Situated on the coast along the Bay of Bengal, Orissa stands for its ancient glory and modern endeavour. Endowed with natures bounty, a 482 km stretch of coastline with virgin beaches, serpentine rivers, mighty waterfalls, forest-clad blue hills of Eastern Ghats with rich wild life, Orissa is dotted with exquisite temples, historic monuments as well as pieces of modern engineering feat. The land, while retaining its pristine glory, also offers the visitors modern amenities. Its lush green countryside and fertile plains, tiny hamlets fringed with palm, coconut trees and mango groves offer the charm of rural beauty while the urban pockets, the four cities in particular, with the splendour of modern technology provide the amenities necessary for a comfortable stay. This wonderful land of fascinating beauty boasts of colourful festivals round the year. Orissa is also the land of unique handicrafts and other excellent artefacts.
Orissa, with a rich heritage that is more than two thousand years old, has a glorious history of its own. It was known under different names in different periods : Kalinga, Utkal or Odradesha. Seaports flourished along the coast as early as the 4th and 5th centuries B.C., when the sadhabs, the Orissan seafaring merchants, went to the islands of Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Bali with their merchandise. Not only did they bring home wealth and prosperity, they also carried the glorious Indian civilisation with them and helped its spread abroad. Vijaya, the first king of Ceylon, is believed to be a prince of Orissan origin. The land had its martial glory in the past and the people had made their contact with the kingdoms South East Asia in ancient times. Kalinga had made its mark in the Indian history when the Nanda dynasty ruled the kingdom of Magadha. She posed a threat to the Maurya Empire. Ashoka, the Great invaded Kalinga in 261 B.C. and conquered her. But the terrible bloodshed on the banks of the river, Daya that preceded Ashokas victory changed his heart. He embraced Buddhism and preached peace and goodwill for the rest of his life. Kalinga reasserted her independence after the death of Ashoka and increased her strength. The Kalingan Empire reached the pinnacle of glory during the reign of Emperor Kharavela who even pursued the Greek King Demetrius out of India. The inscriptions on Hati Gumpha (Elephant Cave) on the Udayagiri Hill in Bhubaneswar record the story of his reign. Kalinga maintained its trade links with overseas countries during the first three centuries of the Christian era but the kingdom itself was divided into a number of principalities. In the fourth century A.D. Emperor Samudragupta invaded Orissa and overcame the resistance offered by five of her chiefs. Orissa came under the rule of King Sasanka and later King Harsha Vardhana in the 7th century A.D. when the Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang visited Orissa. Towards the middle of the century the Somavamsi dynasty was firmly established in the land. The end of the 8th century saw the emergence of Jajpur-on-Baitarani as an epicentre of Brahminical religion. Thus Buddhism and Jainism took a back seat for
Sometime when Yayati Keshari invited ten thousand Brahmin pundits from Kanauja and settled them in different parts of his kingdom. He established Abhinaba Yayati Nagar which was abbreviated to Jajpur in course of time. The centre of political activities shifted to Cuttack, known as Abhinab Varanasi Kataka, in the eleventh century A.D. Illustrious Ganga kings ruled Orissa for nearly three hundred and fifty years and they were followed by Suryavamsi Gajapati Kings and Mukunda Deva Harichandan of the Chalukya dynasty. Pancha Kataka or the five forts protected the capital against any aggression. The Hindu state of Orissa came under the Muslim rule in 1568 A.D. when King Mukunda Deva lost to the Sultan of Bengal, Suleiman Karni. Subsequently, Orissa came under the Moghuls and the Marathas and finally in 1803 A.D., under the British. Orissa formed a part of greater Bengal but didnt lose its own separate cultural identity. The political capital shifted to Patna when the state of Bihar-Orissa was carved out of Bengal. Orissa became a separate province in 1936 A.D. with Cuttack as its capital. The new capital was built in Bhubaneswar after independence. However, the state took its present shape only in 1949 with the merger of the princely states including Mayurbhanj.
The modern state of Orissa is located between 170-48 and 220-34 North latitude and 810-24 and 870-29 East longitude. The State is bounded by the bay in the east, West Bengal in the north-east, Bihar in the north, Madhya Pradesh in the west and Andhra Pradesh in the south. The territory may be divided into four distinct geographical regions : the Eastern Plateau, the Central River Basin, the Eastern Hill Region and the Coastal Belt. The entire territory lies in the tropical zone as a result of which high temperature is recorded particularly during April-May. However, the sea exercises a moderating influence over the climate of the coastal belt whereas the hill tracts experience an extreme climate. The state is drained by six important rivers: the Subarnarekha, the Budhabalanga, the Baitarani, the Brahmani, the Mahanadi and the Rusikulya. The rich mineral belts lie in the western and north-western parts of the state. Covering an area of 155,707 sq.km. Orissa has a population of about three crore out of which more than 22 percent are tribals, with their concentration in Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Koraput districts. Oriya is the mother tongue of the people of Orissa and most of them understand Hindi as well. People can sometimes speak Bengali, Telugu, Urdu and a bit of Gujarati in addition to the various tribal dialects. English can be understood by the educated mass. Rice, dal, vegetables and fish constitute the principal diet of the people. They also take chapatis, meat and sweets. Different types of pithas (cakes made of rice flour, gur, coconut, ghee and other ingredients depending on the variety ) and milk/cheese preparations are special Orissan delicacies.
Orissa has a long tradition of art and architecture. The early monuments date back to the third century B.C. The remnant of an Ashokan pillar, turned into a Siva Lingam and enshrined in the Bhaskaresvara temple at Bhubaneswar and the lion capital of an Ashokan pillar, presently in the State Museum, speak volumes of Orissas past glory. The rock-cut caves of Khandagiri and Udaygiri and the inscriptions recording Kharavelas short but eventful reign during the first century B.C. constitute the second phase of the evolution in Orissan art. The Naga and Yaksha images found in places around Bhubaneswar belong to the post-Kharavela era. The fortification of Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneswar is yet another monument of ancient Orissa.