Language is a funny thing. Words and phrases lose meaning over time, such as the idea of a blue moon, but we keep them as a way of describing different things. The word juggernaut for instance is used in the modern context as a way to describe an unstoppable force that will crush anything that stands in its way. However the actual definition of the word refers to an institution or a religion that is a monolith where people are sacrificed without care or consideration. Sort of like scientology. But the phrase was originally coined by the Germans as a way of describing the representation of the Hindu god Krishna at the festival of Puri in Orissa, India.
For those that have never seen one of these pagan festivals in action, the sight would have been a bit of a culture shock to a German monk (which is where we get the word). The festival was heavily leaning on the god Krishna which, if we’re making comparisons, is the closest figure in Hindu mythology to Jesus Christ. Krishna is the overarching power of the universe, the most beautiful and perfect being in the universe who created an avatar (divine essence put into a human form) that was meant to help save humanity. Kind of a big deal. And it’s because of what a big deal he is that Krishna has a massive idol that would be pulled through the streets on a gigantic wheeled cart like the slowest victory lap in history. Now due to religious fervor, crowd control accidents or xenophobic exaggeration the description we got was that this cart would crush people and continue on its way, the celebration totally uninterrupted. While it sounds kind of like a Tea Party description of an Occupy Wall Street parade, the image is what stuck since it was the Dark Ages and you would have had to use dial up Internet to check out the veracity of any statements made.
But how did the word juggernaut come out of that? Well, it’s a bastardization of Krishna’s title jagganath. When an organization changes the title of a god to use as a description (sort of like Beelzebub in the Bible), translation errors occur either on accident or as a way to mock and lower the respect of that deity. Given that this was the 1630s, it might have been a combination of both. Regardless though, the implicit, inescapable horror of what it is to be in the path of Krishna the Krusher, even if people have forgotten all about where it first came from or what it referred to.
“Juggernaut,” by Anonymous at Online Etymology Dictionary
“Juggernaut,” by Anonymous at Dictionary.com