Culture of Odisha

History & Culture

Odisha “The Soul of India”– is synonymous as the land of the Lord Jagannath. Through his blessings, Odisha possesses an abundance of natural beauty and cultural heritage which is steeped in history.

The identity of Odisha is intrinsically woven around the 62 tribes that call the state its home. One of the unique characteristic's about the Tribal of Odisha is that most of them have no dialect. The Tribe's of Odisha can be broadly classified into three categories,namely Dravidian, Munda and Indo Aryan. It is believed that the Kondh tribe is the original inhabitant of the State. The Juang's, Gbhuyan's, Saora's and Bonda's reside exclusively in Odisha.

Odisha's contribution in the propagation of Buddhism as a world religion is immense. One of the earliest stupa's of Buddhism is the Kesha Stupa built by the first disciples of Lord Buddha Tapusa and Bhallika. Lord Buddha had given them eight strands of his hair which is believed to be stored in the Stupa. The sacred relics are believed to be in Srilanka now. The Stupa was recently excavated in Tarapur in Jajpur District and the two pillars at the site carry the inscription “Kesha Thupa” and “Bheku Tapasu Danam”.
Sivakara Deva-I of the Bhaumakar Dynasty sent Buddhist emissaries to Chinese emperor To-tsong with the "Gandavyuha", he also sent emissaries to Tibet. Tibetan text's mentions Oddiyaan (Odisha) as the birth place of Mahayana Buddhism (Tantrik Buddhism). In the 9th Century AD, Buddhist monk from Odisha Rahulaa became the Chancellor of Nalanda University. The King of Sambalpur Indrabhuti is believed to be the founder of Bjarayan Sect of Buddhism and his foster son Padmasambhava propagated the sect in Tibet. The writing's of Hiuen Tsang depict that the Pushpagiri University and the buddhist sites of Lalitgiri, Ratnagiri and Udayagiri were amongst the most famous Buddhist centre's of the world.

Modern day Odisha from the ancient times till the medieval times was referred by various names like Odra Desa, Koshala, Kodanga ,Kalinga and Utkal to name a few. It rose to prominence under the great king Kharavela and flourished under the Keshari ,Eastern Ganga and the Gajapati dynasty. During this time the Kingdom of modern Odisha spanned from Ganga to Godavari. It was also a trade centre with South East Asian countries like Java, Borneo, Sumatra, Indonesia and other countries. The flourishing maritime trade under the able leadership brought in unprecedented development and shaped Odisha rich cultural heritage. The Kalinga school of Architecture was one such off shoot. Between the 7th and 13th Century AD- it was the most prestigious seat of Architecture in the country. The school gave shape to such sheer artistry on stone, whose testament stands the test of time- the Sun temple at Konark, the Mukteswar temple, the Lingaraj temple, the Raja Rani temple at Bhubaneswar, the Lord Jagannath temple at Puri to name just a few are the famous byproducts of this school.

Apart from Lord Jagannath & the temple architecture and the 485 KM of coastline, Odisha served as an important seat of Buddhism.It is the land which saw Buddhism become a world religion when Emperor Ashoka embraced Buddhism after the bloody Kalinga war fought near the modern day Dhauligiri at Bhubaneswar.
Odisha played an active role in shaping the Bhakti movement under Chaitanya Mahaprabhu when he visited Puri around the 14th Century AD and met the Guru Nanak. Odisha was also frequented by travelers renowned amongst them are Chinese traveler Huien Tsang, Greek philosopher Ptolemy and Roman geographer Pliny.

