Hinduism Odisha
Jyotirmaya Tripathy, Uwe Skoda
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399318-0273


Located on the country’s Eastern seaboard, the Indian state of Odisha has been known as Kalinga, Utkal, and Odra (or Orissa, as it was known up until 2011). Carved out of a larger Odia-speaking region of India, it came into existence as a separate linguistic province in 1936. The name Odisha traces its roots to Odra, an ancient kingdom in the northern part of the state. It is mentioned in Sarala Das’s Mahābhārata, which was composed during the reign of Gajapati king Kapilendra Deva in the fifteenth century. While Kapilendra called his kingdom Odisha Rajya, references to Kalinga can be found in Vyasa’s Mahābhārata and later in various Puranas. Though Kalinga’s border altered over time, Odisha remains the most culturally representative part of that empire, which extended to Odia-speaking areas of present-day Bengal, Jharkhand, and Andhra Pradesh. Ancient Kalinga lost its freedom first to the Magadha king Maha Padma Nanda in the 4th century BCE and later to Maurya king Ashoka in 261 BCE in the Kalinga war. However, by the 1st century BCE, Kalinga gained independence and became a powerful empire under Kharavela, who assumed the title “Chakravarti.” As Kalinga’s power waned, its territory shrank to the area between the Kapisha River (in West Bengal) and the Godavari, and later from the Mahanadi to the Godavari. While the kingdoms differed in shape, the major dynasties that ruled dominant parts of Kalinga were Sailodbhava (6th to 8th century CE), Bhaumakara (8th to 10th century CE), Keshari (late 9th to early 11th century CE), Eastern Ganga (11th to 15th century CE), and the Suryavamsi Gajapati kings (15th and 16th centuries CE). After being ruled for a brief period by the Bhoi dynasty, Odisha came under the rule of the Afghans and then the Mughals in the late 16th century, followed by the Marathas in the 18th century and the British in the early 19th century. It has thirty districts, with Bhubaneswar as its capital—the largest city, the seat of government, and itself an ancient center of religion. The state is predominantly Hindu but has a sizeable Muslim and Christian population as well as some distinct indigenous communities. It is also home to adherents to faiths such as Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and practitioners of other indigenous forms of religion such as Mahima.

Jainism in Odisha

There is no accurate information as to when Vedic Hindu culture came to Odisha. It can be safely stated that Hinduism was present before Ashoka’s invasion, though sections of late Vedic literature (particularly Baudhayana sutras) and Puranas referred to Kalinga as an impure country, as elaborated by Banerji 2006 and iterated by Panigrahi 1981 with more details. The people of Kalinga were worshippers of Hindu gods and goddesses, although Buddhism and Jainism gained significant traction among people under Ashoka and Kharavela. With all probability, Odisha was home to Jainism even before Mahavira. As Sahu 1960 states and Rath 1991 confirms, Parsvanath had a following in Odisha, and Mahavira’s connection with Odisha can be found in the Jain text Harivamsa Purana. In folklore, Lord Jagannath is also seen as Jain or Jina devata or Jinanatha (Mohapatra 1984). It was Kharavela who established Jainism as state religion in the 1st century BCE, patronized Jain monks and built decorated caves in Khandagiri and Udaygiri hills in Bhubaneswar to provide them accommodation. After Kharavela, Jainism lost royal patronage and had to compete with Buddhism and a resurgent Hinduism. Combined with fractures within Jainism, this led to its waning after the 1st century CE. Rath 1991 has painstakingly shown how many dynasties and kings afterward were tolerant of Jainism, though they did not belong to the faith. Hiuen Tsang mentions how Jainism was popular in the 7th century CE in the Kongoda region and was encouraged by Sailodbhava and Somavamsi kings. Shaivites did not have an antagonistic relationship with Jains and in fact carved Jain images on temples as in Mukteswara temple in Bhubaneswar and Jagannath temple in Baripada. Somavasi kings, who were Shaivites, patronized Jainism and built Jain shelters at Khandagiri. Odisha abounds in Jain architectural wonders, the most important ones in Khandagiri and Udayagiri, which boast of caves and shelters starting from the 2nd century BCE and even earlier. As elaborated in Ramachandran and Jain 1988, Mohanty 1993, and Leoshko 2010, carvings around the caves carry Jain legends, mythology, and iconography.

