The present state of Orissa, in ancient times had various names, the most prominent of which were Kalinga, Utkal, Odra and Kosala. Among these political units, Kalinga occupied a conspicuous place.
The earliest mention of Kalinga is found in the Aitareya Brahmana. In the Mahabharata, there is a reference about the existence of Kalinga.
In the Vana Parva of Mahabharata, sage Lomasa speaks to Yudhisthira about Kalinga, “This is the country of Kalinga where flows the river Vaitarni.”
Mention in Mahabharata:
This statement reveals that the Pandava brothers along with sage Lomasa visited Kalinga country. The Buddhist literature refers to the city of Dantapura where king Brahamadatta is said to have constructed a stupa over a tooth-relic of the Buddha. According to Mahabharata and Pliny, Dantapura was the capital of Kalinga. Some scholars have identified Dantapura with Palur, an ancient port at the mouth of the river Rushikulya in the district of Ganjam. Rock Edict XIII of Asoka mentions about Kalinga which includes the cities of Tosali.
Reign of Asoka:
During the reign of Asoka, Tosali was the headquarter of Kalinga and Somapa was its secondary headquarter. Some scholars have identified Tosali with modern Dhauli near Bhubaneswar and Somapa near modern Jaugada in Ganjam District.
Reign of Kharavela (Chedi):
During the second and first century B.C. Kalinga emerged as a powerful Kingdom. Kalinga became very powerful under the Chedi king Kharavela whom the Hatigumpha inscription, engraved by him describes the king as Kalingaadhipati. In the Hatigumpha inscription, the capital of Kalinga is described as Kalinga-nagari. The city of Kalinga-nagari has been identified by the scholars with modern Sisupalgarh near Bhubaneswar.
Under his rule Kalinga was expanded into an empire. The Hatigumpha inscription chronologically records the events of his thirteenth year’s reign. Kharavela was a great warrior and increased the military strength and resources of Kalinga. He led his army towards the Tamil country and destroyed the Rathikas, Bhojakas and Satavahanas.
He also directed his military expedition against Rajagriha and demolished the hill fortress of Gorathagiri. Kharavela also drove away the Indo-Greeks from Mathura. He also brought Magadha under his control. No doubt Kharavela was regarded as a great warrior both in South and North of India. After Kharavela, it is not known when Kalinga lost her territorial extent and it passed through a dark period till the rise of Matharas in the middle of 4th century A.D.
Though under the Matharas Kalinga regained her past glory yet it could not get back her territorial extent. She permanently lost her northern territory stretching from the Ganges to river Mahanadi. The territorial extent of Kalinga was confined to the region from Mahanadi to the Godavari except for a short period when the Matharas trying to extend it up to river Krishna in the South.
During the rule of Matharas, Simhapura identified with modern Singupuram in Srikakulam district was the Capital, and Pishtapur identified with modern Pithapuram in Godavri district was made the headquarter for a short period when the territory was extended upto river Krishna. Kalidas in his work Raghuvansa described the king of Kalinga as the lord of Mahendragiri.
Cunnigham identifies the Mahendra hill with the present Mahendramale range, now located on the borders between Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Kalinga described by Kalidas appears to be the same as Mathara Kingdom whose strategic fort was located on the Mahendra hill. According to him occupation of Mahendra hill by Raghu showed his victory over Kalinga.
The Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta states that during his Southern campaigns, Samudragupta conquered Kottura, Pistapura Erandapalla and Devarastra which have been identified with Kottoor in the Ganjam district, Pithapuram in the Godavari district, Erandapalli and Yellamachili in the Visakhapatanam district respectively.
Under Eastern Gangas:
The Matharas were succeeded by the Eastern Gangas. During the rule of the Eastern Gangas, the territorial boundaries of Kalinga shrank further. The Kalinga Kingdom was stretching from the Rishikulya in the north to the Nagavali in the South.
The capital of Kalinga was located at Kalinanagara and it is known to us from several copper plate grants of the early Eastern Gangas. Kalinganagari is identified with modern Mukhalingam situated on the Vamsadhara river, about thirty five K.M. from modern Paralakhemundi.
Under Imperial Gangas:
The Imperial Gangas succeeded the Early Gangas during the beginning of the tenth century A.D. The Gangas become very powerful under King Anantavarma Chodagangadeva who conquered the coast land between the Godavari and Ganges from the Somavansi Kings. The small kingdom of Kalinga came to be known as Ganga kingdom stretching from the Ganges to the Godavari.
