Brief History of Ancient Odisha

The history of Odisha dates back to eternal Past, its most famous old names being Kalinga, Utkal and Odra, when its boundary extended far beyond the present one.


140 million years ago (mya), the peninsular India, including Odisha, was a part of the Gondwana supercontinent. Due to this, some of the oldest rocks in the subcontinent, dating to Precambrian times, are found in Odisha. Some of the rocks, like the Mayurbhanj granite pluton, have been dated to 3.09 billion years ago (Ga). The coal-fields in Mahanadi and Ib river basins are known to be one of the richest sites for fossils in the subcontinent. This has led to the discovery of new species, like the charophytes from the Permian Period, which were found in the Talcher region and the Upper Permian megaspores from the Ib river area.

The human history in Odisha begins in the Lower Paleolithic era, as Acheulian tools dating to the period have been discovered in various places in the region. In the districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, Sundargarh and Sambalpur, Acheulian tools dating to Lower Paleolithic times have been discovered. The Gudahandi hills in Kalahandi district have rock carvings and paintings dating to Upper Paleolithic. From Kuchai, near Baripada, various Neolithic tools like hoes, chisels, pounders, mace heads, grinding stones and also pieces of pottery. Prehistoric paintings and inscriptions have also been found in Garjan Dongar in Sundergarh district, and Ushakothi in Sambalpur district and Vimkramkhol in Jharsuguda district. There has been an uncertainty about the inscriptions at Ushakothi and Vimkramkhol regarding whether they are in a proto-Brahmi script. Yogimath near Khariar has cave paintings from the Neolithic.

Puranic Odisha

By the time of the Mahabharata Kalinga, Utkal and Odra had entered into Aryan polity as powerful kingdoms. Frequent reference is made to Kalinga in the Mahabharata and infrequent references to Odra and Utkal. By the time of Mahavir and Buddha, the Kalinga-Utkal region on the entire east coast of India acquired recognition and fame.

Odisha During Maurya Period

The political history of Odisha opens with the rule of Nanda, Emperor of Magadha. The Hathigumpha inscription of Emperor Kharavela at Udaygiri refers to a Nanda king twice. When Chandragupta Maurya succeeded to the throne of Nanda, Kalinga did not form part of his empire. Asoka’s invasion of Kalinga was an epoch-making event of ancient times of far-reaching consequences. The battle was described by Asoka himself in his thirteenth Rock Edict which records : “One hundred and fifty thousand men were carried away captive from that country, as many as one hundred thousand were killed there in action and many times that number perished.” Kalinga was conquered but the conquest changed the heart of the conqueror. This change in Asoka changed the course of religion and cultural history not only of India but also of the whole of Asia. The site at Sisupalagarh, occupied from the 3rd century BC to the 4th century AD, has been identified with Tosali, the provincial capital of Ashoka, and with Kalinganagari, the capital city of Kalinga after it regained independence early in the 1st century BC.

Odisha Under Kharavela

The next great epoch of Odishan history was the time of Kharavela who ruled in the first half of the second century B.C. He defeated the Satakarni in the west, the Musikas on the bank of the Krishna as also the Rashtrikas and the Bhojakas, the rulers of Rajagriha and King Brihaspati Mitra of Magadha. In the thirteenth year of his rule he retired to Khandagiri near Bhubaneswar. He was a Jain.

Dark Period

The history of the following centuries is complex. At times the north and south of Kalinga were separate states, at times united. Sometimes Kalinga was independent, sometimes it was tributary to a more powerful neighbour. From Hiuen Tsang’s account it is evident that Harsha Siladitya’s political sway extended to Orissa. Ptolemy, the famous Greek Geographer of the 2nd century A. D., testified to the existence of flourishing trade marts on the Orissa coast. In the 8th century A. D. Odisha’s overseas activities were at their peak when the Sailendra Empire in present day Malayasia was estabilshed. According to Arab sources, the empire extended its power even into Cambodia and Assam. The prosperity of the Sailendra Empire continued through the 10th century A. D.

Early Medieval Odisha

From the 8th to the 10th centuries A. D. the Bhaumakara dynasty ruled over Utkal. Oriya language was just beginning to take shape during this age. These rulers paid tribute to Devapala (810–850 AD), ruler of the Pala Empire of Bengal, but Utkal regained its independence from his successors. This Bhaumakaras were followed by the Somas and the Kesharis. The famous Lingaraj Temple at Bhubaneswar was built by Yajati Keshari and completed by his successors.

Sources and References:
1. History of odisha, Vol-I by Y.K Sahu
2. Early History of Odisha by M.K. Sahoo
3. History of Odisha by Sahu, Sahu and Mishra
4. Odisha Reference 2004 Published by Government of Odisha

Web Sources:
1. Wikipedia
2. The History Files
3. Archives of India