Another little known fact is Mahatma Gandhi switched to dhoti after being influenced by Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das. The story goes that after a state level meeting Gopabandhu sat with the Congress workers for lunch ignoring the special lunch prepared for him and Gandhiji. On being asked by Gandhiji why he wouldn’t join him, Gopabandhu said he can only take those items which are prepared for all and further advised Gandhiji to make Congress a party of the mass and poor people rather than just the rich and middle class. Gandhiji took his advice seriously and the rest is history.
The modern day Odisha came into existence on 1st April 1936. Apart from Puri- the land of Lord Jagannath, Bhubaneswar the Capital city represents a fusion of modern ethos which blends seamlessly into its storied past- the stone sculpted temples along with the modern corporate office complex’s stands testament to this fact. The Sun Temple at Konark is sheer poetry carved in stone. Chilika Lake is one of the natural wonders of this country – the largest salt water lake in Asia is home to the many avian species and the endangered Irrawaddy dolphins not to mention of the migratory birds and the Flamingo's which flock the lake every winter- are a few well known tourist destinations of the state.

However, Odisha is much more than that as far as Tourism is concerned. There are places of pristine natural beauty which are yet to feature in the travel plans of an avid tourist. The whole endeavour of the website and Odisha Tour Guide Book is to bring forth the beauty of Odisha in all its splendour before the consummate traveler.
From the temples, to the sea shores, to the brackish water lake at Chilika, to the beautiful Hills of Eastern Ghats, Odisha is brimming with natural diversity, coupled with its diverse tribal population and erstwhile Buddhist seats of learning makes Odisha a must go to destination if you want to own a piece of history of India and at the same time delight your senses with its natural beauty.


As per the legend of Mahabharat, the kingdom of Kalinga was named after one of the adopted son's of King Vali. It is also believed that Duryodhana married the daughter of King Chitrangad. The Pandavas toured Odra Desa extensively during their twelve year exile under the guidance of Sage Lomasa

Ancient History

The earliest recorded history of Odisha is some 2.5 million years ago i.e the lower paleolithic age, but its mostly obscure. Historical evidence points out that Odra Desa as it was known during the ancient times, was a land of fiercely independent tribal chieftains who lorded over small citadels.The people followed a social code of conduct and was progressive independent region with rich heritage of art and craft and maritime trade relations with far off countries like Java, Borneo , Sumatra to name a few.
From relative obscurity, Kalinga was catapulted to being the toast of historians, when Ashoka invaded Kalinga during the Kalinga war in 261 BC. The valour and heroic resistance put up by the assembled army of Kalinga against the organised army of Mauryans is the stuff of legends. The war was a watershed moment in Indian History as Ashoka renounced war and became "Dharma Ashoka "
The Mauryan invasion and subsequent embrace of Buddhism by Ashoka , brought the region under the influence of Buddhism , which continued till the end of Mauryan empire in 185 BC.
After the death of Ashoka, Kalinga gained independence soon under the leadership of King Mahameghavahan, the first ruler of the Chedi Dynasty. The third Chedi King Kharavela , is the most celebrated ruler of the state. An astute army general under Kharavela's reign, the region witnessed phenomenal growth both in economic and territorial context. The kingdom of Kharavela covered most of Eastern and Central India as well as parts of modern day Andhra Pradesh. His greatest military achievement was he conquered Magadh and brought back the sacred Kalinga Jina to Kalinga.Kalinga Jina was the statue of Jain Teerthankar Rishabnath, which was taken to Magadh by Mahapadmananda some three hundred years ago.Under Kharavela's regime, Jainism flourished in the state, however unlike popular belief, there is no concrete evidence that Kharavela was a follower of Jainsim, the interpretation of his inscriptions at Hatigumpha cave at the Jain caves of Udaygiri and Khandagiri, depict that he was a free thinker and allowed all religions to prosper under his kinship.
After Kharavela's death, the Chedi dynasty perished soon after and Kalinga was taken over by King Goutamiputra Satakami of the Satabahana dynasty from Nasik in the 2nd Century AD. The region again embraced obscurity till King Samudragupta's Southern Indian campaign brought Kalinga under the Gupta rule in the 3rd Century AD.
Under the Gupta dynasty Brahminism started to assert itself over Buddhism and soon the region witnessed conflicts between Buddhism and Shaivism over the next couple of centuries, till Shaivism was established as the order of the day somewhere in the 5th century AD , when the Eastern Ganga Dynasty took over.
All along the region witnessed unparalleled economic prosperity which was furthered by respective dynasties particularly the maritime trade, irrespective of their faith
During the invasion of Kalinga by the last hindu emperor of the India, Harshavardhan, Buddhism made a comeback of sorts in the region, marked by the visit of Chinese Traveler Huien Tsang in 630 AD
During the rule of Bhauma dynasty which started around 736 AD ,Kalinga saw temples sprout in the region particularly in modern day Bhubaneswar, one of the earliest temples in the region of the Pasupata Sect is the Parasurameswar Temple. The Bhauma dynasty were followers of Sage Lakuli - the first teacher of Pasupata Sect- who was born around 1st century AD in Baroda. The rulers also patronised Tantrik Buddhism i.e. Mahayan Sec of Buddhism which is intrinsically linked with Hindu tantric practices.
However an interesting aspect is that during this time, in the modern day Odisha as was with the case in other parts of India then, Pasupatism, Tantrism, Saktism ,Shaivism along with Buddhism all became inseparably mixed up. The dynasty also gave Odisha its first women rulers Tribhubana Mahadevi and Dandi Mahadevi whose illustrious reign brought peace and happiness to the people in the region. However the regime of the Bhauma or the Bhaumakara's witnessed the first of the eighteen assault on the Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri. The idols were removed from Puri and buried at Gopali when King of Rashtrakuta Govinda-III popularly known as Raktabahu defeated the then Bhaumukara King Shubakara Deva-I in 839 AD. However it was shortlived victory for Raktabahu as he drowned in the Bay of Bengal on his way back.