The Kharod plate of the Kalachuri king Ratnadeva-II of Kosala describes king Chodaganga as the Lord of Kalinga. The capital of the Ganga kingdom was shifted to Jajnagar identified with Jajpur and finally to Abhinava – Varanasi – Katak, i.e. modern Cuttack in A.D. 1212-13. Chodaganga Deva called his kingdom as “Sakalot Kala”. The Muslim historians of 13th and 14th centuries A.D. describe the Ganga kingdom as Jajnagar and not as Kalinga.
Under Suryavansi Gajapatis:
Kalinga continued to remain as a territorial unit under the rule of the Suryavansi Gajapati kings. During the Gajapati rule Kalinga lost its importance and was reduced to the position of a Dandapata, a fiscal division. Even during the rule of the Mughals Kalinga remained a fiscal division. Under the Mughals the term “Dandapata” was substituted for “Circar” or “Sarkar”. But for Kalinga the word Dandapata was retained as a suffix and it was called “Circar Kalinga Dandapat”.
The Ain-i-Akbari refers to the Sarkar of Kalinga danpat lying beyond Puri which marked the southern limit of the Sarkar Kataka. In the South however the Sarkar Kalinga did not extend as far as Rajmahendri which was included in a separate Sarkar. The Nizam of Hyderabad in 1750 A.D. ceded the coastal territory known as Northern Circar located in between Orissa and Madras to the French.
In 1759 the French also ceded this Northern Circar to the English. The British changed its name to Chicacole Circar. However the name of Kalinga still survives in the name of a race of cultivators residing on the Southern bank of the Chilika lake.
There developed a sense of belongingness to different religions among the people of Kalinga. Besides the main Indian religions the Jagannath cult and the Mahima cult became very popular among the people both in rural and urban areas. Jagannath cult gradually became popular inside and outside India whereas Mahima cult remained confined to the people of Orissa and it is still popular among the village communities of Orissa.
The worship of Vishnu in Orissa can be traced back to the Mathar period who ruled over Kalinga in the fourth-fifth centuries A.D. The Mathar kings were devotees of Vishnu and built a temple on the Mahendra Mountain to worship the deity. A Vishnu image of Mathar period bearing conch and wheel is found on the bank of the Vindusarovar tank in front of the Ananta Vashudeva temple at Bhubaneswar. The Mathar kings popularised the worship of Vishnu in the coastal region of Orissa.
During the Sailodbhava rule the influence of Vishnu worship gradually declined as the kings were basically Saivites. No doubt Saivism enjoyed a predominant position from the post-Mathar period down to the end of the Somavamsi rule, yet Vaishnavism did not suffer much. The Sailodbhava rulers expressed some leniency towards Vaishnavism. The temples of Sailodbhava period contain Siva as the main deity but on the walls of the temples some sculptural representation of the image of Vishnu are maintained.
During the Bhaumakara rule Vaishnavism continued to remain as an ancillary cult of Saivism. The image of Harihara in Vaital temple is a clear example of this. The Bhaumakara queen Tribhuban Mahadevi was a Parama Vaishnavi (devotee of Vishnu).
The Samovamsi rulers conceived the idea of Vishnu worship along with the image of Siva which is found in the Lingaraj temple. The representation of Nanda, Yasoda and child Krishna in the temple is a clear evidence of the attitude of the Somavamsi kings of Orissa. Towards the close to their rule they patronised Vaishnavism and it was rising rapidly to prominence.
Chodagangadeva, the founder of the imperial Ganga rule in Orissa, patronised Vaishnavism soon-after the establishment of his supremacy over Utkal in the early 12th century A.D. This is evident from the visit of the great Vaishnava saint of the south Ramanujacharya to Puri. Chodagangadeva himself claimed as Parama Vaishnava and erected the magnificent temple for Purushotama-Narayan at Puri.
Jayadeva popularised the cult of Vishnu in Orissa through his Gitagovinda. He introduced the cult of Krishna and his female consort Radha. He advocated the concept of ten incarnations of Vishnu (Dasha avatar) from Fish (Mina to Kalki). Narahari Tirtha, the disciple of Ananda Tirtha who was the founder of dvaita or dualistic philosophy of Vishnu. Bhanudeva I caused the construction of Ananta Vasudeva temple for Vishnu in Bhubaneswar which was completed by Chandrikadevi, the daughter of Anangavimadeva-III. Thus the construction of the Vishnu temple in the centre of Saivism is a clear evidence of the ascendency of Vaishnavism in the 13th century A.D.
