It is an off-beat study focusing on the anasara pati paintings, i.e. the annually produced pictures on cloth that temporarily replace the-then absent wooden icons in the temples of Lord Jagannatha in Puri and South Orissa – for during the annual Car Festival (Rath Yatra), the idols of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra and Subhadra are taken out in a spectacular procession to Gundicha Temple. And they remain there for nine days.
Offered in three parts, the monograph documents, in its first part, the few-known, authentic, late 20th-century specimens of anasara pati paintings from professional painter-workshops in Puri, Cuttack, and South Orissa – setting out all available information on their production and function. Since the iconography of this type of ritualistic painting is defined by tradition and has to be strictly adhered to by the painters, there has to be no change: in either in iconographic details or stylistic features. Nevertheless minor deviations occur in the workshops at the centre (Puri) as well as at the periphery (South Orissa). Making a meticulous study of these paintings, the authors point out the exact range and nature of variations in the production of these religious pictures.
The monograph is, thus, a study of “micro art history”, documenting a kind iconographic evolution, i.e., the minute changes of formal elements and style in the production of icon pictures that are annually painted afresh strictly adhering to prescribed rules, repeating exactly, but not mechanically forms in the face of an ideology advocated and sternly controlled by temple authorities that do not permit anything like “change”, but believe in the permanence of eternal values and forms. In the second part of the book, the authors reconstruct the history of anasara pictures. Here the focus is on two issues: (a) why different iconographies for Jagannatha triad coexist, and (b) under what conditions these painted “classical” triptychs may have been invented and made to stay. In Part 3, the authors explore the historical evolution of Anasara Pati triptychs in Puri. The book is profusely illustrated with exquisite photographs.
Eberhard Fischer is an art historian and cultural anthropologist who, till recently, was the Director of the Museum Rietberg, Zurich. Dinanath Pathy is a practicing painter, art historian, and creative writer.