The literary sources provide a lot of information for the reconstruction of the history of a nation as literature is considered as the mirror of the society. Numerous literature speaks about the glory of the Odisha in different ways in different periods.
The Mahabharata makes the earliest reference to Kalinga and Odra. The Mahabharata mentions about this land and its sacred river Vaitarani and Goddess Viraja. In this epic the sage Lomasa advised the Pandavas to visit to river Vaitarani to take a holy deep in the river and to wash away all their sins. On the other hand, the Ramayana refers to Kalinganagara situated to the west of river Gomati and refers to the Gandhamardana and Utkala associating it with Mekala and Dasarna countries. Further, different Puranas like Vayu Purana, Mastya Purana, Bhagavata, Harivamsa Purana and Vishnu Purana etc. throw light on Kalinaga and Utkala and legendary kings. The Kapila Samhita and Prachi Mahatmya are also considered as the sources of Odishan history.
The Jaina sources
The Jaina literature contains descriptions of Kalinga and Utkala. In ancient time the people of Odisha were largely the followers of Jainism and Buddhism. So, the Jaina and Buddhist literature narrates about the people of ancient Odisha and its culture. The Avasyaka Niryukti reveals that Aranatha, the eighteenth Jaina Tirthankara had achieved his first goal in the city of Rayapura which was said to be a capital city of Kalinga. Further, it states that how Mahavira, while travelling in Tosali was tortured by the local people who took him to be a thief and he was rescued by the timely interference of the Tosali-Kshatriyas. It also refers to the city of Dantapura. The Jaina Harivamsa gives a genealogy of the Chedis describing Abhichandra as the founder of that dynasty in Kosala region.
The Buddhist sources
The Buddhist literature also contains descriptions of Kalinga and Utkala. The Buddhist literature also reflects the history of ancient Odisha. The Mahagovinda Suttanta of Digha Nikaya, mentions ‘Kalinga-rattha’ (Kalinga Rashtra) along with its capital Dantapura. The ‘Upalisutta’ of Majjhima Nikaya describes how king Nalikira of Kalinga breathed his last as a consequence of his ill treatment towards some innocent ascetics. Kalinga and Utkala find mention in Kurudharma Jataka, vessantara Jataka, Kumbhakara Jataka, Kalinga Bodhi Jataka etc.
Mahaparinirvana Sutta, Dathavemsa, Dighanikaya and Mahavastu also throw light on Utkala and Kallhga. Jatakas like Kurudharma, Kalinga Bodhi, Sarabhanga, etc. furnish information about Odisha. Majjim Nikaya and Mahabhagga describe the meeting of the two merchants, Tapassu and Bhallika of Utkala with Lord Buddha. A Buddhist work named Gandavyuha describes that Tosala was a prosperous kingdom in Kalinga in 3rd century A.D. The Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, the two Buddhist works mentions about the friendly relationship between Kalinga and the Ceylon. The Chulavamsa also depicts about the frequent visit of the king of Kalinga to Ceylon.
Other important ancient literature
The Arthasastra of Kautilya composed in 4th century B.C. is a standard treatise on polity and statecraft which influenced the political organisations of Kalinga. Among other such works mention may be made of the legal texts Iike the Smritis of Manu, Narada, Brhaspati, Katyayana, Yajnavalkya and Kamandaka which have moulded the political systems of Odisha. On the other hand, the Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira, Astadhyayi of Panini and Kamasutra of Vatsyana also throw welcome light on the socio-religious and economic condition of ancient Odisha.
In the Baudhayana Dharmasastra, the kalinga has been described as an impure country. The Natyasastra of Bharat of depicts Kosala, Tosala and Kalinga as the southern countries. Kalidasa’s Raghuvmasam narrates Kalinga and Utkala. Banabhattas’s Harshacharita mentions about the king of Kalinga. Harshavardhan’s Ratnavali also mentions about Kalinga. Further, the post-Sangam literatures like Silpadikaram and Manimekalai of 2nd century A.D. mentions about Kalinga. Among the real historical works relating ancient Odisha, mention may be made of Gaudavaho by Vakpatiraja (cir. 725 A.D.). This gives an account of the conquests of Yasovarman of Kanauj.
Literary sources during Ganga period
The Ganga literature are a great source of the time for socio-religious and economic study of Odisha. The Ganga period also saw the development of Sanskrit literature of which reference can be made of Murari’s Anargharaghava Natakam which was staged at Puri during a Car festival of Lord Jagannath. Sri Harsha’s Naishad Charita Mahakavyam mentions about the cowrie cells as currency prevalent in Odisha during medieval period, chewing of betel by the people of Odisha and Jagannatha’s procession from the temple to platform (mancha) on the fullmoon day of Jeyestha. On the other hand, two treaties on astrology ‘Bhasvati’ and ‘Satananda Ratnamala’ and a legal text ‘Satananda Samgraha’ by Satananda Acharya in the latter half of 11th century A.D. throw light on socio-economic aspects. Vidyadhara’s Alankar work ‘Ekavali” composed in 13th century A.D., describes the encounters of the Ganga Emperor Narasimhadeva with the Sultans of Delhi and Bengal. Visvanatha Kaviraja, the author of the famous ‘Sahitya Darpana’ has written ‘Chandrakala Nataka’ which hints at the military victories of his patron Gajapati Nisanka Bhanudeva or Bhanu IV (1407-37 A.D.) against the Sultan of Bengal. The Chandrakala Natika is a great work during the Ganga rule. One of the masterpieces in Vaishnava literature during the Ganga period was the marvelous work of Jayadeva’s Gitagovindam. Thus, the ancient literature gives a wide range of knowledge regarding the social, political, economic, religious and cultural life of the people of ancient Odisha.