Jagannath Temple Revisited - Saptarshi Kar

Ancient Jagannath Temple
Ancient Jagannath Temple

There has been a dramatic increase in activities of Hindu Religious Organisations (HROs) in  India in the past seven decades. In the wake of Neoliberalism of the 1980s many of such  organisations had an additional impulse to work for humanity. India witnessed a division of  responsibilities between the state and the civil society for delivering goods and services in the  society (Basley, T. and Ghatak, M., 1999). Nevertheless, many HROs found to supplement the  traditional role of the state through their active participation in public projects in influencing  socio-economic development of the country. 

Irrespective of various changes within the Indian society, academic scholarships have paid lesser  attention in studying the reasons behind such activities of HROs and their socio-economic and  political influences and developmental impacts. Conventional practice was limited to lay down a  theoretical foundation of studying how Hinduism has hamstring the economic development of  India (Audretsch et al., 2007). Weber (1930, 1958) and Kapp (1963) have emphasized on how  the concept of otherworldliness has undermined economic development of India. But, a group of  scholars like Milton Singer (1966, 1956) and Arvind Sharma (1980) have proposed a counter  argument in favour of Hinduism. No attempt, however, has been made to study the role of Hindu  Religious organisations. That calls attention. It is in this light, the paper aims to discuss the role  of one of the most prominent HROs, the Jagannath Temple (JT) of Puri, Orissa; in shaping the  developmental trajectory of India. 

The cult of Jagannath being one of the oldest example of Hindu religious synthesis, a product of  Aryan and non-Aryan faiths developed in India (Hunter, 2005; Mubayi, 2005; Choudhury, 2004;  Nayak, 2001; Satapathy, 2000). JT is one of the most important Hindu pilgrimages. It continues  to carry a history of Hindu religious legacies over nine hundred years. In the 12th century, after  conquering Orissan territory, Raja Ananta Varman Chodaganga of Gajapati dynasty started the  temple construction work in the place of a small dilapidated temple (Mahapatra, 2003). History  narrates that the purpose of the temple construction was to legitimise the ‗centralised politico ritual structure of authority of [Gajapati] rulers‘ (Mubayi, 2005: 18) along with the practice of 

Karmakanda. Evidences suggest that all the upachara (ordered sequence of offerings and  services) made to the deities hitherto are performed following the guidelines of the Sanskrit  scripture, Niladri Mahodaya, made JT the last ‗magnificent assertion of autocratic devotion‘  (Hunter, 2005: 16).  

Qualitative study suggests that the Hindu scriptural value system is the key force behind the  ritualistic practices of JT which is influencing different degrees of work motivation and  devotional engagement among servitors of the deities and devotees; furthermore, contributing in  the shaping of the developmental trajectory. 

Puja and ritual practices, in its heart, is to be seen as a source for psychic benefits to devotees  and servitors and socio-economic development that are profusely scattered around. Thus, the  deities form ‗part and parcel of the [socio–political], religious and cultural ethos of the people‘  (Choudhury, 2004). In order to understand the temple‘s contribution in socio-economic  development of Orissa, there is a need to analyse the political context and daily ritual practices  performed in JT. Below such issues — political, psychological and socio-economic — are  discussed in detail.

old picture jagannath temple

The Political Context

The erection of today‘s JT is a consequence of pre-colonial politics. Indeed, the temple has to be  seen as a major force that worked behind the political and cultural integrity between the  aborigines, Vaishanavites, Shaivites, Buddhists, Jains and Ganga rulers of Orissa. In order to  legitimise the rule of Ganga dynasty in the midst of majority aborigine population, and  prominent presence of Buddhism, Jainism and various Hindu sects, Jagannath, the tribal God,  has to be brought and placed in a temple along with other Gods and Goddesses (viz. Balaram,  Subhadra, Sridevi and Bhudevi) for securing political peace and integrity. In the course of time,  Orissa under AnangaVimdev‘s rule became the ‗empire of Jagannath‘. The true insight that was  embedded in the idea of fostering seva to Lord Jagannath and hence sanctioning preservation of  socio-cosmic order, protection of humanity to benefit the world, was to sanction political  security of the Oriya population by the maintenance of communal harmony.

The Psychological influence of scriptures

In between this political gaming, gradually JT emerged as an epitome of religious symposium  whose legacy is continuing hitherto in the same way as it used to be in the past. The temple is a  seat for different ritual practices by different religions. Moreover, ritual practice in JT is  considered as a tool for attainment of salvation by different individuals. All ritual practices of the  sanctum sanctorum of the temple are carried out following guidelines prescribed by the scripture,  Niladri Mahodaya

Scriptural prescriptions for ritual practices and worshipping of the deities in JT, like other well  funded public temples, serve a wide range of purposes. Numerous ritualistic practices in JT  supported with arati (waving of lamps), considered as parts of worshipping the deities, are  primarily acts of affirmation to a wide range of persisting beliefs among the devotees, priests and  other servitors of the temple. First, Arati is considered to be an act of showing piety to deities, by  the priest and other servitors who perform the rituals, and by devotees who are involved as  viewers of such practices. In return to these services, deities are expected to preserve the entire  socio-cosmic order and provide benefits to servitors and devotees.  

