Literary sources contain a wealth of information for reconstructing a nation’s history, as literature is regarded as the mirror of society. Numerous works of literature speak of Odisha’s glory in various ways and at various times.
Kalinga and Odra are first mentioned in the Mahabharata. This land, its sacred river Vaitarani, and Goddess Viraja are all mentioned in the Mahabharata. The sage Lomasa advised the Pandavas in this epic to visit the river Vaitarani and take a holy dip in order to wash away their sins. On the other hand, the Ramayana refers to Kalinganagara, which is located west of the Gomati river, and to the Gandhamardana and Utkala, which are associated with the Mekala and Dasarna countries. Additionally, various Puranas such as the Vayu Purana, the Mastya Purana, the Bhagavata, the Harivamsa Purana, and the Vishnu Purana shed light on Kalinaga and Utkala, as well as legendary kings. Additionally, the Kapila Samhita and Prachi Mahatmya are regarded as sources of Odishan history.
According to Jaina sources
Kalinga and Utkala are described in Jaina literature. In ancient times, the people of Odisha were predominantly Jain and Buddhist. Thus, Jaina and Buddhist literature detail the people and culture of ancient Odisha. According to the Avasyaka Niryukti, Aranatha, the eighteenth Jaina Tirthankara, accomplished his first goal in the city of Rayapura, which was said to be Kalinga’s capital. Additionally, it describes how Mahavira was tortured by local people who mistook him for a thief while travelling through Tosali, and how he was rescued by the timely intervention of the Tosali-Kshatriyas. Additionally, it is a reference to the city of Dantapura. The Jaina Harivamsa provides a genealogy of the Chedis, identifying Abhichandra as the dynasty’s founder in Kosala.
Kalinga and Utkala are also mentioned in Buddhist literature. Additionally, Buddhist literature reflects ancient Odisha’s history. The Digha Nikaya’s Mahagovinda Suttanta mentions ‘Kalinga-rattha’ (Kalinga Rashtra) and its capital Dantapura. Majjhima Nikaya’s ‘Upalisutta’ describes how King Nalikira of Kalinga died as a result of his mistreatment of some innocent ascetics. Kalinga and Utkala appear in the Kurudharma Jataka, the Vessantara Jataka, the Kumbhakara Jataka, and the Kalinga Bodhi Jataka, among others.
Utkala and Kallhga are also discussed in the Mahaparinirvana Sutta, Dathavemsa, Dighanikaya, and Mahavastu. Kurudharma, Kalinga Bodhi, and Sarabhanga, among others, contain information about Odisha. The Majjim Nikaya and Mahabhagga both describe the meeting between Lord Buddha and two merchants from Utkala, Tapassu and Bhallika. According to a Buddhist work titled Gandavyuha, Tosala was a prosperous kingdom in Kalinga in the third century A.D. The two Buddhist works, the Dipavamsa and Mahavamsa, make reference to the friendly relationship between Kalinga and Ceylon. The Chulavamsa also depicts the king of Kalinga’s frequent visits to Ceylon.
Additional significant ancient literature
Kautilya’s Arthasastra, written in the fourth century B.C., is a standard treatise on polity and statecraft that influenced Kalinga’s political organisations. Among other works, legal texts such as the Smritis of Manu, Narada, Brhaspati, Katyayana, Yajnavalkya, and Kamandaka have shaped Odisha’s political systems. On the other hand, the Brihat Samhita of Varahamihira, Panini’s Astadhyayi, and Vatsyana’s Kamasutra shed welcome light on the ancient Odisha’s socio-religious and economic conditions.
The kalinga is described as an impure country in the Baudhayana Dharmasastra. Kosala, Tosala, and Kalinga are depicted as the southern countries in Bharat’s Natyasastra. Kalidasa’s Raghuvmasam recounts the history of Kalinga and Utkala. The king of Kalinga is mentioned in Banabhattas’ Harshacharita. Harshavardhan’s Ratnavali also includes a reference to Kalinga. Additionally, post-Sangam literatures such as Silpadikaram and Manimekalai from the second century A.D. make reference to Kalinga. Among the authentic historical works relating to ancient Odisha, Vakpatiraja’s Gaudavaho deserves mention (cir. 725 A.D.). This book details Yasovarman of Kanauj’s conquests.
Literary sources from the Ganga era
The Ganga literature is an excellent source of information about Odisha’s socio-religious and economic history. The Ganga period also saw the development of Sanskrit literature, as evidenced by Murari’s Anargharaghava Natakam, which was performed in Puri during Lord Jagannath’s Car festival. Sri Harsha’s Naishad Charita Mahakavyam discusses the use of cowrie cells as currency in mediaeval Odisha, the chewing of betel by the Odia people, and Jagannatha’s procession from the temple to the platform (mancha) on Jeyestha’s fullmoon day. On the other hand, two astrological treatises, ‘Bhasvati’ and ‘Satananda Ratnamala’, as well as a legal text, ‘Satananda Samgraha’, written in the latter half of the 11th century A.D. by Satananda Acharya shed light on socioeconomic issues. Vidyadhara’s Alankar work “Ekavali,” composed in the 13th century A.D., describes the Ganga Emperor Narasimhadeva’s encounters with the Sultans of Delhi and Bengal. Visvanatha Kaviraja, author of the renowned ‘Sahitya Darpana,’ wrote ‘Chandrakala Nataka,’ which alludes to his patron Gajapati Nisanka Bhanudeva or Bhanu IV’s (1407-37 A.D.) military victories over the Sultan of Bengal. The Chandrakala Natika is an outstanding work from the Ganga period. The magnificent work of Jayadeva’s Gitagovindam was one of the masterpieces of Vaishnava literature during the Ganga period.
Thus, ancient literature provides a wealth of information about the social, political, economic, religious, and cultural life of ancient Odisha’s people.