Orissa an ancient Indian kingdom, now a province of India, is situated near the head of the Bay of Bengal, on its north-western shore, a short distance south-west from Calcutta, and is bounded on the north by Bengal east by the Bay of Bengal, south by the country of the Telugus, and west by Nagopore. It is irregularly shaped, about 300 miles long, and 240 wide, and had in 1872 a population of 4,317,999. It is supposed that the province was anciently much larger than it is now, and that its sovereigns formerly sustained a rank much above that of most Hindu rajahs, and that it was numbered among the most powerful of the ancient Indian sovereignties.
Before the 6th century B.C., Orissa, Odra, or Ulkala, names whose very meaning is not yet fixed, must have been a land of swamps, lakes, and jungles, amid which few people cared to live. Its earliest dwellers appear to have been hill-tribes: and fishermen of the aboriginal non-Aryan stock, whose types are well preserved in the Savars and Khonds of the present day. At what time Aryan immigrants from Northern India settled in the country. it is not easy to say, but the rock inscriptions of a later Buddhist period date back to the middle of the 3d century B.C. The hills and wilds of Orissa abound in rock-hewn caves, shrines, and statues of Buddha, and the lonely dwelling-places of Buddhist monks have since been tenanted in their turn by worshippers and ascetics of the various Brahmanic schools that rose upon the ruins of the faith proclaimed by the semi-mythical Hindu reformer Sakya Muni, and were established by the Hindu Constantine Asoka. In Orissa the spread of Buddhism appears to synchronize curiously with the progress southward of the Yavanas, whose name at once suggests their identity with the Javan of Hebrew writ and the Ionian Greeks of history. There is no doubt, we think, with Dr. Hunter, who only follows up the clues furnished by former scholars, that the Yavanas who invaded Orissa in the 3d century, B.C. were chiefly descendants of the merin who under Alexander and his successors ruled Afghanistan and the Punjaub, whence they roved or were driven onwards into Behar, and down the Ganges to Orissa. One of Asoka's edicts carved on the rocks of the last- named country speaks of "Antvoko the Yona king," or, in other words, of Antiochus, the Yavan, or Ionia. It is well known that a Yavan dynasty ruled Orissa for 146 years, from the early part of the 4th century A.D., and that with its final overthrow in A.D. 473 fell the supremacy of that Buddhist faith which for more than seven centuries had supplanted the older Brahmanic systems. It is worth noting that a like revolution from Buddhism to Brahminism marks the downfall of yet later Yavan dynasties in Central and Southern India. In the buildings of the Buddhists and their religious heirs the Jains, traces of Greek art are unmistakably visible wherever Buddhism and the Yavanas once held sway; strongest in the Puisjaub, and gradually growing fainter on its way to the Orissa shore. From the remains of sculptures, inscriptions, etc., we may infer that the early civilization of Orissa was high. The temple of the sun at Kanarak — erected about the 12th century — exhibits carvings representing the planets, sculptured figures of animals, etc., which show that at that date the plastic and mechanical arts were in a more advanced state in that part of India than they are in England.
Orissa maintained its position as an independent monarchy till 1558, when, its royal line having become extinct, it was made an outlying province of the empire of the Great Mogul. On the breaking up of this empire, the more valuable portions of Orissa were seized by the nizam of Hydrabad. The French, who had taken possession of a part of the country long known as the Northern Circars, attempted to drive the English (who had also formed commercial settlements on the coast) out of India. The Mahrattas, who had seized a portion of Orissa in 1740, were forced to surrender it to the English in 1803. The soldiers of the East India Company were marched into Orissa at the opening of the present century, and an engagement was subsequently entered into between the company and the native chiefs and princes, by which the former bound themselves to perform certain services for the country (as maintaining the river-banks in good repair), while the latter engaged to pay a yearly tribute. Of the many principalities into which the country was divided, a large number got into arrears with the government, and the result was that numbers of the estates were sold, and the government, as a rule, became the purchaser. Much of the territory originally forming a portion of this kingdom thus fell into the hands of the British.
Orissa is divided into three civil districts, viz. Puru in the south, Cuttack in the center, and Balasore on the north. The sea-coast, which is the eastern part of the province, is level, and far more populous than the central and western divisions, which are mountainous and covered in many places with primeval forests, inhabited by wild beasts, or men almost as untamed and rude as they. The climate, soil, productions, animals, insects, birds, reptiles, and fish of Orissa are similar to those of Bengal and other adjacent portions of Hindostan lying near the tropic of Cancer. The villages, houses, food, clothing, dress, literature, and trades of the Orissans are also much like those of the Bengalese and the people of other large portions of India. The present population of Orissa is principally made up of Hindus, Mohammedans, Santals, and Bhumijas, the Hindus constituting by far the larger number. From its liability to inundation, the country is not much inhabited for three or four miles inland from the sea. Beyond this low tract the plains are sufficiently elevated for security, and are highly cultivated and densely peopled. Farther inland the country becomes mountainous, covered in part by forests, where are found the Oriyas, Gonds, Koles, Surahs, Santals, and Bhumijas. The Gonds or Khonds are believed to be the descendants of the aboriginal inhabitants of the country. This tribe occupied an area extending from north of the Mahanaddi, south to the banks of the Godavari. Their mountain haunts are admirably suited for defense, as the districts which they inhabit are almost inaccessible; and although they do not yet appear to have adopted fire-arms, they manage their battle-axes and bows and arrows with an adroitness and courage that make them formidable enemies. The Khonds are a totally distinct race from the inhabitants of the plains, and there is but little resemblance between them and the other hilltribes. SEE KHONDS. Some ethnologists claim the Santals to have been the aborigines of Orissa, but there does not seem to exist very good ground for such assertion. SEE SANTALS.