The representation of the image of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, Krishna and Gopis in the sculptures of Ananta Vasudev temple speaks of a change of the idea of worship of Vishnu. Of the ten incarnation of Vishnu, Narsimha became very popular during the region of early Ganga rulers. The construction of the Sun temple at Konark testifies the worship of Vishnu in solar aspect. The popular concept of Radha and Gopi and their sexual orgies Krishna also had its beginning during the Ganga period.
Vaishnavism continued to remain as the most important religion with an impressive influence on the people in Orissa from 12th century A.D. onwards. Srikshetra Puri attracted many Vaishnava saints including Sri Chaitanya of Bengal in the early part of 16th century A.D. Vaishnavism propounded by Sri Chaitanya are known as Gaudiya form of Vaishnavism.
In Orissa the five eminent poets known as panchasakha-Jagannath, Balarama, Achyutananda, Yasovanta and Ananta professed about the shunya or void in their works. Orissian form of Vaishnavism centred round the worship of Jagannath and gave less importance to Krishna, the lover of Gopis.
By the beginning of the 16th century AD Vaishnavism became a challenge to Brahmnism. It worked as a popular socio-religious movement throughout Orissa. The Suryavamsi rulers patronised Vaishnavism to a great extent and surrendered themselves as the Sevakas before Lord Jagannath. The spread of this religion also could be possible through other literary works.
The religious drama Jagannath-Vallava written by Ray Ramananda, the Governor of Rajahmundri during the reign of Prataprudradeva had profound influence on the people of Orissa. He in the drama depicted the prema bhakti, the divine love of the Gopis for Lord Krishna. Thus Vaishnavism either in Orissa form or in Bengal form roused the religious devotion among all sections of the society irrespective of caste, and creed in Orissa.
The origin of Lord Jagannath, the most important deity of Puri around whom the religions life of the people of Orissa evolved since a long time past, has been shrouded in mystery. Some scholars hold that Jagannath was originally a tribal deity. Dr. Anncharlott Eschmann maintains that the Navakalevar periodical renewal of wooden deity ritual is a tribal custom.
The legends regarding the origin of Lord Jagannath has been described by Sarala Das in his Mahabharat.. Further in Deula Tolal of Nilambar Das, Skanda Purana, Brahma Purana, and Padma Purana etc., it has been described that the deity of Lord Jagannath had the tribal and Brahmanical link in the initial stage. According to Sarala Das, the dead body of Lord Krishna transformed into wooden form, landed at the Puri sea shore.
Jara Sabar picked it up and worshipped it. Subsequently Indradyumna the Somavamsi King got three wooden images made out of the log and built the temple for the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra and devi Subhadra. Nilambar Das in his Deula Tola says that Indradyumna, the King of Malava, got a piece of sacred wood which was the metamorphosed shape of Niolamadhaba of the Sabar Chief Visvavasu and out of that sacred wood he made three images. Both these narrations speak of the Vaishnavite origin of Lord Jagannath.
Some scholars hold the Buddhist origin of the trinity of Jagannath. It is said by them that the tooth relic of Buddha is preserved in the image of Jagannath. They further say that Snana Yatra (Bathing festival of the deities), Ratha Yatra (Car festival) and the Sharing of Kaibalya (sacred food) on equal footing by all castes are of Buddhist origin.
It is generally accepted by many scholars that Jagannath in the earliest phase was known as Purushottama. Vamana Purana of 7th century A.D. refers Purushottama as Vishnu. The presiding deity of Puri was known as Purushottma which is one of the thousand incarnations of Vishnu. Some scholars are of the opinion that Purushottama though an epithet of Vishnu has tantrik significance. It represents the erotic partner Lkshmi.
Jayadeva in his Gitagovinda also deals with the erotic aspect of Vishnu, when Purshotama is found with his erotic sports of Krishna with Radha and identified Radha with Kamala or Lakshmi. Such was the nature of the cult of Purshottama-Jagannath in Orissa which compelled Chodagangadeva to have caused the construction of the temple in Puri. The Ganga period recognised the deity Jagannath as the patron deity. Anangabhimadeva III went to the point of telling his empire as Purushottam Samraya.
