Here we detail about the top nine popular Religions in the History of Odisha.
The Religions are: 1. Jainism 2. Budhism 3. Saivism 4. Vaishnavism 5. Jagannath Cult 6. Sakti Cult 7. Islam 8. Mahima Cult 9. Christianity.
Religion # 1. Jainism:
Two Jaina works namely Jaina Harivamsa Purana and Harivadriya Vritti tell us that Mahavir himself came to Kalinga to preach his religion in the 6th century B.C. By 4th century B.C. Jaina images were being worshipped in Kalinga. Further, Hatigumpha inscription describes that Nandaraja (Mahapadmananda) took away the image of Kalinga jina from Kalinga. From evidence, it is clear that by the 2nd or 1st century B.C. Jainism Chedi king Kharavela. Dr. K.C. Panigrahi holds that Kharavela brought back the seat of Kalinga jina from Magadha after his victory over Magadha in the 12th year of his reign.
Khandagiri-Udayagiri hills near Bhubaneswar became the great seat of Jainism during the reign of Kharavela. According to the Hatigumpha inscription Kharavela built 117 caves for the habitation of the Jaina monks. These caves were very simple in design, specifically meant for the austere Jaina monks. Kharavela himself was a devout Jaina but tolerant towards other faiths.
After Kharavela, his successors Vadukha and Kudepasiri extended their support to the spread of Jainism in Orissa. After the fall of the Chedi kings, the Murunda dynasty which ruled over some parts of Orissa and Bihar also patronized Jainism. A gold coin discovered from Sisupalagarh, about 5 miles from Bhubaneswar mentions the name of a king Dhammadamadhara of Murunda dynasty who was a Jaina by faith, ruled in third century A.D. According to the evidence available in the Asanpat inscription of Keonjhar, the Bhanja king Satrunjaya patronized Jaina monks (mentioned as Nirgranthas) in his capital.
The imperial Gupta extended their full support to the spread of Jainism in the length and breadth of Orissa. Jainism continued to remain a supreme religion along with Buddhism, Saivism and Brahminical religion. Hiuen Tsang in his accounts said that during his visit to Orissa in 639 A.D., he saw 10,000 Jaina (Tirlhika) monks in the Kangoda territory. The Banapur Copper plate of Dharmaraja of Sailodbhava dynasty reveals that he donated some lands to a Jaina monk Prabudha Chandra. Jainism remained supreme till 11th century A. D. as has been proved from the discovery of Jaina images from various places of Orissa.
A number of Jaina images have been found in different parts of Jaipur. The images of Parsanatha and Chandranath have been discovered from near Jaipur which further speak that the Bhaumakara Kings also patronized this religion. The Jaina images found near Podasingidi in the Keonjhar district indicate that in the 8th century A.D., this place was a great centre of Jainism. In the Prachi Valley, Jainism flourished to a great extent during the Bhaumakara period which has been proved by the presence of Rishavanatha surrounded by other Tirthankaras in the Swapneswara temple.
During the Somavamsi rule, Udyata Keshari built some caves in the Khandagiri hills in the 11th century A.D. Thus, it is very evident that from the time of Kharavela till the Somavamsi rule Khandagiri-Udayagiri hills remained as a great centre of Jainism. During this period, a type of synthesis between Saivism and Jainism appears to have taken place in the Mukteswara temple through the carving of Jaina images on the temple (Siva temple).
Religion # 2. Budhism:
The Mahaparinirvana Sutta states that Kalinga was one of the kingdoms to have obtained the tooth relic of Budha after his cremation at Kusinar. This sacred tooth relic was enshrined and worshipped at Dantapur, the capital of Kalinga. Asoka’s conversion to Buddhism after the Kalinga was in 261 B.C. gave tremendous impetus to Buddhism to Kalinga. The Asokan edicts at Dhauli and Jaugada spear about the welfare activities of emperor Asoka. Dr. K.C. Panigrahi maintains that the Sivalinga of Bhaskareswar temple was originally an Asokan pillar. He further says that the elephant which is found at Dauli is a sacred Buddhist symbol.
By the time of Asoka, three schools of thoughts on Buddhism had emerged such as Theravadin, Savarstivadin, and Mahasanghamika. Asoka belonged to the first group. He built a monastery for the Theravadin monk Tissa who happened to be his own brother, at Bhojakagiri in Kalinga. After Asoka, the Sarvastivadin school of Buddhism flourished to a maximum degree.
