History writing is impossible without sources, as they are critical. Without sources, history becomes literature or something else. The historical sources serve as a scientific and rational foundation for history writing. There are numerous gaps in the history of ancient Odisha. Due to the availability of new source materials, previously held beliefs have been altered and history has been reconstructed using the newly discovered facts. Similarly, numerous missing links in Odisha’s history have been established as a result of the discovery of new source materials. Thus, sources are at the heart and soul of any state’s history.
Odisha’s history is based on a variety of available sources. There are numerous sources, such as literary sources, foreign accounts, inscriptions, coins, material remains, and Madala Panji, that assist us in writing the history of Odisha.
We can discuss the sources of Ancient History of Odisha as follows:
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.
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 CE 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 CE make reference to Kalinga. Among the authentic historical works relating to ancient Odisha, Vakpatiraja’s Gaudavaho deserves mention (cir. 725 CE). 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 CE by Satananda Acharya shed light on socioeconomic issues. Vidyadhara’s Alankar work “Ekavali,” composed in the 13th century CE, 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 CE) 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.
Foreign accounts also provide an excellent account of information ancient Kalinga. The Greek historians Pilny, Diodorus, Curtius, and Plutarch all made reference to the Kalinga people. Megasthenes makes reference to the Regia Gangaridum Calingarum (Gangetic Kalinga Region). Pliny classifies Kalinga as Gangarides (Gangetic), Maceo (Middle), and Calingae (Kalinga). The anonymous Greek sailor’s book “The Peri plus of the Erythrean sea” also contains information about Kalinga. Ptolemy, the Greek geographer (2nd century CE), describes the Kalinga ports. His reference to a people called ‘Oretes’ who lived near the mount ‘Maleus’ is significant because the former is associated with Odras, whereas the latter is associated with Malaya.
Among the foreign accounts, the most valuable is that of the Chinese pilgrim Hiuen Tsang, who visited Odisha in 638-39 AD. His writings have been made available to us in the form of T. Watters’ ‘On Yuan Chwang’s Travels’, Hwuie’s ‘Life of Hiuen Tsang’, and ‘Records of the Buddhist World’. These are priceless sources of reliable information. lTsing’s ‘Records of the Buddhistic Religions as Practiced in India and the Malay Archipelago’ is also extremely useful. Gerini’s ‘Researches on Ptolemy’ and Tibetan historian Lama Taranath’s history both contain important information about Odisha’s ancient period.
Inscriptions have a significant impact on the shaping of Odisha’s history. From inscriptions, we learn about place names, territorial boundaries, religion, administrative units, land grants, and the social and economic conditions of the people of Odisha. These inscriptions have been extremely useful in reconstructing Odisha’s political, social, economic, and religious history.
Inscriptions are found in a variety of styles and locations throughout Odisha. The pictographs depict the earliest inscriptions found in Odisha. Numerous pictographs have been discovered in rock shelters in the Sundargarh, Sarnbalpur, and Kalahandi districts. The Vikramkhol, Yogimath, and Gudahandi rock art sites are all classic examples of this type of writing. The inscriptions and signs on these shelters remain untranslated. Despite this, these early signs and pictographs expressed the thoughts of men living in Odisha during the prehistoric period. Not only on cave walls, but also on copper plates, stone pieces, and temple walls, inscriptions are prevalent in Odisha. Two sets of Asokan stone edicts (separate Kalinga edicts discovered at Dhauli and Jaugada) are the earliest pre-Christian epigraphs that shed light on Asoka’s administrative organisation in Kalinga. The Hatigumpha inscription of Kharavela is the first of its kind in the entire country. It sheds light on Kharavela’s accomplishments over the course of his thirteen-year reign. The inscription, written in Brahmi script and in the Prakrit language, has attracted the attention of scholars from across the country due to its uniqueness.
By contrast, the Sanskrit language was extensively used in other inscriptions. The Bhadra inscription of Maharaja Gana (3rd century CE), the Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta (4th century CE), Satrubhanja’s (4th century CE) Asanapat stone inscription, the Ningond grant of Mathara ruler Prabhanjanavarman (5th century CE), the Rithapur grant of Nala ruler Nandivardhana (5th century CE), the Nar Similarly, the inscriptions discovered in Kanasa, Sumandala, Tekhali, and Ganjam depict the Sailodbhava rulers’ accomplishments.
