Archaeological discoveries or material remains provide a wealth of information about Odisha’s ancient history.
Prehistoric knowledge derived from material remains
In 1875, Valentine Bali’s explorations at Angul, Talcher, Dhenkanal, and Bursapalli uncovered Odisha’s prehistoric sites. The famous palaeolithic site at Kulina was discovered by Paramananda Acharya of Mayurbhanj and C. Worman of Harvard University. R.P. Chanda’s research on Mayurbhanj and G.C. Mahapatra’s discovery of numerous palaeolithic sites in Central and Northern Odisha are significant contributions to the state’s early history. The discovery of Asokan rock art at Dhauli, as well as his edicts at Dhauli and Jaugada, shed significant light on the third-century B.C. Kalingan history. Jaugada was another fortified city that served the administration of Asoka.
Sources of information gleaned from ASI and other excavations
In 1949, a new chapter in Odisha’s history began with B.B. Lal’s excavation at Sisupalgarh. Fortifications with impressive gateways led historians to associate it with Kalinganagari, which is assumed to be Kharavela’s capital city. Khandagiri and Udayagiri’s art and architecture added another dimension to the history of ancient Odisha. Additionally, R.K. Moanty and Monica L. Smith excavated the site of Sisupalgarh several times, revealing material remains that provide insight into the socioeconomic life of the people of then-Odisha. The excavations at Manikpatna and Golbai provide information about the maritime activities of the Odisha people as well as their social and economic lives. K.K. Basa’s recent excavations at Harirajpur and other locations have uncovered numerous previously unknown facets of Odisha’s ancient history.
Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, and Lalitgiri Excavations
Devala Mitra’s extensive excavations at Ratnagiri revealed the imposing Buddhist monasteries and stupas with the fabled Nagabandha. Between the fifth and thirteenth centuries A.D., it flourished as a centre of Buddhist religion, art, and architecture. Two additional Buddhist sites, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri near Ratnagiri, preserve Buddhist and Hindu religious relics. Sri Madhavapura Mahavihara and Simhaprastha Mahavihara were located in Udayagiri between the 7th and 8th centuries A.D. Lalitgiri is a well-known Buddhist site with stupas, monasteries, Buddha images, three Buddhist relics, and images of Brahmanic divinities. Additionally, Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, and Lalitgiri yielded archaeological relics relating to Brahmanic religion, pottery, terracotta plaques, iron implements, animal and mother goddess figurines. These three locations are also referred to as Odisha’s ‘Diamond Triangle’ of history and archaeology. Each of the three sites contained a significant amount of material remains such as pottery, terracotta plaques, iron implements, household articles, and figurines of mother goddesses and animals, which provides insight into Buddhism’s dominance in that region.
Western Odisha’s material remains
Material relics have also been instrumental in elucidating the history of Western Odisha. Numerous temples are located within the Ranipur Jhanal temple complex in Bo1angr. The 64-Yogini and Somesvara Siva temples are the most important. Around the seventh or eighth centuries A.D., the site developed. The material remains unearthed during excavations at Boudh, Maraguda (also known as Jonk) valley, Sonepur, Amathgarh, Kharligarh, and Manikgarh, among others, have shed significant light on Western Odisha’s history. Partial excavations in several of them have uncovered structures and icons attributed to the Nalas (circa 350-500 A.D.) and Sarabhapuriyas (Cir. 500-700 A.D.). Podagarh (Navarangpur district), the capital town of the Nalas, also contains a significant number of relics scattered across a large area.
Material Remains from Odisha’s southern and south-western regions
Odisha’s southern and south-western regions have produced a few Pidha or Bhadra deulas (temples). The best examples of this type are the Gokarnesvara group on Mahendra mountain in Gajapati district and the Nilakantthesvara group on Jagamunda hill in Rayagada district. Sundara Mahadeva’s presence on the banks of the river Rusikulya has provided an opportunity to study the origins of this cult, which developed during the reign of Purusottamadeva of the Gajapati dynasty.
On the other hand, Odisha’s temples serve as a repository of information for reconstructing the state’s history. The Sikhara or rekha (curvilinear) style of architecture, also known as Kalingan style, developed in Bhubaneswar in the 6th 7th centuries A.D. The Laxmanesvara, Bharatesvara, and Satrughnesvara temple groups represent the earliest phase of Odisha’s temple architecture. The Parsuramesvara group evolved into the ornate Muktesvara found in Lingaraja, Jagannatha, and Konarka. The Lingaraj, Jagannath, and Konarka temples epitomised the Kalingan architectural style. In comparison to other temples in Odisha, the Black Pagoda represented the pinnacle of temple architecture and iconography. Together with other temples such as the Ganesh temple in Panchama, the Biranchi-Narayan temple in Palia, and the Samalesvari temple in Sambalpur, these temples shed light on Saivism, Vaishnavism, Saktism, Ganapatya Cult, and Sun worship, among others. As a result, the material remains have been used effectively to reconstruct the history of ancient Odisha.