HISTORY OF PURI-With Central Reference to the Pilgrimage to Jagannath Puri in the 19th Century
Puri, alternatively known as Purushottamkshetra, Jagannath Dham or Sri Kshetra, is considered as a magnet for pilgrims ever since its establishment as one of the four Dhaams(Hindu Pilgrimage Sites) by Adi Shankaracharya towards the 7th -8th Century A.D. The history of the city largely resonates with that of the temple of Jagannath, after its formal construction by the imperial Ganga king Gajapati Maharaja Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva in the 12th Century A.D. As a part of the institutions that the king formalized, the ruler came to be viewed as the representative of Lord Jagannath and therefore ruled on his behalf; hence in the process of attributing immense importance to the temple, Puri became a sort of an epicentre for political and administrative activities of Orissa. In this paper I have tried to document the history of the city of Puri, through the lenses of pilgrimage to Jagannath Puri and its impact on the political, social and economic churning in Puri during the 19th century.
Expansion of Pilgrimage to Puri during the 19th Century:
After its establishment as a pilgrimage site Puri attracted both national and international travellers, and this is evident from their accounts which have references to Puri. One such example is that of the Chinese pilgrim Yuan Chwang, who travelled Kalinga,Utkal and Kangoda in the second quarter of the 7th Century and in his texts he refers to the city Che-li-ta-lo, which has been identified with Charitrpura or Puri by some scholars.
However, even though Puri had always attracted a heavy traffic of pilgrims, it acquired a mass character only in the late 18th and the early 19th century. This came about with the development of technology and with the emergence of a middle class that formed a significant number of the total traffic of pilgrims that visited Puri. There was also a notable increase in the traffic during the months of June-July because of the grandeur associated with the popular event- The Rathyatra(Car/Chariot Festival).
Hence there was a significant expansion noticed in pilgrimage to Puri during the 19th century.
Impact of Pilgrimage on Puri:
By the time the East India Company took over the control of Puri from the Marathas in 1803, the ongoing growth of Pilgrimage had already started having its impact on the socio-economic and political canvas of the city. Puri did not account for much of a residential population and therefore pilgrims played a very important role in bringing various factors to play in the city. Due the substantial growth in the pilgrim traffic after the coming of the British to power in 1803, pilgrimage began to play an even more significant role in the working mechanism of the city. This increase also led to some additions and deletions in the policy of the East India Company towards the administration of the temple and therefore it influenced the overall structure of the city.
It was not just the influx of pilgrims from diverse backgrounds and different walks of life that had an effect on the structure of the city, but there were various other factors that were influenced by the noticeable increase in pilgrimage to Puri, and they, in turn worked to impact the overall construct of the city. In this paper, I have tried to broadly analyse these trends with the help of the following factors:
Colonial Government and the Policy of Surveillance of Pilgrims:
As soon as Orissa came under the control of the British in 1803, the colonial government made use of various modalities in order to bring all the working mechanisms in Orissa under their direct control. During the implementation of the colonial policy of surveillance in Orissa, Puri was particularly at the centre of the dartboard as the constantly unmonitored movement of the pilgrims made the British increasingly anxious. According to them the pilgrims were a category that had to be effectively monitored because of their nomadic condition. Thus, in order to efficiently supervise the movement of the pilgrims travelling to Jagannatha Puri, the British indulged in the intricacies and nuances of the activity and tried to put various mechanisms to effect, so as to bring the administration under their direct control.
As a part of extracting important administrative information, the government used gruelling methods like regularly exchanging important details about the pilgrims through dawk(letters) in order to successfully implement the policy of surveillance. In 1805 Charles Grome, the first collector of Puri presented a comprehensive report on the management of the temple, focusing on the measures that should be used to monitor and regularize the entry of the pilgrims in Puri. Thus a system of maintaining comprehensive lists about the details of the pilgrims and their whereabouts emerged, which enabled the colonial government to not only supervise the activities of the pilgrims while they were in Puri, but also track them once they had left the city. The Ghats( area near the rivers) which the pilgrims used as their entrance gates into Puri i.e. Athur Nullah Ghat in the north and Lokenath Ghat in the south, were also under heavy range of surveillance. Despite the inspection of pilgrims in Puri being a comparatively unchallenging task for the government due to its geographical constraints, they appointed a significantly large crew of officials( 18 officials at Athur Nullah Ghat and 15 officials at Lokenath Ghat) in order to avoid leaving any ends loose.