The Bhaumakaras’ inscriptions
The Bhaumakara inscriptions contain a wealth of information that aids in the reconstruction of Odisha’s history. This is because the Bhauma-Karas rule (8th-9th centuries CE) represents a glorious epoch in Odishan history. The Talcher copper plate of Sivakaradeva-I, the Hindol copper plate of Subhakaradeva-I, the Terundia copper plate of Subhakaradeva-l, the Dhenkanal copper plate of Tribhubana Mahadevi-I, and several other Bhauma copper plates shed significant light on the Bhaumas’ territorial expansion, administration, religion, and grant of land to others, among other things.
The Somavamsi rulers’ inscriptions
We learn about territorial expansion, state division, administration, and religion, among other things, from the inscriptions of the Somavamsis, who ruled from the ninth to the eleventh centuries CE The Bonda copper plate of Tivaradeva, the Adhavara copper plate of Mahanannararaja, the Patna, Kalibhana, and other inscriptions of Janamejaya, the Cuttack, Nibinna, and Patna copper plates, and the Kalanjar and Sirpur stone inscriptions of Yayati-I, as well as several other inscriptions, all provide information about the Sonavamsi rule.
Additional significant inscriptions
The Gangas’ four-hundred-year glorious reign brought stability to Odisha politics. The Korni, Nagari, Draksharam, Chinnabadamu, Simhachalam, and Choudwar inscriptions, among others, inform scholars about the accomplishments of Ganga rulers. Similarly, the inscriptions at Lingaraj temple, Velagalani, Srisailam, Velicherla, and Simhachalam detail the achievements of the Gajapati rulers.
Thus, inscriptions are a significant source of information for reconstructing Odisha’s history. Indeed, these are frequently the only sources of information available for reconstructing history. Their value stems from the fact that they are authentic government records issued under the seal and authority of kings that are unaffected by interpolation, exaggeration, or distortion. It is true that without epigraphy, no original contribution to Odishan historiography is possible.
Coins as Sources of Ancient History of Odisha
Coins are critical in the formation of a nation’s history. Numismatics is the study of coins. Coins aid in reconstructing the people’s economic lives, trade and commerce, religion, and metallurgy, among other things. Coins in Odisha can be classified as punch-marked, Puri-Kushana, Gupta gold, Nala and Sarbhapuriya, Srinanda, Kalachuri, and Nagas, Ganga fanams, and possibly Gajapati Pagoda.
The earliest coins found in Odisha are punch-marked coins from the fourth century B.C. to the fourth century CE These coins were plentiful in coastal eastern Odisha. These coins were made of silver and copper and were shaped and sized irregularly. These coins featured punched images of the sun, animals, birds, trees, and humans, as well as geometrical designs. These coins may very well provide insight into Odisha’s ancient economy.
Coins of Puri-Kushana
Kushana coins and their imitations, dubbed Puri-Kushana coins, have been discovered in large quantities scattered throughout Odisha, from Mayurbhanj to Ganjam. These coins circulated in Odisha for approximately three centuries during the Christian era.
Coins of the Gupta
Samudragupta’s occupation of some parts of Odisha brought Odisha into contact with the Gupta empire. Gold coins of the Gupta archer type have been discovered in Bhanapur, Khiching, and Angul. These coins demonstrate that Odisha’s trade and commerce were undoubtedly associated with the Gupta empire.
The Nala coins of Odisha’s western region
The Nala coins found in western Odisha shed light on the 5th-6th century AD Nala rule in South Kosala. The unique feature of these Nala coins is that the reverse is blank, while the obverse depicts a humped bull with a crescent and the king’s name in box headed script. The Nala coins have aided in the reconstruction of the Nalas’ history. Even now, Nalas coins continue to be discovered on a regular basis.
Other significant coins
Apart from the coins mentioned above, we have discovered numerous other coins that have shaped Odisha’s history. The gold coins of the Sarbhapuriyas have been instrumental in reconstructing the dynasty’s history. The coins of Prasannamatra, Mahendraditya, and Kramaditya aid significantly in reconstructing the dynasty’s genealogy and chronology. The discovery of these coins in Chatishgarh, western Odisha, and Cuttack indicates that a trade route existed between Chhatisgarh and Cuttack via western Odisha. The Srinanda coins were discovered in Soro. He ruled the Chhatisgarh region in the sixth century CE.
