Orissa, the lush green state, girdled by the Bay of Bengal, lies along the eastern seaboard of India. It has seen some of the best fusion of traditional Indian art in its many temples and monuments, and has been able to preserve much of it, in an environment natural to its wonder and attractions. It was in Orissa, that Buddhism found some of its strongest exposure, and cult following. However, it was Hindu art that dominated the landscape, eventually, and resulted in the profusion of temple traditions, that have endured till now.
Heavily forested, and isolated, Orissa was once famous for its majestic battle elephants. But life in Orissa revolved around temples and that the Oriyas, the people of Orissa, lived lives free of strife is evident from the fact that the state has few forts or fortified palaces to its credit, indicative of centuries of peace and harmony. Although known throughout the ancient world as a formidable maritime empire with trading routes stretching to Bali, Sumatra and Java, the history of Orissa, then called Kalinga, is a little hazy until the demise of the Kalinga dynasty in 260 BC. Kalinga was conquered by Ashoka, the Mauryan Emperor, in a bloody battle. Shocked at the carnage Ashoka foreswore violence and converted to Buddhism. Around the 1st century BC, under the rule of the Chedis, Buddhism declined and Jainism was restored as the faith of the people. Monastery caves were created and Udayagiri and Khandagiri became important Jain centres. By the 7th century AD Hinduism had, in turn supplanted Jainism and under the Kesari and Ganga kings, trades and commerce flourished. Countless temples from that classical period stand today. The Oriyas defied the Muslim rulers until the region fell to the Mughals in the 16th century. Since then Orissa was successively ruled by the Afghans, Marathas and the British.
Orissa is predominantly rural, with fertile green coastal plains rising to the hills of the Eastern Ghats. The State is mineral rich and is a big exporter of iron ore. The Oriyas, 25% of whom are adivasis (indigenous tribes) are very friendly and hospitable and the atmosphere of the State is generally relaxed. Most of the state's attractions are close to each other, and convenient access is provided out of the state capital, Bhubaneswar. The capital itself is an intriguing amalgam of the old and the new, an emerging modern Indian city, that is steeped in the roots of the traditions of its glorious past, without being overwhelmed by it.