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Jagannātha


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A form of Kṛṣṇa worshipped in West Bengal and Orissa, notably at the Jagannātha temple complex in Purī, which also contains images of the god's brother, Balabhadra (Balarāma), and his sister, Subhadrā. All three wooden images share a peculiar, tribal-looking, and perhaps tribal-derived, iconography, with flattened faces and widened mouths; they are ritually renewed every twelve years. The major attraction for the large numbers of pilgrims who make their way to Purī is the yearly ratha-yātrā, or ‘chariot festival’, held in āṣāḍha (June–July). Accompanied by his siblings in their slightly smaller vehicles, Jagannātha, on a 16-wheeled, 14-metre high, temple-shaped vehicle, is pulled through the streets to a garden retreat by thousands of devotees in a carnival atmosphere. After seven days, the images are returned the two miles to the temple, and the chariot dismantled, only for an exact replica to be built the following year.

The temple was begun in the 12th century ce under the Eastern Gaṇga king, Anantavarman Coḍa (1076–1148), in what seems to have been an attempt to colonize the area by combining local tribal deities with Viṣṇu in a royal commemorative cult. Initially the temple was dedicated to the Puruṣottama form of Viṣṇu, but the name was changed to Jagannātha in the 15th century. The accidental and, occasionally, devotionally suicidal crushing of some devotees beneath the chariot's wheels, was a conspicuous feature of early reports by Westerners, and led to the coining of the English term, ‘juggernaut’.

Subjects: Hinduism.


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