My association with Jagannath goes back to my student days at the University of Delhi when, upon getting tired of hostel food, I often accompanied my friends to Jagannath temples located at Hauz Khas and Thyagraj Nagar in Delhi. The temple prasad, which comprised dalma, rice, saag and kheer, reinvigorated us. It made me more curious about Odia cuisines, the sociocultural life of Odisha, the Odia diaspora, and above all, Lord Jagannath, who has played an instrumental role in constituting a distinctive Odia identity. In recent times, Jagannath has travelled as a cultural symbol beyond Odisha and several temples have come up in Delhi, Chennai, Agartala, Patna, and other places. With the rise of the Odia diaspora, the Lord has been transformed from a regional god into a pan-Indian religious symbol.
Although there is no dearth of religious and mythological literature on Jagannath, they are mostly in the Odia language. The little critical material produced in English lacks an engagement with Jagannath in popular spaces. Jyotirmaya Tripathy and Uwe Skoda have filled this intellectual lacuna to democratise Jagannath scholarship. Moving away from the text-based research and scholarship, the book answers a significant question—what Jagannath means in everyday contexts, in contemporary and popular practices. They argue that the Lord’s tribal origin, his association with Buddhism and Jainism, his present status as Vishnu’s avatar and “his multiplication through various media and new temples contribute to his democratisation as well as vernacularisation”. Consequently, he has become a polysemic symbol, open to multiple interpretations.