Orissa - History

History

Since prehistoric days the land of Orissa has been inhabited by various people. The earliest settlers of Orissa were primitive hill tribes. Although prehistoric communities cannot be identified, it is well known that Orissa had been inhabited by tribes like Saora or Sabar from the Mahabharata days. Saora in the hills, and the Sahara and Sabar of the plains continue to be an important tribe distributed almost all over Orissa. Most of the tribal people have been influenced by Hindus and have adopted Hindu manners, customs and rituals. Bonda Parajas of Koraput district are the best example of these tribes. Several pre-historic sites have been excavated in Orissa since the arrival of Britishers. Kaliakata of Angul, Kuchai and Kuliana of Mayurbhanj, Vikramkhol near Jharsuguda, Gudahandi and Yogimath of Kalahandi, Ushakothi of Sambalpur, Similikhol near Bargarh etc.

Orissa has a history spanning a period of over 5,000 years. Before Kalinga it was named as Udra or "Odra Desa". The Ancient Odra desa or Ordesa was limited to the valley of Mahanadi and to the lower course of Subarnarekha River. It comprised the whole of the present districts of Cuttack and Sambalpur and a portion of Midnapur. Bounded on the west by Gondwana, on the north by the wild hill states of Jaspur and Singhbhum, on the east by the sea and on the South by Ganjam, Orissa has a legendary history. The name Oriya originated from Odra or Udra tribes that inhabited the central coastal belt (Khordha District and Nayagarh District) of modern Orissa. Orissa has also been the home of the Kalinga, Utkal, Mahakantara/Kantara and Kosal that played a particularly prominent role in the region's history, and one of the earliest references to the ancient Kalingas appears in the writings of Vedic chroniclers. In the 6th century BCE, Vedic Sutrakara Baudhayana mentions Kalinga as being beyond the Vedic fold, indicating that Brahminical influences had not yet touched the land. Unlike some other parts of India, tribal customs and traditions played a significant role in shaping political structures and cultural practices right up to the 15th century, when Brahminical influences triumphed over competing traditions and caste differentiation began to inhibit social mobility and erode what had survived of the ancient republican tradition.

A major turning point in world history took place in Orissa. The Kalinga War that led emperor Ashoka to embrace non-violence and the teachings of Buddha was fought here in 261 BCE. 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. Later on, Ashoka was instrumental in spreading Buddhist philosophy all over Asia. However, Ativ Land (South Western Orissa) was unconquered by Ashoka.

Tel river civilization put light towards a great civilization existing in Kalahandi, Balangir, Koraput (KBK) region in the past that is recently getting explored. The discovered archaeological wealth of Tel Valley suggest a well civilized, urbanized, cultured people inhabited on this land mass around 2000 years ago and Asurgarh was its capital. Kalahandi along with Koraput and Bastar was part of Kantara referred in Ramayana and Mahabharata. In 4th century BCE, this region was known as Indravana from where precious gem-stones and diamond were collected for the imperial Maurya treasury. During the period of Maurya emperor Ashoka, Kalahandi along with Koraput and Bastar region was called Atavi Land. This land was unconquered as per Ashokan record. In the beginning of the Christian era probably it was known as Mahavana. In the 4th Century CE, Vyaghraraja was ruling over Mahakantara comprising Kalahandi, undivided Koraput and Bastar region. Asurgarh was capital of Mahakantara.

On the other hand in the 3rd century BCE, in the eastern part of Orissa, Kalinga flourished as a powerful empire under the Jaina emperor, Kharavela. He ruled all the way down south to include parts of the Tamil country. He built the superb monastic caves at Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves. Subsequently, the region was ruled under various monarchs, such as Samudragupta and Shashanka. It also was a part of Harsha's empire. In 795 CE, the king Jajati Kesari I of Kesari or Soma dynasty of Kosala united Kosala and Utkala into a single empire. He is also supposed to have built the first Jagannath Temple at Puri, although the current structure of the temple is entirely different and was built by Kings Choda Gangadeva and Ananga Bhimadeva of the Eastern Ganga Dynasty in the 12th century. The famous Lingaraja temple in Bhubaneshwar was started by Keshari dynasty king Jajati Keshari III and completed by his son Lalatendu Keshari in the 10th century. King Narasimha Dev is reputed to have built the magnificent Konark Sun Temple. Although now largely in ruins, the temple may have once rivaled the Taj Mahal in splendour.

Orissa resisted several Muslim attacks until 1568, when was conqurered by Sultanate of Bengal. The Mughals conquered Coastal Orissa in 1576. The last Hindu Emperor of Orissa, Gajapati Mukunda Deva, was defeated and was killed in the battle of Gohiratikiri. The coastal plain of Orissa from Medinipur to Rajahmundry came under Mughal rule, which was broadly divided into six parts as Jaleswar Sarkar, Bhadrak Sarkar, Cuttack Sarkar, Chicacole (Srikakulam) Sarkar, Kalinga Dandapat and Rajamundry Sarkar or Godavari Province. Orissa's Central, Northern, Western and Southern hilly areas were ruled independently by Hindu kings. The Nizam of Hyderabad occupied the area between Rajahmundry to Srikakulam in 16th century. Medinipur was attached to Bengal province in 18th century. The remaining parts of Coastal Orissa, were subsequently ceded to the Maratha Empire in 1751.

The British occupied the Northern Circars comprising the southern coast of Orissa as a result of the Carnatic Wars in the early 1760s and incorporated them into the Madras Presidency gradually. In 1803, the British under the British East India Company annexed the Maratha province of Orissa after the Second Anglo-Maratha War. The northern and western districts of Orissa were incorporated into Bengal Presidency. Following famine and floods in 1866, large-scale irrigation projects were undertaken in the last half of the 19th century. The coastal section was separated from Bengal and made into the Province of Bihar and Orissa in 1912, in response to local agitation for a separate state for the Oriya-speaking people. In 1936, Bihar and Orissa were split into separate provinces. Thus after a long period of struggle the Oriya people got re-united after centuries of political separation. On April 1, 1936, the new province of Orissa came into existence on linguistic basis during the British rule in India with Sir John Austin Hubback as the first Governor. A long cherished dream of Oriya people and their leaders like Madhusudan Das, Maharaja Krushna Chandra Gajapati, Pandit Nilakantha Das, Bhubanananda Das and many other came true. The district of Ganjam was transferred from Madras Presidency to the new province of Orissa on April 1, 1936. From that time onwards people of Orissa celebrate the 1st of April as Utkal Divas or Orissa Day.

Following Indian independence, the area of Orissa was almost doubled, and the population increased by a third, by the addition of 24 former princely states. In 1950, Orissa became a constituent state in the Union of India.

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