Orissa has a glorious and ancient
history spanning a period of over 2000 years. In ancient times, it was the proud kingdom
of Kalinga. Kalinga was a major seafaring nation that controlled most of the sea routes in
the Bay of Bengal. For several centuries, a substantial part of Southeast Asia, such as
Kampuchea (Cambodia), Java, Sumatra, Bali and Thailand were colonies of Orissa. In fact
the name of the country "Siam" is derived from Oriya/Sanskrit Shyamadesha. The
temple of Angkor Wat is a fine example of Orissan architecture, with some local
variations. Bali still retains its Hindu Orissan heritage. A major turning point in world
history took place in Orissa. The famous Kalinga war that led emperor Asoka to embrace
non-violence and the teachings of Buddha was fought here in 261 BC.
Later on, Asoka was
instrumental in spreading Buddhist philosophy all over Asia. In the second century BC,
Kalinga flourished as a powerful kingdom under Kharavela. It is he who was built the
superb monastic caves at Udayagiri and Khandagiri.Subsequently, the kingdom was ruled under various monarchs,
such as Samudragupta and Sasanka. It also was a part of Harsha's empire.
In 795 AD, the
king Yayati united Kalinga, Kosala and Utkala into a single empire. He also built the
famous Jagannath temple at Puri. King Narasimha Dev is reputed to have built the
magnificent sun temple in Konark. Although now largely in ruins, the temple would easily
have rivaled the Taj Mahal in splendor. The ruins of a major ancient university and center
of Buddhist learning, Ratnagiri, was recently discovered in Orissa. Scholars from far away
lands, such as Greece, Persia and China used to study philosophy, astronomy, mathematics
and science at this famed University. Taxila, Nalanda and Ratnagiri are the oldest
universities in the world. The ruins of Ratnagiri University have not been fully excavated
During the dark ages of Indian civilization, Orissa was ruled by a succession of
Muslim kings. It was later annexed by emperor Akbar and became part of the Mughal empire.
After the fall of the Mughals, the Marathas under Shivaji invaded the land and continued
to rule until 1803 AD when Orissa fell prey to the barbaric British. Modern Orissa was
carved out of Bihar in 1936. Contemporary Orissa has a proud cultural heritage that arose
due to the intermingling of three great religious traditions - Hinduism, Buddhism and
Jainism. It has been further enriched by Islam and Christianity.