How Jagannath became a Marvel supervillain

The word Juggernaut in English means a relentless destroying force. Marvel Comics even has a supervillain character called Juggernaut in their X-Men stories. His mutant superpower is that he is utterly unstoppable. The story of how the word juggernaut entered the English language is equally interesting.

Lord Jagannath is a principal deity in my home state of Odisha. Originally a tribal god, Jagannath was later assimilated into the Hindu pantheon and given a primary place among the Vedic deities. The Puri Jagannath temple is a busy hub of cultural activity in Odisha and attracts millions of pilgrims every year. So pervasive is the influence of Lord Jagannath in Odisha that even popular TV show hosts sign off with a namaskar and a sincerely uttered, “Jai Jagannath!”

Sita Ram Goel, in his book ‘Hindu Society Under Siege’, describes the process of how Lord Jagannath’s influence made him a target for Christian missionary activities in late 18th century Odisha.

The triumphal march of British arms in India in the second half of the 18th Century convinced the Christian missionaries that British victories were due not to a superiority in the art of warfare but to the superiority of the Christian creed by which the British generals and soldiers swore. They immediately started pouring venom on Hindu religion, culture and society. No lie was vile enough in the service of Christian “truth”. No fraud was foul enough in the service of Christian “virtue”.

An example will serve to illustrate the spiteful spirit of the Christian missionaries at that time. They spread a canard in India and abroad that many Hindus voluntarily rushed under the wheels of the great chariot during the annual rathayãtrã at Puri, and got themselves crushed to death in order to attain salvation. The great chariot, according to them, was always accompanied by droves of dancing girls who sang lascivious songs and made obscene gestures towards crowds on both sides of the broad street. The “great” William Wilberforce, who ruled the circle of Christian crusaders in Britain and who adamantly advocated the Christianization of India by an unstinted use of state power, demanded immediately that the temple of Jagannath be demolished to stop this “devil-dance” for good. The British Commissioner of Puri at that time saved the situation by writing a long letter to a liberal British M.P. in which he stated that he along with many other British civilians in the district had been a regular witness of the rathayãtrã for twenty years but had never witnessed a single victim under the wheels nor found anything immodest in the songs and symbolic gestures of the dancing girls. The English word “Juggernaut”, which according to the Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary means “any relentless destroying force”, is a living witness to the inventive imagination of the early Christian missionaries.

This campaign of calumny against everything Hindu continued till late in the 19th Century. Swami Vivekanada was referring to this crude campaign when he cried with anguish in the Parliament of Religions at Chicago that “if we Hindus dig out all the dirt from the bottom of the Pacific Ocean and throw it in your faces, it will be but a speck compared to what your missionaries have done to our religion and culture”.

Truth is, the “campaign of calumny” referred to above did not end in the 19th century. Even today in India, a common tactic among missionaries is demonising native traditions in order to make their faith look good. It goes on in the form of foreign-funded campaigns to “prove” that the Sanskrit language was created by St Thomas and that he “inspired” the great Thiruvalluvar to compose the Tamil classics. They also propose that the Bhagwad Gita was written under Christian influence. There are also attempts (often solidly debunked by Christian scholars themselves) to prove that the Vedas were actually speaking of Jesus Christ and that there is really nothing of worth in Hinduism that was not imported from Christianity.

These claims would be silly, if they were not equally dangerous. In a book by the name of ‘Breaking India’, authors Rajiv Malhotra and Aravindan Neelakandan carry out a solid expose of the extensive hoax being perpetrated by missionaries in south India, funded by the American Christian right. The authors see these interventions as dangerous to India’s political integrity and speak of these as being partially responsible for many separatist movements in south Asia.

#christian-missionaries, #jagannath, #juggernaut, #odisha