Medieval History

The Somavansi Dynasty from modern day Central India came to Odisha in 931 AD, Under their influence a new style of Kalingan Architecture took wings. Though they were staunch Shaivites, they allowed various religious sects of to prosper and are credited with reviving the Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri- the centre for Vaishnavism( which was later completed by the Ganga Dynasty in the 11th Century AD), when King Yayati-I excavated the buried idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra from Gopali Village which is located 16 KM from Sonepur (Sonepur is around 80KM from Sambalpur)and reinstalled them at Puri. The idols were reinstated at Puri Temple after 146 years. The Somavansi's also built the Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar amongst other temples. However their reign did denote the fall of Pasupata sect of Shaivism as save for one temple at Lingaraj temple complex, the image of Sage Lakuli doesn't appear anywhere else. The initial years of the reign of the Somavansi dynasty coincided with the visit of Adi Shankaracharya to Odisha, which gave anew fillip to Hinduism in the state and the revered Saint established the Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri as one of the Char Dham's in the country.
Somewhere during the 11th Century AD, the Ganga Dynasty took over Odisha, the region witnessed the cult of Lord Jagannath gaining precedence over all other sects. The rulers were great builders ,under the Ganga dynasty rule, the magnificent Sun Temple at Konark, the Mukteswara Temple which is regarded as the turning point of Kalingan School of Architecture as well as the beautiful but much lesser known Dakhya Prajapati Temple at Banapur (Ganjam) was built.After the 11th Century AD, Odra Desa ( as Odisha was known then) became increasingly referred to as Kalinga
After the fall of the Ganga Dynasty, the Gajapati Dynasty took over in 1435 AD. The first king of the Gajapati Dynasty, King Kapilendra Deva extended his kingdom from Ganga in the North to as far as Bidar in the South by 1457 AD.During his reign poet Sarala Das wrote the Mahabharata in Odia. Gajapati Kapilendra Deva's reign gave shape what later on became the state of Odisha.
After King Purushottam Deva's death, the region lost its sheen and witnessed sustained attacks from the Sultanate of Bengal and Hyderabad and lost its acquired territories. Kalinga was also invaded by King Krishna Deva Raya of Vijayanagar in 1512. The history of Odisha took a reverse turn in 1568 AD, when the last Hindu King of Odisha, King Mukunda Deva-I of Chalukya Dynasty was defeated and killed by the iconoclast Kalapahad, who led the army of Sultan of Bengal Suleiman Karrani against Mukunda Deva-I. Thus Kalinga became the last Hindu kingdom to fall to invaders from foreign soil.
However the rule of Karrani Dynasty was short lived and soon Odisha passed under the complete control of Mughals under Akbar in 1593 AD. The Mughal rule under Akbar was peaceful. Things changed with Jahangir ascending the throne in 1605 AD, the state had to deal with sporadic attacks whose frequency increased with subsequent successions, the region lost its identity and shelled out higher taxes to the Mughal Sultanate
After Aurangzeb's death in 1707 AD, Kalinga was annexed with the Bengal under the Mughal appointed Nawab of Bengal Murshid Quli Khan. The Nawab was succeeded by his son in law Shujauddin, Shujauddin's son Taqi Khan was made the Governor of Odisha in 1727, Taqi Khan resorted to large scale looting and desecration of temples in the state, forcing King Ramachandra Deva-II the then ruler of Khurda to plan out an escape route for the idols of Lord Jagannath,Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra to Marada.
After the Mughal's, the Maratha's took control of Odisha in 1753 AD. Their reign was marked by the popularisation of the cult of Lord Jagannath, though they also levied hefty pilgrimage tax, but exempted the poor.The Maratha's like Akbar followed a non interference approach towards the internal matters of the State and developed connectivity within Odisha,this helped bring some stability to the region which witnessed strife for close to one hundred and fifty years.
The stability however didn't last long as the Maratha's had to give way to the British Colonial Rule in 1803.

