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Orissa Travel Guide

Orissa (2001 provisional pop. 36,706,920), 60,162 sq mi (155,820 sq km) is a state situated in the east coast of India.


Orissa Travel GuideThe Kalijai Temple
Orissa, one of the 25 states of India, is the best of ancient and modern India. It is the one of the areas where people share a strong sense of holiness, a sense of belonging and attachment to their beautiful land, and cherish their enduring links with the past. It contains exquisite temples, superb monuments, inviting beaches, enchanting wildlife and astonishing natural landscapes. It is a must on the itinerary of any tourist visiting India.

The state capital Bhubaneswar offers an impressive combination of traditional architecture and modern imput, due to a throroughly planned attempt to make the city into a modern thriving town. Both within and in the surroundings of the capital, there are several historically interesting temples and caves, such as the Udayagiri and Khandagari caves. An impressive piece of Kalinga architecture, also listed on the World Heritage list, is the General at Konark. Another place of interest is Puri, one of the four holiest pilgrimage centres in India.

The State of Orissa is located in the east coast of India, bounded by the States of Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. Broadly the territory of the State can be divided into four distinct regions: The Eastern plateau (the districts Of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh and the Palalahara, the latter being a subdivision of the Dhenkanal district) is an undulating upland frequently intersected by hill ranges.It slopes down from north to south. The Central River Basin (the districts of Balangir, Sambalpur and Dhenkanal) is washed by many major rivers of the state and contains some of the most fertile parts of the state. The Eastern Hill Region to the south and south-west of the Central River Basin (erstwhile districts of Phulbani, Ganjam and Koraput) comprise of wide open upland plateaus fringed by forests. The Coastal Belt (the districts of Balasore, Cuttack, Puri and Konark a portion of Ganjam) has extensive alluvial tracts in between the hills of the west and the salty tracts of the east. Orissa, with her 156,000 sq. kms. of land, 13 percent of which is urbananized, is home to nearly 32 million people. The literacy rate grazes below the national average of 52%.

Through the centuries, Orissa has been a meeting place for various cultural migrations from different parts of the country. The economic life of the people of Orissa centers mainly around agriculture where one out of every four persons in Orissa is a tribal. Any tourist is bound to get amazed by vast lands of varied kinds of agriculture spread out throughout the state. At the same time, the state is on the threshhold of an industrial growth with an emphasis electronics, iron and mine industries and the production of cash crops such as tea, coffee and rubber.

Chilka Lake, Orissa Travel InformationOne of the most ancient and well known village in Orissa is Village Kusupur known for village poet Nandakishore Bal. Modern literate Suryamani Jena and Artist Bimbadhar Varma. Village Kusupur is also famous for its live traditional sword fighting by the warrier class (kshetriyas) during Dussera Festival in the month of October every year organised by Kusupur Dussera Sabha.

Dussera or Vijayadashami, the tenth day of the bright half of Aswin is celebrated as the day of victory to rejoice about Durga's triumph over the demon Mahishasura.

In the Indian states including the state of Orissa, Dussera celebrates the homecoming of Rama the hero of the epic Ramayana, after his victory over Ravana, the king of Lanka. In vast open spaces, Ramleela, the folk play with music and spontaneous dialogues, retelling the story of the life of Rama, are enacted till the wee hours. Songs are sung in praise of Rama and people in thousands witness this traditional theatre with its exaggerated costumes, jewellery, makeup and drama. Larger than life figures of Ravana and other demons are burnt on cold dark nights with fireworks lighting up the sky. In the traditional villages in the state of Orissa has their own way of celebrating the Dussera. Traditional sword fighting were organised by the village associations (Akharas) mostly from the warrior class (Kshetriyas). One of the oldest tradition in the Orissa’s Village Kusupur is being kept alive for last more than hundred years by Kusupur Dussera Sabha, which has the history of its uniqueness in itself.

Orissa is bounded on the north by Jharkhand, on the north-east by West Bengal, on the east by the Bay of Bengal, on the south by Andhra Pradesh and on the west by Chhattisgarh.