A Somavamsi gold coin (dating from the ninth to eleventh centuries CE.) bearing the image of GajaLaxmi was discovered in Junagarh. The Kalachuris (10th-14th centuries CE.) of Western Odisha minted a variety of coins in gold, silver, and copper. These coins were discovered in the Sonepur, Khurda, and Jonk river valleys and contain information about Ratnadeva, Prithvideva, and Gangeyadeva. Gold coins were also issued by Chhindika Nagas (Bastar-Koraput region). They ruled over Sonepur in the 12th century AD, as evidenced by their coins. Additionally, the discovery of Padmatankas (coins depicting a lotus with eight petals at the centre) has given Odishan numismatics a new dimension. These coins are Jadavas from Devagiri. Their rule in Odisha, on the other hand, is in doubt.
Odishan coins underwent a transformation following the arrival of the Ganga rulers. The Ganga kings minted the small gold coins known as fanams. These fanams have been discovered in the districts of Angul, Cuttack, and Sonepur. These coins are influenced by South Indian culture. In Karnataka, some gold coins have been discovered. Additionally, these coins are referred to as Gajapati Pagoda. These coins circulated between the 13th and 15th centuries AD. Assigning these coins to the Suryvamsi Gajapati rulers is extremely difficult. However, the coins have been instrumental in reconstructing Odisha’s history.
Archaeological discoveries or material remains provide a wealth of information about Odisha’s ancient history.
Prehistoric knowledge derived from material remains
In 1875, Valentine Bali’s explorations at Angul, Talcher, Dhenkanal, and Bursapalli uncovered Odisha’s prehistoric sites. The famous palaeolithic site at Kulina was discovered by Paramananda Acharya of Mayurbhanj and C. Worman of Harvard University. R.P. Chanda’s research on Mayurbhanj and G.C. Mahapatra’s discovery of numerous palaeolithic sites in Central and Northern Odisha are significant contributions to the state’s early history. The discovery of Asokan rock art at Dhauli, as well as his edicts at Dhauli and Jaugada, shed significant light on the third-century B.C. Kalingan history. Jaugada was another fortified city that served the administration of Asoka.
Sources of information gleaned from ASI and other excavations
In 1949, a new chapter in Odisha’s history began with B.B. Lal’s excavation at Sisupalgarh. Fortifications with impressive gateways led historians to associate it with Kalinganagari, which is assumed to be Kharavela’s capital city. Khandagiri and Udayagiri’s art and architecture added another dimension to the history of ancient Odisha. Additionally, R.K. Moanty and Monica L. Smith excavated the site of Sisupalgarh several times, revealing material remains that provide insight into the socioeconomic life of the people of then-Odisha. The excavations at Manikpatna and Golbai provide information about the maritime activities of the Odisha people as well as their social and economic lives. K.K. Basa’s recent excavations at Harirajpur and other locations have uncovered numerous previously unknown facets of Odisha’s ancient history.
Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, and Lalitgiri Excavations
Devala Mitra’s extensive excavations at Ratnagiri revealed the imposing Buddhist monasteries and stupas with the fabled Nagabandha. Between the fifth and thirteenth centuries CE, it flourished as a centre of Buddhist religion, art, and architecture. Two additional Buddhist sites, Udayagiri and Lalitgiri near Ratnagiri, preserve Buddhist and Hindu religious relics. Sri Madhavapura Mahavihara and Simhaprastha Mahavihara were located in Udayagiri between the 7th and 8th centuries CE Lalitgiri is a well-known Buddhist site with stupas, monasteries, Buddha images, three Buddhist relics, and images of Brahmanic divinities. Additionally, Ratnagiri, Udayagiri, and Lalitgiri yielded archaeological relics relating to Brahmanic religion, pottery, terracotta plaques, iron implements, animal and mother goddess figurines. These three locations are also referred to as Odisha’s ‘Diamond Triangle’ of history and archaeology. Each of the three sites contained a significant amount of material remains such as pottery, terracotta plaques, iron implements, household articles, and figurines of mother goddesses and animals, which provides insight into Buddhism’s dominance in that region.
Western Odisha’s material remains
Material relics have also been instrumental in elucidating the history of Western Odisha. Numerous temples are located within the Ranipur Jhanal temple complex in Bo1angr. The 64-Yogini and Somesvara Siva temples are the most important. Around the seventh or eighth centuries CE, the site developed. The material remains unearthed during excavations at Boudh, Maraguda (also known as Jonk) valley, Sonepur, Amathgarh, Kharligarh, and Manikgarh, among others, have shed significant light on Western Odisha’s history. Partial excavations in several of them have uncovered structures and icons attributed to the Nalas (circa 350-500 CE) and Sarabhapuriyas (Cir. 500-700 CE). Podagarh (Navarangpur district), the capital town of the Nalas, also contains a significant number of relics scattered across a large area.