Colonial History

In between in the year 1600, the Portuguese set up a flourishing trade mart at the mouth of Subarnarekha river at Pipili, they were followed by the British, The French and the Danes- who set up their respective trade settlements in the modern day Balasore region of the state.
Despite being invaded by foreign invaders since 1568 AD, large pockets of Kalinga were still independent particularly the Kingdom of Khurda. The rulers owed their allegiance but didn't lose their right to Govern. All that changed when the Britisher's took over from the Maratha's, the initial years of the Britisher's in Odisha was earmarked by a violent struggle for independence by the courageous Paika's- the warrior class of Odisha, first under Jayee Rajguru and then the full fledged Paika rebellion in 1817 under Buxi Jagabandhu. They could exercise some degree of control over Odisha after the subjugation of Paika rebellion in 1825 when Jagabandhu surrendered. Khurdgarh, thus became the last independent fort to fall to the British in 1817.
The Britisher's divided Odisha under the provinces- The Bengal Presidency and the Madras Presidency. The Odia's were subjugated and save for the cult of Lord Jagannath, everything else was lost in obscurity. In the late 1800, Odisha found its voice again courtesy eminent sons of the soil like, Madhusudan Das, Gopabandhu Das,Fakir Mohan Senapti,Nilakantha Das,Biswanath Das,Godabarish Misra, Radhanath Ray,Upendra Bhanja, Gajapti Krushna Chandra Dev, Hare Krushna Mahatab to name just a few. The Odia's rallied around these great men, the region rediscovered its identity and found its voice in the national freedom struggle led by Mahatma Gandhi.

Modern Odisha

Odisha was declared as a separate province on 1st April 1936 and when India got its independence on 15th August 1947, Odisha became its 9th largest state with its boundaries earmarked in the modern atlas.
A decision was taken to shift the capital of Odisha was shifted from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar via a resolution on 30th September 1946. Pt Jawaharlal Nehru laid the foundation of the new capital on 13th April 1948
Gajapati Krushna Chandra Dev was the first premier of the newly formed province of Odisha in 1936. After Independence Shri. Hare Krushna Mahtab became the first Chief Minister of Odisha.

