The whole debate started when Aakar Patel, a renowned Leftist Columnist added a column in Firstpost, wherein he is awed by the grandeur of Puri Jagannath Temple but is saddened at the fact that Non Hindus aren’t allowed inside the temple. Now the topic is hot again after media is desperately trying to push the narrative that the gates of Shri Jagannath is not open for all. This piece should be considered a rebuttal to the desperate narrative as well as an eye-opening account of why customs like these exist in Jagannath Temple and many other temples in India
This is Lord Jagannath, the most revered deity of the Odias.
Look at the hands of Lord Jagannath. The hands have no palms and no fingers. In Bengali, there is a term called “Thuto Jagannath”. “Thuto” means “handicapped”. There is a story why Jagannath does not have a proper hand.
After thirty-six years of the Mahabharata war, Lord Krishna decided to leave this mortal world once his job was done. An arrow shot by a dheevar (hunter) called Jara left him mortally wounded. Arjuna cremated him but Krishna’s body turned into ashes except his heart, which was still intact, beating. As ordered by a divine voice, Arjuna immersed the heart in the sea. The heart kept on floating and turned into a blue idol of Krishna- called the Neelamadhava. It travelled from west coast at Dwarka to east coast at Puri. A tribal leader called Vishwavasu from Kalinga retrieved the idol and enshrined it in a cave.
King Indradyumna heard about the idol and sent Vidyapati to retrieve the idol. Vidyapati got into an affair with Vishwavasu’s daughter and put forward a condition to marry her- a view of the idol. Vishwavasu blindfolded Vidyapati and took him to the cave. Unbeknownst to him, Vidyapati was silently dropping mustard seeds on his way to the cave. When Vidyapati saw the idol, he was overwhelmed with joy and bhakti and felt sorry to have tricked the innocent tribal like this.
Some days later, king Indradyumna arrived with huge army to retrieve the idol. Rejecting the pleas of Vishwavasu and Vidyapati to not take the idol, the king stormed into the cave but to his shock, found the idol disappeared. Repenting and begging for forgiveness, the king returned to his kingdom. In his dream, a divinely voice asked him to visit the beach in Puri where he would find a wooden log with the mark of Vishnu on it. As prophesied, the king found a wood with the mark of a conch-shell. This was the heart of Krishna, which earlier turned into Neelmadhava and later turned into the wood. The king built a temple in Puri and tried to recruit sculptors to carve out idols from the wood, but nobody could even form a scratch on the log. Later, an old man came to the king claiming that he could sculpt the idols. He put forward a condition- nobody would disturb him while he will be working behind the closed doors.
Queen Gundicha used to eavesdrop when the old man worked on the idols. One day, she could not hear any sound- no sound of the utensils, nothing. The king and queen thought that the old man probably had fallen sick and they entered the room to found nobody inside. The incomplete statues of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra stood there with big round eyes and naughty smile. The king repented for his hastiness and enshrined the incomplete idols. Since that day, the king tried to recruit new sculptors to complete the hands, but everybody failed.
The king was upset because of the Lord’s incomplete hands. Legend says, Lord Jagannath gave him darshan in his dream and demanded to install the idols without the proper arms. The Lord said- “I will be watching the whole universe and will continue to do so. I want my ardent devotees to take care of me. If I get hands today, you people, my ardent devotees will become dependable on me. I want you people to be self-dependable and strong to protect me”. We Odias believe, that Lord Jagannath chose to remain like this so that Odias would become self-dependent and strong to defend their lands, their pride and most importantly their Lord.
[Note: This was earlier mentioned by me in another write-up in Quora under a different pen-name]
Lord Jagannath is like the eldest member of our family and we take his blessings on every work. Even, we consider him the undisputed King of Odisha. In 1207 CE, Gajapati Anangabhimadeva III Chodaganga stepped down from the throne. The throne of Orissa was given to the Lord of the Universe who was Jagannath, Lord of the Blue Mountain, in his great temple at Puri. We, the Odias can go to any extent to defend our Lord and we have proved it throughout the history. The rules of not letting any non-Hindus enter our temple, are one of the many precautions taken to hold the dignity and sanctity of our Lord. Due to these rules and precautions we take, our Jagannath temple is still intact and fine even after numerous invaders tried to destroy the temple.
The rule of denying entry to non-Hindus inside many Hindu temples originated from the dark pages History. Hinduism is the oldest major religious faith in India. Present India was a portion of a much bigger landmass, called the Akhand Bharat. Hinduism was the major indigenous religious faith in Akhand Bharat and the current modern India was the epicenter of Sanatan Dharma, known as Hinduism today. Hinduism originated and evolved in current India. The Abrahamic religions like Islam and Christianity much later and in places outside India.
Hindu temples like the Jagannath temple are religious shrines of Hindus. A devout Hindu will never think of desecrating, disrespecting or vandalizing any temple, even if it belongs to a deity he is not a devotee of. During ancient times and pre-medieval era, numerous battles and wars took place between numerous Hindu kings but these wars never led to the destruction of any Hindu temple.