From the earliest time up to 7th century A.D., both Hinayan and Mahayan schools were prevalent in Orissa. Hiuen Tsang narrates that there continued the controversy between these schools of thought in Odradesa. At that time to avoid the conflict Harsha Vardhan requested Silabhadra, the Chancellor of Nalanda University to send some Mahayan scholars for holding a conference with the Hinayan Monks of Odra.
By the end of sixth century A.D., a number of Buddhist centres had developed in Orissa. The Birupa-Chitrotpala Valley in Cuttack district, Jaipur on the bank of Baitarani river and Jayrampur in Balasore district were the important centres of Buddhism. In the Buddhist monasteries at Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri, and Udayagiri in the Birupa-Chitrotpala Valley we find archaeological remains. The great Buddhist Vihar about which Hiuen Tsang mentions in his accounts probably is located in this famous valley. According to his description, Mahayan Buddhism was predominant in the Odra country.
By the end of 7th century A.D. Tantrik or Vijrayan Buddhism began to have a grip over Orissa. In course of time, Orissa became a centre of Tantrik Buddhism. The Tantrik Buddhism got royal patronage from the Bhaumakar rulers like Kshemakardeva, Sivakardeva I and Suvakardeva I who assumed the Buddhist titles like Paramopasaka, Paramatathagata and Parama Saugata, etc.
According to the Tibetan historian Taranath, Rahula was born in Odivisa (Orissa). He became the Chancellor of the Nalanda University early in 9th century A.D. The Tantrik Buddhist images such as Marichi, Lokesvara, Tara and Jambhala have been discovered from Ayodhya in the Nilgiri subdivision of the Balasore district.
The site of Viratagarh near Khiching in Mayurbhanj district also clearly speaks about the spread of Tantrik form of Buddhism in many parts of Orissa. According to some scholars, Tantrik Buddhism was not confined to Orissa but also in the whole Eastern India covering Bengal, Bihar, Assam and Orissa.
Buddhism received royal patronage during Bhaumakara rule in Orissa. The character of Buddhism underwent substantial changes during the Bhaumakara rule. The Somavamsi rulers were followers of Saivism and thus did not patronize Buddhism. Nevertheless Buddhism continued to prevail even up to the Ganga period.
Religion # 3. Saivism:
Saivism is an ancient religious belief in India. It had its origin in the Indus Valley civilization. In Orissa, the worship of Siva appears to have been introduced by the Kushanas. The coins of some Kushana kings, who were ruling in the second century A. D. have been discovered from the Sisupalagarh. These coins bear the image of Siva. Again coins discovered from the Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar region gives us the earliest iconic evidence of the Siva worship. The Natraj image of Siva found in Asanpat in Keonjhar district is a naked Urddhavalirna form of Siva with eight hands. This image depicts the Tandava dance of Lord Siva.
In the Gupta period, Saivism occupied a significant place in the religious life of the people of Orissa. The Eastern Gangas who established their rule in Kalinga naturally patronized the spread of Saivism in Orissa. During this period, Saivism triumphed over Buddhism. Caves were built near Bhaskaresvara Siva temple in Bhubaneswar for the habitation of Saiva ascetics.
According to the evidence found in Ekamra Purana, Saivism appears to have acquired greater grip over Buddhism. The Sailodbhavas were great Saivites. The Siva temples of Parsuramesvara, Satrughnesvara, Bharatesvara, Lakshmanesvara and Swarnejalesvara in Bhubaneswar were built by the Sailodbhava rulers. Dr. K.C. Panigrahi maintains that Sasanka of Gauda (Bengal), the great Saivite erected the Tribhubanesvara temple for Lord Siva in Bhubaneswara. Probably the name Bhubaneswar has been derived from the name of this temple.
The Bhaumakara kings built a number of Siva temples in Bhubaneswar. They claimed themselves as great devotees of Siva and claimed the titles of Parama Mahesvara. The Bhaumakara kings and queens donated lands for the Siva temples. The Bhauma rulers reflected their religious ideas in the temple sculpture. Dr. Panjgrahi holds that the Lakulisa images are the modified images of Buddha in Dharmachakra Pravartan mudra. In the tantrik vaital temple where the main deity is Chamunda the Saivite image of Lakulisa and the Buddhist image of Amoghasiddhi are to be found.
