Jagannath

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Jagannath,

India: see PuriPuri
, town (1991 pop. 125,199), Odisha (Orissa) state, E central India, on the Bay of Bengal. The life of the town centers around the cult of Juggernaut (Jagannath), a form of the Krishna incarnation of Vishnu. This cult, unique in Hinduism, has no caste distinctions.
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Jagannath Rath Yatra Festival attendees in Calcutta, India, honor Jagannath, one of the many incarnations of the Hindu god Vishnu.AFP/Getty Images.

Jagannath

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

Jagannath is the name of a Hindu deity (an incarnation of Vishnu); a prominent Hindu temple located in Puri, a coastal city in the state of Orissa in eastern India; and a festival celebrated by Vaishnava Hindus worldwide. Vaishnavas, Hinduswho primarily honor Vishnu as the major Hindu deity, believe that Lord Jagannath was responsible for the creation of the whole universe. In the temple in Puri, Jagannath is closely associated with his sister Subhadra and his brother Balabhadra.

The Puri Temple was built by Raja Ananta Varman Chodaganga Dev in the twelfth century CE, then maintained by successive Hindu rulers through the next four centuries. In 1558 Orissa was conquered by Afghan Muslims already in power in neighboring Bengal. The Afghans held Orissa until 1592, during which time worship at the Puri Temple was suppressed. After they were driven out, even though Muslim influence continued to dominate in the region, the statues were reinstalled and worship of Lord Jagannath resumed.

Lord Jagannath and his siblings are installed in the sanctuary in the rear of the temple. A daily ritual begins at 5 a.m. and consists of several meals (the presentation of food offerings, called Prasadam), several dressings (costume changes) of the statues, and the distribution of food to the people.

The Puri Temple is part of the Hindu attempt to mark the subcontinent as holy space. At the same time, the area is to some extent a religious and cultural enigma. Jagannath and the associated deities at the Puri Temple are seen as officially related to the local tribal people, who are considered to exist outside of the traditional tribal or caste system. Generally, members of the higher castes would not consider eating with such outsiders. However, at Puri, the tribal groups prepare all the prasadam (holy food), and pilgrims eat it without regard to the caste rules. Some have suggested that what occurs at the temple may be derived from an earlier effort to reform the caste system.

The major attraction at Puri is the annual Jagannath festival that occurs in midsummer. The deities are placed in three large carts and carried from the temple to their “summer temple,” the Gundicha Mandir, a little over a mile from the main Jagannath temple. The cart upon which Lord Jagannath rides is a massive wooden structure constructed from hundreds of logs cut from the sacred phasi trees, a forest of which is kept in cultivation just for this annual event. Two slightly smaller carts carry Subhadra and Balabhadra. Lord Jagannath’s cart requires four thousand men to it pull it, and once it is moving it is extremely difficult to stop (this fact being the origin of the popular war term juggernaut). Devotees in the tens of thousands gather to watch Lord Jagannath take the short trip. He will stay in the summer temple only seven days and is then returned to the main temple.

The Jagannath festival, though held in smaller versions in several other Indian cities, was largely unknown in the West until the advent of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), the Hare Krishna movement, in the United States in the 1960s. Very soon after organizing, ISKCON began to hold Jagannath festivals in different American cities, and their annual reenactment of the trip to the summer temple has become a popular attraction. It is currently held each summer in the major cities throughout the West where the movement has established temples.

Sources:

das Goswami, Satsvarupa. A Visit to Jagannath Puri. La Crosse, FL: Gita-nagari Press, 1987.
Deo, Jitamitra Prasad Singh. Origin of Jagannath Deity. New Delhi: Gyan, 2003.
Eschmann, Ann, Hermann Kulke, and Gaya C. Tripathi, eds. The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa. New Delhi: Manohar Press, 1978.
Schnepal, Burkhard, and Herman Kulke. Jagannath Revisited: Studying Society, Religion and the State in Orissa. New Delhi: Manohar, 2001.