In Orissa, as elsewhere in India, the history of the people resolves itself for the most part into the history of their religion. As Buddhism faded away, successive forms of Vishnu and Siva worship took its place. Bhuvaneswar, with its 7000 shrines, now reduced to less than 600, attested the prevalence of Siva-worship under the long line of Kesari, or Lion-kings, who displaced the Yavanas. Thousands of high-caste Brahmins imported from Oude commended the new worship to their future countrymen. In the twelfth century the milder worship of Vishnu rose into the ascendant under a new line of kings, and about the same period architecture reached its zenith, producing one of its noblest masterpieces in the temple of the sun at Kanarak. on the Orissa shore, In the holy city of Piri, sacred to Vishnu under his title of Jagannath, the Lord of the World, these and other religions find their common meeting place. "The fetichism and bloody rites of the aboriginal races, the mild flower-worship of the Bedas, and every compromise between the two, along with the lofty spiritualities of the great Indian reformers, have here found refuge." Once every year the holy city of Puri is the attraction to the poor, ignorant natives, drawn thither simply by a superstitious veneration, which formerly cost the lives of millions. The humane policy of the British. has largely done away with human sacrifices in every form. But though the car of Jaggernaut (q.v.) no longer crushes out the lives of thousands, and the Meriah ( SEE KHONDS, Religious Rites and Sacrifices) victims are saved from a horrible death, thousands yet fall a prey to an impure atmosphere and unwholesome food to which the 90,000 pilgrims are subject while they are packed for weeks together into 5000 small lodging-houses of two or three windowless cells each, in the very height of India's rainy season, with a temperature ranging from 90 to 1050 in the shade, in streets and alleys innocent of drainage, and fed for the most part on ill-cooked compounds of putrefying rice. And if any escape all this uninjured, they are sure to be further tried in their homeward journeys — oftentimes hundreds of miles long — through the pouring rain, sleeping many of them on the grass or mud, and consequently dying of exposure in numbers by the way, or carrying home with them the seeds of life-long suffering. It is reckoned that at least 10,000 people perish every year in Puri or on the way, and the number was far greater some years. ago, before the government took measures to alleviate the worst horrors of this deadly pilgrimage.
The natives of Orissa, composed, as we have seen, of different tribes, of course do not all speak in one tongue, but though there are a score or more of dialects, there are only three principal vernacular languages spoken by the Orissans.
1. The Oriya, one of the Hindui family of languages, derived principally from the Sanscrit. This is spoken by the greater part of the Hindu population.
2. The Hindostani, derived principally from the Arabic and Persian, and spoken by the Mohammedans.
3. The Sanital, with which may be classed the Bhumija, they both being dialects of the same language. The Oriya contains many religious and iterary works, some translated from the Sanscrit, and others original. Most of the religious books are poetical, and some of them possess a great degree of literary merit.
Missionary Labors. — Thus far comparatively little has been effected for Christianizing the natives of Orissa. The districts of Paru and Cuttack are occupied by the English General Baptist missionaries, who began labors there in 1821. Although they had to wait six years for their first convert, many followed, and this mission is now in a flourishing condition. It has furnished many native teachers and preachers. In 1888 there were 18 stations, with 9 ordained and 8 unordained foreign workers, and 22 ordained and 12 unordained native workers; 3816 adherents, 1344 communicants, and 25 schools with 1330 scholars. A carefully executed version of the Bible into the Oriya tongue was prepared by Mr. Sutton, one of the missionaries. He also prepared a dictionary and a grammar. The district of Balasore is the site of the Free-will Baptist mission. This district lies on the west side of the Bay of Bengal. It is about eighty miles long, and on an average thirty or forty miles wide, and contains about 500,000 inhabitants. On its northern boundary lies a considerable tract belonging to the province of Bengal, which is inhabited by Oriyas. The Free-will Baptists began their labors in 1835, and now employ there 10 missionaries, 22 native preachers, 5 churches with 654 members, and several well- conducted schools. See Bacheler, Hinduism and Christianity in Orissa; Sterling, Orissa; Sutton, Narrative of the Orissa Mission: Hunter, Orissa under Native aind British Rule (1872, 2 vols. -12mo); Newcomb, Cyclop, of Missions, s.v.; Chambers, Cyclop. s.v.; Aikman, Cyclop. of Christian Missions, p. 158, 339; Brit. Qu. Rev. July, 1872, p.120 sq.