Mustachioed guardians

Odisha has its own modern style in temple guardians. In other parts of India and south-east Asia you might find fearsome Yakshas, or the temple god’s familiar, perhaps a monkey warrior or a bull, perhaps a figure of a Garuda. In Odisha this diversity of guardians is visible in temples which are more than a century old. But now, the dwarapalas are almost always a pair of lions.

I walked through the lanes around the Jagannath temple in Puri taking photos of these lion guardians. Most of these secondary temples are small, and the lions are the smallest element in them. But large or small, they have heavy dark mustaches, turned upward and often stylishly curled. In fact I saw only one pair of lions which had a representation of whiskers. One of the pair is shown in the featured photo.

Here is the last guardian I saw. I advanced on it, with my phone held out towards it. Undaunted, it stood its ground, refusing me entry. It was guarding a plastic chair, not a temple.

The Lions of Orissa

East of India every temple is guarded by fearsome giants carrying terrifying weapons. In Odisha, just two lions are enough. As you can see in the featured photo, these are no ordinary lions. They have a awesome black mustache in addition to the mane that you can see on any other lion. The bottle of water between their legs backs up the statement that the mustache makes. The dwarpala which you see above stands outside the Kedar Gauri temple in Bhubaneshwar. There’s a matched lion on the other side of the entrance gate, but at the time I took this photo, it wasn’t backed by a wise Brahmin who could give you the opportunity to earn merit.

Guardians of a roadside shrine near Rajnagar, Odisha

Driving through Odisha you see pairs of lions every now and then. In the photo above you see a pair of ferocious lions bristling at those who pass by the sacred spot between them. I saw this pair far to the east, near a small town called Rajnagar on the banks of the Brahman river. They lack the mustache that you see in the Bhubaneshwar-Cuttack-Puri region; maybe that is a regional speciality. I also saw horses and elephants guarding entrances to temples in this region, so the nature of dwarpalas changes across Odisha. I need to travel more widely in the state to find out how temple guardians change from place to place.