It is believed and universally accepted that the present temple of Jagannatha at Puri was built in 12th century AD by King Ananta Varman Chodaganga Deva. Though the construction of the temple was almost over during the reign of Chodaganga Deva, it was not given finishing touches for quite a long time. Anangabheema Deva III completed the temple in 1230 AD and installed the Deities. The Gangas ruled over Odisha for a period of about 350 years and their policy of expansion resulted in establishment of a large empire from river Ganges in north to river Godavari in south. Chodaganga Deva won the heart of the people of Odisha by constructing the temple of Lord Jagannatha. During his reign, Ramanujacharya, a Vaisnava saint visited Puri and was closely associated with the rituals of the temple. Ramanuja advocated the ‘Visistadvaita’ philosophy of Vedanta. He stressed ‘Bhakti’ (devotion) as the means to attain God. He treated Brahman as Saguna (endowed with attributes or all good qualities). He was a pioneer of Sri Sampradaya (sect) which believes that the sect has originated from Sri or Lakshmi. Ramanuja tried to modify the existing ritualistic system of the temple by introducing Pancharatra system of worship but he was not successful. However, he was able to prevail upon the king to introduce the worship of Lakshmi and hence a separate temple for Lakshmi was constructed in Puri, in the premises of Jagannatha Temple.

Vaisnavism in India, particularly in southern India had witnessed development of different philosophical trends and devotional practices with Vishnu or Krushna as the Gods of worship. Saints like Nimbarka, Vishnuswami and Madhva were the pioneers of these movements. It is believed that the above saints and their followers had also visited Puri at different times and had established their monasteries. Narahari Tirtha, a disciple of Madhva was for some time a Mandalika (Governor) of Kalinga Visaya (Kalinga Province) during Bhanudeva-I and had acted as a guardian of Narasimha Deva- II. He also had taken interest in preaching the Dvaita Philosophy of Madhva, in which bhakti or devotion to God is the only means to achieve the highest goal of life. Ramananda, Kabira, Nanaka and other saints also came to Puri in different times and established their monasteries.

It was sometime during the rule of the Gangas that poet Jayadeva, a native of village Kenduli in Puri district, lived in Puri and composed Gitagovinda, depicting the love of Radha and Krishna. He was a follower of Nimbarka School of Vaishnavism, in which the worship of Radha and Krushna together is given emphasis. Gitagovinda of Jayadeva was so popular in Odisha that it was allowed to be sung before Sri Jagannatha. Besides, Khandua (a silken cloth) with passages of Gitagovinda woven on it, is included in various rituals of Jagannatha.

During the Ganga period the worship of Vishnu in all forms was prevalent in Odisha. Vishnu assuming ten incarnations became very popular in Odisha during the period. This aspect of Vishnu was largely depicted in several temple sculptures of Odisha and it had its impact on Jagannatha Temple too. In the western wall of Jagannatha temple, we find Buddha as the 9th incarnation and Kaliki as the 10th. It amply establishes that all others were Avataras (incarnations) and Jagannath is Avataree (the Incarnate). The Dasavatara Stotra (Hymn) composed by Jayadeva also establishes it. Read More