From Jagannath to Juggernaut

Google’s dictionary gives the meaning of the word Juggernaut as follows:

When you try to find out the word origin, the first page of google search results is full of links to sites run by established dictionary publishers like Macmillan, Webster etc. Of course wikipedia also finds a place. The explanation of wikipedia is much better than those of the dictionary sites.

But wikipedia is not the first suggestion to your google query. Usually the first suggestion is this Macmilan dictionary blog. Let us go through what the expert at Macmillan has to say:

So, Macmillan defines juggernaut as ‘something that is very powerful, especially that has a bad effect.’ However, now a days ‘juggernaut’ is used to mean just a magnificent force without linking it to any positive or negative outcome as can be seen from the dictionary meaning at the top of this post.

In fact I find it being used in a positive way quite often these days. Or else, an Indian company would not name its venture as ‘Juggernaut Publication’. But the etymologists at Macmillan is like our typical journalist who is hell bent on giving everything of Indian origin a negative connotation.

As you can see, while explaining the origin, the Macillan explanation makes no mention of the car festival of Puri Jagannath. It says – juggernaut comes from the Hindi word Jagannath, meaning ‘lord of the world’. He does not know that it is not only the word Jagannath but also the event of Jagannath Rath Yatra that gave rise to the word juggernaut.

But, there are many things correct in the Macmillan explanation that “Juggernaut comes from the Hindi word Jagannath, meaning lord of the world”. How can you deny that Jagannath is not a Hindi word. And without doubt Jagannath means ‘lord of the world’. So, it is not easy to dispute the claim of the Macmillan guy, even though you feel that somewhere the statement is misleading.

That is how our journalists frame their statements. Being of Sanskrit origin, ‘Jagannath’ is found in all the Indian languages which have been influenced by Sanskrit. Suppose a journalist favours the Gujrati lobby. Then he can say that juggernaut comes from the Gujrati word Jagannath. Similarly another can claim that Jagannath is a Bengali word.  Since there is a semblance of truth in what they say, it will be easy for them shout out their cases and bully their opponents in a TV debate.

The Macmillan expert further goes on to add that : the word is further derived from the Sanskrit ‘jagati’ meaning ‘he goes’ and ‘nath’ meaning ‘master’. Frankly speaking I have never come across such a sandhi vichhed (breaking Sanskrit words to root words) of Jagannath.

It seems, the guy is not only incompetent, but also confused. First of all, he avoids making any in depth inquiry. Secondly, whatever material he gathers from the internet, he presents them in a messy manner. Like an Indian journalist.

Now let us come to the mischief of the monk. Odoric of Pordenon, a thirteenth century Italian evangelist was probably the first person from west who narrated the event of Puri Rath Jatra to his countrymen. He reported that people were throwing themselves in front of the moving chariot to be killed.

I think, he too was behaving like a typical New York Times corespondent of Asian affairs. Of course later on, in spite of his accounts being a major source of Asia’s thirteenth century history, people realised that the monk had exaggerated his travel accounts. After the discovery of the sea route to India, more and more people from Europe came to India and some of them must have seen the Jatra. But by that time, perhaps, the damage had already been done. Authors and journalists had started using ‘juggernaut’ to mean a massive force that caused death and destruction.

Subsequently, the word became associates with any kind of massive or unstoppable force. However, the experts at Macmillan seem to have no knowledge of it.

PS : This is the tenth post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.

All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.

I have written a number of posts about Lord Jagannath and Rath Jatra:

The big lord descends among us

God’s East India Abode

Even for Gods one life is not enough

21 thoughts on “From Jagannath to Juggernaut

  1. It’s so unfortunate that Juggernaut is given such a wrong definition. The beautiful Rath Yatra had been depicted as a horrendous festival by some monk.
    A very well researched and thought provoking post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have correctly brought the etymologist at Macmillan to the book. I am sure there are many more words of a certain importance awaiting your scrutiny. While the bloke at the said publishing house can be enlightened as to the correct sandhi vichhed of the word, the tragedy remains we have failed our own immensely rich heritage. We don’t and can’t have a desi search engine that lists appropriate sources and origins while answering queries. Remember then, dictionaries, quiet like histories, are the accounts written by victors.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Internet is overflowing with information and it is difficult to segregate the truth. The clever play with words is a skill developed quite well by the journalists. It’s nice to read about the original etymology of the word. Wikipedia is better in that sense, I hope?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can imagine everyone shouting in a TV debate and claiming Jagannath to be theirs 🙂
    Would love to see the first mention/usage of “juggernaut” in 1321. The text is important.
    People are not aware of facts, and thus there is the misrepresentation.

    Liked by 1 person

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