The Jagannatha Religion in Mughal Orissa, Part 2

BY: SUN STAFF - 11.4 2022

King Aurangzeb
Prince Aurangzeb (front), Lent by Howard Hodgkin
Yousef Jameel Centre for Islamic and Asian Art


 A serial study of Oriyan religion from "Orissa Under the Mughals" by Dr. B.C. Ray, in four parts.

The Reign of Aurangzeb

Apart from his emphasis on orthodox Islam, what might have been much perturbing and might have been regarded as very unusual by the Hindus of Orissa was Aurangzeb's temple destruction order. His temple destruction order was issued in the following manner:

"To all faujdars, thanadars and mutasaddis, agents of jagirdars, kroris and amlas from Cuttack to Medinapur on the frontier of Orissa. The imperial paymaster Asad Khan has sent a letter written by order of the Emperor to say that the Emperor learning from news letters of the Province of Orissa that at the village of Tilkuti in Medinapur a temple has been newly built, has issued his august mandate for its destruction and the destruction of all the temples built anywhere in this province by the worthless infidels. Therefore you are commanded with extreme urgency that immediately on the receipt of this letter you should destroy the above mentioned temples.

Every idol house built during the last 10 or 12 years whether with brick or clay should be demolished without delay. Also do not allow the crushed Hindus and the infidels to repair their old temples. Reports of the destruction of the temples should be sent to the court under the seal of the qazis and attested by pious Shaikhs. [1]

In consequence of the order of Aurangzeb not only the temples newly constructed in the village of Tilkuti was destroyed, but also a temple at Kendrapara was broken and on its ruins a mosque was built. [2]

It has been sometimes asked by some that if Aurangzeb's anti-Hindu measures and religious persecution were designed to see the downfall of Hinduism and the ruin of the Hindu temples, then how some very important Hindu monuments survived in the period? But the answer to this question is that as the purport of the Aurangzeb's order as quoted above shows, it was not the desire of Aurangzeb to see the end of the old temples in Orissa. What he actually desired to see was that no new temples would be constructed or any repair to the old temples would be made in Orissa, to show the sign of the prosperity of the religion. One of the effects of such an order as it seems to have been was that the hitherto incentive for building Hindu temples would have been crippled and might have affected the very profession of the workers, who were so far, as masons might be building the temples under the patronization of a rich zamindar or any pious man.

Though the general principle was to break every 'idol house' during the 'last' 10 or 12 years, yet sometimes some old temples drew the attention of the highly enthusiastic subadars or other officers of Orissa, who were often found to threaten to break them. Such danger of destruction of the chief citadels of religion could be avoided by heavy bribes, by the priests to the officers concerned. For example, this may be stated, that Akram Khan and his brothers Jamal Khan and Abdullah Khan put obstruction on the worship of Lord Jagannath and were threatening to break the idol of Jagannath. But when Divyasinha Deva, the Raja of Khurda and the Superintendent of the temple of Jagannath gave a bribe of rupees thirty thousand to the governor of Orissa, the Muslims interference in the worship of Lord Jagannath or the threat to break the idol was withdrawn. [3]

Aurangzeb did not follow the liberal religious policy of Akbar nor did anything to see that the worship of Lord Jagannath, the most important Hindu institution in the north east of India, would continue without any interference. The Raja of Khurda was intimately connected with the temple as he was the Superintendent of the temple of Jagannath. Even if he had his capital at Khurda, it was his duty to see that the worship of Jagannath was to be done as per the religious prescriptions. So the festivals to be performed at the temple of Jagannath required in most cases the presence of the Raja of Khurda, at Puri.

It is stated that during the period of festival of Lord Jagannath some Ekram Khan assisted by his brother Muhammad Khan, Zaman-ullah and another named Iman Koli practiced vandalism in the temple of Jagannath. They broke a certain portion of the lion's gate of the temple, took away the wheel from Bhogamandap and the wooden idol of Lord Jagannath, which was considered as an act of desecration. This frightened Divyasimha Deva, the Raja of Khurda (who was then at Puri) to such an extent that instead of facing the problem, in utter fear he preferred taking shelter in the house of Bidyadhara Mahapatra, probably a sevaka of the temple of Jagannath.

This unexpected interference in the temple matters brought confusion and chaos, as a result of which, all the festivals including Chandan Yatra could not be performed. Whatever was performed afterwards could not be done according to the prescribed religious procedure. [4]

In the post-Aurangzeb period the policy pursued by the governors of Orissa never had any newness. Though generally not so conservative or fanatical as that of Aurangzeb, it could never go back to the days of liberal Islam of the reign of Akbar.

The difficult in the worship of Jagannath in the temple of Puri was not over. Particularly during the administration of Taqi Khan, the frequent Muslim invasion of Khurda ultimately affected the worship of Jagannath and created panic at Puri. For the reason that as Khurda the capital of the Superintendent of the temple of Jagannath was frequently raided, therefore the Raja could not attend to his duties at the temple of Jagannath. Under such circumstance the panic stricken sevakas, apprehending desecration of the idol, were found to have taken it from the temple, sometimes through the Chilka towards Banput, sometimes to Bolagada, and at other times to Tikeli on the border of Khallikote or to Athagar. This explains, if not anything else, the frequent movement of the Supreme Deity of Orissa, for safety in the southern inaccessible regions. It is noticed that the idol was preferred to be taken away through water, i.e. through Chilka, or any other river. [5]



[1] History of Aurangzeb, Vol. III, p. 322; Studies in Mughal India, p. 227.
[2] Studies in Mughal India, p. 227.
[3] Patnaik, Sudhakar, Chakada Pothi, p. 28.
It is stated that during the rule of Ekram Khan in Orissa Sayyid Muhammad (of Biligram) served under his administration. He was ordered by the governor to destroy the idol of Lord Jagannath. And that time Durup Singh (Divya Sinha Deva) was the Raja of Khurda and was in-charge of the temple of Jagannath. On hearing this he went to Cuttack to meet the Nawab and promised to bring him the broken idol and would send it to the Emperor, who was residing at Bijapur. On his return from Cuttack he was in connivance with the sevakas of the temple. What he actually did was to break the statue of the Rakhyasa kept in the entrance of the temple and got prepared an idol of sandal wood with jewels set in the eyes and sent it to the Emperor at Bijapur (Rajendra Lal Mitra, Antiquities of Orissa, Vol. II, p. 112).
[4] Madalapanji, pp. 70-71.
[5] Ibid, pp. 76-77.
The sevakas took away the idol of Jagannath from the temple through Chilka towards the Banpur River and kept it in the mandap of Harispur. But as Khurda proper was brought under the possession of Taqi, therefore idol of Jagannath was taken away from that place and was placed in Khandiapara Bolagada. Thereafter for greater safety the idol was taken in a Chandola, on a boat through the river to Tikeli on the border of Khallikote. When Bhagirathi Kumar was made the Raja of Khurda, he managed to bring back the idol for worship at the temple of Jagannath. But while again some Rasun Khan invaded Khurda there was dislocation of the worship of Jagannath and the idol of Jagannath was again taken to the border of Athagarh through the river.


From "Orissan Under the Mughals: From Akbar to Alivardi, a fascinating Study of the Socio Economic and Cultural History from Orissa" by B.C. Ray, M.A. Ph.D (London), University Professor and Head, Post-Graduate Department of History, Berhampur University, Orissa; Calcutta, 1981.