Hinduism Jagannātha
Shaswat Panda
  • LAST REVIEWED: 21 March 2024
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 March 2024
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0286


Jagannātha (literally Lord of the Universe) is worshipped along with his brother Balabhadra and sister Subhadrā in a stately temple that was built in the 12th century and is located in the coastal town of Puri in the eastern state of Odisha in India. The temple is variously referred to as Jagannātha Mandira, Sri Mandira, and Bada Deula. Owing to its metonymic association with Puri—one of the four dhāms (or principal centers of pilgrimage) for the Hindus, the temple attracts devotees from different corners of the country. Although the deities are considered a part of the mainstream Hindu pantheon, there are practices and rituals of the temple, which retain a strong local character. Jagannātha has been associated with various faiths and sects—Buddhism, Jainism, Vaiśnavism, and Shāktism to name a few. The popularity of Jagannātha can be ascribed to a large extent to stories surrounding his compassionate and protective nature, especially toward his poor and marginalized devotees. Another reason is the assimilation and appropriation of Jagannātha by other religious faiths and sects. Elaborate set of everyday rituals and festivities round the year, especially the Ratha Yatra (annual chariot festival), further contribute toward popularizing the deity. Oblique references to Jagannātha appear in Sanskrit texts as early as the Rig Veda and later in the Upanishads; the allusion being to the worship of wood. It is in Puranic texts that we find vivid descriptions of the deity and his two siblings, particularly in Skanda Purana. The tribal associations of the deities notwithstanding, Jagannātha is today identified within and outside Odisha mainly as a Hindu god. In Odisha, Jagannātha is occasionally equated with the Buddha, who is sometimes considered to be the ninth incarnation of Viśnu. However, such a belief may not be as common among the non-Odia Hindus. Because of his association with Viśnu through incarnation, Jagannātha is considered to be the husband of Lakśmi within the cultural world of the temple. While Lakśmi has a distinct temple devoted to her, she is also worshipped in the form of Śri Devi, who shares the altar-space with the three principal deities. Lakśmi is not integral to all the rituals, however she remains indispensably crucial to many of them. The existence of centuries-old Matts (monasteries) of different sects and visits paid by devotees from various parts of the country certainly testify to the cosmopolitan dimension of what is called Jagannātha samskriti (cultural world). The pre-eminence of Jagannātha in Odisha may be inferred from the role that this samskriti has played in shaping polity and influencing consolidation of power from the medieval times to the present day. The medieval kings ruled in the name of Jagannātha and sought to derive their legitimacy by claiming intimate association with him. During the colonial rule the lord was often invoked as the god of all Odias to whom the Odia nationalists swore their allegiance. In contemporary times, the rhetorical appeal of the “lord of the universe’” may be found in a range of expressions from salutations of “Jay Jagannātha” (“hail lord Jagannātha”) to the names of welfare schemes of the state after the lord. Predictably, Jagannātha occupies an important position in popular culture be it in audio, visual, or digital media.


The literature on Jagannātha, especially surveys and overviews with regard to the temple, the possible origins of the deities exists in good number. The popularity of Jagannātha, the cultural-political significance of the deity, and the cultural world around him has invited curiosity and criticism from writers right from precolonial times to the present day. Apart from archaeological evidence, epigraphical sources, and personal recollections, the archiving of the temple’s past and textual representation of its culture happened in a big way during the colonial period by the British administrators, missionaries, and native intelligentsia, which resisted colonial narratives. Charles Grome’s Report on the Temple of Jagannath, 10 June 1805 and George Webb’s Report on the Temple of Jagannath, 19 December 1807 are important archival sources that were commissioned by the British administration. Both these civil servants, Charles Grome and George Webb, studied the temple largely for economic and administrative purposes. A couple of accounts from the colonial period worth mentioning here are Mitra 1895 and Mishra 2007 (first published in 1929). While the former invites scrutiny for its polemical charge and its critical outlook, the latter is an insider’s account of the temple. In postcolonial period, Kulke, et al. 1978, Mishra 1984, Dube 2001 and Tripathy 2012 are among the indispensable works on the subject. Each of these texts offer remarkably deep insights on several aspects of the cultural world of Jagannātha. Studies of the temple that highlight its local character––its unique practices and vocabulary––include Patnaik 1981, Mahapatra 1996, and Dash 2015. The presence of Jagannātha outside Puri and the spread of his popularity to distant regions in the recent past has been suitably engaged with in Kulke 2001.

  • Behera, K. S., H. S. Patnaik, M. P. Dash, and R. K. Mishra, eds. Charles Grome’s Report on the Temple of Jagannath, 10 June 1805. Bhubaneswar, India: Orissa State Archives, 2002.

