Situated on the coast along the Bay of Bengal, Odisha stands for its ancient glory and modern endeavour. Endowed with natures bounty, a 482 km stretch of coastline with virgin beaches, serpentine rivers, mighty waterfalls, forest-clad blue hills of Eastern Ghats with rich wild life, Odisha is dotted with exquisite temples, historic monuments as well as pieces of modern engineering feat. The land, while retaining its pristine glory, also offers the visitors modern amenities. Its lush green countryside and fertile plains, tiny hamlets fringed with palm, coconut trees and mango groves offer the charm of rural beauty while the urban pockets, the four cities in particular, with the splendour of modern technology provide the amenities necessary for a comfortable stay. This wonderful land of fascinating beauty boasts of colourful festivals round the year. Odisha is also the land of unique handicrafts and other excellent artifacts.
Odisha, with a rich heritage that is more than two thousand years old, has a glorious history of its own. It was known under different names in different periods : Kalinga, Utkal or Odradesha. Seaports flourished along the coast as early as the 4th and 5th centuries B.C., when the sadhabs, the Odishan seafaring merchants, went to the islands of Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Bali with their merchandise. Not only did they bring home wealth and prosperity, they also carried the glorious Indian civilisation with them and helped its spread abroad. Vijaya, the first king of Ceylon, is believed to be a prince of Orissan origin. The land had its martial glory in the past and the people had made their contact with the kingdoms South East Asia in ancient times. Kalinga had made its mark in the Indian history when the Nanda dynasty ruled the kingdom of Magadha. She posed a threat to the Maurya Empire. Ashoka, the Great invaded Kalinga in 261 B.C. and conquered her. But the terrible bloodshed on the banks of the river, Daya that preceded Ashokas victory changed his heart. He embraced Buddhism and preached peace and goodwill for the rest of his life. Kalinga reasserted her independence after the death of Ashoka and increased her strength. The Kalingan Empire reached the pinnacle of glory during the reign of Emperor Kharavela who even pursued the Greek King Demetrius out of India. The inscriptions on Hati Gumpha (Elephant Cave) on the Udayagiri Hill in Bhubaneswar record the story of his reign. Kalinga maintained its trade links with overseas countries during the first three centuries of the Christian era but the kingdom itself was divided into a number of principalities. In the fourth century A.D. Emperor Samudragupta invaded Odisha and overcame the resistance offered by five of her chiefs. Odisha came under the rule of King Sasanka and later King Harsha Vardhana in the 7th century A.D. when the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited Odisha. Towards the middle of the century the Somavamsi dynasty was firmly established in the land. The end of the 8th century saw the emergence of Jajpur-on-Baitarani as an epicentre of Brahminical religion. Thus Buddhism and Jainism took a back seat for Sometime when Yayati Keshari invited ten thousand Brahmin pundits from Kanauja and settled them in different parts of his kingdom. He established Abhinaba Yayati Nagar which was abbreviated to Jajpur in course of time. The centre of political activities shifted to Cuttack, known as Abhinab Varanasi Kataka, in the eleventh century A.D. Illustrious Ganga kings ruled Odisha for nearly three hundred and fifty years and they were followed by Suryavamsi Gajapati Kings and Mukunda Deva Harichandan of the Chalukya dynasty. Pancha Kataka or the five forts protected the capital against any aggression. The Hindu state of Odisha came under the Muslim rule in 1568 A.D. when King Mukunda Deva lost to the Sultan of Bengal, Suleiman Karni. Subsequently, Odisha came under the Moghuls and the Marathas and finally in 1803 A.D., under the British. Odisha formed a part of greater Bengal but didnt lose its own separate cultural identity. The political capital shifted to Patna when the state of Bihar-Odisha was carved out of Bengal. Odisha became a separate province in 1936 A.D. with Cuttack as its capital. The new capital was built in Bhubaneswar after independence. However, the state took its present shape only in 1949 with the merger of the princely states including Mayurbhanj.
The modern state of Odisha is located between 170-48 and 220-34 North latitude and 810-24 and 870-29 East longitude. The State is bounded by the bay in the east, West Bengal in the north-east, Bihar in the north, Madhya Pradesh in the west and Andhra Pradesh in the south. The territory may be divided into four distinct geographical regions : the Eastern Plateau, the Central River Basin, the Eastern Hill Region and the Coastal Belt. The entire territory lies in the tropical zone as a result of which high temperature is recorded particularly during April-May. However, the sea exercises a moderating influence over the climate of the coastal belt whereas the hill tracts experience an extreme climate. The state is drained by six important rivers: the Subarnarekha, the Budhabalanga, the Baitarani, the Brahmani, the Mahanadi and the Rusikulya. The rich mineral belts lie in the western and north-western parts of the state. Covering an area of 155,707 sq.km. Odisha has a population of about three crore out of which more than 22 percent are tribals, with their concentration in Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Koraput districts. Oriya is the mother tongue of the people of Odisha and most of them understand Hindi as well. People can sometimes speak Bengali, Telugu, Urdu and a bit of Gujarati in addition to the various tribal dialects. English can be understood by the educated mass. Rice, dal, vegetables and fish constitute the principal diet of the people. They also take chapatis, meat and sweets. Different types of pithas (cakes made of rice flour, gur, coconut, ghee and other ingredients depending on the variety ) and milk/cheese preparations are special Odishan delicacies.