As per the reports by J Hunter( collector of Pilgrim Tax in 1806) a form was issued to the pilgrims travelling to Puri with various specifications i.e. name, address, panda(priest) in-charge and duration of stay, in order to keep a tap on their personal information. They were also required to have a ruwana(passport) in order to enter the temple premises. In 1806, the government also reintroduced the policy of collection of pilgrim tax in Puri- a practice which they had discontinued in1803. Other than being a way to finance the activities of the temple, this policy can also be looked at as a measure to indirectly supervise the entry of pilgrims into Puri. The pilgrims were classified into four groups-laljatri, neelamjatri, bhuranggjatri and panchatirthi, on the basis of the amount that they had to pay as tax and the number of days for which they could visit the temple. There were also various categories such as-bairagi, sanyasi and gangajali, who were exempted from paying the pilgrim tax before entering the temple. Therefore, although this policy looked economically driven on the surface, it is evident that it had political roots, as the pilgrims were also required to obtain a certificate after finishing the formalities of the tax proceedings.
However, the colonial government soon understood that their open interference in the matters of the temple could prove otherwise and therefore as per the Regulation IV of 1809, they transferred the matters related to the economy and superintendence of the temple to Raja of Khurda. In reference to that it is extremely important to throw light on the fact, that although on paper the government proved its intention of non-interference in the matters concerning religion, it exercised even stronger and stricter control on the movement of pilgrims in Puri. The structure of the forms that the pilgrims were required to fill became even more complex and apart from the formalities at the entry points, there was also another set of paperwork which the pilgrims had to complete in order to be able to enter the temple premises. One of the aims behind the construction of the New Jagannath Trunk Road in 1825 was also to converge all the pilgrims on one entry route so that the government could easily monitor and map their activities.
Even in the government’s ways of trying to curb and control the movement and the activities of the pilgrims in Puri during the Revolt of 1857, the underwoven threads of fear and anxiousness were very evident. The British became fearful of not only the pilgrims but also the pilgrim hunters who travelled the length and breadth of the country looking for devotees. One such example is of Chaki Kuntia, a pilgrim hunter whose absence from Puri during the period of the revolt had ignited a series of doubts as he was also known to have had secret connections with Rani Laxmibai of Jhasi. Biswamoy Puti in his book “The Great Rebellion of 1857:Exploring Transgressions, Contests and Diversities” writes “People travelling from Balasore to Puri, especially discharged soldiers (or even those who were suspected of falling in this category were viewed with suspicion. A series of restrictions were enforced to discourage these people from attempting to travel by road to Puri. Besides, serious steps were taken to disarm people who were not in government and were travelling to Puri along the Jagannath road.” Thus it is evident that the insecurity of the British with mass-gatherings during this period was also reflected in their ways of attempting to scrutinize the pilgrim traffic. Their anxiousness with the activities of the pilgrims continued even after the revolt as the British feared the transformation of these mass-gatherings into forums of political discourse. However, after the Revolt of 1857 the colonial government’s hands, with respect to increasing the surveillance of pilgrimage sites were partially tied as the Queen’s Proclamation of 1857 assured the non-interference of the British in matters concerning religion.
Therefore, the constant surveillance of the temple, the Ghats and its neighbouring sites along with the marginal residential population of Puri enabled the colonial government to smoothly bring the entire city under their direct control. Although it can be argued that the measures undertaken by the British during the 19th century brought a certain sense of order in the management of the pilgrim traffic in Puri, however it is also important to note that these methods were employed by the colonial government with the sole aim of bringing the administration of the temple and thereby that of Puri under their direct control. By tightening these screws the British also aimed at making the foundations of the colonial empire firm in Orissa and therefore made use of various ways diplomatic ways to silently appease the pandas in Puri. Thus, it is evident from the above mentioned information that the activities of the pilgrims in Puri kindled a sense of fear and insecurity in the minds of the British and hence this led to various political changes in the working and functioning mechanisms of Puri.
