the sect maintained their individual identity through their dress code, philosophy and their mode of worship.
According to the texts "Saddarsanasamuccaya" and "Ganakarika", the lay followers are only required to recite the 'Namah Shivaya' (obeisance to Shiva) with folded hands. However, an elaborate procedure involving the "Pancagnisadhanapara", or the five fire penances, has been laid down for the naked bachelor ascetic.
These begin early in the morning. The ascetic is required to perform his morning ablutions, including cleaning his feet and teeth. While taking a bath, he recites all the names from Lakulisa to "Rasikara" (an incarnation of Shiva) and circumambulates the image of Lakulisa.
Then he smears ash on his body and prepares to meditate on Shiva. This is repeated in the afternoon and in the evening. He enters the temple, and once inside the 'Garbhagriha', or the sanctum sanctorum, he kneels on the ground on the right side of the deity, places his hand on his chest, and while looking at Shiva, meditates.
A Place Of Solitude
The place for mediation is selected for its purity and cleanliness. He stays in this place till he is tired and overpowered by sleep. While meditating, he laughs loudly, then sings and dances, chants the 'Hudukara' thrice, does 'Namaskara' (hands folded in the gesture of greeting or devotion) six times and performs 'Japa' (meditative chanting). Then he salutes Lakulisa thrice, circumambulates the deity thrice, and finally comes out of the 'Garbhagriha'. Before sleeping, he spreads a large quantity of 'bhasma' (ashes) on the ground. And once the ascetic attains enlightenment, he seeks the permission of his teacher to perform miracles in the midst of a crowd.
The texts further suggests that after seeing a good-looking woman, he should act like a "Kamuka" or a passionate man, since he is not supposed to discriminate between good and evil actions. For him, the guidance of a 'guru', or a spiritual teacher is a necessity at each level of existence.
With a stag and a 'medhra', Lakulisa is usually portrayed as a Shaivite teacher in the sculptured panels of the temple walls. The representation is influenced by those of other preachers like the Buddha and the Mahavira. His third eye and the lotus seat indicate that he enjoys a near-divine status.
The Spread Of The Lakulisa Cult In Bhubaneswar
Bhubaneswar had evolved as a major centre of the Pasupata sect by the 7th century A.D. Images of Lakulisa are found on the exterior walls of most of its temples. It is still not clear as to how the Pasupata tradition made its way into Bhubaneswar.
However, according to the medieval text "Ekamra Purana" that deals with the medieval life of the holy city of Bhubaneswar, 'Sasanka', the 'Gauda' King of Bengal (7th century A.D.) was the first to erect a Shaivite shrine at Bhubaneswar. And it was probably his followers who preached the Pasupata cult in the city.
Lakulisa is well represented in the three oldest temples in Bhubaneswar - 'Parasurameswar', 'Bharateswar' and 'Svarnajaleswar' - all built in the 7th century A.D. Depicted on the central projection of the front side of the main entrance, Lakulisa in these temples is shown seated cross-legged on a lotus in full bloom.
He wears a short piece of cloth covering the lower portion of the body and a band-like-'Upavita' (the sacred thread) across his chest. Except for a round beaded halo around his head, he has virtually no ornaments; his face and hands are reminiscent of the "Dharmachakra Pravatana" - the posture adopted by the Buddha when he delivered the first sermon on the sacred Wheel of Law. The hair is worn in short curls.
His four disciples bearing manuscripts, and in the "Abhaya Mudra" (the gesture that offers protection) surround him. The "Lakuta" or the stag that rises from his lap and rests against the left shoulder is the most striking feature of the image. An inscription in the Parasurameswar Temple says Parasesvara or Parasaresvara, which means the Lord 'Parasara' (a form of Shiva), a teacher of the Pasupata sect.
The Previous Depiction
The earlier representation of Lakulisa in the temples of Bhubaneswar gradually matured into a codified iconographic institution with several innovations, as artists gained mastery over forms and attributes. Some of these are found in various parts of the temples. In some cases he is on the central projection of the front façade, which signifies that he occupied a place of honour and privilege.
In other cases, he is shown in the niches of the 'Kanika' (the corner of the temple) flanked by images of the 'Parsva Devatas' (the peripheral gods). He is found in various other locations as well, like on the lintel of the doorjamb. All these together indicate that there was no fixed practice in Orissa on where to place these deities. The Agamas, or the Hindu iconographic treatises refer to Lakulisa or 'Lakulisvara' as 'Daksinamurti' or the south-facing idol.
The Danda Nata Dance
Although the cult of Nakulisa is history in Bhubaneswar, one of its customs has survived in several villages of Southern Orissa in the form of the living tradition of 'Danda Nata' or the 'Dance with Stave'. People belonging to 'low castes' perform the Danda Nata in praise of Shiva. For them, Lakulisa's stave symbolises the form of Shiva. The performers of the Danda Nata are known as 'bhoktas' and the leader is called "Pata Bhokta". The leader leads an ascetic life for twenty-one days, abstains from all forms of worldly pleasure. During these days he also lives on little and light food to prepare his body for all kind of severe exercises.