Take the example of Kalinga. For two centuries, the Routray Empire indulged in various wars from Awadh to Tamil Nadu, and according to the records, only once they “conquered” a temple. That was during the great king Gajapati Purushottamadeva’s Kanchi campaign. The coins, gold and jewelries acquired during the campaign, was donated to the treasury of the Jagannath temple. The presiding deities of the “conquered” temple of Kanchi, Lord Ganesha and Sri Gopal, were shifted to Kalinga. Lord Ganesha was enshrined in a large stone temple built inside the Jagannath Temple Complex. Sri Gopal was initially installed at the Barabati fort in Cuttack; later it was shifted to Khurda during an invasion and finally was shifted to Satyabadi in Puri. The jewelries, ornaments, gold, etc. were shifted to the new temples with proper respect. The priests and the servitors were given the options to either shift to Puri or any other sacred cities like Kashi or Mathura. This proves that Hindu temples were “shifted” to new places only to humiliate the enemy. But the pilgrims from Kanchi could easily visit Puri when the presiding deities were shifted to new temples. Even when Kalinga was engaged in battles with bordering empires, a Hindu pilgrim from those empires could easily visit any religious shrine in Kalinga and vice versa. The reason was simple. The revered Hindu deities of Kalinga, were also respected and revered by the people of other Hindu empires and vice versa. This was the case with almost all the Hindu Empires.
The main reason for not allowing the non-Hindus in Hindu temples is the millennia old suspicion towards the probable/presumable mindset of followers of different faith and the impact of the different faiths on Indian history. For example, many invaders who were mostly Muslims, attacked the Jagannath temple for at least 20 times. The priests and the servitors always saved the idols from the dirty hands of the invaders. According to the Odia historical records called “Madala Panji”, the first attack was from Yavana chieftain (presumably an Arab) called Raktabahu during 319-323 A.D, during the reign of king Shobhanadeva. The priests and servitors shifted the idol from the temple before the bloodthirsty invader could disrespect the idols. The priests and servitors buried the idols for 150 years at Sonepur under a banyan tree and made a sign to relocate it- “Dian Bar”. Later, the great king Jayati Keshari-I drove out the foreigners/invaders out of Kalinga and brought Prabhu back to the temple. Other than this, there are at least 18 noted attacks on Puri temple some of which are given below:-
The Sultan of Delhi, Feroz Shah Tuglaq attacked Puri when the Ganga king Bhanudev III was out of his kingdom. The priests and servitors escaped with the deities. Before he could destroy the temple, Bhanudev III returned to save his Prabhu’s shrine and Feroz Shah Tuglaq had to retrieve.
Ismail Ghazi, the commander of Sultan of Bengal attacked Badadeula in 1509 CE when the Suryavamsi king Prataprudra was engaged in his campaign in the south. The priests and servitors took the idols and hid them in the foot hills of Chadheiguha in Chilika. Ismail Ghazi fled from Puri when Prataprudra returned to Puri to teach the cunning devil a lesson.
Though he had two wives, a Bengali Brahmin named Kalachand Roy or Rajiv Lochan Roy fell in love with Dulari, the daughter of Suleman Karrini, the Sultan of Bengal. The Sultan agreed to marry off his daughter to Roy but on one condition- he had to convert to Islam. Roy became Muslim but later wanted to re-embrace Hinduism, to which the people did not agree. Enraged, he became the commander of Suleman Karrini’s army and invaded empires, destroying numerous Hindu temples. The devil became famous by the name “Kalapahad”. Resorting to treachery, Kalapahad was able to capture king Mukundadeva. He then went to destroy the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra. The priests and servitors removed the idols and hid them in Hatipatna in Parikuda. Some believe that Kalapahad retrieved the idols from Hatipatna and burned them. The “Brahmapinda” was later retrieved by a devotee called Amura. New idols were re-installed by putting the Brahmapinda inside. However, this is debatable. Some records say that Kalapahad never found the idols. Kalapahad ransacked the city of Puri, destroyed many temples and left for Konark.
In 1592, Suleman and Osman- the two sons of Suleman Karrini attacked Jagannath temple.
In 1607, Mirza Khurram the commander of Nawab of Bengal attacked Puri.
In 1608, Qasin Khan- the first subedar of Odisha attacked Puri.
During the Rath Yatra in 1610, a Hindu Rajput Jadir named Keso Das, who was serving under Qasim Khan, came into Puri in disguise with a contingent of soldiers in civic dress. Purushottama Deva and his Paikas (militia) soldiers fought with Keso Das’s army for eight months.
In 1611, Kalyan Mal- the son of the revenue minister of Mughal emperor Akbar, attacked Puri and retreated back when he was given a sum of Rs. 3 lakh.
1n 1617, the subedar of Odisha attacked Puri to destroy the temple.
It is evident from the history that being a major Hindu pilgrimage site, the Jagannath temple faced numerous attacks from the followers of other faiths and their prime aim was same- to destroy the temple and to desecrate/deface the idols in order to humiliate the Hindu faiths.