During the reign of Suryavamsi Gajapati Kapilendra he used the name of Jagannath in the day-to-day administration 6f his empire. He used to obtain prior permission of the deity before committing anything in administration. Purushottamadeva, the successor of Kapilensdradeva, composed Abhinava Gitagovinda glorifying the name of Lord Jagannath. During the reign of Prataprudradeva, Chaitanya completed the whole process of identification of Jagannath with Krishna.
Jagannath cult however has tremendous influence over the social, religious and political life of the people of Orissa. Jagannath cult no doubt assimilates different religious cults like tribal religion, Brahmanism, Budhism, Saivism, Saktism, Tantricism and Vaishnavism into one religious cult which everybody accepts.
In the second half of 19th century when educated urban elite were forced to accept Brahmo faith as a reaction to the activities of the christian missionaries, “Mahima dharma” checked the process of mass conversion into Christianity. This indigenous cult brought a large number of uneducated rural people into its fold.
Gradually this cult spread to the neighbouring states like Bengal, Assam, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh etc. The founder of this new cult could not come to limelight and thus the activities were shrouded in obscurity for a pretty long time. In course of time this belief was changed and the philosophy and teachings of Mahima Goswami was understood in proper perspective.
Mahima Goswami appeared for the first time at Puri in 1826. It is said that during that period he was virtually sleeping on the Jagannath road without uttering any sound. He had only saffron coloured Kaupina as his belongings. From Puri he travelled to nearby places and passing through Bhubaneswar, and Cuttack he reached on the top of the Kapilas hills in 1838.
There he gave up cloths and began to wear the bulk of Kumbhi tree. He attained the perfection and started preaching his ideas among his relatives and friends. Siddha Govinda Baba met him on the hill and was initiated into this cult. Bhagirathi Bhramarabar, the raja of Dhenkanal, became his devotee and thus patronised the cult in 1862.
Mahima Goswami coming down from the hill entered into the plains to propagate his new cult which gradually became a very popular religious cult among the people of Orissa. He died in 1876. His mortal remains were buried at Joranda in Dhenkanal.
In Mahima cult, Param Brahma (the absolute reality) is said to be Alekha (without description), Anakar (without any shape) and Anadi (without end). That power is indescribable beyond all categories of thought. Mayabad of Sankar has no place in Mahima cult. Mahimavada is claimed to be pure and logical. Visuddhadvaitavada the main cardinal principle of this cult.
The philosophy of Mahima cult is not incompatible to the teaching of Vedas and Upanishad. The authenticity of Veda was not rejected by Mahima dharma. It made an attempt to reform Hinduism from within. Mahima Goswami vehemently criticised idolatry and caste system and tried his utmost to remove the remote possibility of idol worship.
In this process he declared that worship is due only to the Guru who is Param brahama but not to any individual. Mahima dharma discouraged caste system and allowed inter-dining system. He disallowed his disciples to worship him. Thus he strongly rejected the evils of the society.
The followers of Mahima cult were required to travel constantly to collect only one meal a day from any house-holder irrespective any caste or creed. They were also restricted not to stay more than one night in one village. Mahima dharma allowed only male devotees to the monastic order only to maintain purity of mind in this cult.
Mahima Swami by his long missionary carrier had laid down strong foundations for his new cult. He through his soft words attracted the peoples in large number. He had propagated this new cult not only in the coastal districts but also in the hilly tracts of Garhjats of Orissa. He had profound influence on the people of the neighbouring provinces. Many ashrams were established on the patronage of the ruling chiefs of Orissa.
The important ashram of the cult in western Orissa was established by philospher-poet Bhima Bhoi at Khaliapali on the bank of Ang river. The devotional songs of Bhima Bhoi helped much to popularise the new cult among the common people of Orissa. By the second half of 19th century Mahima cult grew into a popular religion in Orissa which could counteract the movement.
Mahima cult generated a ray of new hope among the millions of Hindus who could aspire to find salvation in their own traditional system but in a simple way. In this process there was no fear of any rituals and the predominanace of the priests. Thus in the caste ridden society of Orissa in 19th century it emerged as a revolutionary cult which said that all men and women could take refuge in Alekh Param Brahma.
The aim and objective of Mahima Swami to liberate the down trodden men and women from the bondage of caste, superstitious beliefs and traditions, ritualistic idolatry and predominance of priest could be materialized into action in Orissa. The idea of one Godhood seems to be ideal which he propounded. Thus he brought about tremendous influence on the religious, social and cultural life of the people.