Although Orissa or Kalinga is mentioned in the epics, much of the
history is obscure. A non-Aryan race is believed to have settled here in
the dim past. Then came the Aryans from the north. Out of the gradual
blending of the two, a new race and civilization came into being. At the
dawn of history, Orissa formed part of the powerful kingdom of Kalinga
that was practically coextensive with Oriyan speaking tracts and
stretched from the mouth of the River Ganga to that of the Godavari.
The kingdom was a challenge to the Mauryan Empire which was founded by
Chandragupta Maurya. In 263 B.C. King Ashoka sent a powerful force to
subdue Kalinga which offered stubborn resistance. The carnage that
followed is depicted on some of the rock engraved edicts of Kalinga. He
deeply regretted being the cause of this war, embraced Buddhism and
turned to a life of compassion.
In the first century B.C., under the rule of the third Chedi King,
Kharavela, Jainism was restored as the faith of the people. Kharavela,
the greatest king ever to rule Kalinga, launched a series of conquests,
winning lands as far as Cape Comorin in the south, River Ganga in the
north and Maharashtra in the west. During this time, Udaygiri and
Khandagiri, 8 km to the west of Bhubaneshwar, became strong centres of
the Jain faith.
The fortunes of Kalinga's Chedi dynasty declined with the termination of
brief but brilliant career of Kharavela. During the first two centuries
of the Christian era it has many thriving ports from where merchants,
priests and others sailed to Java, Sumatra, Bali and other places in
South-East Asia. The colonies established by these people eventually
grow into powerful kingdoms.
About the middle of the 4th century AD, Emperor Samadragupta of
invaded Orissa. In 610 AD, Orissa came under the sway of King Sasanka.
Following Sasanka's death in 625 AD, his rival Harsha Vardhana conquered
Orissa where he tried to propagate the doctrine of Mahayana Buddhism.
About the middle of the 7th century AD the Somvamsi dynasty was
established in Orissa. The first powerful ruler of the line,
MahabhavaguptaJanamejaya (680 AD - 712 AD), extended his kingdom up to
the modern Cuttack. He was succeeded by Mahasivagupta Yayanti I (712 AD
- 744 AD ). In 795 AD MahasivaguptaYayanti II came to the throne and
united Kalinga, Kangoda, Utkala and Kosala and revived the imperial
tradition of Orissa under Kharavela. He was a great patron of
Brahmanism, Yayanti is said to have invited 10,000 learned Brahmins from
Kannauj and settled them in Orissa. He is believed to have built a
temple to Lord Jagannath at Puri. His son and successor Udyot Kesari Mahabahavagupta (840 AD - 880 AD) was a powerful ruler who espoused the
cause of Saivism and built many temples.
In the year 1038 AD, Vajrahasta III of the Eastern Ganga dynasty assumed
the title of Trikalingadhipati ( Lord of Trikalinga ), and after thirty
years of prosperous rule was succeeded by his son Rajarajadeva Deva I.
The next ruler was AnantavarmanChodaganga, who is believed to have
erected the tower and assembly hall at the temple of Puri. The Vaishnava
kings of the Ganga dynasty were an illustrious line, the most notable
among them being Anangabhima I, Rajaraja II, Anangabhima II, and
Narashima Deva I. The last emperor is believed to have built the famous
Sun Temple at Konarak.
Subsequently, there were frequent Muslim incursions into the State and,
about 1361, Firoz Shah personally conducted an expedition into Orissa.
Muslim incursions continued with increasing strength till at last, after
a period of civil strife, MukandaDeva, the last Hindu ruler of Orissa,
was overthrown by KalaPahar in 1568 AD. The Afghans held Orissa until
1592 AD, when Akbar's General Man Singh annexed it to the Mughal Empire.
Orissa, ceded to the Marathas by Alivardi Khan in 1751, was conquered by
the British in 1803. Two years later it was designated the District of
Cuttack and placed in the charge of a Collector, Judge and Magistrate.
In 1828 it was split up into the Regulation Districts of Cuttack,
Balasore and Puri, and the non-Regulation Tributary States. Sambalpur
was added to Orissa in 1905. Orissa was separated from Bihar and made a
separate province in 1963 under the Government of India Act of 1935.
After Independence in 1947, the rulers of 26 Orissa States surrendered
their authority and jurisdiction to the Government of India. The merger
of the Orissa states was completed in 1949. At present, Orissa has 30
districts covering an area of 1,55,707 sq km.
