A Comprehensive Compendium of History, Culture, Lifestyle and Tourism of Odisha

Ancient Odisha

Society During the Bhaumakaras

Society underwent changes during ancient and medieval Odisha. Although the Bhauma rulers were Buddhists, they accepted the Brahmanical socio-religious order. They tried to enforce the Varnashrama, i.e., division of society into four Varnas (Brahmana, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra). The Neulpur charter of Subhakaradeva I states that Kshemankardeva put Varnas in their proper places. The Terundia charter of Subhakaradeva II states that he established the Varnashrama system in accordance with the scriptures. As the Bhauma rulers accepted the Varnashrama urder, they attached great importance to the Brahmanas, the highest Varna. They encouraged immigration of Brahmans from Madhyadesa (north India) and Bengal by the offer of land grants.

The Social Structure : Caste system

Let us know the social structure of caste system during the Bhaumakara period. One of the notable feature of ancient Indian society was the caste system. The Odishan society was not an exception to it. It consisted of numerous castes and sub-castes and the interaction among them brought social harmony bringing peace and tranquility in the Odishan society. The caste structure of the society of the Bhaumakara period is given bellow:

The Brahmins

In the Varna system, the Brahmins enjoyed the highest position in the society of and belonged to the first order. They commanded respect from the people in the society by their learning, prudence, pious character and other virtuous qualities. It is known from many inscriptions of the Bhauma-Karas that Brahmins belonging to several gotras like Bharadwaja, Kausika, Visvamitra, Sandilya, Kashyapa, Atreya, etc. settled in Odisha. They settled in the Shasanas (agrahara villages) as is known from numerous inscriptions belonging to the Ganga and Suryavamsi Gajapati period. They received land grants from the kings and other landed aristocrats to worship gods and goddesses in different temples. Those lands were tax free lands. Further, they were also indispensable for many important ceremonies like the Abhiseka (coronation ceremony) of the king, marriage, upanayana (sacred thread ceremony) etc. By their noble works as priests, they commanded respect of the society and were placed in the highest position in the caste structure. Besides discharging their duties as priests, the Brahmins also got lucrative posts in the courts of the kings and Zamindars.

The Kshatriyas

The Kshatriyas occupied their position in the society next to the Brahmins. They were warrior class and shouldered the responsibility to protect the country from internal rebellion and external aggression. Besides fighting they administered the country. As the inscriptions and literary sources of this land refer, they were benevolent rulers not despots or autocrats. They had great veneration towards the Brahmins from whom they sought advice to carry on administration. They were great builders. By receiving their patronage, a good number of temples were built up in Odisha. They were famous for their charity. The digging of tanks, establishment of Shasanas, educational institutions etc. were also their look out. They also took interest in the promotion of learning inside the society. Besides the kings and members of the royal family, the army chiefs, soldiers and other officials belonged to the Kshatriya caste. The Kshatriyas looked for the welfare of the subjects of the society.

The Vaisyas

The Vaisyas belonged to trading class who resorted to cultivation, cowherdship, trade and commerce. Generally, prosperity of the land depended largely upon the people of this community. They organised hatas (local markets) and controlled both inland and maritime trade. From the time of Asoka, it is evident that trade routes on land passed to distant South via Kalinga and it monopolised the trade and commerce and her economic prosperity had become an eyesore to Kalinga. This was possible due to the trading class (Vaisyas) in the ancient and medieval Odisha. Further, the Vaisyas of Odisha carried on oversea trade with the countries like Ceylon, Siam, Burma, Suvarnadvipa etc. and brought wealth to this land. They also helped in spreading the Odishan culture in South-East Asia. The Kshatriyas also paid attention for the growth of the Vaisyas. The kings granted special villages for them known as the’ Vaisya agrahara.

The Sudras

In the traditional class structure, the Sudras occupied the lowest position. The Sudras were drawn from the community that consisted of artisans, craftsmen, petty agriculturists, servants etc. Even, they were attached to the temples to serve the gods and goddesses. Besides the above mentioned professions, some Sudras were untouchables. They were untouchables and remained outside the society. However, they served the society in various capacities. Among them were the washerman (rajaka), fisherman , (kaivartta), shoe-maker (charmakara), basketmaker (doma) etc. Besides Sudras, other sub-castes in the society were saundikas (brewers), tantuvayas (weavers), kumbhakaras (potters), malakaras (gardeners), napita (barber), tambarakara (coppersmith), tathakara (metal worker), kamara (blacksmith) etc. who rendered their habitual service to the society.

