Orissa is a littoral state with a long coastline and a storehouse of mineral wealth. Because of its mineral wealth and strategic location it attracts foreign investment in steel, aluminum, power, refineries, and infrastructure. Orissa is also emerging as a player in the outsourcing IT (Information Technology) and IT services industry. The total planned investment in the state is projected to be 90 billion U.S. dollars. However, there are environmental concerns and land acquisitions for some of these projects have been opposed by the local people.
The relatively unindented coastline (c.200 mi/320 km long) lacks good ports, except for the deepwater facility at Paradip. The narrow, level coastal strip, including the Mahanadi River delta, is exceedingly fertile. Orissa is home to the Hirakud Dam, one of the longest dams in the world. Rainfall is heavy and regular, and two crops of rice (by far the most important cereal) are grown annually.
The coastal alluvial plain is inhabited by the non-tribal speakers of the Oriya language. The interior, inhabited largely by the indigenous people known as Adivasis is hilly and mountainous. Orissa is subject to intense cyclones; in October 1999, Tropical Cyclone 05B caused severe damage and some 10,000 deaths.
Orissa has several popular tourist destinations. Puri, with the Jagannatha’s temple near the sea, and Konark, with the Sun Temple, are visited by thousands of tourists from the West every year. Along with the Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneswar, the Jagannatha Temple and the Sun Temple of Konark are important in the archaeological history of India.
The capital of Orissa is Bhubaneswar. It is famed for its magnificent temples, numbering around a thousand. The city of Puri is nearby, at a distance of around sixty kilometers on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Puri is a famous holy city and the site of the annual festival of the deity Jagannath and is one of the four Dhams (holy places) of Hinduism.
The Chota Nagpur plateau occupies the western and northern portions of the state, while fertile alluvial plains occupy the coastal plain and the valleys of the Mahanadi, Brahmani, and Baitarani rivers, which empty into the Bay of Bengal. These alluvial plains are home to intensive rice cultivation.
Although Orissa’s forest cover has been denuded lately, one of the greatest attractions of Orissa is its still vast expanses of unspoilt natural landscape, that offers a protected yet natural habitat to the state’s incredible wildlife. There are many wildlife sanctuaries in Orissa. The Similipal Tiger Reserve is a vast expanse of lush green forest with waterfalls, inhabited by tigers, elephants, and other wildlife. The Bhitarkanika Wildlife Sanctuary has been protecting estuarine crocodiles since 1975.
Chilka Lake, a brackish water coastal lake on the Bay of Bengal, south of the mouth of the Mahanadi River, is the largest coastal lake in India. It is protected by the Chilka Lake Bird Sanctuary, which harbors over 150 migratory and resident species of birds.
The highest mountain peak in the state is Deomali (1672 m), it is situated in Koraput district. It is also the tallest peak of the Eastern Ghats. It is part of the Chandragiri-Pottangi mountain system.
The official language of the state, spoken by the majority of the people is Oriya. Oriya belongs to the Indo-Aryan branch of the Indo-European language family, and is closely related to Bengali and Assamese. A few tribal languages belonging to the Dravidian and Munda language families are still spoken by the Adivasis (original inhabitants) of the state. The state has a very opulent cultural heritage, one of the richest in India. The capital city of Bhubaneswar is known for the exquisite temples that dot its landscape. The famous classical dance form, Odissi originated in Orissa. Contemporary Orissa has a proud cultural heritage that arose due to the intermingling of three great religious traditions – Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Orissa is also known as Odisha. The culture of the Adivasis (the original inhabitants of India) is an integral part of modern Orissan heritage.