Very early in Kalingan history, the Kalingas acquired a reputation for
being a fiercely independant people. Ashoka's military campaign against
Kalinga was one of the bloodiest in Mauryan history on account of the
fearless and heroic resistance offered by the Kalingas to the mighty
armies of the expanding Mauryan empire. Perhaps on account of their
unexpected bravery, emperor Ashoka was compelled to issue two edicts
specifically calling for a just and benign administration in Kalinga.
Unsurprisingly, Mauryan rule over Kalinga did not last long. By the 1st
C. BC, Kalinga's Jain identified ruler Kharavela had become the
pre-eminent monarch of much of the sub-continent and Mauryan Magadha had
become a province of the Kalingan empire. The earliest surviving
monuments of Orissa (in Udaigiri near Bhubaneshwar) date from his reign,
and surviving inscriptions mention that Prince Kharavela was trained not
only in the military arts, but also in literature, mathematics, and the
social sciences. He was also reputed to be a great patron of the arts
and was credited with encouraging dance and theater in his capital.
Although the bravery of the Kalingas became legendary, and finds mention
in the Sahitya Darpan, it is important to note that a hereditary warrior
caste like the Kshatriyas did not take hold in the region. Soldiers were
drawn from the peasantry as needed and rank in the military depended as
much on fighting skills and bravery as on hereditary factors. In this
(and other) respects, Oriya history resembles more the history of the
nations of South East Asia, and may have been one of the features of
Oriya society that allowed it to successfully fend off 300 years of
raids initiated by numerous Islamic rulers untill the 16th century.
Metallurgy, Crafts and Trade
Owing to it's vast mineral resources, metallurgy developed quite
naturally in ancient Orissa and may have been an additional factor in
catapulting the region to considerable importance during the iron age.
Iron tools were used in agricultural production, digging irrigation
canals, stone-quarrying, cave excavation and later monumental
architecture. Rice cultivation got a particular fillip and during the
iron age irrigation works from Orissa spread to the regions of ancient
Andhra and Tamil Nadu around 300 BC (See M.S. Randhawa: A history of
agriculture in India, Vol. 1. New Delhi.) Orissa also became a major
steel producing centre and steel beams were extensively used in the
monumental temples of Bhubaneshwar and Puri.
Being a coastal region, maritime trade played an important role in the
development of Oriya civilization. Cultural, commercial and political
contacts with South East Asia, particularly Southern Burma, Malaysia and
Indonesia were especially extensive and maritime enterprises play an
interesting part in Oriya folk-tales and poetry. Historical records
suggest that around the 7th C. AD, the Kongoda dynasty from central
Orissa may have migrated to Malaysia and Indonesia. There is also
evidence of exchange of embassies with China. Records of Oriya traders
being active in the ports of South East Asia are fairly numerous and in
his descriptions of Malacca, Portuguese merchant Tome Pires indicates
that traders from Orissa were active in the busy port as late as the
(There is evidence to suggest that trade contact between Eastern India
and Thailand may date as far back as the 3rd or 4th C BC. Himanshu Ray
(The Winds of Change - Buddhism and the Maritime Links of Early South
Asia) suggests that at least eight oceanic routes linked the Eastern
Coast of India with the Malayan pensinsula, and after the Iron Age,
metals (such as iron, copper and tin), cotton textiles and foodstuffs
comprised the trade. She also suggests that the trade involved both
Indian and Malayo-Polynesian ships. Archealogical evidence from
Sisupalgarh (near Bhubaneshwar) in Orissa suggests that there may also
have been direct or indirect trade contacts between ancient Orissa and
Rome dating to the 1st-2nd C AD (or possibly earlier). The chronicles of
Huen Tsang refer to Orissa's overseas contacts in the 7th C, and by the
10th C, records of Orissa's trade with the East begin to proliferate.)
Adequate agricultural production combined with a flourishing maritime
trade contributed to a flowering of Orissan arts and crafts especially
textiles. Numerous communities of weavers and dyers became active
throughout the state perfecting techniques like weaving of fine Muslins,
Ikat, Sambalpuri and Bomkai silks and cottons, applique and embroidery.
