The Jagannatha Religion in Mughal Orissa


Mughal Shah

Feb 15, CANADA (SUN) — A serial study of Oriyan religion from "Orissa Under the Mughals" by Dr. B.C. Ray.

Orissa is a land of temples. In the pre-Muslim period, Hinduism in its various creeds and forms was manifested in the construction of many temples where the worship was performed by the devoted Hindus.

The Gajapati kings generally patronized the Vishnu temples, though Saiva worship in Saiva temples were not neglected. Sun worship embodied in the social life of Orissan people continued to find inspiration from the Sun-temple of Konarak though with their distinct features. But Gaudiya Vaishnavism under royal patronization was gradually gaining popularity over the Orissan Vaishnavism.

All these creeds, religious thinking and approach to spiritual attainment were gathering a form of synthesis under the institution of Jagannath. The more the institution of Jagannath manifested the assimilating and synthesizing ability, the more it was with the presence of those protagonists at this place, Puri emerged as a great abode of Hinduism, meeting the challenge of sectarian attitudes of particular creeds. Puri, being the principal sanctuary of Hindu ideas and culture on the east part of India and also being a renowned place of pilgrimage was considered to be the center of Hinduism by the Muslims, when they first entered into Orissa.

Sulaiman Karrani, the Afghan leader of Bengal, was first to establish Muslim rule in Orissa by destroying the power of Mukunda Harichandana, the last Hindu ruler of Orissa. With him came the Muslim soldiers, Muslim officials, Muslim traders and camp-followers with a new religion of their own not known to the Hindus of Orissa.

The Afghan short-period rule as enforced did not accept in principle, the policy of toleration to the Hindus. The main objective of Kalapahar, the general of Sulaiman Karrani was to desecrate Jagannath who, to him, appeared as the embodiment of religion of the Oriya people. He broke certain portion of the temple of Jagannatha, plundered the store house and broke the idols of the gods [1]. From his campaigns against the Hindu gods of Orissa it seems, that he was more interested in mutilating, breaking or desecrating the Hindu idols rather than destroying the temples in which the idols were placed. Such Afghan campaigns must have left the impression into the minds of the Oriyas that Muslims as a class of people, had no regard for other faiths and would continue to interfere in the free worship of Hindus more particularly in the famous temple of Jagannatha.

This fear of the Hindus in Orissa was set aside when Akbar's attention was drawn to this territory. Consistent in his tolerate policy towards the Hindus, as elsewhere in India, he denounced the iconoclastic and persecuting policy of the Afghan towards the Hindus in Orissa, and under his discretion, the treaty which was signed in the first Orissa campaign of Raja Man Singh, between him and Daud, included a clause to the effect that the Afghans should not invade or desecrate the temple of Jagannatha in future. This clause gave a new impression to the Hindu mind in regard to the liberal Mughal policy and made the Afghan rule more unpopular in the eyes of the Oriyas.

The Mughal fight with the Afghans, Mughal occupation of Orissa through a Hindu general like Raja Man Singh, and the most generous treatment of this Mughal general towards the highly reputed Hindu institution of Jagannatha and the recognition of Raja Ramachandra Deva the founder of Bhoi dynasty as the Superintendent of the temple of Jagannatha, by Raja Man Singh, removed for the time being the fear that their gods would be humiliated in the hands of the Muslims. Akbar's rule in Orissa based on the principle of tolerance and that of non-interference encouraged the Hindus to freely worship their gods. What impressed most the priestly section of the temple of Jagannatha was that Akbar's general Raja Man Singh's wife constructed the Mukti Mandap of the temple of Jagannatha [2].

The impact of liberal Islam on Orissa was practically over with the end of the reign of Akbar. The religious policy of both Jahangir and Shah-Jahan gave a twist towards traditional conservatism and orthodoxy though a regular religious persecution was not sanctioned.

In the reign of Jahangir, with approach of Hashim Khan in Orissa, the priests of Jagannatha were so much frightened at the probable invasion of the temple of Jagannath that, they perhaps with the advice or knowledge of Purusottam Deva the Raja of Khurda, took away the idol of Jagannath from the temple to the temple of Gopalji in Khurda [3].

Again another Muslim general known as Mukarram Khan injured the idol of Sakhigopal and invaded Khurda. Therefore the sevakas of the temple of Jagannatha in fear could not perform the festivals and apprehending the desecration of the idol of Jagannatha, they took it away to a place known as Gurubai. Then from that place it was brought to Gobapadara in Khurda Raja's territory and there the Chapa festival was celebrated [4].

The Muslim occupation of the Khurda capital drove Purusottam Deva from his palace and he along with his family was forced to reside at Manitri, on the border of Ranpur. But Gobapadar was no longer found safe for the worship of Jagannatha. Therefore the salagram of the idol was taken away by the sevakas on their cloth and was kept in Manitri. It appears that the idol of Jagannatha was to be kept there for a long time, as after the death of Purusottam Dva, his son and successor Narsingh Deva, was to take care of the idol in that particular palace [5]. When the period of panic was over, the idol was brought back to Puri.

In the reign of Jahangir, Shah-Jahan rebelled and entered into Orissa with his followers to move towards Bengal. The very advance of the Prince scared away the priests. The sevakas again brought away the idol of Jagannatha to Khurda and worshipped there. It is only when Shah Jahan returned through Orissa to the Deccan that the idol of Jagannatha was brought back to Purusottam (Puri) for worship [6].

In the reign of Shah-Jahan, Mutaqad Khan invaded Puri, plundered the store of Jagannatha and slew Narasingh Deva, the Raja of Khurda. Madalapanji says that Narasingh Deva offered his head for the security of Brahmins and gods [7]. The reign of Aurangzeb is most disturbing and humiliating to the worship of Lord Jagannatha. With the beginning of the reign of Aurangzeb, Orissa had to feel more the impact or orthodox Islam than before. He was a puritan Muslim and was a great patron of conservative Islam. As soon as he became the Emperor of India he soon passed orders for the restoration of the Officers of the cannon law strictly according to Islamic rule. Such officers were appointed in every province and in every important town. So far Orissa was concerned, Shaikh Junaid was appointed Mujtahid at Cuttack. The following were two qazis who did their duty at Cuttack. One was Rahmatullah who, after being appointed to the post, violated the cannon law and therefore was dismissed for bad conduct. The other was Sayyid Muhammed Ghasu [8].


[1] Madalapanji, p. 61.
[2] Ibid, p. 64
[3] Ibid, p. 65
[4] Ibid, p. 66
[5] Ibid, p. 67
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid, p. 68; Banerjee, R.D., Vol. II, p. 42. Mutaqad Khan (Mirza Muki) was governor of Orissa from 1632 to 1641. Madalapanji calls him "Matamatikhan".
[8] Studies in Mughal India, p. 225.

From "Orissan Under the Mughals: From Akbar to Alivardi, a fascinating Study of the Socio Economic and Cultural History from Orissa" by B.C. Ray, M.A. Ph.D (London), University Professor and Head, Post-Graduate Department of History, Berhampur University, Orissa; Calcutta, 1981.


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