    The first extensive report on the temple, its customs and administrative system prepared by a British civil servant, Grome’s dispatch to his authorities is a classic exercise in documentation-leading-to-domination.

  • Behera, K. S., H. S. Patnaik, M. P. Dash and R. K. Mishra eds. George Webb’s Report on the Temple of Jagannath, 19 December 1807. Bhubaneswar, India: Orissa State Archives, 2003.

    Like his predecessor Grome, Webb too tried to study the temple’s sources of revenue, its land endowments, and other forms of property. The report is nevertheless important for anyone studying the history of the temple.

  • Dash, Surendranath. Srimandir Shabdkosh. Bhubaneswar, India: Jagannath Gabeshana Pratisthan, 2015.

    (A dictionary of words associated with Sri Mandir.) A seminal contribution to the ever-expanding scholarship on Jagannātha, this voluminous lexicon contains important keywords on the temple.

  • Dube, Ishita Banerjee. Divine Affairs: Religion, Pilgrimage and the State in Colonial and Postcolonial India. Shimla, India: Indian Institute of Advance Study, 2001.

    Combining methodologies of history and anthropology, the work studies the cultural practices around Jagannātha by engaging with the many actors associated with it—be it the king of Puri, the temple administration, or the pilgrims, who flock to Puri in huge numbers during Rath Yātra.

  • Kulke, Herman. Jagannath Revisited: Studying Society, Religion and the State in Orissa. New Delhi: Manohar, 2001.

    This book is an outcome of the second part of the Orissa Research Project carried out by scholars at Heidelberg University. It maps the shifts and changes in fields of religion and society in Odisha in the years after the completion of the first phase of the project. The work makes an important contribution to multiple aspects of Odishan studies (including Jagannātha) by paying attention to less explored areas such as Jagannātha beyond Puri, former kingdoms in hinterland of Odisha, and so on.

  • Kulke, Herman, Anncharlott Eschmann, and Gaya Charan Tripathi, eds. The Cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa. New Delhi: Manohar, 1978.

    This book was an outcome of the first phase of the Orissa Research Project undertaken by the scholars at South Asia Institute at Heidelberg University, Germany. An interdisciplinary study on various aspects of the “cult,” this anthology of essays explores the historical processes through which the “Hinduization” of gods of tribal origins took place. More importantly, Jagannātha “cult” is seen as a part of a regional tradition that ultimately spread across different parts of Odisha as part of expansionist strategies.

  • Mahapatra, Siddheswar. Puri Boli. Bhubaneswar, India: Orissa Sahitya Akademi, 1996.

    (The local parlance of Puri.) This rich repertoire of local idioms and colloquialisms of Puri and Jagannātha temple is useful to not only understanding religious and social life of the temple town but also local aspects of the cultural milieu around Jagannātha.

  • Mishra, Kanhu Charan. The Cult of Jagannatha. Calcutta, India: Firma LKM Pvt Ltd, 1984.

    A comprehensive and richly insightful study of the “cult” of Jagannātha and its multifaceted nature, its complex origins, and its symbolic significance in the life worlds of Odias in particular and Hindus in general. The book additionally engages with debates on historical aspects of the “cult” as it carefully parses through Puranic sources and historical evidence.

  • Mishra, Narayan. Annals and Antiquities of the Temple of Jagannatha. New Delhi: Sarup and Sons, 2007.

    Published for the first time in 1929, this book was authored by somebody who had worked with the temple when it was under the supervision of the British. With a title that rings of colonial historiographical approaches, the book tries to compare, contrast, and integrate historical and mythological accounts of the temple of Jagannātha. While the author does parse through mythological texts, he claims to weigh in their probability. Nevertheless, the monograph remains an early and important source on the history of administration of the temple.

  • Mitra, Rajendralal. Account of the Temple of Jagannath, ‘Lord of the World’ at Puri: The Most Sacred Hindu Temple in India. Madras, India: The Christian Literature Society, 1895.

    Written at the behest of British administration and based to a good extent on colonial accounts of Odisha, Mitra’s book is a reflection on history and aspects of culture of the temple. Apart from these topics, the author presents a critical outlook on the temple especially on matters concerning “superstition” and exploitation of pilgrims.

  • Patnaik, Bibudendra N. “The Jagannath Temple Register of Oriya.” Language Forum 6 (1981): 3–4

    This essay is one of the first scholarly works in English to explore the unique linguistic register of the temple––the expressions used by the temple servitors to refer to rituals and associated activities.

  • Tripathy, Mahimohan. Sri Jagannath. Bhubaneswar, India: Ama Odisha, 2012.

    Tripathy’s book delves into a wide range of subjects related to Jagannātha from religious philosophy to history to administration to places connected with the temple.

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