Material Remains from Odisha’s southern and south-western regions
Odisha’s southern and south-western regions have produced a few Pidha or Bhadra deulas (temples). The best examples of this type are the Gokarnesvara group on Mahendra mountain in Gajapati district and the Nilakantthesvara group on Jagamunda hill in Rayagada district. Sundara Mahadeva’s presence on the banks of the river Rusikulya has provided an opportunity to study the origins of this cult, which developed during the reign of Purusottamadeva of the Gajapati dynasty.
On the other hand, Odisha’s temples serve as a repository of information for reconstructing the state’s history. The Sikhara or rekha (curvilinear) style of architecture, also known as Kalingan style, developed in Bhubaneswar in the 6th 7th centuries CE The Laxmanesvara, Bharatesvara, and Satrughnesvara temple groups represent the earliest phase of Odisha’s temple architecture. The Parsuramesvara group evolved into the ornate Muktesvara found in Lingaraja, Jagannatha, and Konarka. The Lingaraj, Jagannath, and Konarka temples epitomised the Kalingan architectural style. In comparison to other temples in Odisha, the Black Pagoda represented the pinnacle of temple architecture and iconography. Together with other temples such as the Ganesh temple in Panchama, the Biranchi-Narayan temple in Palia, and the Samalesvari temple in Sambalpur, these temples shed light on Saivism, Vaishnavism, Saktism, Ganapatya Cult, and Sun worship, among others. As a result, the material remains have been used effectively to reconstruct the history of ancient Odisha.
Madala Panji is the temple chronicle of Lord Jagannatha. It recounts Odisha’s historical events involving Lord Jagannath or the Jagannath Temple. Though the exact date of Panjis’ inception is unknown, it is believed to have begun in the 12th or 14th centuries AD. The book is a literary classic and literary masterwork of the Oriya language on a par with which very few Indian vernaculars can compete. It is comparable to Sri Lanka’s Rajvansham, Kashmir’s Rajtarangini, and Assam’s Burunji. Prose was first used in the Madala Panji or Palm-leaf Chronicles of the Jagannatha temple in Puri in the 12th century.
Madalapanji’s significance in Odisha’s history
According to some historians, Madalapanji shaped Odisha’s history. When historians such as Sir W.W.Hunter and Andrew Stirling wrote Oriya history, they used the facts contained in Madala Panji as a starting point. Traditionally, the Madala Panji was written on a year-by-year basis. On Vijaya-Dashami, the Karanas (official historians of Puri, an Odisha caste) are responsible for maintaining the chronicle. This ritual is cited as evidence that the tradition of maintaining this chronicle dates all the way back to Oriya king Anantavarman Chodaganga Dev. The Madalapanji is said to have been destroyed by Muslim invaders, including the so-called Kalapahara, but the storey was rewritten in a way that blended legend and history. However, some historians reject Madalapanji as a source for writing Odisha’s history, claiming that it is merely a work of eulogy.
Thus, the Madalapanji, the Puri temple’s temple chronicle, preserves a number of traditions concerning the Kesaris (Somavamsis), the Imperial Gangas, the Suryavamsi Gajapatis, and the Bhois of Khurdha. This is because the palm-leaf records are tied together in large round bundles resembling the Indian drum (Madala). Although some historians regard it as “nothing more than a jumble of legends,” others believe it possesses. “certain historical substratum.” Apart from records pertaining to Jagannath temple, it contains historical information, some of which shed light on the Ganga-Gajapati-Bhoi era. It is also available in Sanskrit and Telugu under the titles “Katakarajavamsavali” and “Jagannatham.Kaifiyat”.
The sources cited above contribute significantly to the reconstruction of Odisha’s history.
Sources and References
1. History of Odisha Vol-I by Dr Manas Kumar Das
2. History of Odisha Vol-II by Dr Manas Kumar Das
3. History of Odisha Vol-III by Dr Manas Kumar Das
4. History of Odisha Sahu, Sahu, Mishra
5. History of Odisha Vol-I by Y.K. Sahu
6. History of Odisha Vol-II by Y.K. Sahu
7. History of Odisha by RD Banerjee
8. Odishara Itihasa by Satyanarayan Rajguru