Juggernaut (Jagannatha) is a form of the Hindu god Vishnu's (pronounced VISH-noo) incarnation, or embodiment, known as Krishna (pronounced KRISH-nuh). Although Juggernaut does not appear in many myths, he is an important part of one of the largest annual festivals in India.
Juggernaut is worshipped at the religious city of Puri (pronounced POOR-ee) in India. A temple to Juggernaut there dates from the 1100s. According to one legend, a priest chose the site for the temple when he saw a crow dive into the nearby Bay of Bengal. Inside the temple is a wooden image of Juggernaut with a black face, large eyes, a wide smile, and no arms or legs. According to myth, Krishna was walking along and overheard a group of cow-herding girls who were talking about how much they loved him. He was so overwhelmed by their talk that his eyes grew huge, his limbs shrank, and his mouth stretched into a gaping smile.
Juggernaut in Context
Juggernaut is a rather minor form of Krishna in Hindu mythology, with very few references or myths. It is interesting to note that the fourteenth-century book The Travels of Sir John Mandeville popularized the notion in Europe that Juggernaut caused such a frenzy among devotees in Puri that they threw themselves under the wheels of his festival cart as human sacrifices. The book is filled with many such dubious claims, and is now viewed largely as a work of fiction. However, this description of Juggernaut was commonly used by European Christians as a way of illustrating the supposed backwardness of Hindus who had not accepted Christianity.
Key Themes and Symbols
Juggernaut is a symbol of happiness and mercy to those familiar with Hindu mythology, and is also associated with Krishna's homecoming to Vrindavan. To others, however, Juggernaut represents something much more sinister and destructive. It is important to note that Hindus do not view Juggernaut as a destructive deity like Shiva , and that this is a misinterpretation by outside observers.
Juggernaut in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
Several festivals are held at the temple in Puri each year, the most important being the Chariot Festival in midsummer. On this occasion, the image of Juggernaut is placed on an enormous cart—at least forty-five feet tall—built especially for the occasion and pulled through the town by hundreds of people. Early Western visitors reported that worshippers would throw themselves beneath the wheels of the cart to be crushed as a sacrifice to Juggernaut. Later anthropologists have questioned these accounts, but acknowledge that the huge, unwieldy vehicles have caused death either due to accidents or carelessness. This gave rise to the English word “juggernaut,” meaning a person or power that crushes anything in its path.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
Early descriptions of Juggernaut by European writers seem largely unconnected to the true nature of the god in Hindu mythology. This often happens when an outside observer describes elements of a culture with which they are not familiar. This inevitably causes bias, or an opinion of the culture's worth based on the observer's own beliefs. Do you think it is possible for someone to observe another culture and describe it without exhibiting some level of bias? Why or why not?
Juggernaut (Jagannatha), a form of the Hindu god Vishnu's incarnation Krishna, is worshiped at the religious city of Puri in India. A temple to Juggernaut there dates from the a.d. 1100s. According to one legend, a priest chose the site for the temple when he saw a crow dive into the nearby Bay of Bengal. Inside the temple is a horrifying wooden image of Juggernaut with a black face and a gaping mouth as red as blood.
incarnation appearance of a god, spirit, or soul in earthly form
Several festivals are held at the temple each year, the most important being the Chariot Festival in midsummer. On this occasion, the image of Juggernaut is placed on a 60-foot-high cart and pulled through the town by hundreds of people. Occasionally worshipers have thrown themselves beneath the wheels of the cart to be crushed as a sacrifice to Jagannatha. This practice gave rise to the English word juggernaut, meaning a person or power that crushes anything in its path.
See also Hinduism and Mythology; Krishna.
The word juggernaut, meaning a large heavy vehicle, comes in extended usage from this.
The name comes via Hindi from Sanskrit Jagannātha ‘Lord of the World’.