Impact of Jagannath Cult on Odishan society

The Jagannath cult exercises deep impact over the socio-religious-political life of Orissa. During the Ganga and Surya rules, Jagannath, so to say, became the State deity. Puri has been visited from ancient times by founders of different religious cults, who left their legacy through the monasteries.

The Jagannath Temple at Puri in Orissa has been a center of religious, spiritual and artistic pursuits through the ages. Lord Jagannath is more than a religious deity for the people of Orissa, he is fountainhead of their cultural, intellectual and emotional sustenance. Odissi dance and music as well as Orissan sculpture and the famous patachitra paintings were inspired and enriched by Jagannath culture. The poet Jayadeva composed his famous Gita Govinda staying in Puri. As discussed earlier, Yayati I, the great Somavamsi king is supposed to had started the construction work of the temple of God Jagannath at Puri. Perhaps, during the period of the Somavamsis, the worship of God Jagannath was given a special attention. The play Anargharaghava of Murari Mishra of 9th century A.D. refers to the worship God Purusottama (Jagannath) on the sea-shore. Similarly, the Tantra Yamala (10th cent – A.D.) and the Kalki purana (11th century A.D.) refer to God Jagannath as the venerate deity of this land. During the glorious days of the imperial Gangas from 12th century A.D. to 16th century A.D., the worship of God Jagannath was given due patronage. The mighty rulers of this dynasty like Chodagangadeva, Anangabhimadeva III and Narasimhadeva were ardent worshippers of God Jagannath and they stated in different inscription the longing to the God. During the Suryavamsi Gajapati rule, the power and prestige of Jagannath were enhanced by the rulers of this dynasty.

Its impact on the people of Odisha was so much so that, they even did not oppose the enthronement of Purusottamadeva, when the legitimate claim of Hamvira was thrown aside by Kapilendradeva who justified his action as it was the divine will of God Jagannath and thus, kept his subjects mum. In the Kanchi-Kaveri legend Jagannath and Balabhadra exhibited their martial spirit by defeating the king of Kanchi. The reign period of Prataparudradeva witnessed the growing popularity of God Jagannath as reflected in the Pancha Sakha literature. The visit of Sri Chaitanya to Puri during his reign period popularised the cult of God Jagannath in the nook and
corner of Odisha. His efforts made the people of Odisha a blind follower of God Jagannath.

During the reign period of the Bhoi dynasty, adequate attention was given for the temple rituals and looking after the comforts and safety of the pilgrims who carnd to this land from different
parts of the country. The ardent devotion of king Ramachandradeva in keeping Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra out of the touch of the Muslims, shows the great devotion of the king and people of this land towards the Cult of God Jagannath. Even today the Chhera Pahanra by the Gajapati king of Odisha, in front of the Gods during Ratha Yatra in the presence of hundreds and thousands of devotees, proved the popularity of this cult not only in Odisha but also in
different parts of the country and abroad.

It has become one of the four important places of pilgrimage for the devout Hindus not only of Orissa but also of all parts of India and the world. Largest crowds of devotees are to be noticed in Puri at the time of the car festival of Lord Jagannath. It is the belief of Hindus that on seeing Lord Jagannath, the manifestation of supreme being, in his chariot one never falls into the mire of the cycle of rebirth.