Jagannatha temple, Ranchi.

On a lonely little hilltop that rises abruptly in a still scenic countryside, stands this sixteenth century temple that proved instrumental in establishing the worship of the deity Jagannath in present day Ranchi, Jharkhand.

Commissioned by a local Hindu regent and closely modeled after the world famous Jagannath temple located at Puri (present day Odisha) some 537 odd kilometers away, it is an authentic product of the ancient Kalinga school of temple architecture that flourished from the 7th century and a pilgrim destination in its own right – possibly built by the hands of native Odishian architects and artisans well versed in skill and knowledge of their trade, and specifically employed for the task. Yet what exactly led to its creation?

While some sources tend to suggest the temple was built to counter the growing influence of Christianity in the region, this is an unlikely case as the period in which it was built precedes the arrival of the first missionaries almost by a century (see Farbound.Net snippet: A pioneer of the Faith).

What is more likely is the construction of the temple sprouted from the religious sentiments of the ruler whose forefathers perhaps once hailed from neighboring Odisha itself and for whom Jagannath was a patron deity. Attesting the fact is the history of Ranchi, Jharkhand that abounds with numerous references of Odishian kings and rich landowners known as Zamindars coexisting with the older local tribes.

Restored back to its former glory after a portion of the structure collapsed in 1990, the temple continues to be actively used by residents of the city for daily obeisance and household ceremonies, barring side the months of June and July during which time takes place the legendary Jagannath Chariot procession, similar to the one at Puri.

A ritual in which the idol of the deity is placed on a massive wooden chariot and ferried out for a temporary spell of fresh air before being brought back. Organized shortly after the erection of the holy structure, the event has been a massive communal gathering drawing into its fold members of all communities including the tribal segments – as well as devotees from other neighboring states.

Majorly worshiped in India’s eastern states including Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand and to some extent in Assam and Tripura, by both Buddhists and Hindus, Jagannath is one deity whose origin continues to be contested in academic circles. Absent from the ancient Vedic texts which abounds with references of several present days gods and goddesses, his abrupt appearance out of nowhere has led scholars to even suggested his earliest idol to be a Buddhist relic. The deity is the only one in the Hindu pantheon whose image is represented by a block of wood.

For travelers looking to explore the temple, the best way to reach the site is via taxi as the location is some distance away from Ranchi’s main urban centers.


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