Promotion of Language and learning

Sanskrit language was used in the inscriptions and literature of the Bhaumakara period. The Buddhist manuscript, Gandavyuha was written in Sanskrit. The Bhauma rulers were learned and cultured who extended their patronage to the institutions of learning. The monastery of Ratnagiri was one of the greatest centres of Buddhist learning in medieval lndia, and attracted scholars from different countries. According to the Tibettan tradition, recorded in Pag Sam Jon Zang, Bodhisri and Noropa practised Yoga at Ratnagiri. Taranath mentions that Acharya Pito who had acquired the Siddhi of invisibility was teaching Yoga at Ratnagiri and that Abadhuti, Bodhisri and Naro (Naropa ?) were his disciples.

Position of women

Women enjoyed high position in the society during the Bhaumakara period. Although, they were dependant on their parents and husbands, still they commanded respect in the society. A striking feature of the Bhauma rule was that it provided a number of female rulers. In ancient India, if a king died without a male issue, the chief queen adopted a boy as the son to ascend the throne, or if the king died leaving a minor son, the dowager queen acted as the regent, but during the Bhauma rule women ruled independently in their own rights. Tribhuvana Mahadevi-I ruled as a full-fledged sovereign after the death of her son. Tribhuvana Mahadevi-II ruled over the kingdom after the death of her husband, even though her husband’s brother had sons, who had legitimate claims over the throne. There were six female rulers in the Bhauma period. Five of them were dowagers and one was a king’s daughter. Women of high birth and noble families received education. They also received educations in music and dance. The Bhauma queens were great devotee, to various religious faiths and were instrumental for building temples and creating provisions for the worship of the God or Goddess. The literature of the time reflects that monogamy was the prevailing norm of the society. However, polygamy was not unknown in royal and higher families. The systems of Sati and Pardah were not prevalent. In general, women enjoyed high position in the society.

Dress and ornaments

The women of Bhauma period were fond of various hair styles, cosmetics, perfumes and ornaments. The sculptures of the period exhibit various types of organments, such as Kundala (ear ring), Karnaphula (ear flower), Ratnahara or Chandrahara (necklace), Mekhala (girdle), Koyura (armlet). Manjira (foot ornament) and Kankana (bracelet). The queens preferred necklaces and foot ornaments. Their ornaments were made of gold and silver and studded with pearls and diamonds.

Religious Life during the Bhaumakaras

In the pre-Bhauma period both Hinayana and Mahayana schools of Buddhism were prevalent in Odisha. Hinayana monks of Odisha had the audacity to assert the superiority of their doctrine before the king Harsha who was a great patron of Mahayana Buddhism. The early phase of Bhauma rule saw the phenomenal development of Mahayana and Vajrayana or Tantrik Bupdhism in Odisha. The three early Bhaumakara rulers – Kshemankaradeva, Sivakaradeva I and Subhakaradeva I respectively bore the following Buddhist epithets – Paramopasaka (devout worshipper of Buddha), Parama-tathagata (devout worshipper of Tathagata or Buddha) and Paramasaugata (devout worshipper of Saugata or Buddha). At the behest of Sivakaradeva I, a Buddhist monk, named Prajna, went from Odisha to China to translate the Buddhist manuscript named Gandavyuha. A number of Viharas or Buddhist monasteries which had come into existence in the pre-Bhauma period continued to flourish in the Bhauma period. Puspagiri, Ratnagiri, Lalitagiri, Udayagiri, Khadipada, Kupari, Chaurasi and Jayarampur were the great Buddhist centres of the Bhauma period. A number of the Mahayana and Tantrik Buddhist images of this period have been found in most of the places, mentioned above. The Bhauma rulers followed a policy of magnanimity and toleration towards all religious sects. It appears that the later Bhauma kings inclined towards the non-Buddhist sects like Saivism, Vaishnavism, Tantricism and Shakti cult. Madhava Devi, the wife of Subhakaradeva I built a Siva temple, Subhakaradeva III donated a village for the maintenance of the Siva temple of Pulindesvar. Subhakaradeva IV, Sivakaradeva III and Dandi Mahadevi were great devotees of Siva. The Siva temples of Sisiresvara, Markandesvara and Talesvara in Bhubaneswar belong to the Bhauma era. Tribhuvana Mahadevi I, Subhakaradeva IV, Prithvi Mahadevi, and Santikaradeva II appear to be devotees of Vishnu. The Nandodbhavas, who were feudatory to the Bhaumas patronized Vaishnavism. The Bhauma period also saw the growth of the Sakti cult in Odisha. The Vaital and Mohini temples of Bhubaneswar, enshrining Chamunda, were built during this period. The various temples and images of the Bhauma period testify to the architectural and sculptural excellence as well as religious synthesis and eclecticism.

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