Saivism reached to the height of its glory in Orissa during the Somavamsi rule. They claimed the titles of Mahasivagupta and Parama Maheswara etc. They introduced a new text on Saivism in the coastal Orissa in 11th century A.D. This new sect is called Mathamayura sect which was found in Kosala region where from the Somavamsi rulers came. In the Rajarani temple built by Indraratha, a Mattamayura Siva image called Jatamukta wearing a garland of skulls is found. The erection of the Lingaraj temple by Yayati II is a clear evidence of the influence of Saivism on the Somavamsi rulers.
Saivism and Vaisnavism developed side by side in Orissa. The coexistence of these two religious cults has been attested by the worship of the deity of Hari (Vishnu) and Hara (Siva) in the temple of Lingaraj. This conception of Harihara worship continued to influence the people of Orissa throughout the period of Ganga and Suryavamsi rule in Orissa.
Religion # 4. Vaishnavism:
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 popularized 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 Somavamsi rulers conceived the idea of Vishnu worship along with the images 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 of their rule, they patronized Vaishnavism and it was rising rapidly to prominence.
Chodagangadeva, the founder of the imperial Ganga rule in Orissa patronized 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 popularized 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 deciple 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 Vaisnavism in the 13th Century A.D. The representation of the image of Rama, Lakshmana, Sita, Hanuman, Krishna and Gopis in the sculptures of Ananta Vasudeva temple speaks of a change of the idea of worship of Vishnu.
Of the ten incarnations of Vishnu, Nrusimha became very popular during the reign of early Ganga rules. 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 with 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 Srichaitanya of Bengal in the early part of 16th Century A.D. Vaishnavism propounded by Srichaitanya 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. Orissa 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 A.D., 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 premabhakti, the divine love of the Gopis for Lord Krishna. Thus, Vaishnavism either in Orissan form or in Bengal form roused the religious devotion among all sections of the society irrespective of caste and creed in Orissa.
Religion # 5. Jagannath Cult:
The origin of Lord Jagannath, the most important deity of Puri, around whom the religious 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 Mahabharata. Further in Deula Tola 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 Nilamadhaba 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 Parana of 7th century A.D. refers Purushottama as Vishnu. The presiding deity of Puri was known as Purushottama 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 aspect of Vishnu, when Purushottama is found with his erotic partner Lakshmi. Jayadeva in his Gitagovinda also with the erotic sports of Krishna with Radha and identified Radha with Kamala or Lakshmi. Such was the nature of the cult of Purushottama-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 Gajapatic Kapilendra, he used the name of Jagannath in the day-to-day administration of his empire. He used to obtain prior permission of the deity before committing anything in administration. Purushottamadeva, the successor of Kapilendradeva, 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, Buddhism, Saivism, Saktism, Tantricism and Vaishnavism into one religious cult which everybody accepts.
Religion # 6. Sakti Cult:
The worship of defied form of female energy known as Sakti is traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization. In Orissa, the worship of this Sakti is found at Jajpur in the form of Viraja from very ancient time. Harivamsa, Vayupurana and Mahabharata refer the worship of Viraja at Jajpur. But for some time, Sakti worship was overshadowed by the influence of Buddhism.
The influence of Brahmanical religion during Gupta period re-established the power and energy of this female image known as Sakti at Jajpur. The present image, of Viraja in the temple of Jajpur belongs to the 5th century A.D. This, image also called Mahisamardini, is a two handed Durga engaged in killing Mahisasura or the buffalo demon. This is, thus, the earliest form of Goddess Durga. Besides Jajpur, the image of this type is also found at Somesvar near Kakatpur in the Prachi Valley.
During the Bhaumakar rule, the image of Durga became eight-armed. Subsequently, this image became ten-armed towards the later part of the Bhaumakar. The Dasabhuja (ten-armed) Durga was depicted at that time as the war Goddess armed with the weapons of different Gods. Though the early Bhaumakara Kings were the followers of Buddhism, yet Sakti worship flourished at Jajpur, their capital. The popularity of this image at Jajpur is due to the fact that the Bhaumakara queen Tribhuvan Mahadevi compared herself with Katyayini.
Tantricism influenced the worship of the mother Goddess from 7th century A.D. onwards. The Tantriks worshipped the mother Goddess as the source of power and energy. The Buddhist Tantricism called Vajrayan conceived the idea of Goddess worship which is evident from the presence of Tara image in such places as Banpur Vanesvaranasi, Ratnagiri and Khiching, the places having Buddhist importance.
