History of Orissa

The history of Orissa can be divided into ancient, medieval and modern history. Orissa was known as Kalinga during the ancient period. Kalinga had been the cradle of civilization of different dynasties of rulers.

During the ancient times, the Kalinga region was untouched by the influence of Brahmanical culture. Most of the local inhabitants of the bygone era were the tribal communities who followed completely different cultural traditions. However, by the 15th century, the region was affected by the Brahmanical traditions and the prevailing social customs slowly began to change.

The Kalinga war played a dominant role in changing the social, political and economic condition of the region. The battle between Emperor Ashoka and the King of Kalinga had an impact on the historical development of Orissa.

Emperor Ashoka was highly moved by the pitiable condition of the innocent people who lost their near and dear ones in the ruthless fight between two rulers. After the Kalinga War, Emperor Ashoka adopted Buddhism and preached peace and harmony. Under the able guidance of Emperor Ashoka, literature, language, music and dance flourished during the ancient times.

In the medieval period, Orissa came under the influence of Tantrism which is the tribal form of worshipping the Supreme Being. The Yogini Cult of Orissa was one way of expressing the Tantric culture of the olden days.

Orissa played a predominant role during the Indian Independence Movement. A new social consciousness began to dominate the political arena of Orissa and the local indigenous population was inspired to sacrifice their life for their Motherland.

The history of the region provides comprehensive and cohesive information about Orissa during the ancient times.

Kalinga War

The Kalinga War involved a fierce battle over the region of Kalinga between Emperor Ashoka and the King of Kalinga. The battle of Kalinga was decisive in changing the mindset of Emperor Ashoka. After the war, Ashoka renounced his quest for acquiring new territories and adopted the path of peace and harmony.

The kingdom of Kalinga declared itself independent during the rule of Chandragupta. After several unsuccessful attempts, Vindusara, son of Chandragupta relinquished the hope of getting back the kingdom of Kalinga. However, the indomitable spirit of Ashoka was firm in his determination to bring back Kalinga under his reigns and so he fought the bloodiest battle in the history of the Indian Sub-continent.

The disastrous effects of the Kalinga War had far reaching influence on the mind and soul of Emperor Ashoka. The mighty ruler was emotionally moved by the loss of about 1, 00,000 innocent lives. Emperor Ashoka decided to embrace Buddhism and turned to constructive attempts to rebuild his empire on lines of peace and harmony.

Yogini Cult of Orissa

The Yogini Cult of Orissa represents the Tantric culture of the ancient times. The Yogini Cult became famous during the 8th century. According to the rich religious history, the Yogini Cult comprised of sixty four Yoginis who displayed the zeal to realize the existence of the Supreme Being through meditation and Yoga.

The Yogini Cult provides a deeper insight into the religious and historical facts about Orissa during the ancient period. According to the Vedic literature, the Yogini Cult was the manifestation of the worship of Mother Goddess. The Markendeya Purana depicts the creation of Shakti or Goddess Durga, the Supreme Power through the contribution of each God to end the rule of Raktavirya. When Raktavirya was killed, the Yoginis drank his blood to inherit immense power.

According to another version, the Yoginis were simple women who displayed supernatural powers on various occasions. Some of the principle kinds of Yoginis are:
  • Mantraja
  • Pithaja
  • Yogaja
  • Ksetraja
  • Kulaja
  • Sahaja
  • Antyeja


Kharavela acceded the throne in the region of Kalinga in the 1st century B.C. The ruler was the descendant of the Mahameghavana dynasty that established its rule in the early half of the century. Kharavela was the third ruler of the dynasty who acceded the throne at an early age after the sudden premature death of his father. The Hatigumpha inscription in Udayagiri bear evidence of the glorious rule of king Kharavela.

According to the inscriptions in Hatigumpha, Kharavela was one of the gallant kings of the region. During his reign he invaded the Satavahana kingdom and captured its territories. The Indo Greek army that had settled in Mathura retreated sensing danger from King Kharavela. During his rule, the king expanded his political territory to north and south India. He defeated the Tamil Confederacy that had existed in the region for more than three hundred years. On encroaching the Magadha empire, the king of Magadha, Brihaspati Mitra, laid down his arms and surrendered to Kharavela.


Jayadeva is one of the most reputed poets who hailed from the village of Kenduli in Orissa. The poet is reputed for his creation of the Gita Govinda, a collection of poems singing the praise of Lord Vishnu. The poet, Jayadeva lived and flourished in the state of Orissa during the latter half of the 12th century during the reign of the Ganga Rulers in Orissa.

Born to a Brahmin family, Jayadeva grew up to be an accomplished student. However, he soon quit his family life to adopt the life of an ascetic. He was dedicated to the worship of Lord Vishnu. The poet was later introduced to the dancer of the temple whom he married. Both Jayadeva and his wife were dedicated devotees of Lord Vishnu.

Last Updated on : 2 July 2013




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