Orissa, on the eastern coast of India, was once a settlement of non-Aryan and Aryan settlers, called Kalinga. Orissa has a chequered history which has successfully assimilated and synthesised the best of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu cultures. It was a formidable maritime empire with trading routes stretching up to Bali, Sumatra, Indonesia and Java. It's international trade and immense wealth was coveted by many rulers.
It was here that the famous Battle of Kalinga was fought in 261 BC. This was the battle that made the great Mauryan Kshatriya (warrior caste) king Ashoka forsake war to become a Buddhist. He went on to spread the Buddhist message of ahimsa and peace to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and the Far East.
Kharavela, who ruled around 1st century BC, was a staunch follower of Jainism, and it is to this period that Orissa owes its Jain art and architectural tradition.
During the 7th to 13th century AD, Orissa flourished. Trade and commerce increased and along with them evolved art and architecture. The style of Hindu temple construction, so unique to Orissa also developed around this time under the rule of the Kesari and Ganga Kings. Orissa is probably the only state where one can study temple architecture in all its successive stages of development. The region became a part of the Mughal Kingdom in the 16th century. Later the Marathas occupied Orissa and continued to do so till the British took over in 1803.
Orissa is predominantly rural, with fertile green coastal plains rising to the hills of the Eastern Ghats. The state's agricultural economy is often destabilized by natural disasters, including floods, droughts and cyclones. However, flooding in the Mahanadi Delta, which used to occur regularly, has been substantially reduced by the building of the Hirakud Dam. The state is mineral rich and is a big exporter of iron ore.
The Oriyas, 25% of whom are indigenous peoples (adivasis), are very friendly and hospitable.
Orissa's capital city's history goes back over 2000 years. At one time, the Bindu Sagar tank had over 7000 temples around it. Of these, 500 still survive, all built in the extravagant Orissan style. The Lingaraj, Rajarani, Mukteswar, Brahmeswar and Parasurameswar temples are some of the best specimens of the Orissa Temple Architecture.
Puri is one of the most important pilgrimage centres for Hindus. The renowned Jagannath temple, built in the 15th century AD and crowned with Vishnu's wheel and flag, dominates the landscape. Non Hindus are not allowed to enter the temple. Puri also has a beautiful beach. Every year, during the month of Ashadha (June-July), Puri is home to the Jagannath Rath Yatra (chariot journey of Jagannatha), a festival that celebrates the annual visit of Jagannath or Lord Krishna to his birthplace.
Fast Facts of Orissa
Places to visit
Located on the banks of the Daya river, this is where the Emperor Ashoka is believed to have undergone his conversion from a warrior king to a Buddhist pacificist. Dhauli is famous for its Ashokan Rock Edicts. On top of the hill, is a Shanti Stupa (Peace Pagoda), along with a monastery called Saddharma Vihar, both established by the Kalinga Nippon-Buddha Sangha, in the early 1970s, under the guidance of Guruji Fujii, Founder President of Nipponzan Myohoji of Japan.
The beautiful Sun Temple, also known as the Black Pagoda, was built in the 13th century in honour of Surya, the Sun God. It contains exquisite carvings, life sized lions and elephants, colossal figures of warriors on horses, scenes of battle and chase, all carved with great imagination and skill, testifying to the high standard of ancient Indian artistic and engineering skills. The temple is a World Cultural Heritage site.
Khandagiri and Udayagiri
The twin hills of Khandagiri and Udayagiri, 8 kms from Bhubaneswar, served as the site of an ancient (2nd century BC) Jain monastery which was carved into cave like chambers in the face of the hill. Udayagiri, once known as Madhavapura Mahavihara, is the largest Buddhist site in Orissa.
65 kms northeast of Cuttack, and just 5 kms from Khandagiri and Udayagiri is Ratnagiri, one of three ancient Buddhist universities of yore. When the Chinese chronicler Huen T'sang visited the university in 639 AD, it had already been a major Buddhist centre for at least two hundred years. It is believed Buddhism flourished here till the 12th century AD - first the Mahayana form of Buddhism, and later the Vajarayana school of art and philosophy. There is an enormous Stupa at the top of the hill. Just below the Stupa lie two well-preserved monasteries.
Lalitagiri is a recent excavation but the earliest Buddhist complexes here date back to the 1st century A.D. Visitors can see a huge brick monastery, remains of Chaitya hill, several stupas and a renovated stone stupa crowning a small hill.
Amravati and Nagarjunakonda
Both of these are Buddhist sites. At Amravati, the remains of the Buddhist influence in the Satavahana period include majestic carvings, chaityas, viharas, murals and panels. At Nagarjunakonda, the excavated ruins of a Buddhist settlement date back to the second and third century BC.
Similipal National Park
One of the earliest parks to come under Project Tiger, this is located in the forest belt of north Orissa. In the past it was the hunting preserve of the Maharajas of Mayurbhanj.
Bhitar Kanika Wildlife Sanctuary
Located in a secluded mangrove area on the delta of the river Brahmahani, this is one of the few marine parks in India. Once the preserve of the royal family of Raj Kanika, the park was established to protect the saltwater crocodile and other marine inhabitants of the region. It has been given the special status of "Crocodile Sanctuary" and a saltwater crocodile-breeding centre has been established here by the Orissa Government.
Home to several species of migratory birds, it is a delightful spot.
On the east coast of Orissa, this quiet golden beach, fringed by sand dunes, is a surfer's delight and excellent for sailing. The hot springs of Taptapani are an hour's drive from here.
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