Odisha has a long tradition of art and architecture. The early monuments date back to the third century B.C. The remnant of an Ashokan pillar, turned into a Siva Lingam and enshrined in the Bhaskaresvara temple at Bhubaneswar and the lion capital of an Ashokan pillar, presently in the State Museum, speak volumes of Odishas past glory. The rock-cut caves of Khandagiri and Udaygiri and the inscriptions recording Kharavelas short but eventful reign during the first century B.C. constitute the second phase of the evolution in Odisnan art. The Naga and Yaksha images found in places around Bhubaneswar belong to the post-Kharavela era. The fortification of Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneswar is yet another monument of ancient Odisha.
Odisha was at the height of her superb artistic glory during seventh to thirteenth century A.D. The Sailodbhava dynasty of Banpur is responsible for the earliest temples around Bhubaneswar. The Bhaumakaras, the Somavamsis and the illustrious Gangas are particularly known for temple building. The Parsuramesvara temple at Bhubaneswar is the earliest extant temple. The Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar, Jagannath Temple at Puri and Sun Temple at Konark belonging to the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth centuries respectively stand as silent witnesses to Odishas glorious past. Rajarani Temple and Mukteswar Temple at Bhubaneswar, Biraja Temple at Jajpur, Kichakeswari Temple at Khiching and the temples at Ranipur-Jharial are also a few other examples of Odishan architecture.
Odisha is also known for her exquisite handicrafts. Silver filigree work of Cuttack, horn work of Cuttack and Parlakhemundi and the famous applique work of Pipili deserve special mention. Pattachitra, a form of folk painting of Odisha, is a unique craft. Brass and bell metalware, particularly vases and candle stands, are beautiful and longlasting. The blackstone bowls and plates of Nilagiri and Khiching and multi-coloured stone statues are other attractions. Silk and cotton handloom products, especially saris are simply bewitching. The Sambalpuri saris and Maniabandhi patas are matchless in their texture and designs.
The people of Odisha rejoice in festivals and fairs. Festivals are associated with religious practices, but the festive atmosphere often sweeps the rituals. Most festivals are common to all places, but particular places have their own special celebrations which are seasonal in their occurrence. Chandan Yatra, Snana Yatra and Ratha Yatra are observed with special gaiety and fervour at Puri although the last-mentioned one is celebrated at Baripada, Athagarh, Dhenkanal, Koraput and other places even outside the state. Durga Puja is observed throughout the state, more particularly at Cuttack. Kali Puja or Diwali is celebrated in different parts of Odisha. Bali Yatra of Cuttack on the full moon day in the month of Kartika reminds the glory of Odishan traders in the long past. Chaitra Parva, a festival of Chhou dance, is celebrated at Baripada. Makar, Holi, Mohurram, Id and Christmas are also celebrated throughout the state.
A visit to Odisha is indeed an experience of a lifetime. Every loss in any respect – comfort, facilities, amenities, etc.- is amply compensated by the effulsive hospitality and warmth of the people.
Ancient Odisha was a confluence of racial streams. History tells us that the Aryans entered Odisha from the north-east, subjugated the primitive people living there and imposed on them their language and culture. The story could not be so simple; for the people then living in the land were not perhaps all of the primitive type, nor were they subjugated culturally. What might have happened in al! Probability was a racial and cultural amalgamation. Geographically Odisha stands as a coastal corridor between the northern and southern India cut off by the intractable Vindhyas. It is natural therefore that an assimilation of the races and cultures of the Aryans and the Dravidians; must have taken place here in the days of gore. At the same time successive racial and cultural tides might have surged up from the different sides, rolled in and broken over this Bound culminating in the indo-cultural synthesis.
Odisha, which is largely rural, the traditional values are still kept alive. In general the values have no doubt weakened but they are not lost. Among die innocent Advisees dwelling in the wooded hinterland and forested hill slopes, Indias earliest civilization is retained in its pristine form. Not only in their secluded hamlets, bet also in the countless thousands of villages in the country sides one can catch a glimpse of the dwindling horizon of humanity, through the innocent and benign outlook of tile villagers. A sensitive person who happens to be a prisoner of the modern society with its stress and strain will not, while in a typical village, fail to mark the relationship of its common people with God, nature and their fellow men.