This eastern state is a mind-boggling potpourri of landscapes, temples, monuments, wildlife sanctuaries and a distinct tribal influence.
Once a land of kings and kingdoms, Odisha’s (formerly Orissa) people, temple architecture, classical dance, religions, fairs and festivals, unique handlooms and handicrafts, green woodlands, rock caves and charming blue hills have always attracted historians and travellers from all over the world.
The name Odisha is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Odra Vishaya’ or ‘Odra Desa’. While the modern state was established in 1936, Odisha came into being when Ashok, the Mauryan King of Magadh, invaded the ancient kingdom of Kalinga in 261 BC. This event went down in history as the great Kalinga War. The ancient state rose to prominence as a Kingdom under Kharavela, a great conquerer and patron of Jainism, in the second half of the 1st century BC. At one time the vast kingdom spanned from Ganga to Godavari!
THE TRIBAL TOUCH
Odisha has the largest number of tribal communities (62 tribes) living in different parts of the state. The tribes of Odisha are at various stages of socio-economic development. They express their cultural identity and distinctiveness in their dressing, language, rituals, festivals and their art and craft. They make and sell excellent handicrafts throughout the state.
Odisha celebrates a wide variety of festivals including the Dhauli Mahatsova, Kalinga Mahotsav, Khandagiri Festival, Konark Dance & Music Festival, Puri Beach Festival and Raja Rani Music Festival.
SOME MUST-VISIT LANDMARKS OF ODISHA
The capital of Odisha, also known as the Temple City of India, is an important Hindu pilgrimage centre. Hundreds of temples dot the landscape of Bhubaneswar. The new Bhubaneswar with its modern buildings and extensive infrastructure perfectly complements its historic surroundings.
SUN TEMPLE OF KONARK
The Sun Temple was built by Raja Narasimhadeva to mark a military victory. The whole structure is in the form of a giant horse-drawn chariot of the Sun. Together, the 24 wheels of the chariot and the 7 horses drawing it symbolise the passage of time.
This is the best temple of Orissa. Dedicated to Lord Shiva, the entire temple is imprinted with figures of ascetics in different poses of meditation. Inside the complex, there are several small shrines that comprise numerous lingams of Lord Shiva. Around the latticed windows of the Jagamohana one can see images of monkeys engrossed in several jovial and humorous scenes that are imbibed from the Panchatantra tales.
UDAYAGIRI AND KHANDAGIRI CAVES
The caves, which are two hills rising abruptly from the coastal plain separated by a highway, command a unique position in India’s history of rock-cut architecture, art and religion. Called lena, in the inscriptions, the caves of Udayagiri and Khandagiri are essentially dwelling retreats of the Jain ascetics. The height of the caves is so low that it does not allow a human to stand erect.
BHITARKANIKA WILDLIFE SANCTUARY
Three rivers flow out to sea at Bhitarkanika forming a tidal maze of muddy creeks and mangroves. This is India’s
second largest mangrove region after the Sunderbans and a significant biodiversity hotspot. Hundreds of crocodiles have made these rivers their home. This area also has the highest concentration of king cobras found anywhere in India.
Asia’s largest inland Brackish water lake, Chilika, stretches across the length of the three districts of Puri, Khurdha and Ganjam and joins the Bay of Bengal. Spread over an area of 1,100 sq km, it was declared a sanctuary in 1987. Dotted with many emerald green islands, Chilika is home to a rich variety of aquatic fauna. It is also a sanctuary and winter resort for migratory birds.
THE STATE MUSEUM, BHUBANESWAR
It has Odisha’s best collection of rare palm-leaf manuscripts, scroll paintings, folk musical instruments, Bronze Age tools, an armoury and a collection of Buddhist, Jain and Brahmanical sculptures.