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 Nata’.
The three beautiful temple towns Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark, which are the pride of Orissa, form an easy triangle to visit.
Handicrafts of Orissa
The most famous arts and crafts of Orissa are handloom weaving (including ‘Tussar, a fine light silk, Ikat, Bomkai and Sambalpuri saris), tarkashi (delicate silver filigree work), patachitra, applique work, stone carvings, brass and bell metal work and horn work. A visit to Raghurajpur crafts village near Puri, where ‘patachitra’ and stone carvings have been made for generations in every home, is a rewarding experience.
Natural Sightseeing of Orissa
Chilika Lake, the largest brackish water lake in Asia, lies Southwest of Puri, encircled by hills. It spreads over a vast 1100 sq kms. A narrow inlet connects it to the Bay of Bengal.
Nandankanan Zoo, or ‘the Garden of the Gods’, lies some 20 km north of Bhubaneswar in the middle of the Chandka forest, where a large population of the rare white tiger and many other species of animals flourish in their natural habitat. A reptile park, recreation park, botanical garden, 34 aquaria, nature trails, boating, ropeway, lazing in the shade of the trees, a lion safari and a white tiger safari are all added attractions. But, more professionally, the park is renowned for successfully breeding the rare white tiger, the gharial crocodile and the black panther, in captivity.
Located in the second largest mangrove forest in the country (largest is Sundarbans National Park in West Bengal), Bhitarkanika National Park has protected the estuarine crocodile for 30 years and supports a large variety of bird life including storks, egrets, six species of kingfishers, white ibis and migratory ducks from Siberia. The neighbouring Gahirmatha coastal region is where the giant Olive Ridley Turtles come in their thousands each year all the way from the Pacific to lay eggs on the beach.
Hot sulphur springs at Atri (about 40 km from the state Capital), Taptapani (50 km from Berhampur), Deulajhari and Tarabalo, believed to have medicinal properties, are tourists popular destinations.