Second, the act of darshana during arati (a part of public worship) has a psychological impact  on devotees. While conducting a field investigation my own observation of behaviours of devotees  and servitors in the temple acquainted me with a fact that Hindu concept of darshana during the  time of arati is associated with the satisfaction and happiness of devotees and servitors at least  for the time being. Darshana during arati is to be considered not merely an ordinary gaze on the  part of a devotee, priest or any other servitor; but indeed, as an absorption of deity‘s supernatural  power and blessings by the devotee himself/herself, by the priest who perform the arati and by  any other servitor those who are engaged in that act for the time being. I found that those  devotees who managed to exchange their vision with that of the deities, enjoyed great  satisfaction, hence were very happy, but, those who could not manage to have a glimpse of the  deities during arati, become immensely dissatisfied. Thus, arati creates an impact of divine  enjoyment on the mind of devotees who gain a chance of darshana.

Third, the most important part of ritual practices in JT is offering of Bhoga (meals offered to  deities) and the transformation of bhoga to mahaprasada bears very special significances for  devotees and servitors of deities. Fifty six food items are offered to the deities regularly as bhoga in the sanctum sanctorum. Such offerings are ought to be planned according to puja muhurathas  (opportune times). Once the deities are imagined as to have completed eating the bhoga, the  consecrated leftovers i.e. the mahaprasada, are carried away from the Bhoga Mandap (the room  where the food is regularly offered to the deities), partly for sale in the Anandabazar (market  inside the temple premises) and partly for distribution among the servitors. Though consumption  of mahaprasada is often associated with market factors (to be discussed later), the consumers of  mahaprasada attain divine satisfaction. Devotees are either found to buy the mahaprasada from  Anandabazar or they obtain it from their respective priests (who have already performed private  worship for devotees). In this case, no matter what cost a devotee pays, it is always awarded by a  degree of happiness the devotee acquires from the consumption of mahaprasada. Even a minute  amount of mahaprasada can immensely ignite an individual‘s satisfaction level. I observed such  a unique behaviour among the devotees of JT while investigating in the temple, which led me  understand that the concept of mahaprasada, psychologically influences individual‘s satisfaction  levels. That the scripture, Niladri Mahodaya fosters the idea of offering of bhoga to the deities  which is followed by the transformation of bhoga to mahaprasada, so, the credit for delivering  the ultimate outcome, i.e., the psychological benefits enjoyed by an individual from the  consumption of mahaprasada, should be attributed to the scriptures and not on mahaprasada as  such. 

Fourth, the scripture Niladri Mahodaya, quite peculiarly, acts as an underlying force that  weakens the work motivation of priests and servitors of JT in the economic spheres of their lives.  While conducting investigation in the temple I was struck by the egoistic behaviour of a priest.  During the entire period of discussion with him, I found him simply boasting his priesthood and  pretending that he needed to do no other job in society for its betterment. He also wanted to  impress me with his priesthood ego by saying that he rather does more valuable service to  society by worshipping Lord Jagannath. I also found him exaggerating his pride in having  possession of hereditary rights of priesthood. His gesture and speech revealed his feeling of  superiority derived from a sense of kinship with Lord Jagannath. Several other servitors and 

priests were also found to think alike. The illusive superiority which was found to be prevalent creates a superior–inferior dichotomy further demeaning the work culture as a whole. Hence, I  argue, conservative scripture, which foresees religion as a means of performing rituals often  limits the prospects of socio–economic development.

The Context of socio– economic development

jagannath temple: income, expenses and spillover

While discussing JT one cannot avoid discussing its socio-economic contributions.  Fig. 1 shows the income and expenditure of JT as well as the temple‘s indirect effect on the  economy. The temple‘s most important sources of income are donations under the General Scheme,  income from granite mines (owned by the temple), Hundi collection, interests earned from fixed  deposits and government grants. Other than this the temple also earns money by selling special  darshana tickets.  

Not only does the temple earn money from different sources, it makes huge amounts of  investments in different fields. A large amount of money goes in purchasing daily ingredients  required for ritualistic practices and payment of daily salaries of priests and other servitors. For 

for example, the temple spends Rs. 1.2 million per month on paying remunerations to servitors and  financing Khei (a kind of subsistence allowed by the temple) for them. 

It is important to mention here that JT directly provides jobs to 8,344 servitors by turn basis. In  some cases, an employee servitor can employ people under him to assist him in temple activities  for which payments are made to the latter by the employer servitor (and not by the temple  authority). However, JT bears limited expenditure in improving the standard of living of  servitors. Statistics in JT Census (2005) reports that there is great inequality in the income slabs  of its servitors. Maharaja, priests and cooks, e.g., are the most affluent classes of people  whereas, some other Nijogas (servitors) like the devdasi are not so lucky (JT Census, 2005).  

