Etymologically, “”Jagann?th”” means “Master, Lord” (”n?tha”) of the “World, Universe” (”Jagata”).The word has Sanskrit origin, “Jagann?tha” is a genitive tat-puru?a-sam?sa, derived from “‘Jagat” (a reduplicated nominal form of the verbal root ?gam [to go]), meaning “[whatsoever] is moving” and n?tha (). Jagann?tha can thus also mean “He the shelter of the Revolving World”.
Some scholars have suggested that the word is a Sanskritization of a tribal word. They have presented arguments concerning the Jagann?th’s tribal origins. Savaras the early tribal inhabitants of Odisha were tree worshippers who called their god ”Jaganata” from whom the word Jagann?th may have been derived. Verrier Elwin, anthropologist, ethnologist and tribal activist, in his book ”Religion of an Indian Tribe” has narrated that: “The god Jagann?tha had appeared in Seori-Narayana and an old Savar used to worship him. The king of Odisha had built the great temple at Puri and wished to install Jagann?tha in it, and he found a Brahmin to fetch it from Seori-Narayan, but nobody knew where it was except the old hermit, Savar. The Brahmin besought him in vain to be allowed to see the god and even went so far as to marry his daughter, and finally the old man consented to take him blindfolded to the place. The Brahmin, however, tied some mustard seeds on a corner of his cloth and made a hole in it so that they dropped out one by one on the way. After sometime they grew up and served to guide him to the spot. The Brahmin then went to the Seori-Narayana alone and begged the god to go to Puri. Jagannatha consented and assuming the form of a log of wood, floated down the Mahanadi to Puri, where he was taken out and placed in the temple.” As per Elwin there is an alternative Savara legend, according to which there are three most important and prominent Kittungs (Gods) – two brothers and a sister, Ramma, Bimma and Sitaboi. Ramma is always coupled with the brother Bimma. The legend maintains that it was from them that the Savara tribe was born. Such a set up has significant resemblance to the Jagannath triad. As per current predominant thought, Jagannath, embodies the metamorphosis of tribal god into a pre-eminent deity of the classical Hindu pantheon. The icon is carved out of wood (not stone or metal), and the tribes whose rituals and traditions were woven into his worship are still living as tribal and semi-tribal communities in the region. This tribal god may have taken a fairly circuitous route to his present pinnacle, via absorption of local Shakti traditions and merger with the growing popularity of the Narasimha and Purushottam forms of Vishnu in the region in the medieval era. As regards to archeological findings, Queen Vasata in the 8th century built the famous Narsinghnath temple in brick at Sripur or Shreepur on the banks of river Mahanadi in present Mahasamund district. Sirpur or Shreepur was then the capital of Dakshin Kosala kingdom. The temple is believed to have been built in the 8th century by Vasata, the daughter of King Suryavarma of Magadh. The temple plaque opens with a salutation to Purushottam, also titled Narasimha, suggesting a trend in Vaishnav tradition to stress the ugra (violent) aspect of Vishnu. This possibly culminates with Jagannath, widely revered as Purushottam until the end of the 13th century, which had close connections with Narasimha who became popular in Odisha in the post-Gupta period. As the original wooden god was a unitary figure, temples for the single deity continued to be built even after a Trinitarian image emerged at Puri. Even today there are many Dadhivaman temples in Odisha, which perpetuate the original state of the god. The Kond continue to practice a ritual renewal of wooden posts. There is also something striking about the figures constituting the Jagannath triad. Subhadra’s image consists of only a trunk and a head, but Jagannath and Balabhadra are larger, with a trunk, over-dimensional head, and arm stumps. But while the heads of Subhadra and Balabhadra are oval with almond-shaped eyes, Jagannath’s head is curiously flat on top and is dominated by enormous round eyes. Scholars explain this in terms of Narasimha’s association with wooden posts representing tribal deities. In the Andhra village Jambulapadu in (Anantapur), Narasimha Svami is worshipped as a pillar to which a sheet shaped in the form of a lion’s head is attached. This lion-head explains Jagannath’s large round eyes, typical of Narasimha on account of his fury (krodh). The head of the Jagannath image makes sense when perceived as a lion’s head, where the emphasis is on the jaws, rather than as a human head. Nilakantha Das in “The Orissa Historical Review Journal, April 1958”, opines that Savari Narayana of Madhya Pradesh (Dakshina Kosala), was brought to Puri from Phuljheur of Madhya Pradesh where a wooden deity was worshipped.This Narayana of the Savaras and became Jagannath. Historian K. C. Panigrahi suggested that Puri’s legendary account of the claimed invasion of Orissa under the Yavana general Raktabahu in the 4th/5th century A.D. during the reign of the legendary king Sovanadeva (Legendary) may contain a historical reminiscence of the conquest of Orissa by the Rastrakuta King Govinda III during the reign of the Bhaumakara king Subhakara deva who ruled in coastal Orissa around 800 A.D. And moreover, he pointed out that Jagannath’s legendary absence of 146 years in western Orissa (between Raktabahu’s invasion and Yayati’s ‘rediscovery’ of Jagannath and reinstallment at Puri) corresponds more or less exactly with the space of time between the historical reigns of Subhakaradeva and Yayati-I, the Somavamsi ruler Yayati Kesari established the first regional kingdom of Orissa. The installation of Jagann?th at Puri temple took place several years after Yayati Kesari had come to throne, viz., in Yayati’s 9th regnal years. Moreover in both cases the images were renewed outside Puri. Yayati Kesari performed the great ‘Vanayaga’ ritual in the vicinity of his former capital nearSonepur of Orissa and Jagannath was finally reinstalled on at Puri only two years after the renewal of the idol. However, In Puri, too, no pre-sixteenth century sources of the Yayati Kesari account are known. Contemporary facts are fully silent about any activities of the Somavamsis at Puri, particularly of Yayati Kesari as builder of the first Jagann?th temple at Puri. The silence of early medieval sources would be surprising in view of the many available Somavamsi inscriptions and other literary sources which could have mentioned or even praised Yayati Kesari and his great deeds at Puri. In Purusottama Mahatmya which has contained the Indradyumna legend and the origin of Jagann?th’s Daru Devat? at Puri there is no mention of Yayati Kesari. In the same line, noted writers like W. W. Hunter, A. Stirling, John Beames and N. K. Sahu in book ‘A History of Orissa’, Dr. H. K. Mahtab in his ‘History of Orissa’, and Dr. Mayadhar Mansinha in his ‘The Saga of the Land of Jagannatha’ opine that it is a Buddhist triad. In fact, there is no historical evidence of worship of Jagannath at Puri prior to the 10th century A.D. when Yayati Kesari was the ruler. The Buddhist King Indirabhuti’s Jnanasiddhi mentions about the place of Jagannath. Pandit Neelakantha Das has mentioned that the Savaras were worshipping the image of Jagannath made of neem wood in a place called Sambal in Uddiyan, the kingdom of Indrabhuti, which was even prior to the rule of Yayati Kesari -I. Indrabhuti has described Jagannath as Buddhist deity in Jnanasiddhi. In the narrative of Indrabhuti, Jagannath was worshipped by the Savaras in one of the Budha Viharas. During the rule of King Sasanka and feudatory chief Madhav Raj-II, many anti-Buddhist campaigns were undertaken. Therefore, the Buddhist Jagann?th was shifted before the arrival of Hieun-Tsang and destruction of the Puspagiri Vih?r. In this period, Indrabhuti emerged as a worshipper of Jagannath in 717 A.D. There are various opinions about the place where the image of Jagann?th was lying buried. The Madala panji (The temple Chronicles) identifies this place with the village Gopali of Sonepur district of Orissa. The Madala panji records legend of king Yayati recovering the wooden images of Jagann?th from the Sonepur region located in the foot of Trikut Hill at Kotsamalai of the Birmaharajpur subdivision of Subarnapur district, Odisha, It widely believed that the idol of Lord Jagann?th, Balabhadra and Devi Subhadr? were kept hiding in the caves of the Trikut for a period of 144 years. 810 A.D.