Economic Impact of Pilgrimage on Puri:
Puri, being situated on the Bay of Bengal was always linked with the other south-east Asian trade activities and with the internal trade of the rest of India. However, despite the existence of many trade networks in Puri, the activity gained momentum only in the 19th century with the development of transport and other means of communication. This development was also fostered by the substantial growth in the pilgrim traffic to Puri in the 19th century. In reference to this, it is also important to note that the pilgrim routes were also the main trade routes to Puri as they not only provided for better connected routes but also fostered exchange, given to the fact that pilgrimage was one of those activities that brought about mobility in the city. The completion of the New Jagannath Trunk Road or Orissa Trunk Road in 1825(extension of the Jagannath Sadak built in 1700) is an example of the impact that pilgrimage had on the trade in Puri, as its construction had converged most of the pilgrims to this route. The route was also endowed with various amenities such as sarais(night shelters) and dharmshalas(inns) for the temporary accommodation of the pilgrims, provision for wells and tanks to provide water, health facilities and various shady fruit trees that provided shelter and food. The road connected Puri to many trade hubs like Midnapore, Balasore, Cuttack and Bhubaneswar, and therefore it helped in creating a well-connected trade network through Puri. With the advent of the railways, Puri was linked to the Bengal-Nagpur railway line in 1896 and therefore, although the importance and usage of the road declined, but the trade was further enhanced as the railways had shortened the long distances by decreasing the time taken to reach Puri. In reference to the above it is also significant to note that the development of transport facilities in Puri was also a colonial method of facilitating well- connected trade routes in order to feed the monetary interests of the colonial government and to achieve a stronger control on the administration of the city.
Besides impacting other economic factors, pilgrimage in itself was also the primary business of Puri. It provided employment to many in the form of pilgrim hunters, government officials and as members of the temple staff. Although it helped many small businesses to thrive, this also has to be understood that pilgrimage affected some businesses like sugarcane, cotton and paddy cultivation in Puri directly, as these were the main items that comprised the Bhoga of Lord Jagannath and some businesses indirectly. However, it can also be argued that the growth of pilgrimage in Puri gave way to various other unhealthy economic practices for example the corruption and the system of bribery carried out by the pandas.
Thus it is evident that pilgrimage influenced the economic trends in Puri by incorporating various mechanisms in the framework of the city.
Influence of Pilgrimage on the Social Structure of Puri:
As an activity that brought about the collaboration of people from different backgrounds, pilgrimage influenced the social structure of Puri in more ways than one. Under this heading I have tried to briefly throw light on pilgrimage as a medium of exchange and its effect on the notions attached with gender in Puri.
Pilgrimage brought together various elements and trends from different pockets of the world and therefore with the growth in the pilgrim traffic in the 19th century it made the canvas of Puri more diverse in nature. This diversity not only remained confined to the nature of the pilgrim traffic but it was also reflected in the cultural life in Puri.
Pilgrimage also led to the open participation of women as they made up a larger part of the pilgrim traffic in Puri. Although it was an act of coming out in the open for women, the patriarchal structure termed this as indecent and also attached high degrees of immorality to the fact that women travelled with men and used the same amenities as those used by the men. It was also suggested that many female pilgrims who could not make it back home were either forced into the lives of the brothels in Calcutta or were enslaved and sold by their pandas in Puri. Therefore, although pilgrimage brought about the participation of women in Puri, there were various gender-related atrocities that came along with it as a package.
Thus, the social construct of Puri in terms of the abovementioned parameters was influenced in different ways by the growth of pilgrimage in Puri during the 19th century.
Pilgrimage in Puri and Dissemination of Diseases:
The mass-mobilisation that was brought to Puri with the growth of pilgrim traffic in the city, also brought with itself the possibilities of dissemination of various diseases. This was brought about because of the over-crowding of pilgrims and the unhealthy practices that were adopted by them. Thus, with the growth in pilgrimage to Puri in the 19th century, Puri also became popular as a chief centre for disseminating diseases like cholera, dysentery, leprosy and small pox. The links of the cholera epidemic in Europe in 1865 can also be traced back to Puri and The International Sanitary Conference in Constantinople also termed Puri as one of the chief centres of spreading the disease. This also became one of the reasons for the heightened obsession of the British Government with sanitation in the later part of the century. Hence, it can be inferred that pilgrimage, along with the fervour that it added to Puri also brought some other undesirable shifts which had to be tackled.
After the analysis of the various factors that pilgrimage affected in Puri, it can be said that the activity of pilgrimage was truly the at heart of the city. The heavy influx of the pilgrim traffic not only accounted for the introduction and continuation of some already existing trends in the city but also popularized pilgrimage as an activity that still continues to dominate the day to day functioning of Puri.
Thus, from the abovementioned information it is evident that pilgrimage was an integral part of Puri in the 19th century and it brought about various shifts in the political, social and economic latitudes and longitudes of the city.