Orissa was also known for it's brass and bell metal work, lacquered
boxes and toys, intricate ivory, wood and stone carvings, patta painting
and palm leaf engraving, basket weaving and numerous other colorful
crafts. Often, decorative techniques relied on folk idioms as in the
painted, circular playing cards known as Ganjifas.
Later, Cuttack became the centre for lace-like exquisite silver filigree
work, (known as Tarakashi) when Orissa was brought under Mughal rule.
Philosophy, Language and Idealogy
Both Buddhism and Jainism played an important role in the cultural and
philosophical developments of early Oriya civilization. Most Buddhist
and Jain texts were written in Pali-Prakrit and the Prakrita Sarvasva, a
celebrated Prakrit grammar text was authored by Markandeya Das, an
Oriya. Kharavela's Hatigumpha inscription is in Pali, leading to the
speculation that Pali may have been the original language of the Oriya
By the 7th C. AD, Brahminism had also become influential, especially in
the courts and Hiuen Tsang (the well-known Chinese chronicler) observed
how Buddhist Viharas and Brahminic temples flourished side by side. And
although royal inscriptions of this time were in Sanskrit, the most
commonly spoken language was not, and according to Hiuen Tsang appeared
to be quite distinct from the language of Central India, and may have
been a precursor of modern day Oriya.
But even as the Bhauma Kings of the 6th-8th C issued edicts in Sanskrit,
they patronized numerous Buddhist institutions and the art, architecture
and poetry of the period reflected the popularity of Buddhism in the
Later, Orissa's Buddhism came to be modulated by strong Tantric
influences, while a more traditional Vedic and Brahminical version of
Hinduism was brought to Orissa by Brahmins from Kannauj. Shaivism from
the South was institutionalized in Puri. In addition, the majority of
Orissa's adivasis continued to practice some form of animism and
totem-worship. Unifying all these different traditions was the
Shiva-Shakti cult which evolved from an amalgamation of Shaivism
(worship of Shiva), Shaktism (worship of the Mother Goddess) and the
Vajrayana, or Tantric form of Mahayana Buddism.
What made possible this fusion was that apart from the formal
distinctions that separated these different religious and philosophical
trends, in practical matters, there was a growing similiarity between
them. Whereas early Buddhism and the Nyaya school within Hinduism had
laid considerable stress on rationalism and scientific investigation of
nature, later Buddhism and the Shaivite schools both emphasized
philosphical variants of concepts first developed in the Upanishads,
along with mysticism and devotion. Tantrism had also developed along a
dual track - on the one hand it had laid emphasis on gaining practical
knowledge and a clear understanding of nature - on the other, it too
came steeped in mysticism and magic.
At the same time, the Buddhist ethos had created an environment where
compromise was preferred to confrontation. This allowed tribal deities
and gods and goddesses associated with numerous fertility cults to be
integrated into the Hindu pantheon. Tantric constructs also met with
some degree of approval.
Since Tantrism emphasized the erotic as a means to spiritual salvation,
the culture of austerity and sexual abstinence that had pervaded early
Buddhism was replaced with an unapologetic embrace of all that was
Unlike some other parts of India, Oriya society had not yet been deeply
differentiated by caste, and egalitarian values remained well-ingrained
amongst the peasant masses. Hence, any idealogy that championed a
hierarchical division of society would have been unacceptable. The Shiva
Shakti cult was a compromise in that while it did not exclude social
inequality, it did not preclude social mobility either. In fact, the
cult became popular precisely because it articulated the possibility of
upward mobility through the acquisition of knowledge, skill or energetic
HOW TO REACH ORISSA
Bhubaneswar is the only civil airport in the state connected to
different parts of the country through regular flights. The major cities
connected to Bhubaneswar are Kolkata, Chennai, Visakhapatnam, Delhi,
Hyderabad, and Mumbai. Bhubaneswar and Puri are the major railheads for
the state. The extensive railway network connects different parts of the
state to the other parts of the country. The National Highways 5, 6, 23,
42, and 43 pass through the state.
By Air: The most convenient access into Orissa is a flight to
Bhubaneshwar. Indian Airlines has flights from Hyderabad, Nagpur,
Calcutta, Delhi, Raipur, Varanasi, Mumbai and Chennai.
By Rail: Train connections from all parts of the country exist,
but are usually long and the non - availability of air-conditioned class
travel is a constraint.
By Road : Once in Bhubaneshwar, road travel is the best option, to
visit the other attractions in Orissa.