"This is the land O Kunti's son's where the Kalinga tribe dwells and through it passes the river Baitarani"- advises Sage Lomasa to the Pandava's. The original inhabitants of Kalinga were its Tribe, the beauty of the land coupled with their rich heritage and bravery though sporadically but does find a mention in important religious texts of the era.
The Kalinga War, proved the world of the mettle of these fiercely independent breed of people. Ironically there is no historical record as to who was the commander of the Kalinga forces against Ashoka. Perhaps this intriguing aspect best describes the history and culture of the state. Beautiful yet shrouded in as much mystery as it was thousands of years ago.

The impact of Tribal Culture on Odisha

The tribe's of Odisha gave the region their biggest economic wealth the maritime trade- Their innovative trade method's and utilising the coast of Odisha to establish trade relation with South East Asian Countries formed the back bone of the economic welfare of the state. They also gave Odisha it's biggest symbol-" Lord Jagannath", who was first said to be worshipped by the Sabara Tribe as Neelkanth. The tribal art and handicrafts, tribal music and folk songs, not only added colour to the landscape but enriched its heritage beyond compare.

Impact of Different religions on the culture of Odisha


Odisha was one of the most important focal point's in spreading Buddhism across the world, the religion also also gave back to the land. The art and architecture as well as growth of the Odia language was far reaching. Many doctrine's from Mahayana Sect of Buddhism has been incorporated in the Hindu religious practices of Odisha.


Though not many Jain sites are found in the state, save for the Udaygiri and Khandagiri caves and the Jain site at Nandapur located 35 KM from Koraput and Maraguda Valley at Nawapara district, but Jainism did play an important role in shaping the political and social structure of the state and it is believed that Mahavir the last Teerthankara of Jainism visited Odisha. Jainism played an important role in shaping the medieval Odia literature . Poet Sarala Das's Mahabharat depicts Lord Jagannath in a Jain parable in different form.


Islam came to Odisha when Afghan ruler of Bengal Sultanate Suleiman Karrani defeated Chalukya King Mukunda Deva-I in 1568 AD and the region plunged into a state of constant war and survival. Islam did leave an indelible mark on the society. Many of the Islamic shrine's in the state are today revered by both the Hindu's and the Muslim's, like the Qadam E Rasool at Cuttack, Bhujakhiyapir at Balasore, Noor Bibi Mazar at Sambalpur, the Mazar at Kaipardar at Khurda , Jahaniapir at Astaranga and Abdul Sakoor Mazar at Tarbha Bains to name a few.
The Muslim ruler's of the state encouraged "Pala" as they saw it as way of bridging the gap between the two religions. Pala -The popular Odia form of folk theater was created by Kabi Karna in the 18th Century which inculcates idealism in human character. In the second quarter of the 18th century, poet Bainsiballav composed "Tamasa" another form of folk theater, where he synthesised Islamic texts with Odia literature. Historians believe that Jatra- the other popular folk theater from Odisha - is derived from the impact of the Islamic literature from Odisha. Coupled with Poet Salbeg and Uzir Bag's bhajan's on Lord Jagannath, Islam like Jainism and Buddhism before it, did assimilate with the local culture.

Colonial Rule

Perhaps the legacy of Odisha was most severely tested under the British, the fact that it survived the colonial rule speaks volumes about its resilience and ability to bounce back. However the British did usher in a few developments like the introduction of English language, connectivity which enhanced the cooperation and exchange of ideas between people of different parts of Odisha and more importantly it also united the masses.