The Bhaumakara Kings patronized Sakti worship. The Tantrik-Sakti worship dominated Bhubaneswar, an important centre of Saivism. The Kapalikas who were the devotees of Siva, worshipped the goddess Chamunda and Mahisamardini to get their Siddis. For this reason, four Sakti shrines were erected on four sides of Vindu Sarovar tank near the Lingaraj temple.
Of these temples Vaitala occupies an important place. The deity of this temple is Chamunda and the Tantrik rites like human or animal sacrifice were being practiced. The Sakti worshippers of the Bhaumakara period conceived the idea of worshipping a group of seven mother Goddesses called Saptamatruka (Varahi, Indrani, Vaishnavi, Kaumari, Sivani, Brahmi and Chamunda).
The Tantricism of the Brahmanical society developed into a Yogini cult in Orissa. Kalika Purana indicates that Yogini cult had its origin in Orissa. Kapalikas were the devotees of Siva and Yoginis were the devotees of Sakti or Durga. The Yogini temples scattered throughout Orissa contain Sakti the defied form of female energy in different manifestations of Sakti.
The Yogini temple of Hirapur near Bhubaneswar is presided by Mahamaya, a ten armed Goddess. The principal deity of the Yogini temple at Ranipur-Jharial in Bolangir district is a terrific Chamunda. As this temple is situated in the territory of the Somavamsis of Kosala, it is very clear that Somavamsi rulers did not put any restriction on the worship of Sakti.
No doubt, the Somavamsis were Saivites yet workship of Sakti or Tantricism did not suffer from any antipathy from the rulers because of the close relationship between Saivism and Sakti worship. The cult of Siva is known as Bhairava and that of the Sakti is known as Bhairavi, Parvati, Mahamaya and Durga. Chodagangadeva was very much against Sakti worship but the worship of Goddess Durga did not disappear from Orissa.
The Gangas caused the construction of the temple of Parvati inside the Lingaraj temple compound. They also built the temples of Lakshmi and Vimala inside the compound of the Jagannath temple. The Bala Avakas of Balaram Das tells us that Lord Jagannath is attended by 64 Yoginis, Katyayini, Saptamatruka, Vimala and Viraja.
The very concept of Sakti worship along with the cult of Jagannath and Vaisnavism could be adjusted within the deities of Srikshetra during the Ganga and Somavamsi rule. The image of Devi Subhadra along with Lord Jagannath and Balabhadra clearly indicates that the Sakti cult became a common concept among the people which continued to dominate in different parts of Orissa in different names.
Religion # 7. Islam:
The Muslim rule in Orissa resulted in the Immigration of Muslim officials from different parts of India. From the very beginning of their rule the rulers tried to raise Muslim monuments on the foundation of some Hindu monuments built earlier. Propagation of Islam became the main objectives of all Muslim rulers. Consequent upon this, a number of Muslim mosques were built in such places at Cuttack, Jajpur, Kendrapara and Balasore.
Zuma Masjid of Balubazar in Cuttack is regarded as the best of Muslim monuments in Orissa. The coming of the Muslims into Orissa at a later period became responsible for the survival of many Hindu monuments in this country. This is also a reason for the comparatively small percentage of Muslim population in Orissa.
Muslim rule in Orissa to a great extent hampered the freedom of religious activities among the Hindu community. Pilgrim tax was imposed on every pilgrim coming to Puri. This came into force probably during the reign of Aurangzeb. At various points, the worship of Lord Jagannath was restricted by Muslim rulers.
In course of time, a synthesis of Hindu-Muslim unity could be possible in Orissa during the Mughal period beginning from the time of Akbar—the Great Salabeg, a Muslim, became a beloved devotee of Lord Jagannath. Satyapir became a common deity of worship to both Hindus and Muslims.
Many Sataypir deities were established in many parts of Orissa, of which the Satyapira of Kaipadar is famous. Thus, Pira worship in every household particularly at the time of birth of a child symbolizes the unity among Hindus and Muslims during the Mughal period.
The religious temperament of the people brought about a social change Mughal Tamsha of Bhadrakh is the influence of Hindu-Muslim unity which developed into a social system on special occasions to which the people of Orissa gave their approval. As in other parts of India, Orissa did not suffer much in this regard. No doubt monuments, deities were demolished by Kalapahara an iconoclast yet Hindu-Muslim unity could exist in Orissa.
