Orissa or Kalinga as it was then called was a settlement of non-Aryan and Aryan settlers. It was a formidable maritime empire with trading routes stretching up to Bali, Sumatra, Indonesia and Java. The key to international trade and immense wealth, it was coveted by many rulers.
In fact, it was here that the famous Battle of Kalinga was fought in 261 BC, which made the great Mauryan Kshatriya (warrior caste) king Ashoka forsake war. He became a follower of Buddhism and spread the spirit of ahimsa and peace, the message of Buddhism, to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and the Far East, Exquisite remains of the Buddhist past still remain in the areas of Udaygiri, Lalitagiri and Ratnagiri.
Kharavela, who came to power in Kalinga, around 1st Century BC, was a staunch follower of Jainism. It is to this period that Orissa owes its Jain art and architectural tradition. The sophisticated architectural style of the Jain Monastic caves at Udaygiri and Khandagiri are a story unto themselves. The style of Hindu temple construction, so unique to Orissa also developed around this time.
Orissa is a modern state with an ethnic past that is still vibrant. Most of her tribes are to be found in the districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar Phulbani, Sambalpur, Kalahandi and Koraput. As many as 62 tribes exist in Orissa - Kondhs, Koyas, Bondas, Gadabas, Santals, Juangs, Oraon, to name only a few are some important tribes who have retained their individuality and their close bond with nature
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Fairs and Festivals
Ratha Yatra / Car Festival
This festival is popularly known as Ratha Yatra, Gundicha Yatra and also Ghosha Yatra.The most remarkable
thing about the chariot festival is that it is held not inside the temple but outside the temple on the road called 'Badadanda'. It symbolizes the eternal longing in man for traveling to the deathless before death. Symbolically, the chariot festival is a journey to light from the dark.
Ratha Yatra is the most significant one among all the festivals and celebrated in a grand style. The preliminary preparation for this festival started from summer to early part of monsoon.
The world famous Chariot Festival of Lord Jagannath is held on 'Ashadha Sukla Dwitiya' i.e. the second day of the bright fortnight of Ashadha (June-July) every year.
This festival is celebrated at Puri with great pomp and ceremony. People from different corners of the earth come to Puri to witness this festival. During this festival the entire city of Puri becomes ceremonious.
This is an agricultural festival held on the third day of the Hindu year. On this day the farmer ceremonially starts sowing in the field, especially paddy. After taking ablution in a river or tank they wear new cloths and carry the seeds in new baskets. In the field offerings are made to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth which the farmers do it themselves. In western Orissa this festival is called 'Muthi Chhuan'. Eating of green-leaves (Shag) is forbidden for the day.
This festival is observed by the unmarried girls of the business community of the coastal districts of Orissa. During the festival Goddess Durga is propitiated. However the principal food offering is Khuda, which is said to be the favorite of the Goddess. Therefore the festival is named as "Khudarankuni" or Popularly 'Khudurkuni' which means one who is very eager for Khuda. In the morning the girls go out collecting flowers required for the ritual. After this the whole day is spent in making garlands and decorating the image of the Goddess. After the rituals are over the girls recite musically the episode of Taapoi which is now available in print.
As Lord Jagannath is the presiding deity of Orissa, many of His festivals are also devotionally followed in Oriya households. Chitalagi or Chitou Amavasya is one such festival which falls on the new-moon day of the sravana (August). On this day, in the temple of Jagannath, the deity bears a golden mark (chita) on the forehead. A special variety of rice-cake known as Chitou pitha is given to the deity as food-offering. This variety is also prepared in every household of the Oriyas of the coastal districts.
Deba Snana Purnima / Snana Yatra
This is festival of Lord Jagannath and is said to be one of the oldest. According to Skanda Purana when Raja Indradyumna installed the wooden deities he arranged this bathing ceremony. This day considered to be the birth-day of Lord jagannath. Held in the full-moon day of the month of Jyestha this festival is also simultaneously held in all other important Puri, it attracts thousands of visitors and pilgrims from all over the country.
Art and Handicraft
The temple culture of Orissa had passed down the skills, availability of variety of stones like the white soft soap stone (Khadipathar), the hard greenish chlorite stone (Kochilapathar), the harder pinkish Khandolite stone (Sahana or Baulapathar) and the hardest black granite stone (Mugunipathar) had kept the tradition moving.
Wood carvings of Orissa are a blend of folk and classical forms and again is intimately influenced by the temple Art. The art has predominantly flourished in the villages, in the temples and also in the palaces. The wood carvers make variety of decorative as well as utilitarian objects with the motifs of birds, animals, real and mythical objects, boxes and bowls, images of Gods and Goddesses etc.
The horn products of Orissa are mystical and richly textured. The delicateness of design and boldness of forms make it so natural and realistic that every piece of the product can compete with the actual. Items like the fighting bulls, cranes, elephants rolling the logs, fighting birds etc. blossom into life in the hands of the Craftsmen of Cuttack and Paralakhemundi.
It is a typical tribal craft in bronze with wire-mesh like features. The nomadic tribals called as ‘Situlias’ and ‘Thataras’ cast their brass products of ethnic beauty with artistic ingenuity by ‘Cir de perdu’ (lost wax process). From the wires of bees-wax, the tribals meticulously cast different animals, figurines, mana (the measuring bowl), lamps and lamp stands, figures of Goddess Mahalaxmi seated on the elephant with decorative textures.
The bell metal and brass utensils of Orissa are known for the beauty of their shape and exquisiteness. They blend a striking harmony of beauty and utility. Considered as traditional and auspicious in rural Orissa, items like pitchers, pots, cooking and serving items, plates etc. are used in temple rituals as well as at home.
The craft is so old and so fluent that one finds from history its manifold use in society – ranging from household goods to currency. In the native soil of Orissa, the craft has retained its own place as a graceful and harmonious one viewing with the glorious legacy of stone sculpture. The art of Kiln burnt products diversified in many ways – from beads, seals to cooking utensils in rural houses and other utility items also carry religious values. The terakotta horses, elephants etc. famous for elemental forms and bold structural quality while serve as the offerings to the village Goddesses also decorate the modern drawing rooms.
Filigree also known as “Tarakashi” the silver filigree of Cuttack is most admired craft for its delicateness and intricate needle work. The craft dates back to the dawn of early history but in the state of Orissa it flourished only with the patronage of Late Utkal Gourav Madhusudan Das. Beaten silver is drawn into fine threads like a spider’s web and fashioned into jewelry of immaculate and infinite beauty along with the beaten silver foils. The variety of produce ranges from necklace, bangles, bracelets, armlets, ear rings, hairpins, floral and leaf patterned purses, even to the replica of temples, boats reflecting prosperous maritime.
Orissa handloom have a rich heritage and continued to exist and grow through centuries to the present era producing varieties of fabrics with inherent resilience and vitality. The aesthetic beauty and distinct human character of the fabrics are unique as every inch of the fabric carries the aspirations and ethos of the weavers with creative values. They are elegant, attractive and exquisite but comfortable.