The Jagganath Temple at Puri needs no introduction to any average Indian. It is one of the 4 revered Char Dhams that any normal Hindu is expected to visit once in his lifetime.
The Jagannath temple at the same time has been a victim to the atrocities inflicted upon it by the Islamic iconoclasts.
The revered pilgrimage site of the Hindus has been targeted by fanatic Muslims again and again as they felt that ‘idol worshipping’ Mushriq Hindus can be eliminated only once there are no sites of worship remaining across India.
From 13th century till the advent of Marathas in the 18th century, the Jagannath temple bore one attack after the other and somehow continued to exist by constant repairs and audacity of the Odiya Kings most notably , the rebel chiefs of Khurda.
Now, before we go into the details of the era of oppression unleashed by Islamic rulers of Delhi or Bengal, it must be realized that any repair that was done by the Islamic invaders of the Jagannath temple complex was because of the huge revenues that were realised as a result of the ‘pilgrimage tax’ or ‘tirth yatra mehsul’.
Niyamat Ullah wrote in his Makhzan-i-Afghana how fanatic chief Kala Pahad of Sulaiman Kairarani approached the Jagannath temple. The story also finds a mention in Madala Panji, the chronicle of Jagannath Temple. Before his advent the chief deity idol had been shifted to an island in Chilka Lake but Kala Pahad discovered it. After plundering the Jagannath temple and damaging every other idol in it, he flung the idol of the chief diety in fire as it was made up of wood and later its unburnt portions were thrown into the sea. In Madala Panji, it is stated that the holy object (Daru Brahma) was discovered back from the sea by the ruler of Ganjam and installed back in new idols in 1575.
Some secular historians attribute this restoration to Todar Mal, the courtier of Akbar but sadly Abul Fazal, the court historian of Akbar is stoically silent over attributing it to Todar Mal in his work Ain-e-Akbari.
Later the region was caught in intense fighting of Afghans and Mughals putting the worship at the Jagannath temple by idol worshippers in a backburner.
In 1589, Mughals sent a powerful force under Man Singh and a peace treaty was signed in which the Jagannath temple complex was turned into a crown land for all the revenue it realised. It also asked the Afghans to repair it but they violated the treaty by desecrating the temple once the Mughals had retreated(Akbarnama,Vol.III,pg.934)
Mansingh returned in 1591-92 to settle the things and built a mandap hall of the Jagannath temple. The instance is again cited as a reason to make us believe that Mughals were tolerant of non-Muslim faith but here we must know what Niyamat Ullah writes in his work. He said that almost everyone believed that those who ever tried to carry the idols back as booty, misfortune had been afflicted upon them and they have died within a year.
That the fear of the divinity of the temple was established in the hearts of Islamic invaders is further corroborated by Ahmed Razi, the author of Haft Iklim who narrates the story of a Maulvi dying instantaneously after he spit at the idol of Shri Krishna in Jagannath.
The Jagannath temple again saw some bad days under Jahangir when his general Hashim Khan was made the Subehdar of Orissa who repeatedly ransacked the temple. As usual the idols had to be shifted to some other place. The Raja of Khurda, tried to face the adversaries but failed and had to send one of his daughters in the imperial harem of Jahangir for his misdemeanor.
Situations remained all the more same when Raja Kalyan (Son of Raja Todarmal) assumed the Subehdaari of Orissa.
Things remained static during the reign of Shahjahan as he was more busy fighting the rebellion of the local Mughal Chief Muqarrab Khan.
Under Aurangzeb, things again turned to worst when Khan-e-Dauran destroyed the nearby Baldeva Temple at Kendrapara. The temple is not touched because it yields good revenues as pilgrimage tax for the imperial treasury that had been depleted as a result of the war of succession.
In 1676, the raiding army of Shaista Khan returns midway when his camps catch fire in thunder and lighting. The frightened Mughal army refused to attack the Jagannath temple for the next decade.
In 1686, Ekram Khan is appointed as the governor of Orissa and he threatened the Raja of Khurda to submit the idol of Jagannath to the king after Aurangzeb issued a firmaan to this effect. The Raja of Khurda put up a valiant fight but in 1692 had to conclude peace.
The Raja surrendered but shifted the original idol to Chanadanpur where it stayed for the next 15 years and a replica of the idol was sent to Bijapur where Aurangzeb was campaigning. The statue is destroyed and thrown at the footsteps of the local mosque.
Ekram Khan desecrated the Bhogamandam, the gates of the inner sanctum were removed and the Jagannath temple was closed for worship.
(Antiquities of Orissa-RL Mitra Vol.1,pg 112.)
In 1727, the region was governed by Taqi Khan the son of the Nawab of Bengal who was as zealot as Ekram Khan. The idol had to again live in oblivion.
By 1741, the Marathas finally captured Orissa and the days of trouble were over for the Jagannath temple and its devotees. They restored the full glory of the temple.
No matter how much do the left leaning historians of India scream at the top of their voice, the faith of Hindus has survived only because of the deep cultural connect that an individual has with its Sanatan Dharma that gives him enough fortitude.
Let us all remember our fallen heroes this Rath Yatra !