Portrait of Upendra Bhanja

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About Odisha

Odisha (Oṛiśā) is a state on the east coast of India. It currently has a population of about 42 million. Its main language is Odia, although Bengali, Hindi, Telugu, English, Kosali, and various tribal languages are spoken as well. Odisha is particularly famous for its temple architecture, especially the Jagannātha Temple at Puri and the Sun Temple at Konark. The state achieved its current form and name by the mid-twentieth century; prior to that it was known by a variety of names referring to kingdoms that controlled various parts of the region. Below is a brief sketch of some important moments in the history of Odisha. Further details may be found at Wikipedia and by consulting the sources listed in the Bibliography on History.

The kingdom of Kaḷiṅga, mentioned in the Mahābhārata, ruled parts of coastal Odisha and Andhra Pradesh in the centuries prior to the common era. It was famously conquered by the Maurya emperor Aśoka in the bloody Kaḷiṅga War of 261 BCE. Utkaḷa—the name of which is often used synonymously with Odisha—seems to have existed around the same time as Kaḷiṅga, either as part of the latter or as a nearby kingdom.

The Mahāmeghavāhana dynasty (c. 250 BCE–c. 400 CE) arose in Kaḷiṅga with the decline of the Maurya empire. Its third ruler, Khāraveḷa (second half of 1st century BCE), conquered much of the subcontinent and established trade with Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.

The Guptas
Samudragupta (c. 335–c. 375 CE) of the Gupta Empire conquered Kaḷiṅga and other parts of Odisha.

The Eastern Gaṅgas
The Eastern Gaṅga dynasty arose in the 11th century and came to rule much of eastern India. Its capital was originally at Kaḷiṅganagara, in what is now Andhra Pradesh, but was shifted to Cuttak in 1135. The Gaṅgas rebuilt the Jagannātha Temple at Puri and also built the Sun Temple at Konark.

The Gajapatis
The Gajapati dynasty, founded by Kapilendra Deva, succeeded the Gaṅgas in 1435. Kapilendra controlled large parts of East, South, and Central India. The great poet Sāraḷā Dāsa lived during this time.

The Long Period of Invasions
The Gajapati dynasty was gradually weakened by invasions by Islamic forces from the late 15th century. Mukuṇḍa Deva, the last of the original Gajapatis, was defeated by the Afghan Karrani dynasty (based in Bengal) in 1568. The Mughals defeated the Karranis in 1590. The Mughals would control much of northern Odisha until the 1740s, while the Qutb Shahi dynasty would control parts of the south until the 1760s. The Mughals ceded their portion of Odisha to the Maratha Bhonsale dynasty in 1751, and South Odisha was passed to the British East India Company in the 1760s. The British Army defeated the Marathas in northern Odisha in 1803.

Odia Nationalism
A great famine in 1866 spurred discussions of colonial rule among elites. One result of this was the founding of the first independent Odia newspaper, Utkaḷa Dīpikā, in Cuttack that year. This newspaper, and other publications that quickly sprang up, provided a forum for working out ideas of modern Odia identity and community. Topics of concern included the division of the Odia population among different administrative units and the relationship of Odias with their neighbors (especially Bengalis).

Modern Odisha
Calls for a united Odisha grew over the first decades of the 20th century. An independent state was achieved in 1936. Following Indian Independece in 1947, Odisha was expanded in size; the capital was moved from Cuttack to Bhubaneswar in 1948.