Samkha Kshetra

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Samkha Khsetra (Devanagari: संख ख्सेत्र) (Literal Meaning: 'The Conch-shaped Region') is the religio-geographic name of the most sacred section of the holy city of Puri, the seat of Hindu deity, Shri Jagannath. The Samkha Khsetra derives its name from the typical dakshinavarti Shankha(conch)-shaped, outer locational pattern of various temples, sacred places and secondary and tertiary deities in Puri, with the Jagannath Temple at its heart centre.

The Samkha Khsetra is widely revered by the Hindus as a sacred pilgrimage place under the Jagannath cult. In popular Oriya usage, the Samkha Khsetra is also referred to as the abbreviated version, only kshetra

The outlay kshetra (Region) of the Samkha Khsetra has been defined from distant past and no definite period of such classification has been determined. However, certain degree of Tantric influence has been observed on account of the yantric conceptualisation of Puri. As per the Samkha Khsetra concept, the entirety of the holy land of Jagannath Puri has been conceptualised and described as a giant yantra of huge dimensions.

The Nilachal (Blue Mountain) is part of traditional division of Puri into seven concentric circles having the Lion throne in the place of common centre. This type of plan, which is evidently inspired by the symbolism of the yantra of Hari-Narayana is illustrated by a painted map of the Samkha Kshetra (Samkha – Conch-shaped, Kshetra – Region: The Conch-shaped Region) found in the upper part of the southern entrance to the principal jagamohan of the Jagannatha Temple of Puri.

Jagannath Puri as the Sankha Khetra[edit]

Jagannath Temple of Puri, the Centre of the Sankha

Puri is located on the east coast of the state of Odisha, India, and is one of the oldest religious cities in the eastern part of the country on account of Shri Jagannath. Puri is the site of the Govardhana Matha, one of the four cardinal institutions or Mathas established by Adi Shankaracharya. Puri is a tirthasthan, monastic order of the highest denomination.

The shape of the sacred section of Puri resembles a conch shell (sankha) and, therefore, it is also known as the Sankha Kshetra. Like the other names, that is, Shri Khetra and Purusottam Khetra, which have bearing on the Lord Jagannath, the paramount deity of Puri, Sankha Kshetra has equal ritual and symbolic significance. The name Sankha Kshetra is the most significant because Sankha is one of the Aiyudhas or weapons of Lord Vishnu who resides in the navel or the central part of the shell in the form of Lord Jagannath. Samkha Kshetra is about 10 miles in extent, of which nearly two koshas are submerged in the sea and the remaining three koshas are above water and sandy because of its origin from the sea. In the centre of the Kshetra lies the hillock called Nilachal where the temple of Shri Jagannath stands and within its compound many sacred institutions of importance are located. Samkha is an important motif of the Vaishnavite iconography.

Geography of the Kshetra[edit]

The broad end of the Sankha Kshetra lies to the west where the temple of Shri Lokanath, one of the eight noted Shiva Temples of Puri is located and on the apical end or the cone in the east, is located another Shiva Temple called the Nilakantha[disambiguation needed]. The area between the two temples is two miles in extent and is most sacred.

According to the Tantric philosophy, the Sankha Kshetra is made up of seven concentric folds.

The innermost or first fold, which forms the navel, or the Kshetra, is the seat of the divine platform on which the Lord Jagannath with Balabhadra and Subhadra.

The second fold, which is the outer layer of the first or the innermost fold, is hexagonal in shape and in this are located four goddesses of power, two tirthas, two sacred trees, Garuda (vehicle of Lord Vishnu) and the top of the Nilagiri hill which is convex like the back of a tortoise. The goddesses are Bimala, Kamala, Sarbamangala and Uttaral. The sacred trees are Kalpapadapa and Salmalitaru. The tirthas are Rohinikunda and Pranitodakakunda.

Minor temples at the Jagannath Temple of Puri, third fold of the Sankha

The third fold, which is the outer layer of the second fold, is the central part of the lotus-like structure having sixteen petals, each inlaid with an idol of Lord Shiva and a goddess, alternately. The eight Shivas are Agneswar, Bateswar, Khetrapaleswar, Chakreswar, Baikuntheswar, Pataleswar, Isaneswar, and Lokeswar. The eight goddesses are Dwarabasini, Mahabajreswari, Swanabhairabi, Bhadrakali, Bhubaneswari, Mahakaliaghorea, Sitala, and Jagnyeswari. These deities are responsible for watching and guarding the firstfold having the Supreme Lord at the centre of the sacred complex.

The fourth fold, which is the outer coating of the third fold, forms the convex surface of the temple precinct (Mahakurma) and the inner compound wall of the Jagannath Temple.

In tantric belief, the first four folds have been equated with the tantric Sri Yantra formulation.