The relatively unindented coastline (c.200 mi/320 km long) lacks good ports save for the deepwater facility at Paradip. The narrow, level coastal strip, including the Mahanadi River delta, is exceedingly fertile. Rainfall is heavy and regular, and two crops of rice (by far the most important food) are grown annually. The state is known for its temples, especially in the cities of Konark, Puri, and Bhubaneswar.

The dense population, concentrated on the coastal alluvial plain, is Oriya-speaking. The interior, inhabited largely by aborigines, 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 Tribals, Orissa Travel InformationOrissa holds the promise of becoming one of India's major manufacturing hubs in the near future. Recently POSCO of South Korea has agreed to construct a mammoth $12 billion steel plant, which would be the largest ever investment in India. Several other steel majors have shown enough interest in setting up very large scale projects in the state. Although Paradip is Orissa's only large port, the coastal towns of Dhamra and Gopalpur are being developed into major ports as well.

The capital of Orissa is Bhubaneswar, famed for its magnificent temples numbering around a thousand is known as the Cathedral City. The city of Puri is nearby on the coast of the Bay of Bengal. Puri is a famous holy city and the site of the annual festival of Lord Jagannath and is one of the four Dhams (holy places) of Hinduism.

The Eastern Ghats range and the Chota Nagpur plateau occupy 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.

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.

History and culture
Oriya is the state's official language. The state has a very opulent cultural heritage, one of the richest in India, and the capital city of Bhubaneswar is known as the temple city in India for its temples with rich heritage. Other popular cultural interests include the well known Lord Jagannath 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) and various tribal influenced cultures.

Chilka Lake, Orissa Travel InformationOrissa has a glorious and ancient history spanning a period of over 2000 years. In ancient times, it was the proud kingdom of Kalinga. Kalinga was a major seafaring nation that controlled most of the sea routes in the Bay of Bengal. For several centuries, a substantial part of Southeast Asia, such as Kampuchea (Cambodia), Java, Sumatra, Bali and Thailand were colonies of Orissa. In fact the name of the country "Siam" is derived from Oriya/Sanskrit Shyamadesha. The temple of Angkor Wat is a fine example of Orissan architecture, with some local variations. Bali still retains its Hindu Orissan heritage.

A major turning point in world history took place in Orissa. The famous Kalinga war that led emperor Asoka to embrace non-violence and the teachings of Buddha was fought here in 261 BC. Later on, Asoka was instrumental in spreading Buddhist philosophy all over Asia.

In the second century BC, Kalinga flourished as a powerful kingdom under Kharavela. It is he who was 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 Jagannath temple at Puri. King Narasimha Dev is reputed to have built the magnificent sun temple in Konark. Although now largely in ruins, the temple would easily have rivaled the Taj Mahal in splendor.

The ruins of a major ancient university and center of Buddhist learning, Ratnagiri, was recently discovered in Orissa. Scholars from far away lands, such as Greece, Persia and China used to study philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and science at this famed University. Taxila, Nalanda and Ratnagiri are the oldest universities in the world. The ruins of Ratnagiri University have not been fully excavated yet.

During the dark ages of Indian civilization, Orissa was ruled by a succession of Muslim kings. It was later annexed by emperor Akbar and became part of the Mughal empire. After the fall of the Mughals, the Marathas under Shivaji invaded the land and continued to rule until 1803 AD when Orissa fell prey to the barbaric British. Modern Orissa was carved out of Bihar in 1936.

Contemporary Orissa has a proud cultural heritage that arose due to the intermingling of three great religious traditions - Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. It has been further enriched by Islam and Christianity. The culture of the Adivasis (the original inhabitants of India) is an integral part of modern Orissan heritage.

The dynasties that ruled Orissa beginning in the third century BC included:
Murundas Dynasty
Matharas Dynasty
Nala Dynasty
The Vigrahas and the Mudgalas
Sailodbhava Dynasty
Bhaumakaras Dynasty
Nandodbhavas Dynasty
Somavamsis Dynasty
The Eastern Gangas
Suryavamsi Dynasty
After long resistance to the Muslims, the region was overcome (1568) by Afghan invaders and passed to the Mughal empire.

