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A juggernaut ( North-American pronunciation (help·info)), in current English usage, is a literal or metaphorical force regarded as mercilessly destructive and unstoppable. This usage originated in the mid-nineteenth century as an allegorical reference to the Hindu Ratha Yatra temple car, which apocryphally was reputed to crush devotees under its wheels.
The figurative sense of the word has ground in mechanics comparable to figurative uses of steamroller or battering ram to mean something overwhelming. Its ground in social behavior is similar to that of bandwagon, but with overtones of devotional sacrifice. Its British English meaning of a large heavy truck or articulated lorry dates from the second half of the twentieth century.
The English loanword juggernaut in the sense of "a huge wagon bearing an image of a Hindu god" is from the 17th century, inspired by the Jagannath Temple in Puri, Odisha, which has the Ratha Yatra ("chariot procession"), an annual procession of chariots carrying the murtis (statues) of Jagannâth, Subhadra and Balabhadra (Krishna's elder brother).
The first European description of this festival is found in the 14th-century The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, which apocryphally describes Hindus, as a religious sacrifice, casting themselves under the wheels of these huge chariots and being crushed to death. Others have suggested more prosaically that the deaths, if any, were accidental and caused by the press of the crowd and the general commotion.
The term is used literally in Jane Eyre, where one character describes her as "worse than many a little heathen who says its prayers to Brahma and kneels before Juggernaut",  suggesting that it would have been fairly widely understood when it was published in 1847.
The figurative sense of the English word, with the idea of "something that demands blind devotion or merciless sacrifice" became common in the mid-nineteenth century. For example, it was used to describe the out-of-control character Hyde in Robert Louis Stevenson's Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Other notable writers to have used the word this way range from H.G. Wells and Longfellow to Joe Klein.
Many speakers and writers apply the term to a large machine, or collectively to a team or group of people working together (such as a highly successful sports team or corporation), or even a growing political movement led by a charismatic leader—and it often bears an association with being crushingly destructive, with one early use of the word construing it as a synonym for Moloch.