JUGGERNAUT, a corruption of Sans. JAGANNATHA, " Lord of the World," the name under which the Hindu god Vishnu is worshipped at Puri in Orissa. The legend runs that the sacred blue-stone image of Jagannatha was worshipped in the solitude of the jungle by an outcast, a Savara mountaineer, called Basu. The king of Malwa, Indradyumna, had despatched Brahmans to all quarters of the peninsula, and at last discovered Basu. Thereafter the image was taken to Puri, and a temple, begun in 1174, was completed fourteen years later at a cost of upwards of half a million sterling. The site had been associated for centuries before and after the Christian era with Buddhism, and the famous Car festival is probably based on the Tooth festival of the Buddhists, of which the Chinese pilgrim Fa-Hien gives an account. The present temple is a pyramidal building, 192 ft. high, crowned with the mystic wheel and flag of Vishnu. Its inner enclosure, nearly 400 ft. by 300 ft., contains a number of small temples and shrines. The main temple has four main rooms the hall of offerings, the dancing hall, the audience chamber, and the shrine itself the two latter being each 80 ft. square. The three principal images are those of Vishnu, his brother and his sister, grotesque wooden figures roughly hewn. Elaborate services are daily celebrated all the year round, the images are dressed and redressed, and four meals a day are served to them. The attendants on the god are divided into 36 orders and 97 classes. Special servants are assigned the tasks of putting the god to bed, of dressing and bathing him. The annual rent-roll of the temple was put at 68,000 by Sir W. W. Hunter; but the pilgrims' offerings, which form the bulk of the income, are quite unknown and have been said to reach as much as 100,000 in one year. Ranjit Singh bequeathed the Koh-i-nor to Jagannath. There are four chief festivals, of which the famous Car festival is the most important.
The terrible stories of pilgrims crushed to death in the god's honour have made the phrase " Car of Juggernaut " synonymous with the merciless sacrifice of human lives, but these have been shown to be baseless calumnies. The worship of Vishnu is innocent of all bloody rites, and a drop of blood even accidentally spilt in the god's presence is held to pollute the officiating priests, the people, and the consecrated food. The Car festival takes place in June or July, and the feature of its celebration is the drawing of the god from the temple to his " country-house," a distance of less than a mile. The car is 45 ft. in height and 35 ft. square, and is supported on 16 wheels of 7 ft. in diameter. Vishnu's brother and sister have separate cars, slightly smaller. To these cars ropes are attached, and thousands of eager pilgrims vie with each other to have the honour of dragging the god. Though the distance is so short the journey lasts several days, owing to the deep sand in which the wheels sink. During the festival serious accidents have often happened. Sir W. W. Hunter in the Gazetteer of India writes: " In a closely packed, eager throng of a hundred thousand men and women under the blazing tropical Sun, deaths must occasionally occur. There have doubtless been instances of pilgrims throwing themselves under the wheels in a frenzy of religious excitement, but such instances have always been rare, and are now unknown. The few suicides that did occur were, for the most part, cases of diseased and miserable objects who took this means to put themselves out of pain. The official returns now place this beyond doubt. Nothing could be more opposed to the spirit of Vishnuworship than self-immolation. Accidental death within the temple renders the whole place unclean. According to Chaitanya, the apostle of Jagannath, the destruction of the least of God's creatures is a sin against the Creator."
See also Sir W. W. Hunter's Orissa (1872); and District Gazetteer of Puri (1908).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)