Hindu temples were not just religious shrines, but were places of immense knowledge and wisdom. Many Hindu temples even had Gurukuls and institutions where scholars used to participate in discussions and teachings. The prime aim of the invaders was to destroy the epitome of knowledge and philosophy and hence, shatter the spiritualism of a community to mark the humiliation. Numerous temples were destroyed by Muslim invaders- in Kashi, in Mathura, the Somnath temple, and most prominently the Ram Janmabhoomi at Ayodhya. Apart from the destruction of Hindu temples, there were numerous other ideas to humiliate the Hindus by hurting their religious sentiments. The second-greatest Sufi saint, Khwaja Mainuddin Chisti of Ajmer and his followers used to bring a cow near a famous Hindu temple everyday and killed it to cook kebabs- clearly to show his contempt towards Hinduism. This millennium old hostility faced by numerous Hindu temples prompted the temple administration to put forward the rules that denied entries to non-Hindus. Why is it so hard to believe that a people can enter temples with objectionable objects, can spit inside a temple, or urinate on the idols or throw cow’s carcass in temple? A non-Hindu may violate the sanctity of the temples.
Basically, the term “non-Hindus” meant people who did not have faith and believe in Hinduism. It is a natural fact that if someone does not believe in something, then there is a probability that he does not have respect for that thing. While the medieval invaders took the way of destroying Hindu temples and vandalized the deities by putting cow-flesh around the neck, the European scholars took the idea of defaming the Hindu deities, customs and philosophies of Hinduism through intellectual wars. Just give a thought- the most recent and translated version of Manu Smriti by Sir William Jones is a much controversial book with many regressive verses that often contradict each other. Let us see the ironies:-
British colonialists could not pronounce Varanasi and they made it Benaras.
Thiruvananthapuram became Trivandrum.
Udhagamandalam became Ooty.
Kalikata became Calcutta.
There are numerous such cases. Even Bengali author and Oscar award winner Satyajit Ray once wrote- to order his orderlies to shut the door, a British officer used to say, “There was a brown crow” because he found it difficult to say- “Darwaja band karo”. So, the European scholars, who could barely utter the Sanskrit and Hindi words properly, could accurately translate Manu Smriti. In fact, these scholars left no stones unturned to defame Hinduism. Take the example of the word Juggernaut.
Lord Jagannath was the “core of idolatry” for the Christian missionaries who arrived at Odisha through the gateways of Bengal. They made an “all-out-attack” which was spearheaded by the missionary Claudius Buchanan, who in his book “Christian Researches in Asia”, described Jagannath as Juggernaut and called Hinduism a “bloody, violent, superstitious and backward religious system”. According to Buchanan, Hinduism needed to be eliminated by the Christian gospel. He described Juggernaut with the Biblical description of Moloch– a Canaanite god who was worshipped with child-sacrifice.
The Biblical description of Moloch has such an ill reputation that even the renowned video game franchise “Mortal Kombat” added a demonic character in their games called Moloch- a flesh eating Oni tormenting people through ages.
In his works, Buchanan called Juggernaut’s shrine as Golgatha- where Jesus Christ was crucified. He claimed that the “Juggernaut tradition” was of endless meaningless bloodshed and that the children were sacrificed in the “valley of idolatrous blood shed to false gods“. He claimed that he could not read the hymns dedicated to Juggernauth because of the “obscene stanzas”. He called the artwork of the Jagannath temple “indecent emblems”. Buchanan slyly claimed that the annual Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath was a bloody ritual where the Lord’s chariot drove through the streets and devotees used to throw themselves before the wheel of the chariot resulting into a bloody mess and death of thousands. According to Michael J. Altman’s book named “Heathen, Hindoo, Hindu: American representations of India”:-
“Buchanan declared that the god is said to smile when the libation of the blood is made. When he saw the image of the god for himself, Buchanan described- a frightful visage painted black, with his distented mouth of a bloody color”.
Today, the word Juggernaut means a literal or metaphorical force regarded as merciless, destructive and unstoppable- thanks to people like Claudius Buchanan.
Such attitudes from people of different faith throughout the history of India have made the temples wary of the vile conspiracies against the Indian culture, philosophies, traditions and Hinduism. Thus, the people of different faith, who do not believe in Hinduism, have no right or reason to enter the Hindu temples, which are not an entertainment park off course.
It is not about non-Hindus. It is about non-believers and foreigners. Even a Balinese Hindu was denied permission to enter Jagannath temple because he was a foreigner. Until recently, even the ISKCON members were not allowed inside Jagannath temple. On the other hand, non-Hindus like bhakt Kabir and Guru Nanak were allowed to enter the Jagannath temple when the priests believed that they were true devotees of Lord Jagannath. Lord Jagannath is the Lord of the world and during his Rath Yatra, devotees from all Varnas pull the rope of his chariots. Among his servitors, people from all Varnas are present. These same people cook the bhog and Prasad of the Lord.
Lord Jagannath was the Lord of tribal called Vishwavasu and he served him for many years. The once family deity of a tribal became the most revered deity of the Odias. All Hindus, from any Varna, were always welcome to visit their Lord. The doors of the greatest Hindu temples- Krishna janmbhoomi, Kashi Viswanath, Puri Jagannath, Somnath, Kedarnath, Badrinath, Rameswaram, etc were always open to all Hindus.