Odisha witnessed many an upheaval through out its chequered history, however each change in the socio-political structure brought with it some new ideas and some new set of problems, but all of them left a legacy which has been successfully inculcated into the society by the succeeding generations.
Perhaps it is fitting, to conclude the chapter by borrowing a line from a Kondh song- "Abare Manbe, Baeare Manbe" ( let all be happy; let all live in peace)

Odissi Dance - Odissi is India's oldest classical dance form, according to ancient sanskrit text "Natya Shastra", Odissi originated some where around 500 BC and the first Odissi compilation happened somewhere in 250 BC. The dance form enjoyed royal patronage of all the dynasties which ruled the region. However after the Muslim invasion in 1568 till the end of British Colonial rule was a dark period for the Odissi Dance. The dance form survived thanks to efforts of King Ramachandra Deva of the Bhoi dynasty in the 17th Century.

Post independence the Dance form was revived and reconstructed, which ensured it regained popularity amongst the masses. Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra was the leading exponent of Odissi dance in the modern era and through his efforts, Odissi Dance got a new lease of life,securing its legacy for future generations

Though Odissi dance was the staple dance form of Kalinga. From the 11th century till the 16th century- witnessed the meteoric rise of another dance form the "Mahari Dance"- a dance performed by the Devadasis who serve the Lord Jagannath. The dance form was given royal recognition by the King Chodaganga Deva of the Ganga dynasty. The evolution of Mahari helped Odissi to reinvent itself.The Mahari Dance form started declining in the 17th Century AD, the then king of Odisha- Ramachandra Deva of the Bhoi Dynasty encouraged young boy's to perform the dance. The dance form came to be known as the "Gotipua Dance",Gotipua Dance became a precursor to Odissi Dance. The last professional Mahari Dancer was Sashimani Devi. The dance got a new lease of life courtesy Guru Pankaj Charan Das who was a doyen of Odissi dance and subsequently the Mahari dance tradition was carried forward by Rupashri Mohapatra who is a a disciple of Guru Pankaj Charan Das.

Odissi Music - Like its dance counterpart, odissi music is around 2500 years old. The music is a sysnthesis of four distinct types of music- the Dhruvapada (the first line or lines to be sung repeatedly), Chitrapada (means the arrangement of similar sounding words ), Panchal ( a collective term for a group of artist and craftsmen) and Chitrakala ( use of art in music). The music encompassed five broad categories namely - the Tribal Music, Folk Music, Light Music, Light Classical Music and Classical Music. Odissi music owes a lot to the greatest poet from the region Jaydev. His lyrical Gita Govinda written in sanskrit was the very basis of the evolution of Odissi music to new heights.
During the 16th Century, Odissi music experienced a renaissance in the sense that Odia literature was compiled within the music. The four dissertations written during that time were - The Sangitamava Chandrika , Natya Manorama, Sangita Kalalata and Gita Prakasa. The most famous exponent of Odissi Music is Sunanda Patnaik, popularly known as Guruma, she is considered to be one of the Dame's of Hindustani Classical Music.

Art & Handicraft - From ancient rock paintings at Digapahandi (Ganjam District) to the beautifully carved temples , Odisha's pedigree of excellence in the field of art and handicraft continues its march Northwards unabated. From the murals and the famous Pattachitra , Palm leaf etching and Paper mache art at Raghurajpur heritage crafts village near Puri, to the beautiful carvings on wood and murals at Biranchi Narayan temple at Buguda, to the applique works at Pipili, to the Silver filigree works at Cuttack, to the beautiful terracotta figurines,to the jaw dropping architectural splendour of the Sun temple at Konark to the artistic grandeur of the Sambalpuri Ikat, Bandha, Bomkai and Pasapalli sarees, to the beautiful Tribal art like Dhokra or brass and bell metal craft, horn bone craft, Ittalans (tribal ritualistic paintings), - which can be found in shops at Bhubaneswar or along the tribal belt of Korapur, Phulbani etc- Odisha has it all

In And Around Cuttack

The millennium city is a city of milestones in Odisha’s history. The Buddhist heritage sites and the beauty of the catchment areas of Mahanadi are its chief attractions.

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