The legendary account of Lord Jagannath’s creation is mentioned in the ‘Skanda Purana’, ‘Brahma Purana’ and other Puranas, and later in numerous other works that form the spine of literature of Orissa. These state that originally Lord Jagannath was worshipped as Neela Madhab by Viswavasu, a Savar King (Tribal Chief). Having heard of the surreptitious deity, King Indradyumna of Kalinga, sent a Brahmin, Bidyapati, to locate the deity.
Vidyapati succeeded in locating Neela Madhab after much toil. The determined king then set out on a trail to locate and bring the deity to his kingdom by himself. In the process to win the confidence of the Savar King, he married his daughter Lalita and stayed with his family as a savar(tribal). However Indradyumna failed to catch a glimpse of the deity. He then prevailed on his wife to impress upon her father to take him (Indradyumna) to the cave where he performed daily worship of Neela Madhab . The tribal king agreed reluctantly to his daughter’s offer on the condition that Indradyumna could follow him but without seeing the path they were taking. Having agreed to this condition, Indradyumna was guided to the cave blindfolded by the Savara King.But the King Indradyumna kept on dropping puffed rice on the path they were taking and after having a glimpse of the Lord with his father –in-law, returned back to take the same path to the cave alone.
He returned the next day to the cave to take the God with him.However hard he tried to take the idol with him, he failed. The King Indradyumna was then instructed by the Lord in an oracular dream to return back to his kingdom and wait for a piece of Neem wood (daru) that would be found at the seashore. He was instructed to carve an idol from that particular piece of log and worship it as Lord Jagannath – an Incarnation of Lord Vishnu.
True to the prophecy, the King found the neem (margosa) wood at the seashore and requested Lord Vishwakarma, the heavenly mason, to model the Jagannath idol. Vishwakarma accepted the offer only under one condition, that nobody should disturb him or a steal a look until he had finished doing his work. The King promised to follow His wishes and Vishwakarma began modeling the Jagannath idol. However, curiosity being an irresistible urge, the King could not help stealing a glance at Vishwakarma’s studio. The idol was still incomplete and Vishwakarma was infuriated. At that time all except the arms of the deities were finished. Vishwakarma, exasperated at the King’s audacity, left without completing His work. Thus came Lord Jagannath with his incomplete limbs, His brother Balabhadra and Sister Subhadra. The three deities were installed in the Jagannath temple of Puri.
The three deities have been worshipped here ever since. As mentioned above the deities’ idols are made of wood and are ensconced in the Golden Throne – The Ratna Singhasan. Finding their seat along with the Lord are miniature metal images of Devi Lakshmi, Devi Saraswati besides an image of the Sudrashan Chakra.
The elder brother Balabhadra is six feet in height, the younger Jagannath five feet, and their sister Subhadra four feet. They are fashioned into a curious resemblance of the human head resting on a sort of pedestal. Strangely the the use of bright resplendent colors of white, black, and yellow are used to paint their faces. While equally resplendent dresses are used to adorn their bodies. The two brothers have arms projecting horizontally forward while the sisters body has been carved without hands.The idols are replenished periodically at a gap of 12 years. Many Myths and legends are associated with this ritual of replacing the old idols which is called Nabakalebara.