The fifth fold, which is the outer layer of the fourth fold, is the seat of the eight Shivas and eight goddesses. The Shivas is Bisweswar, Markandeswar, Mahakaleswar, Karnameswar, Mukteswar, Ugreswar, Kapilalochana and Agreswer. The goddesses are Bisweswari, Saptamatrika, Dakshinkali, Charchika, Alameswari, Barahi, Banadurgeswari and Basulikeswari. These deities are also in charge of watch and ward functions of the sacred complex.

In the sixth fold of the sacred space there are four ashrams. They are Angirs in the east, Pandu in the west, Markandeya in the north, and Bhrigu in the south.

The seventhfold which is the outermost zone consists of the sentries of the Sankha Kshetra and two pilgrim centres.

Alternate Formations[edit]

In the Sacred Geography of Puri : Structure and Organisation and Cultural Role of a Pilgrim Centre, Nityanand Patnaik has detailed the following structure of the Puri centre:

The first zone is in the form of the archetypal circle within which the modem wooden icons are represented standing on the Lion throne. In the words of the Visrttt Reliasya of the Brahma Purana "In the centre of the seven enclosures, in the cave of the Blue Mountain there is an abode . . . full of “consciousness". The text explains that inside "the three innermost circuits, Vishnu, the highest Purusa, is present in the wooden form.

The second circuit is in the shape of a hexagon. In the six angles are depicted four goddesses: Durga-VimaIa, Kamala-Laksmi, Uttara Durga and Batamangala, together with Garuda on the south, and the summit of the Blue Mountain on the north. In the outer eastern facing spaces are found Sarasvati, the Salmotaru tree and the Golden Well. In the western ones are the sacred banyan tree, the Rohini Well and Uchchhishta Ganapati.

The third circuit consists of a circle with a sixteen-petalled lotus. On the petals are placed the eight Sivas and right Saktis who guard the Lion throne. These deities are found on the Blue Hill and are as follows: Agnisvara, Indranidevi, Ksetrapala, Svanabhairavi. Multtesvara. Citraltali, Vatamarltandeya, Katyayani, Gopesvara, Bedakali, Patalesvara, Bhuvartesvari, Vailtuntesvara, Jagnesvari, lsanesvara and Sitala.

The fourth zone is in the form of a yantra or square with four points of access. It corresponds to the Blue Mountain (Nila-achal/Niladri) with its gateways and steps.

The fifth circuit is in the shape of it sixteen-petalled lotus. This mandala comprises the Candis and Sambhus who guard the outer perimeter of the hill. The Sivas are Viiwesvara, Markantleiwara, Mahakalesvara, Karnainesvara, Muktesvara, Ugresvara, Kapala-mocana and Agnisvsra, also the Goddesses Visvesvari, the Saptamatrika (stone images of the Mothers from the Somavansi period at the Martandeya tirtha), Dakshinakali, Charchika, Alamesvari, Varahi, Vanadurga and Vaseli.

The sixth is in the form of a lotus which contains the major sacred bathing places and the four oldest monasteries at Puri. The panchatirtha consists of the Markandeya Pool, the Rohini Well, the King Indradyumna Lake and sometimes includes Svetaganga, while the four ashrama are Angira in the east, Bhrgu in the south, Pandu in the west and Markandeya in the north.

The seventh and last circuit is in the shape of a conch-shell. On the top of the shankha is a huge symbolising Lokanatha Svaymbhu, and on the tip, which is orientated towards the south-east, the Vilvesara temple. The last three Sivas, together with Kapalamocana and Goddess Ardhasini, act as the day and night guardians of the town, Nilakantha is the governor of the kshetra, Narasimha protects the places where the fire ceremony is performed. Both Svargadvara, with its cremation ground and Chakra tirtha are represented on the map. Surrounding the city is the sea below, the sky above and a branch of the Bhargavi River which forms the handle of the Sankha kshetra.

Deities of the Kshetra[edit]


  • Eschmann, A., H. Kulke and G.C. Tripathi (Ed.): The Cult of Jagannātha and the Regional Tradition of Orissa, 1978, Manohar, Delhi.
  • Starza-Majewski, Olgierd M. L: The Jagannatha temple at Puri and its Deities, Amsterdam, 1983.
  • Starza-Majewski, Olgierd Maria Ludwik: The Jagannatha Temple At Puri: Its Architecture, Art And Cult, E.J. Brill (Leiden and New York). [1993]
  • Patnaik, N.: Sacred Geography of Puri : Structure and Organisation and Cultural Role of a Pilgrim Centre, Year: 2006, ISBN 81-7835-477-2
  • Siṃhadeba, Jitāmitra Prasāda: Tāntric art of Orissa