The Jagannathdesh Utkal Pradesh, the modern-day Orissa represents a miniature India that is a composite mosaic of various cultures. The presiding deity of this religious state of India is Lord Jagannath or the Lord of the Universe. Jagannath Puri has played a vital role in encouraging the socio-cultural integration of this vast country. It has embodied and given full expression to the Indian concept of dharma, which aims at continuance of social solidarity and social well-being. The cult of Lord Jagannath has allowed the followers of all religions to flourish in India. Various scholars have emphasised on the presence of a humanistic approach in the philosophy of Lord Jagannath.
Religion, according to Jagannath dharma, signifies human welfare and cultural union of the entire mankind. The ancient Hindus had made it mandatory for every Indian to undertake a religious journey, as a matter of duty, at least once in his life-time to the four religious dhaams (shrines) in the four remotest corners of the country?Amarnath in the north, Dwarka in the west, Rameshwaram in the south and Jagannath Puri in the east.
With this, people from different regions of India come to understand and appreciate the various lifestyles and cultural values existing in each region. This ensures the integration of the entire Indian society into one living and dynamic cultural pattern. It was with the institution of Jagannath at Puri that the concept of Hinduism as a pioneer all-embracing religion was given birth. The unique and unparalleled Jagannath cult assimilates the untouchables, the tribes, the followers of Islam into its broad-based concept of dharma.
In the idols of Lord Jagannath, of his elder brother Balabhadra and of his sister Subhadra, people can see the symbols of world unity and world peace?the black colour of Jagannath represents the black people, white colour of Balabhadra stands for the White race while the yellow colour of Subhadra signifies the Mongolians.
Lord Jagannath is popularly called the ?god of the common masses?. In his large, hospitable and one of the biggest kitchens in the world, food is cooked for the pilgrims by laying stress on the importance of swadeshi culture?use of imported food items, such as sugar and potatoes, are considered a taboo here. The food offered daily to Lord Jagannath is cooked by steaming so that the valuable nutrients are retained which otherwise get lost through boiling or frying. His food is made out of rice-bran and pot-herbs which constitute the staple diet of the poor in Orissa.
Legends are many to prove the absence of the caste system in the Jagannath shrine. It is through distribution of the mahaprasad, that maitri or friendship is established among all the castes. Even a conservative Hindu of a high caste has no objection to sharing with a person of lower caste the mahaprasad from the same plate.
Jagannath dharma means universal religion. The Buddhists tried to superimpose their thought process over the symbols used for representing Lord Jagannath. Even Jain thinkers attempted to prove the legitimacy of their ideals drawn from the clues from Jagannath. The Shaivites, the Shaktas and the Ganapatayas have also accepted the Jagannath cult as it suited their way of life.
No one is accorded special privilege in the cult of Lord Jagannath. There is no distinction between a panda (priest) and the daita (servant of God). The ruler and the ruling class are all equal in the cult. Jagannath is the most democratic god of all and also the most humane. He lives like a man with his brother and sister and takes the common man’sfood. The main objectives of humanism are deeply implanted in Jagannath culture?a culture which is considered the essence of human civilisation by his believers and followers.
It was with the institution of Jagannath at Puri that the concept of Hinduism as a pioneer all-embracing religion was given birth.
It is through distribution of the mahaprasad, that maitri or friendship is established among all the castes. Even a conservative Hindu of a high caste has no objections to sharing with a person of lower caste the mahaprasad from the same plate.