Juggernaut: Indian Temple Or Unstoppable Force?

Jagannath Temple in India gave rise to the word “juggernaut.” But the ancient story of Jagannath is rather delightful.

pyramid-like set of three temples - one with a flag flying int the breeze above - against a pinkish sunset
Jagannath Temple. Credit: Shutterstock

design of typewriter with text 'science diction'Science Diction is a bite-sized podcast about words—and the science stories behind them. Subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and sign up for our newsletter.


logo that says listen on apple podcastsbadge that says 'listen on stitcher'


In 2014, a grad student in Kolkata named Ujaan Ghosh came across an old book by a Scottish missionary. And as Ghosh paged through the book, he noticed the missionary kept using a word over and over: “Juggernaut.” But the missionary wasn’t using it the way we do today—to mean an unstoppable, overwhelming force. He  was using it to talk about a place: a temple in Puri, India. So Ghosh dug further, and as he grasped the real story of where the English word, juggernaut, had come from, he realized there was just no way he could keep using it.

A transcript of this episode is being processed and will be available within a week.

Guests:

Chris Egusa is an audio producer and 2020 KALW Audio Academy fellow.

Dylan Thuras is co-founder of Atlas Obscura, and host of the Atlas Obscura podcast.

Ujaan Ghosh is a PhD candidate at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Footnotes & Further Reading:

Read Ujaan Ghosh’s article on the origins of the word “juggernaut.” 

Learn more about Jagannath Temple in Atlas Obscura. 

Listen to more episodes of the Atlas Obscura podcast.

Credits:

This episode was a collaboration between Science Diction and Atlas Obscura. It was produced by Johanna Mayer and Chris Egusa, and edited by Elah Feder and John DeLore. Daniel Peterschmidt is our composer, and Danya AbdelHameid fact checked the episode. It was mixed by Luz Fleming.


Calling all word nerds! Sign up for an email about words and language, and updates about the Science Diction podcast.

Meet the Writers

About Johanna Mayer

Johanna Mayer is a podcast producer and hosts Science Diction from Science Friday. When she’s not working, she’s probably baking a fruit pie. Cherry’s her specialty, but she whips up a mean rhubarb streusel as well.

About Elah Feder

Elah Feder is a senior producer for podcasts at Science Friday. She produces the Science Diction podcast, and co-hosted and produced the Undiscovered podcast.

Explore More

Jargon: We Love To Hate It

Most people despise it. So why do we use it? And is all jargon bad?

Read More

Algebra: From Broken Bones To Twitter Feuds

When a high school student asked a question about algebra on TikTok, she unknowingly awoke an age-old debate in mathematics history.

Read More