Odissi or Orissi music is usually classified as a kind of Hindustani classical music of northern India, although some aspects of Odissi are quite distinct. Odissi has a long, unbroken tradition of 2,000 years, and finds mention in the Natyashastra of Bharatamuni, possibly written circa 200 BC. However, the dance form nearly went extinct during the British period, only to be revived after India’s independence by a few proponents, such as Guru Deba Prasad Das, Guru Mayadhar Raut, Guru Pankaj Charan Das, Guru Mahadev Rout, Guru Raghu Dutta, and Guru Kelu Charan Mahapatra. Odissi classical dance is about the divine love of Krishna and his consort Radha, mostly drawn from compositions by the notable Oriya poet Jayadeva, who lived in the twelfth century AD.
Other cultural attractions include the Jagannatha Temple in Puri, known for its annual Rath Yatra or Car Festival, the unique and beautiful applique artwork of Pipili, silver filigree ornamental works from Cuttack, the Patta chitras (silk paintings),famous stone utensils of Nilgiri(Balasore) and various tribal influenced cultures. The Sun temple at Konark is famous for its architectural splendor.
Orissa has a history spanning a period of over 2000 years. The history of Orissa is in many ways atypical from that of the northern plains and many of the common generalizations that are made about Indian history do not seem to apply to the Oriya region. The word Oriya is an anglicised version of Odia which itself is a modern name for the Odra or Udra tribes that inhabited the central belt of modern Orissa. Orissa has also been the home of the Kalinga and Utkal tribes 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 C. BC, 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 C. 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.
In ancient times, it was the proud kingdom of Kalinga. Kalinga was a major seafaring nation that controlled and traded with most of the sea routes in the Bay of Bengal. For several centuries, a substantial part of South Asia & Southeast Asia was under its cultural influence. The temple at Angkor Wat is a fine example of Oriya-influenced Indian architecture. Some parts of Southern and South Eastern Asia such as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, Bali, Vietnam and Thailand were colonized by people from Orissa. In Malaysia, Indians are still referred as Kalings because of this. Many illustrious Sri Lankan kings such as Nisanka Malla and Parakarama Bahu claim Kalinga origin. The king who destroyed the Sinhalese Buddhist control of Northern Sri Lanka and established a Hindu Kingdom in Jaffna was known as Kalinga Magha. One theory holds that the name of the country “Siam” for Thailand is derived from Oriya/Sanskrit Shyamadesha. The Angkor Wat in Cambodia is Orissan, with local variations. Bali in Indonesia still retains its Orissan-influenced Hindu heritage.
A major turning point in world history took place in Orissa. The famous Kalinga war that led emperor Ashoka to embrace non-violence and the teachings of Buddha was fought here in 261 BC. 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, Asoka was instrumental in spreading Buddhist philosophy all over Asia.
In the third century BC, Kalinga flourished as a powerful kingdom under the Jaina king, 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. Subsequently, the kingdom was ruled under various monarchs, such as Samudragupta and Sasanka. It also was a part of Harsha’s empire. In 795 AD, the king Yayati united Kalinga, Kosala and Utkala into a single empire. He also built the famous Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar.King Choda Gangadeva build the famous Lord Jagarnnath temple at [Puri]. King Narasimha Dev is reputed to have built the magnificent Sun Temple in Konark. Although now largely in ruins, the temple may have rivaled the Taj Mahal in splendour.
Hotels & tourism
The state is rich in flora and fauna and historical sites dating back to the Stone Age. Sites like Bhitarkanika, Chilika, Nandankanan, Gopalpur and Simlipal are areas of great biological diversity. Passes and permits must be procured from the concerned authorities before entering these areas. It is also advisable to recruit a trained guide since these areas are peopled by tribals whose dialects vary widely and are very sensitive to foreign intrusion.
Historical sites such as Khandagiri, Lingaraj Temple, Cave sites in Boudh, Malkangiri and elsewhere have been developed. Many Five Star hotels have come up in Bhubaneswar and Government rest houses, circuit houses and Dak Bungalows dot the interior of the state.
Religion, temples, tribes and festivals
Orissa is an hindu majority state with hindus forming 94.35% of the population (2001 Indian Census). This places Orissa as the 3rd most Hindu majority state (in terms of percentage) in India. Christian, Muslim and Sikh minorities have their presence all across the state.
