Source : Jagannath Puri Book Published by SJTA
In the remote past, Orissa was inhabited by the aboriginal tribes, who had a civilization and culture quite distinct from that of the Vedic Aryans. The Aryans migrated to Orissa at a later stage and the Vedic religion and culture along with the Upanisadic philosophy and Smarta rituals then began to spread in this country. Buddhism had better times during the rule of the Mouryan emperor Asoka, who conquered Kalinga (the coastal region of Orissa as known by that time) after a dreadful war in the third century B.C. It is said that after the conquest of Kalinga, Asoka abandoned violence, embraced Buddhism and left no stone unturned to propagate it .
Throughout India including the newly conquered Kalinga. It continued to be popular in Orissa for several countries before Sankaracarya visited Puri in the ninth century A.D. Jainism was perhaps at the height of its glory when Kharavela espoused its cause and took all steps to propagate it in the second century B.C. It is, therefore, historically reasonable to hold that the cult and culture of Jagannatha found its origin in the primitive system of worship of the non-Aryan tribals who had established a shrine for Jagannatha here, in this part of the country in a very ancient time, with all their religious fervour. The. Aryans must then have taken it over to worship Jagannatha in Vedic rites and rituals with all religious practices connected with them. Buddhism and Jainism must have penetrated in to the innermost apartments of the shrine of Jagannatha with all their religious and spiritual implications. But it has not been possible till now to speak with an air of authority, as to which of the rites; rituals and details of the day-to-day service (Vidhis) of Lord Jagannatha owe their origin either to Jainism or to Buddhism.
The Puranic texts corroborate that Jagannatha was originally a deity of the aboriginal tribes and was known as Nila Madhava, his image being made of some sort of blue stone. Later, the god manifested himself in the form of four wooden images that we worship now and came to be known by the present-day names in an atmosphere of Vedic re-orientation. Thus, Jagannatha is equally claimed by the aboriginal tribes and the Vedic Hindus to be their original deity of worship.
When we think of the Puri temple, we also think of the presiding deities therein as well as the pattern of cultural life that is in vogue around it, which inspire the pilgrims with the lofty ideal of emotional integration in the country. Hence the cult of Jagannatha as we call it now (by way of translating the words Jagannatha Dharma) has to be understood, interpreted and appreciated with all its social, cultural, religious and spiritual implications. Thus, the glory and greatness of Jagannathism may be brought out in the following manner.
At a time when Jagannatha gained immense popularity all important religious cults and creeds known to the people of India in' those days were assimilated into the texture of Jagannathism. Such a board-based system of religious life is not to be found anywhere in the world.' .