JT temple associates itself with devdasi pratha. The pratha embodies women’s un-freedom in the  society. This tradition is a source of female exploitation which is legitimised by Karmakanda.  The JT Census (2005) reports that the temple had a devdasi till 2005. The practice involves  unscrupulous expenses which benefits none. Conditions of the devdasis were not economically  sound. It would not be wrong to say that they remain the victims of pseudo-cosmic practices. It  is only in the mercy of time and law that devdasi pratha, which is a source of female  exploitation, a social evil, has been banned by the Government. 

JT also runs a charitable dispensary (that has one homeopathic and one allopathic section), a  pathological clinic, a library (which is dedicated only to researches of Jagannath cult and the  temple), a tutorial centre, and different insurance schemes. In addition, it provides financial  assistance to a Veda Pathshala (indigenous school) and Swadhay Kendra (a centre where  participants recites scriptures and sing devotional songs). Other than this, nowadays, the temple  committee arrange full–belly meals for more than 50 children of Baal Ashrama.  

Apart from this, JT has some spillover effects on Orissa’s economy. First, because of the Jagannath cult, Puri has witnessed a growth of 752 Maths (monasteries) and Missions over  centuries. At present, several Maths are still found to carry out their religious practices in the  temple compound. Besides, some of these Maths are found to provide shelter and financial  support to poor and meritorious students. Secondly, JT serves as a tourism capsule to Orissa. 

The Government of Orissa also has witnessed an increase in inflow of money through tourism — from Rs. 1304.85 crore (2003-04) to Rs. 3195.14 crore (2007-08).1The state government is  using media for marketing of tourism to attract tourists and their money. Tourists from different  parts of the world visit Puri to see JT. The temple architecture and its glorious history are main  reasons of tourists‘ attraction. For the Hindus, however, the temple reveals its religious  significance and it serves as an engine of Hindu integrity. The fact that JT does not discriminate  among Hindus on the basis of caste, creed and colour, creates a distinctly liberal image of Lord  Jagannath in the minds of lower caste Hindus, and thus the same image of the deities works in  paving a distinct place for the organization in the society. Third, for the local people the temple  creates an enormous scope of economic activities. Dr. Bhaskar Mishra (O.S.D. Law Department,  Government of Orissa and Deputy Administrator, JT), in his interview (dated on 30-07-09),  mentioned that about 70 percent of the population of Puri district depends on the temple for  earning their livelihood. In the wake of tourism several other businesses are also growing.  Handicraft, for example, is one of the booming industries of Orissa. The consumption of  different industrial products by the tourists impacts the socio-economic environment of Puri.  Apart from this, Puri has experienced an increase in the number of hotels in the past six years — from  299 (2006) to 317 (2007).2The Statistical Bulletin published by Odisha Tourism (2018) the  present number of hotels increased to 594. In a nutshell, considering JT‘s status and high level of  funding, the paper argues that its contribution to socio-economic development of Orissa is  surprisingly meagre.  

In the light of the above, it is clear, though resources are available but lack diligence in proper  allocation, the temple fails to make large scale contributions in the socio-economic growth of the  region.


In summary, JT produces several effects on Orissa. Historically, the empire of Jagannath has  successfully preserved the political security of Oriya population by the maintenance of  



communal harmony. Thus, one of the fundamental conditions to development came into  being.  

Darshana of deities by the devotees during the time of arati in temple, conceived as a realisation  of the existing sacred power within the body of a mortal through the ‗exchange of vision‘ (Eck,  1981: 6; see also Fuller, 2004: 110) has been persistent in developing certain degrees of divine  satisfaction among the devotees and servitors. Niladri Mahodaya, the prescribed scripture for  practicing rituals in the temple, is found to influence individual behaviour, psychological  satisfaction and work motivation of devotees and servitors. This has demeaned the work culture. 

Despite having political harmony in place, in the sphere of socio-economic development JT‘s  direct contribution is miserably meagre that makes the status of JT certainly shy of its non performing attitudes. A temple of such a great status neither makes any effort of running any  formal academic institutions or hospitals, orphanages, oldage homes and the like, nor does it  carry out relief or rehabilitation operations ex post natural disasters. However, it does run a small  dispensary and a pathological clinic. So fair to say, the temple‘s contribution towards social  security has been meager.  

The conditions of not so well to do servitors are not anyway improved by attempts of the temple  authority. The pratha is the cursor to unscrupulous expenses and embodiment of the unfreedom  of women in the society as a whole. It is only in the mercy of time and law that devdasi pratha,  which is a source of female exploitation, a social evil, has been banned.  

However, JT has played an indirect role in developing tourism, cottage industries, small scale  industries and other businesses. The vast inflow of tourists and devotees in Orissa attracted  government‘s attention to start public utility and welfare works, and this contribution from the  side of the government indeed compensates deficiency, but then also no one can remain satisfied  with the result. Economic growth has not been achieved to the extent which it should have been.  

Undoubtedly, from its early days, the empire of Jagannath continues to be the seat of Faith and  Communal Harmony, that preserves the socio-cosmic order and caters psychological satisfaction 

of its subjects, but, at the same time, it fails to rise as an economic powerhouse which is capable  of building the developmental trajectory of the region. 


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