The religion of ancient Kalinga was Jainism. Rishabhnath and Parshvanath the first among the Jaina tirthankars preached and were revered in this land. Kalinga is also well mentioned and its history documented in Jain texts. Kalinga’s Jain traditions were a major cause for inciting the attacks first by Mahapadma Nanda and later by Ashoka who were egged on by Brahministic courtiers and advisers. The Khandagiri and Udaygiri caves are among the only stone monuments dedicated to the Jain religion which still survive. They were constructed by Emperor Kharavela and his courtiers.
Perhaps the most well-known temple in Orissa is the Konark Temple. This is also known as the Sun Temple and is famous for its exquisite Orissan style of architecture. The Konark temple was built in the 13th century A.D. It includes in its decoration many vignettes of military life. The thousands of elephants marching around the base of the temple demonstrate pride in the superb war elephants for which Orissa was famous.
Stone work at KonarkAnother well known temple in Orissa is the Jagannath Temple, which was built in the 12th Century A.D. It is located in Puri and is associated with the Ratha Jatra (Chariot Festival) celebrated all over northern India. Every year millions of devotees come to Puri during the Ratha Jatra. It is a festival during which the three deities, Jagannatha, Balabhadra and Subhadra are brought out of the Jagannath temple in chariots to tour the streets, providing a glimpse to the thousands of devotees who throng the street.
The capital city of Bhubaneswar has some magnificent temples, including the Lingaraja temple, and the Mukteswar temple. Not surprisingly, it is called the Temple City of India.
Ratha Yatra (Chariot Festival)
The most famous Orissan festival is of course the Ratha Yatra or Car Festival (June-July) which attracts pilgrims and visitors from all over the world. On the full moon day of the month of Jyestha known as ‘Snana Purnima’, the idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are brought out and bathed on a pendal known as the SnanaMandap according to religious rites. Then they are believed to become indisposed and are confined to a solitary abode for a fortnight where they undergo ‘treatment’, are offered special ayurvedic medicine boli and some special liquid diet called ‘sarapana’. After a rest of fifteen days, on the second day of the lunar month, the three Lords ‘come out’ in huge chariots to ‘meet’ the waiting devotees, marking the start of the Grand Festival known as ‘Ratha Yatra’.
Among a series of rituals, of special mention is the ‘sweeping’ of the chariots by the Gajapati Maharaja of Puri with a golden broom, to proclaim that he is the first of the Lord’s servants and on this particular day he performs the duty of a scavenger to demonstrate socialism in action and the dignity of labour. (Legend has it that King Purushottama Deva, Surya-Banshi King of Medieval Orissa, had to once ‘suffer’ because of this ‘sweeper act’, when he was denied princess Padmavati by her father.)
The grand Chariots are pulled by thousands of people, irrespective of caste, creed and even religion, to proclaim their universality and accessibility to humanity at large. The deities then go to GundichaGhara (MaausiMaa Mandir) where they remain for eight days, after which Bahuda Yatra (the return car festival) takes place and the Lords return to their abode at ShreeMandir.
Konark Dance Festival
Described as a poem in stone, the Sun temple at Konark is the crowning glory of the temple architecture of Orissa. As a fitting tribute to the majestic monument, eminent classical dancers of India get together during the Konark Festival every year from 1st to 5th December to present live performances of their art. When the sun sets in the horizon and the stars appear in the sky, the open-air auditorium against the backdrop of the floodlit temple reverberates with the beats of Raga and Tala to fill the air. The classical extravaganza is a journey through ecstasy.
Konark Dance Festival is held in December in the beautiful backdrop of the Sun temples in Konark, Orissa. The exquisite ‘Natamandir’ or the ‘dancing hall’ of this shrine is an architectural wonder. Every inch of its walls have been covered with fine artistic designs of the ancient times. Musicians playing drums, cymbals and other musical instruments adorn the sculptures in Odissi dance posses.