After the fall of the Mughals, Orissa was divided between the Nawabs of Bengal and the Marathas. In 1803 it was conquered by the British. The coastal section, which was made (1912) part of Bihar and Orissa Province, became in 1936 the separate province of Orissa. In 1948 and 1949 the area of Orissa was almost doubled and the population was increased by a third with the addition of 24 former princely states. In 1950, Orissa became a constituent state of India. The state is governed by a chief minister and cabinet responsible to an elected unicameral legislature and by a governor appointed by the president of India.

Interesting facts about the state
The world's oldest coins were discovered in Sonepur, in western Orissa. These priceless silver punch marked coins could be as old as 1000 BC. They are preserved in the Orissa State Museum.
Rasgolla, the sweet delicacy enjoyed all over India, originated from Puri, Orissa. It became popular in Kolkata in the nineteenth century and eventually spread across the rest of the country.
The ancient people of Kalinga sided with the Kauravas during the great Mahabharata war (how unfortunate!).
The city of Sambalpur in western Orissa was one of the world's most prominent centers of diamond production. Travelers from lands as far away as Greece used to visit the city.
Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose, was born and grew up in Cuttack city in Orissa.
Bhubaneswar, the capital city was the home of over 600 magnificent temples in medieval times. It is called the "cathedral city" of India.
Puri is one of the four Dhams - Hindu centers of pilgrimage. Every year, millions throng all over Puri to witness the famous Rath Yatra.
The Sinhala (people of Sri Lanka) are named after Raja Jai Sinha, an ancient Oriya king.
Although conventional theory suggests that the Buddha was born in Bihar or Nepal, some historians believe that the birthplace was in Orissa. The Buddha's disciples from Orissa became the first Buddhists.
The Jagannath temple kitchen in Puri is reputed to be the largest kitchen in the world, with 400 cooks working around 200 hearths to feed over 10,000 people each day.

Orissa has a population of 32 million. About 87% of the population live in the villages and one third of the rural population does not own any land other than homesteads. Following India's independence, Orissa has been severely neglected by the central government in New Delhi. The government, which typically has been formed by the Congress Party has made shockingly little investment in transportation, infrastructure and education in Orissa, which is why Orissa lags behind the other states. Only 20% of the road network is paved. In rural areas more than 65% of the population have no access to safe drinking water. However the state is blessed with abundant natural resources and a coastline, and is receiving unprecedented investments in steel, aluminum, power, refineries and ports. The state capital holds the promise of being one of the centers for softwarec technology in India. It appears that the state is destined to become one of the industrial powerhouses of India in a decade.

The aborgines or tribes, known as Adivasis, constitute 24% of the population, belonging to 62 different ethnic communities. Their traditional livelihood revolves around the forest ecosystem. Over the years collection of forest produce, hunting and persuasion of other traditional ways of living have become increasingly difficult, influencing socio-cultural life. Issues with modernisation and industrial activities, such as mining, construction of dams, roads, railways have grown to become a concern affecting their very traditional livelihood and have displaced the Adivasi communities.

Religion, temples, and festivals
Sun worship

Stone work at KonarkKonark Temple - This is also known as the Sun Temple and is famous for its exquisite Orissan style of architecture. The sun temple was built in the 13th century A.D. The Sun Temple (Surya Deul) at Konark includes in its decoration many vignettes of military life. The thousands of elephants marching around the base of the temple are not figments of the imagination. Rather, they demonstrate pride in the superb war elephants for which Orissa was famous.

Jagannath Temple (12th Century A.D.) at Puri is Famous for Ratha Jatra (Car Festival). Every year millions of devotees come to Puri during the Rathyatra. It is a festival during which Jagannath along with his brother Ballabhadra and sister Subhadra come out of the temple to meet their devotees.

The capital city of Bhubaneshwar has some magnificient temples, including the Lingaraja temple, and the Mukteswar temple.