Monday, July 6, 2009

From the name Jagannatha to the noun juggernaut

A juggernaut is something that crushes or seems to crush everything in its path. Literally, this something can be a heavy vehicle such as a steamroller. The word juggernaut can also refer to a strong force, either physically or spiritually, that exercises power. Julia Whitty, with roots in the Indian state of Bengal, explains the origin of the word juggernaut from the local name for the god Krishna: Jagannatha, the Lord of the Universe, whose home is the Temple of Jagannatha in Puri on the Bay of Bengal [1]. Each year Jagannatha is worshipped by being taken on a tour as an oversized head with arms coming out of his ears. Aboard a huge chariot, Jagannatha makes its way to the Gundicha temple through the sea of ecstatic worshippers:
Along the way, most years, a few unlucky disciples are crushed beneath the wheels of the chariot, while others throw themselves under (or once did), desiring deliverance from the cycle of birth and death and the subsequent bliss of nirvana. Upon witnessing Jagannatha's monstrous chariot, its unhurried and invariably deadly path, the British coined the word juggernaut.
[1] Julia Whitty: The Fragile Edge • Diving and Other Adventures in the South Pacific. Houghton Mifflin Company, 213 Park Avenue South, New York, NewYork 10003, 2007; p. 129.

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