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"Orissa": Genesis and evolution of the word

Pliny:The ancient historian made references about Orissa

The word Orissa owes its origin to the most ancient inhabiting tribe of the region, “The Odra”. Both Pali and Sanskrit Literatures mention the Odra people as Oddaka and Odrah, respectively. Greek writers like Pliny and Ptolemy described the Odra people as Oretes. Similarly, references about this tribe are found in the epic of Mahabharat where the Odras are mentioned along with the Paundras, Utkals, Mekalas, Kalingas and Andhras. The location of the Odra territory finds mention in the Natural History of Pliny where it is said that the Oretes inhabited the country where stood the Mount Maleus. The Greek Oretes is probably the Sanskrit Odra and the Mount Maleus has been identified with Malayagiri near Pala Lahara. Pliny associates the Mount Maleus with the people called Monedes and Sharis who were probably the Mundas and the Savaras respectively inhabiting the upland regions of Orissa.

The ancient province of Odra desa or Or-desa was limited to the valley of the Mahanadi and to the lower course of the Subarnarekha River. It comprised the whole of the present districts of Cuttack and Sambalpur and a portion of Midnapore. It was bounded on the West by Gondwana, on the North by the wild hill states of Jashpur and Singhbhum, on the East by the sea and on the South by Ganjam.

Alberuni called Orissa "Udra Vishau"The Muslim geographer lbn Khurdadhbin who wrote his geography in 846 AD refers to a territory called Ursfin which is identified by the Russian scholar V. Minorsky with Odra Desa. Alberuni has referred to a territory called Udra Vishau located 50 forsakhs towards the sea in the south from the Tree of Prayaga. Fifty forsakhs is equal to about 200 miles or 321.86 km. So Udra Vishau may be the same as Odra Desa. Other Muslim chroniclers like Tabaquat-I-Nasiri, Tabaquat-I-Akbari, Riyadus-Salatin, Tarkh-I-Firuzsahi, refer to the then Orissa as Jajnagar, most probably after the capital Yayatinaga or Jajatinagar. This was the period of the Ganga empire when Jajatinagar(modern Jagati on the Mahanadi) was the capital. It was King Anangabhimadeva III who transferred the capital from Jajatinagar to Baranasi Kataka. Still the Muslim chroniclers continued with their parlance of calling the region, Jajnagar. However the term Udisa came into widespread reference with Shams-I-Seraj-Afif, who called this territory as “Jajnagar-Udisa having its capital city Banaras on the right bank of the Mahanadi.” The word ‘Udisa’ added to Jajnagar was in fact a developed form of the word Ursfin or Urshin used by earlier Muslim writers of the 9th and 10th centuries A.D.

Interestingly the word used to refer Orissa by the Buddhist has been Odivisa or Udivisa from the very beginning. Buddhism having developed in the region at a time when the Odra tribes ruled the roost, it’s not difficult to infer why or as to how the Word retained its ancient touché. In the Tantric literature of the mediaeval period the word Udisa has been frequently used. Even in Tantrasara, Lord Jagannath has been referred to as Udisanatha. Poet Sarala Das mentions both the words Odra Rastra and Odisa in his famous treatise Mahabharata while Gajapati Kapileswaradeva (1435 – 1467 AD) in his proclamation inscribed on the temple walls of Jagannath calls his territory as Odisa Rajya. Thus from the 15 th century AD onward the land of the Oriya people was called Udisa or Odisa.