History, Beliefs, and Characteristics
The Jagannath temple in the city of Puri, located in the Indian state of Odisha is a prominent holy site in the landscape of Hindu India. Although it may not be as well known to “outsiders” as pilgrimage sites such as Varanasi and Hyderabad, it is undoubtedly a significant place that attracts countless believing practitioners, seekers, and tourists year round.
- The temple stands today much in the same fashion it did all the way back to the 12th century, however the site, the traditions that revolve around the deities there, and the lore behind the represented gods themselves cane easily be traced back to much earlier age; even, some scholars claim, to pre-Vedic times.[i]
- The deities who reside in the temple look nothing like traditional representations of Hindu gods, especially considering that they are believed to be non other than Vishnu, Shiva, and Shakti. The god’s distinctive features are most likely a remnant from the pre-Vedic deities that were worshiped in the region.[ii]
- As time progressed though, and what we know as Hinduism became the most prominent force in the sub-continent, the three gods that had formally been known as three manifestations of “Lord Jagannath” became synonymous with the traditional Hindu trinity.[iii]
- It is further speculated that once the gods in the shrines in Puri became affiliated and eventually identical with Vishnua, Shiva, and Shkati, rulers in the region lumped the three Hindu gods together in order to ease tensions and conflict among competing sects of Saiva, Sakta, and Vaisnava communities. Today, the temple can boast truly distinctive representations of three classic and central Hindu gods which draws dedicated believers from across the region to offer their prayers to the presiding deities.[iv]
- The Jagannath temple, while clearly a vestige of early indigenous times and traditions in now steeped in Hindu thought. Due to this, it can easily be drawn together to other important Hindu shrines, pilgrimage sites, and temples across much of India.
How Does the Jagannath Temple Relate to Other Hindu Sacred Sites?
- Connections to both Vridavan and Dwarka can be made when one is familiar with the histories and beliefs that encompass these two sites. Vridavan is a popular shrine located in Uttar Pradesh. It is believed that Vridavan is the site where Krishna, a popular Hindu divine/semi-divine figure, lived during much of his “childhood” or early years. Later in Krishna’s time on earth, he went on to live an exciting and noteworthy “life”. It is said that Krishna founded towns and shrines while he resided in the sub-continent, one of them being Dwarka.
- It is believed the Krishna is an avatar (one of many, but specifically the eighth one), or an incarnation of Vishnu, the main god who sits in the Jagannath temple! The god who is paid homage to by an innumerable amount of faithful pilgrims in Jagannath in fact has other shrines dedicated to later personifications of him and also himself founded other sacred sites! Such ideas have quite lofty theological implications, but it is easy to see with an understanding of a traditional Hindu world view how indeed all Hindu holy places are intertwined in one way or another. This is, once one gets beneath the surficial level of Hindu practice, a core element of Hindu belief and in truth, of all religious creeds and traditions. Lord Vishnu, Shiva and Sakti and found not only in Jagannath but across all of Bharat Mata.
[i] Jacobsen, Knut A., Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan. “Orissa: Brief Outline of History.” Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Leiden: Brill, 2009. 44-46. Print.
[ii] Jacobsen, Knut A., Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar, and Vasudha Narayanan. “Religious Politics in Medieval Orissa: The Cult of Jagannatha.” Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism. Leiden: Brill, 2009. 50-53. Print.
[iii] Apffel-Marglin, Frédérique. Wives of the God-King: The Rituals of the Devadasis of Puri. Delhi: Oxford UP, 1985.
[iv] Dubois, J. A. Hindu Manners, Customs and Ceremonies. Ed. Henry K. Beauchamp. Oxford: Clarendon, 1906. Print.