Religion # 8. Mahima Cult:
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 Gosaim was understood in proper perspective.
Mahima Gosaim 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 clothes and began to wear the bulk of Kumbhi tree, lie 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 Gosaim, 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. Mayabada of Sankar has no place in Mahima cult. Mahimavada is claimed to be pure and logical. Visuddhadvaitavada is the main cardinal principle of this cult.
The philosophy of Mahima cult in not incompatible to the teachings of Vedas and Upanishad. The authenticity of Veda was not rejected by Mahima dharma. It made an attempt to reform Hinduism from within. Mahima Gosaim vehemently criticized 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. Mahimadharma 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 of 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 Gosaim, by his long missionary career, had laid down strong foundations for his new cult. He, through his soft words attracted the people 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 popularize 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 movements of the Christian Missionaries and the anglicised Brahmo 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 predominance 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 Gosaim to liberate the downtrodden 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 brought about tremendous influence on the religious, social and cultural life of the people.
Religion # 9. Christianity:
Missionary activities preaching against idolatry in general and worship in particular stated in Orissa in 1823. The Baptist Missionary Society undertook the work at Puri in the right earnest against the worship of Lord Jagannath (Lord of the Universe) which attracts the stream of people from every nook and comer of India.
Besides the specific attention of the missionaries against the influence of Jagannath cult, they undertook their usual activities of preaching the gospels of Christianity and distributing the Bible and other religious pamphlets. They aimed at destroying out age-old belief in traditional faith and institutions by converting many into Christianity.
But for first six years, they could not convert a single man from the province. The first Oriya convert was Gangadhar Sarangi, a Brahmin and gradually more Oriya accepted this new faith. Baptists converted as many as 540 Oriyas by 1850 which went up to 1,629 in 1871.
A group of Oriya mostly disciples of an ashram founded by Sadhu Sundar Das at Kajibar in Cuttack districts accepted Christianity. The disciples read the missionary pamphlets and developed much interest in the new faith. Sadhu Sundar Das was a great reformist guru who did not believe in traditional Hindu belief. The missionaries met the Guru and his disciples in October 1826 which ultimately led the disciples to embrace Christianity.
The Oriya converts became evangelists and engaged in preaching different parts of the province. Several missionary settlements sprang up in Cuttack, Balasore, Jaleswar, Ganjam and Sambalpur. By 1835, the American missionaries were associated with the evangelical works in Orissa.
For a pretty long time Sambalpur turned to be the centre of operation. Subsequently, they settled at Balasore. The missionaries became busy to mobilise the people about their religion through Jananaruna the Oriya journal. Large number of Oriya books for vernacular schools were written and printed by them. These efforts in the field of education influenced the Government to follow an effective educational policy and encouraged the people to imbibe a new spirit in the caste ridden Hindu society.
The missionaries also opened new prospects in philanthropic activities during the period of natural calamities in Orissa, a province which invariably suffered from the seasonal calamities. A number of orphanages were opened for both boys and girls. The destitute were provided with food, shelter and vocational education to earn their subsistence. Consequent upon these activities, many orphan boys and girls accepted the new creed.
The missionaries thus created a new atmosphere and roused the minds of the people to face such challenges of the society. They could realise the realities of life. The early Christian converts formed a small exclusive community without social influence or leadership. Many factors like lack of good communication, slow growth of English education, rigidity of social customs and traditions hindered Christianity to make headway in Orissa. Orissa remained uncongenial a land for the growth of the new faith.
However, many Oriyas in course of time embraced Christianity with the hope of getting Government jobs with lucrative salaries and accumulated wealth and power. Very slowly the situation changed. Critical self analysis by thoughtful Hindus inaugurated a new outlook for socio-religious movement in Orissa.
The anglicised Brahmo movement of Bengal influenced terribly the people in the sixties of the 19th century. Thus, Christianity brought about a new social change even though not up to the expectations of the ruling community in the first half of the 19th century which some way or other changed in the second half of the last century. In the early part of the 20th century, the missionaries could penetrate into tribal areas where they could sustain comfortably.
Thus, the educated middle class intelligentsia mass in the second half of the 19th century mostly inclined towards Christianity. However, it was confined to them only as they did not venture to peruse others to accept the new faith hastily.