The Jagannath cult has a profound influence on Orissa’s socio-religious-political life. Jagannath, in a sense, became the State deity during the Ganga and Surya dynasties. Puri has been visited by founders of various religious cults since ancient times, who left their mark through the monasteries.
Through the ages, the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Orissa, has been a centre for religious, spiritual, and artistic pursuits. For the people of Orissa, Lord Jagannath is more than a religious deity; he is the source of their cultural, intellectual, and emotional sustenance. Jagannath culture inspired and enriched Odissi dance and music, as well as Orissan sculpture and the famous patachitra paintings. While staying in Puri, the poet Jayadeva composed his famous Gita Govinda. As previously stated, Yayati I, the great Somavamsi king, is said to have initiated the construction of the Jagannath temple in Puri. Perhaps during the Somavamsis period, special emphasis was placed on the worship of God Jagannath. Murari Mishra’s ninth-century A.D. play Anargharaghava refers to the worship of God Purusottama (Jagannath) on the seashore. Similarly, the Tantra Yamala (10th century AD) and the Kalki purana (11th century AD) both refer to God Jagannath as the land’s most venerated deity. Between the 12th and 16th centuries A.D., the imperial Gangas gave due patronage to the worship of God Jagannath. The mighty rulers of this dynasty, such as Chodagangadeva, Anangabhimadeva III, and Narasimhadeva, were devout worshippers of God Jagannath, expressing their longing for the God in various inscriptions. The rulers of the Suryavamsi Gajapati dynasty enhanced Jagannath’s power and prestige during their reign.
It had such an effect on the people of Odisha that they did not oppose Purusottamadeva’s enthronement when Kapilendradeva dismissed Hamvira’s legitimate claim and thus kept his subjects silent. Jagannath and Balabhadra demonstrated their martial spirit in the Kanchi-Kaveri legend by defeating the Kanchi king. During Prataparudradeva’s reign, God Jagannath’s popularity grew, as evidenced by the Pancha Sakha literature. Sri Chaitanya’s visit to Puri during his reign period popularised the cult of God Jagannath throughout Odisha. His efforts converted the people of Odisha into devout Jagannath devotees.
During the reign of the Bhoi dynasty, sufficient attention was paid to temple rituals and to the comfort and safety of pilgrims who came from various parts of the country. The zeal with which king Ramachandradeva protected Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra from the Muslims demonstrates the king and people of this land’s devotion to the Cult of God Jagannath. Even today, the Gajapati king of Odisha’s Chhera Pahanra in front of the Gods during Ratha Yatra, in the presence of hundreds and thousands of devotees, demonstrates the cult’s popularity not only in Odisha, but also throughout the country and abroad.
It has developed into one of the four most important pilgrimage sites for devout Hindus not only in Orissa, but throughout India and the world. The largest crowds of devotees can be seen in Puri during Lord Jagannath’s car festival. Hindus believe that seeing Lord Jagannath, the manifestation of the supreme being, in his chariot prevents one from falling into the cycle of rebirth.