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Ancient Orissa: Rule of Kings

Introduction

Also known as the kingdom of Kalinga in the ancient times, Orissa was a major seafaring nation which controlled and traded with most of the sea routes in Bay of Bengal. Consequently many parts of Southern and South Eastern Asia such as Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Java, Sumatra, Bali, Vietnam and Thailand were colonized by people from Orissa who were instrumental in directly influencing the culture and tradition of the natives there. It is thus hardly surprising that in some parts of Malaysia Indians to this date are referred as Kalings. Many illustrious Sri Lankan kings such as Nisanka Malla and Parakarama Bahu claim Kalinga origin. The king who destroyed the Sinhalese Buddhist control of Northern Sri Lanka and established a Hindu Kingdom in Jaffna was known as Kalinga Magha. One theory holds that the name of the country "Siam" for Thailand is derived from Oriya/Sanskrit Shyamadesha. Bali in Indonesia still retains its Oriya influenced Hindu heritage with many Oriya festivals like Raja and Nua Khai still celebrated albeit with the native’s personal touch. Traces of Oriya influence can also be found in architectural structures like that at the temple of Angkor Wat.

 The most notable thing with respect to the ancient Orissa was its own social system which was completely independent of the Vedic Brahmanical society that was existent in other parts of the country. The social system that prevailed here was devoid of any hereditary significance. The main occupation of the people being trading, they can be categorized into the Vaishyas. But again unlike the prevailing caste systems elsewhere, anybody without any consideration of genealogy was free to join in as trader. Similarly the hereditary warrior caste like Kshatriyas did not take any hold in the region. Soldiers were drawn from the peasantry as needed and rank in the military depended as much on fighting skills and bravery as on hereditary factors. This mix of variance and quality may have been one of the features of ancient Oriya society that allowed it to successfully fend numerous raids since time immemorable.

Ancient Orissa

The ancient Orissa was a region that was inhabited variously by different tribal castes like the Savaras, the Nagas and the Odras. Historical data in the form of references in the Mahabharat suggest that it was one of the most powerful kingdoms of the time. The king of Kalinga Srutayudha had joined the camps of Kouravas in the battle of Kurukshetra along with his two sons – Bhanumana and Ketumana and the entire dynasty was wiped out in the war. The Buddhist treatise ‘Mahagovinda Suttanta’ accentuates that a new Kshatriya dynasty took possession of the kingdom after the war and helped restore its lost pride.

The Period of Nanda rule

The great Nanda King Mahapadma Nanda who is often referred as the first Shudra King of India was instrumental in founding the Nanda rule in the country with its capital in Magadh. He consequently defeated the ruling Kalinga Monarch to add it as a part of the Nanda Kingdom.

Although Kalinga lost her independence, she became economically prosperous under the Nanda rule. Mahapadmananda took great pains in developing extensive irrigation projects to eradicate famine condition in Kalinga. He encouraged trading with other countries and had used the Kalinga Coastlines for this purpose. Many pre-Mauryan black polished potteries and punch-marked coins having four symbols found Asurgarh in Kalahandi district and Sonepur in Bolangir district indicate the flourishing economic condition during the time of the Nanda rule. The invasion of Alexander, the great turned to be a turning point in the history of Nandas as Chandragupta Maurya took the opportunity in usurping the throne by overthrowing the last of the reining Nanda Kings. Taking advantage of the chaos that prevailed; Kalinga declared herself independent and tried to build her strength as an overseas power.

Kalinga under the Mauryan Rule

Ashoka,The Great Annexes Orissa

Ashoka,the Great was responsible for uniting the ancient Orissa

Chandragupta Maurya tried to annex the independent nation to his empire later but was repelled. Kalinga remained safe and flourishing during the rule of Bindusara who did not bother to disturb the neighbor. It was however in the year 261B.C. that Ashoka the great undertook one of the bloodiest wars in the history of mankind to annex Kalinga by defeating the reining king Raja Ananta Padmanabha. The war of Kalinga had over had 1, 00,000 men slain in the either side and led to the Daya river turn red with the blood of dead warriors.

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.

Asoka annexed the coastal region of Kalinga to his empire and gave up the idea of further conquest. He tried to conciliate the unconquered Atavika , the hilly up land lying to the west of Kalinga and desired to conquer their heart by love.