Inhabited by Aryan and
non-Aryan settlers, Kalinga was a flourishing maritime kingdom with trading
routes stretching upto Java, Sumatra, Bali and Indonesia. Its immense wealth
was coveted by many rulers of the time and, in 261 BC, it was invaded and
conquered by the Mauryan emperor Ashoka. However, the carnage and suffering
caused by the war left Ashoka deeply repentant. He vowed never to wage war
again and embraced Buddhism. So ardent a Buddhist was he that he spread the
Buddha's message of peace and non-violence even beyond India's shores to Sri
Lanka and the Far East.
Around the 1st century BC, Kharavela, a staunch
follower of Jainism, came to power in Kalinga. By the 7th century AD Hinduism
asserted itself and for six centuries Orissa flourished. During this period,
under the Kesari and Ganga kings, its art and architecture evolved and Orissa
successfully assimilated the best of Hindu, Buddhist and Jain cultures. The
style of Hindu temple construction also developed around this time and hundreds
of temples from that period still stand.
The State can be divided into
four distinct tracts - the coastal plains, the eastern ghats, the northern
plateau and the central hilly region. The northern plateau and the forests of
central Orissa are home to 62 different tribal groups some of whom still hunt
and gather food. The folk paintings on canvas - the patachitra, and
soapstone & wood carvings are well known.
Orissa has its own classical dance form, Odissi, perhaps the oldest in India. It owes its
origin to devotional rituals and the dances performed by 'Maharis' or
'Devadasis' (temple dancers) in the beautiful temples of the State. Sculptures
of the dance poses are found decorating the walls of temples. One must not miss
an opportunity to attend a performance and experience the sublime lyrical grace
of the Odissi dancers. The State also has a rich tradition of folk and tribal
dances such as the martial 'Chhau' of Mayurbhanj and the 'Danda
The three beautiful temple towns Bhubaneswar,
Puri and Konark, which are the pride of Orissa, form an easy triangle to visit.
Bhubaneswar - Often called the 'cathedral city',
Bhubaneswar ('Lord of the Universe') is the capital of the State, and is
dotted with some 600 temples built over hundreds of years. It is perhaps the
only city in India where one can study the evolution of Hindu temples
architecture in all its stages. The city is dominated by the beautiful 11th
century Lingaraj Temple, it's spire soaring 54 metres, it's ribbed
architecture defying description. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, it is one of the
most prized examples of temple architecture in the country.
The Parsurameswara Temple (650 AD, dedicated to Lord Shiva), Vaital
Temple (800 AD, dedicated to Chamunda, a tantric form of the Goddess Durga,
or 'Shakti'), the 'gem of Orissan Architecture', the Mukteswara Temple
(10th century), the Brahmeswara Temple and the exquisite 12th century
Rajarani Temple, which has no presiding deity, are some of the other
temples worth visiting.
About 7 km from Bhubaneswar are the twin hills
Khandagiri and Udaygiri which have rock caves built for Jain
monks by Kharavela (1st century BC). On the Khandagiri hills is a colossal
figure of Mahavir Jain.
Lying amidst paddy fields at Dhauli, on
the road to Puri, is one of Ashoka's Rock Edicts (3rd century BC) which
he used for propagating Lord Buddha's teachings. It has a magnificent elephant
carved on top, considered to be the earliest rock cut sculpture of India. And
on the neighbouring hill is the serene white Shanti Stupa ('Peace
Pagoda') built in 1970 to commemorate emperor Ashoka's conversion to Buddhism.
The village of Pipli, synonymous with delicate and extremely colourful
applique work, is nearby.