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In Mahabharata, Adi Parva, Arjuna Vanavasa Parva (Section 217), a list of places visited by Arjuna was given.

He first went towards the north and visited Bhrigu Tunga (modern-day Tunganath) and few other places. Then he came down from Himalaya and went eastwards. He visited Gaya tirtha. Then he saw many holy places in Vanga (modern-day Bengal) and Kalinga (modern-day Odisha).

Though the list is not exhaustive, famous places are mentioned nonetheless (For example, Tunganath, Gaya etc.).

One noteworthy omission is the Jagannath temple. I was wondering whether the cult of Jagannath was prevalent at the time of Mahabharata. Is there any reference to Jagannath tirtha elsewhere in Mahabharata? When did the Jagannath sampradaya start?

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    I feel the word cult should be avoided as it has negative connotations and propagated by Indologists. We should use the word sampradaya.
    – GIRIBLR
    Jul 22 at 11:29
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Both Ramayana and Mahabharata states about Lord Jagannath. Please see the chapter of the book Lord Jagannath By Suryanarayan Das under the chapter stories from the ramayana and mahabharata (page 12).

Mahabharata does so when describing the Ashvamedh Yajna of Indradyumna and the advent of the deities of the Jagannath temple (Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balabdhara). This is described in more detail in Brahma purana.

Ramayana also states that Sita Mata was obtained by King Janaka near the current Gundhicha mandir.

The origin of Lord Jagannath in vedanta is attributed to 10.155.3 of the Rigveda.

Ado yad daruplavate sindhoh pare apurusam,

Tada rabhasva durhano,tena gaccha parastaram

On a sea-shore there exists the wooden image of a deity with name purusottama(apurusam). By worshipping that wood so indestructible, attain the supreme place

In Ramayana,

Aradhya Jaganntham Ekshyaku Kula daibatam, Aradhaniyo Manisham Debanam Basabai Sahah

Lord Rama advised [Hanuman and Vibhishan] to worship Lord Jagannath who is deity of Ekshaku clan.

See 108.32 Uttara Khanda of Ramayana

O Mighty Monarch of the Rakshasas, do you worship the Divinity of the House of Ikshvaku, the Guide of the Universe, Shri Jagannath, whom the Devas themselves with their leaders perpetually adore.

Extensive references in the puranas

Skanda purana, Chapter 1

Lord Nārāyaṇa is refulgent and self-luminous. He is the Supreme Puruṣa. How does he stay there in a form made of wood?6 Do narrate it,

A complete section of Skanda purana is devoted to Lord Jagannatha. Consists of several chapters. This is called Puruṣottama-kṣetra-māhātmya

A king who lived in the Kṛta yuga, and a devotee of Viṣṇu. He visited the Jagannātha temple in Oḍra Deśa once to worship Lord Jagannātha. The Lord was then hidden in the sand. When the King, disappointed at this was about to return, determined to fast unto death at Mount Nīla when a celestial voice cried, "Thou shalt see Him". Afterwards the King performed a horse sacrifice and built a magnificent Viṣṇu temple.

After building the temple,

When the temple was nearing completion, Indradyumna feared there might be more obstacles before he could begin worship. Therefore he traveled to Brahmaloka to request Lord Brahma himself to come and conduct the opening ceremony. Due to time dilation, time is experienced differently in higher and lower realms within this universe. When Indradyumna finally returned with Lord Brahma, many thousands of years had passed. A new king named Galamadhava reigned over Puri.

The current is take that

The Pandavas tried to cremate the body of Srikrishna with sandal wood for seven days, but failed. Not even a single hair from the body got burnt. The same is described in 'Daru Brahma Gita' by Jagannath Das and 'Indra Nilamani Purana' by Bamadev. This became the wooden piece worshipped later.

One research paper that discusses the origin and evolution of the worship of Lord Jagannath is Orissa Review, June 2004.

It is accepted by most of the scholars that in the earliest phase Jagannath was known as Purushottama. "Vishnudharma", an unpublished Sanskrit manuscript of 3rd century A.D., says that Krishna was known as Purushottama in the Odra country.

In the last part of Mahabharat, a mysterious connection is made. Sri Krishna told Arjuna : now that the war is over, hear what I want, I wish to take rest in Seealee Lata, a distant forest of Creepers. I know all. There while sleeping. I will be killed by a tribal man of Kali Yuga." That dense forest was the ancient site of Jagannath Puri, as stated in Rig Veda.

"Ato Jutta daru Plabate Sindhupara aparuseya." "Ato" means here. "Jutta" means that. "Daru" means Wood. "Plabate" means floating. "Sinshupare" means that side of the ocean. "Aparuseya" means not man-made.

"Some thing will be carved from a log of wood floating on the ocean here (describing the origin of the murti of Lord Jagannath along the beach of Puri) that can not be man made." About that dense forest more details are given in the ancient Sanskrit text of Jagannath Temple, called Niladri Mahoday in which the origin of the temple and the basic outline of the puja system are described. It is stated that the great Niladri Temple of Lord Jagannath was once on a huge blue hill surrounded by a dense forest. The inhabitants worshipping Lord Jagannath here were tribal people called Dayitapatis. Even today a street of the temple community bears their name, Dayitapati Sahi. Lord Krishna came here and while resting under a tree, the hunter Jarasabara appeared. He thought the two feet of Sri Krishna to be the ears of a deer, so soft and red in colour they were. When he realized he had killed this Krishna with his bow and arrow, he tried to burn the body. But it was the body of Deva Purusha Himself : it could never be burnt. So he left it at a place by the sea in Puri called Banki Muhan. It become a fossil of wood. This marked the beginning of Kali Yuga.

Though it is established after Dwapar yug at sea shore of Puri as wooden incarnation of Lord Krishna, the origins may be much older as the Rig veda and Ramayana seem to be quoting him.

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  • Thanks for the Rigveda verse and the verse number. It is really interesting. Please either give the verse number for Ramayana and Mahabharat quote or attach the link of that page from Ramayana and Mahabharata book (both are available in the wisdom library). Jul 24 at 16:22

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