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The Destructive Myth of the Juggernaut: Exploring Representations of the Rath Jatra Festival in Early Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature by Amy Jones

This article compares two near-contemporary depictions of the cart transporting the Hindu god Jagannatha (or Jaga-Nath, Juggernaut) during the Rath Jatra festival in Puri, in the state of Orissa, India. In comparing the anonymous Company painting ‘The Idol Juggernaut on his car during the Rath Jatra’ (c.a.1820-22) and ‘The Curse of Kehama’, a poem by a British Romantic poet Robert Southey (1810), I argue that representations of the god and his cart can be used as vehicles to explore British colonial representations of India in this period. Prior to military occupation, the festival was depicted negatively with reports of lascivious excess and ritual suicide, justifying the need for conquest and conversion. Southey’s poem therefore exemplifies Romantic Orientalism, particularly through Southey’s use of epic narrative and sensationalism. In contrast, commissioned by British East India Company representatives but executed by an unknown Indian artist, the painting is dated to a time just after the military occupation of the state of Orissa by the British and depicts a calm, smiling congregation of worshippers gathered with British representatives around the cart. This article thus explores the ways in which such artefacts capture the zeitgeist as the British gaze moved from the 18th-century focus on China and Japan, to a 19th-century orientalising culture around India as the British empire expanded its territory to engulf the country.

Date created: 
Thursday, April 13, 2023
Attribution for this resource:
The Destructive Myth of the Juggernaut: Exploring Representations of the Rath Jatra Festival in Early Nineteenth-Century Art and Literature by Amy Jones, All rights reserved.