Jagannatha - The Tribal Connection

Lord Jagannatha is one of the most researched deities, not in India, but in the whole world. The freelance researcher are trying to find out more about him.

During this, various cults which got assimilated into the Jagannatha cult-like Vaisnavism, Saivism, Saktism, Buddhism, Jainism & Tantrism were discovered. The discoveries are mentioned in the blogs below, the links of which are as follows:

The connection between Lord Jagannatha and the Tribals(Adivasis) of the Odisha is described in this article.

The origin of the cult of Jagannatha is mysterious. Scholars in the cult of Jagannatha believein the aboriginal tribal (Sabara)origin of the Jagannatha triad. Scholars like B.M.Padhi, A. Eschmann, G.C. Tripathy, H. Kulke, B. Schnepel, and H.V. Stietencorn have dealt with the tribal origin of the Jagannatha cult. Even scholars like B. Mohanty, N.K. Sahu, K.C Mishra, S.Mohanty, and G.N.Mohapatra have accepted the tribal influence in the cult of Jagannatha.

The Purusottam Mahatmya of the Skanda Purana, the Musali Parva, the Vanaparva of Sarala Dasa's Mahabharata, Deula Tola of Sisu Krshna Das and Nilambar Das refer to the Sabara or tribal origin of the Jagannatha narrate the story of legendary king Indradyumna and Sabara king Visvavasu, although in different manners.

The article consists of some information that has been attained by reading several books and other articles. The connection of Jagannatha with the Tribals has manifested revelations like:

  1. 1. The Indradyumna legend, which tells us how the deity originally worshipped by the Tribal chief Vishvavasu was migrated to Puri. As a matter of fact, the Saora or Sabara group of tribals, continue to live up to today with their unique tradition.
  2. The Jagannatha figures along with their respective morphological features and countenance, give the impression of an unfinished, premature, aboriginal, savage, exotic look.
  3. The Jagannatha triad worshipped predominantly in the form of crudely designed wooden images as if unfinished wood carvings suggested the primitive or tribal mindset of the designer or the craftsmen.
  4. The continued practice of a special priesthood bestowed upon the Daitas, Sabaras, and a lot more, who are the descendants of the tribal worshipper, believed to be the inheritors or relatives of Lord Jagannatha, and doing services intimately with the deity-like bathing them, dressing them up daily, cooking food for them and moving them when ordained.
  5. The Nabakalebara ritual and the Tribal practices of the ritual of renewal.

Among some other connections which are not very far from the above and quite easily traceable are:

  1. 1. The continuing ritual practices by the owning lineage/clan of the Daita and Sabara priests are comparable to all those in different lineage/clan groups of many Tribal communities of Odisha.
  2. Culinary practices and cuisine in Jagannatha temple correlated with those of the Tribal traditions of simply boiling cereals, pulses, and vegetables in earthen pots without frying in oil.
  3. The traditions of drawings, paintings, engravings in the temple wall, and the wall-deity comparable to ritual art, paintings, and drawings of the tribal dwellings.
  4. The kin relationship of the Jagannatha triad and its connection of tribals societal system.
  5. The cult of Ratha Jatra and Nabakalebara, compared with the commemoration ritual for the dead and ancestor worship among the tribals.
  6. Non-Brahman priesthood in many Hindu temples and rituals of both the tribals and caste communities.
  7. The Jagannatha cult and its festivities vis-a-vis the festivities, cultural performances, and cultural traditions of non-coastal and coastal Odisha.
  8. Traditions and social institutions keep in mind the role of Subhadra, the sister, and Laxmi, the wife. 

For the sake of clarity, the points outlined above in respect of the tribal connection with Jagannatha can be amplified as follows:

  1. In the tribal societies each clan and lineage often has its own deity which is closely related to their ancestor. Each clan has its own priest, as also each lineage. Each priest takes care of his own ancestral deity under a specific symbol. In the Jagannatha temple, each of the triads has its own priests, daita sebakas, who are understood to be of tribal origin. Each has its own symbol clearly distinguished from the others in terms of color, texture, and other associated adornments including the respective decoration of the wooden chariots at the time of Ratha Jatra or the famous Car Festival.
  2. In the Jagannatha temple the culinary practices are such that the Lord is offered only theboiled food consisting of native varieties of cereals, pulses, and vegetables, never an item imported from outside such as potato, tomato, etc. The food is only boiled and never fried with oil(Called aphuta in Odia) and without any spices except ginger. Onion and garlic are being ruled out altogether. Till today, the caste Hindus continue to observe for ten days by not taking any fried food. The tribal mode of culinary practices is similar to the temple food as the tribals also neither fry their food nor take spices. Their main food items are rice, dal, dalama(mixture of dal and vegetables), and boiled green leaves(saga).
  3. The wall paintings in the dwellings of tribal society and the wall paintings temples, with their implication of the walled-in deity as a form of ancestral deity, can be compared with great clarity. Ritual wall drawings are very common in Sabaras, Kondhs, and many more tribal communities and caste communities of Odisha. Jagannatha-Patti used to be the main paintings of the patta-painters of Puri and are used and worshipped in the form of wallhangings by the people in the nooks and corners of Odisha. The devotees unconsciously greet all the walls of the temple as the wall contains the deity or the deity is on the wall. In Odishan society whether tribal or non-tribal, before leaving the home and setting out for any major work people respectfully greet the wall of the dwellings by touching the head to the wall.
  4. A similar type of kinship relationship as that of the Jagannatha triad is observed in practice in tribal societies.
  5. The Ratha Jatra and Nabakalebara of the Jagannatha triad can be said to be analogous with those of secondary burial ritual practices prevalent among the Munda tribal communities.
  6. The presence of non-Brahman priests in the temple of Jagannatha is an important indicator of the fact that the triad had its origin in the tribal world and even today many non-Brahman priests are the main priests in many temples of Odisha.
  7. The cultural performances and traditions, including dances, songs, and movements,  associated with Jagannatha are pretty old and exotic and can be compared with that of the tribal world.
  8. Women are very important in tribal society. Similarly, Subhadra, the sister occupying a central position between the two brothers also speaks of the practical aspect and traditions of the cult which is very much alive among the tribals(erection of memory stones of brother and sister close to each other in almost all Munda Communities) and many tribal-like communities of rural Odisha, even today.

A lot more can be discussed based on empirical observations and ethnohistorical collections

about this connection between Jagannatha and Tribals by extending the scope of study.

REFERENCES:Various Sources

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