Before planning a tour to Orissa let us get well acquainted with the facts about Orissa. Bounded on the west by the thickly forested hills of the eastern Ghats and on the east by nearly 500 km coastline of the Bay of Bengal, is a beautiful state covering an area of 156, 000 sq. km. It is surrounded by Jharkhand on the north, West Bengal on the north-east, Andhra Pradesh on the south and Chhattisgarh on the west.
Orissa is one of the prosperous states of India owing to its fertile land and rich mineral resources viz. coal, iron and bauxite. The state is booming towards a big industrial growth in the near future. Orissa is also emerging as a player in IT services. Orissa referred to as “The soul of India”, is a mystical land where the past and the modern days form a harmonious blend. The state is filled with awe inspiring monuments, thousands of master craftsmen and artists, numerous wildlife sanctuaries, stunning natural landscapes and many more. As per the early evidences, Orissa was originally occupied by the aboriginal tribes, the Buiyas and Gonds. They restricted themselves to the forest and hills when Shanti stupa and the Dravidian race began their settlements and slowly started occupying the region. Orissa was known as Kalinga in the early period. Kalinga is associated with the greatest Mauryan Emperor Ashoka who on seeing the horrors of war in the battle of Kalinga, abandoned warfare and embraced Buddhism. In the 2nd century A.D. Kharavela commanded a strong foothold over Orissa and its neighboring area. Going by the absorbing history of Orissa, the Satavahana king Goutamiputra Satakarni ruled Kalinga early in the 2nd century. About the middle of the 6th century A.D. a chief named Ranadurjaya ruled over South Kalinga with Pishtapura as his capital. The Guptas conquered over this region in about the 4th century A.D. The Muslim Sultanates established their influence on Orissa during the 13th and 14th centuries. This continued till 1568. This was followed by the rule of the Mughals which lasted till the death of Aurangzeb. Orissa constituted into a separate province in 1607 and Cuttack was declared its capital during the rule of Akbar's son Jahangir and his successors. Orissa enjoyed this status till the end of the reign of the Great Mughals. History of Orissa is very ancient and dynamic which fascinates every tourist. Many rulers and dynasties have established their great influences upon the state. The Marathas played a major role in curbing the rule of the Mughal Empire. The Maratha administration of Orissa functionally began from the year 1751 which initiated lots of developments into the region. But this wonderful phase of Maratha rule could only last for about half a century. Thereafter Orissa observed the rise of British power in the region. The treaty of Deogarh, signed on 17 December 1803 ended the Maratha rule and Orissa was under the command of British Rule. With India gaining independence in August 1947, Orissa was declared free and added a huge territory to its land. Today Orissa has far reached its goals, adding up to immense resources of unlimited minerals, dense forests, fertile lands and numerous rivers.
Talking about Orissa culture flowing through the arteries of Orissa, it is adding to the living and continuing culture of India, its varied expressions and its rich variety. The very stones speak of the unique history of the nation. The temple-culture makes it a unique specialty of India. Whether it is the sacred environs of Lord Jagannath temple or the eroticism of Konark's Sun temple, the wondrous caves of Jainism or the mystical monasteries of Buddhism, the paintings of folklore or the weaver's magic Orissa speaks eloquently of a living past and continuing present. The rhythmic and exotic classical 'Odissi’ dance evolved from the cult of the 'devadasis' or female temple dancers reverberates not only within the portals of the nation, but also echoes on foreign shores too. Folk dances like the 'Chhow' or the 'Sambalpuri' dance and tribal dances like the 'Ghumura' & 'Paraja' can set any soul ablaze. Fairs like the 'Bali Jatra' remind us of our ancient maritime links with Bali. And to crown it all is our universally-acclaimed 'Rathyatra' of Lord Jagannath which has mesmerized the world. Since prehistoric days the land of Orissa has been inhabited by various people. If we want to gather more information about Orissa,
we will have to think about the earliest settlers of Orissa who were primitive hill tribes. Although prehistoric communities cannot be identified, it is well known that Orissa had been inhabited by tribes like Saora or Sabar from the Mahabharata days. Even the tribal people of Orissa constituting more than 62 tribes have added to its attraction. The tribal communities of the state constitute about 23% of its total population. They are found inhabiting mainly the high land territories. Though clubbed together, these tribal communities can be easily distinguished on the basis of different ethnic traits, culture, customs as well as dominant languages. The most primitive tribes of Orissa comprise of the Kondhas, Bondas, Gadabas and Koyas. Of these, Kondhas constitute majority of the tribal population. They have the highest concentration in the blocks of Rayagada, Kashipur, Kalyansinghpur, Bissamcuttack and Muniguda. There are four cultural regions within the present boundaries of Orissa. The north-eastern areas bordering on Bengal have been influenced in dress, food, habits, languages, social customs and festivities of Bengali culture and language. The southern parts of Ganjam and Koraput districts have a sizable Telugu-speaking population and have been influenced in language, food habits, and dress and marriage customs by the Andhra culture and language. The western districts of Sambalpur, Bolangir and Kalahandi may be said in many ways of having cultural and to some extent linguistic similarity with the region of Chhatisgarh of Madhya Pradesh. The fourth region may said to be the distinctive or typical or at least the tone-setting one, in cultural institutions, social customs and linguistic and literary sophistication. This region comprises roughly the coastal districts of Balasore, Cuttack and Puri and portions of adjoining districts.