  • Banerji, R. D. History of Orissa: From the Earliest Times to the British Period. Cuttack, India: New Age Publications, 2006.

    Originally published in 1930, it is perhaps the most authoritative book on Odisha’s history. It uses archeological evidence to trace the evolution of Odisha through the ages, dynasties, and religious practices. The book starts with descriptions of the state’s geography, people, and languages from ancient times and ends with early British administration and the domination of Bengalis in Odisha.

  • Das, H. C. Jaina Art in Odisha. New Delhi: Pratibha Prakashan, 2016.

    The book offers a detailed account of Jaina art and architecture starting from Kharavela’s period until the 12th century.

  • Leoshko, Janice. “Artfully Carved: Udayagiri/Khandagiri in Orissa.” Artibus Asiae 70.1 (2010): 7–24.

    An interesting analysis of images and motifs in the Jain caves and the way they interacted with one another. It offers detailed description of some of the reliefs by bringing images and their narratives together.

  • Mohanty, Brajamohan, ed. Ekamra Kshetra. Cuttack, India: Orissa Book Store, 1993.

    This is a voluminous anthology written in Odia comprising contributions from eminent scholars on Bhubaneswar’s religious and cultural history. The book covers almost every religious, architectural, and cultural practice that establish Bhubaneswar’s antiquity.

  • Mohapatra, R. P. Jaina Monuments of Orissa. Delhi: D.K. Publications, 1984.

    This is a refreshing intervention that takes the study of Jaina sculpture and architecture beyond the Udayagiri caves of Bhubaneswar and in the process shows how Jaina art had a continuous development alongside the evolution of Odia art and architecture in general.

  • Panigrahi, K. C. History of Orissa. Cuttack, India: Kitab Mahal, 1981.

    The book undertakes a detailed study of Odisha, covering the ancient and medieval periods and ending with Muslim occupation. It also contains very informative chapters on the administrative, literary, architectural, and maritime history of Odisha.

  • Ramachandran, T. N., and Chhotelal Jain. Khandagiri-Udayagiri Caves. Calcutta: Shri Bengal, Bihar, Orissa Digambar Jain Tirtha-Kshetra Committee, 1988.

    This is a fascinating and detailed account of the caves, inscriptions, and carvings. Hati Gumpha and Rani Gumpha are described with utmost care and detail.

  • Rath, A. K. “A Note on the Relation of Parsvanatha and Mahavira with Kalinga.” Proceedings of the Indian History Congress 39.1 (1978): 131–141.

    Borrowing from Jain texts, this important intervention provides the details of the visits by the Tirthankaras to Kalinga and their relation with various kings. It also narrates how Mahavira came in contact with Gosala, who later would become an Ajivika teacher.

  • Rath, Ashok Kumar. Jaina Dharma O Sanskruti. Berhampur, India: Taratarini Pustakalaya, 1991.

    Written in Odia, the book takes us through Jain religious practices advocated by various Tirthankaras and how it influenced Odisha’s politics, art, and folk narratives.

  • Routray, Sailen. “Refocussing on Regions in South Asia: A Review Article on Orissa.” Contemporary Perspectives 2.2 (2008): 360–371.

    DOI: 10.1177/223080750800200209

    The paper offers a nuanced theoretical understanding of regional scholarship by focusing on Odisha, whose boundedness had always been socially contingent due to its peculiar location as a bridge between the North and the South, as well as its political marginality combined with scholarly neglect.

  • Sahu, Lakshmi Narayan. Odisha O Jaina Dharma. Jeypore, India: Bikash Press, 1960.

    This is a genre-defying book and is part history and part legend. Despite being a slender volume, its scope is enormous and draws upon festivals, religious practices, and popular beliefs, as well as archeological evidence, to build a narrative of Odisha as a Jain land.

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