Book by British ICS officer covers ‘Orissa' as a whole

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Book by British ICS officer covers ‘Orissa' as a whole

Wednesday, 25 December 2019 | GYANENENDRA NATH MITRA

I came across a book entitled ‘Cuttack’ in a most unlikely of all places, the library of a Heart Research Institute in Bangalore. Only a few minutes were available to me to leaf through the book before my appointment with the cardiologist.

The book is written by a British civil servant, LSS O’Malley, ICS and published in 1906. The book has been reprinted by LOGOS Press, New Delhi in 2013. I found the book very informative and ordered a copy of it (price, Rs 1,000).

The British ICS officer has done a tremendous job in writing this book.  He has referred to the Mahabharat, Puranas and several other religious texts, records available in several libraries and museums around the world, reports of famous foreign travellers, historians, ancient rock edicts in different parts of the country and even records preserved in Buddhist monasteries.

Some of the interesting information about Cuttack and Odisha (then Orissa) cited in the book are given below.

The original inhabitants of Odisha were‘Odras’ and ‘Utkalas’. They belonged to different tribes: The Odras are referred to as ‘Paundras’ in Mahabharata, ‘Paundra-Odra’ in Manu Samhita and Brihat Samhita.

Utkalas are connected with Mekalas in the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and the Brihat Samhita. The Odras probably occupied the eastern side and Utkalas the western side of the country. The first lay-disciples of Buddha are said to have come from Utkala.

It seems probable that before 3rd Century BC, several of the Indo-Aryan castes, such as the Brahmanas, Khattriyas, Karanas and others had migrated to Orissa, which was then part of Kalinga. According to Mahabharata, Kalinga extended from the Ganga-Sagara-Sangamain north to the mouth of Godavari. It was a prosperous and populous and a civilised country.

Rock Edict XIII of Asoka declares that during the Kalinga war, 100,000 people were killed and 150,000 taken as prisoners. Kalinga was annexed to the empire of Asoka in 262 or 261 BC and remained a part of Mauryan empire,until about 180-170 BC.

The book refers to Hati-Gumpha inscriptions at Udayagiri caves (153 BC) and Manchapuri caves, and mentions that Kharavela of the Cheta Royal family was a powerful king of Kalinga. Kharavela regained the fort of Kalinga and the city in the first year of his reign. He fought and defeated many kings around north and south and subjugated them. The Emperor at Pataliputra recognised him as an independent king. He and his family were supporters of Jainism. It is not known how long this dynasty lasted and who were there successors. By 2nd century AD, Kalinga was absorbed by the Andhras as shown in the map of Ptolemy.

According to Allahabad pillar inscriptions, Orissa had been conquered by Samudra Gupta and Siladitya Harshavardhana of Kanauj.

HiuenTsiang visited Orissa in 639 AD. According to him the people were tall of stature and of a yellowish black complexion. They loved learning and applied themselves to it without intermission. Most of them believed in the law of Budha. There were about 100 monasteries with 1,000 priests. The capital was identified as Jajpur.

Orissa was ruled by Kesari dynasty from 7th to 12th century. The first Kesari king was Janmejaya and the last Udyotakesari as stated in the Brahmeswar temple inscriptions. The great temples of Bhubaneswar were built by this dynasty.

The Kesaris were followed by Ganga dynasty, which ruled till 1434-35 AD by a total of 15 kings. Most powerful was Chodoganga or Gangeswar. The Jagannath temple was built by him as well as the shrine of Gangesvar in Jajpur.

From the beginning of 13th century, Orissa was invaded by Muslim Sultans of Bengal. The most oppressive Muhammadan attacks of Orissa was by the Afghan governors of Bengal under the Mughal empire.

Mukunda Deva, who was a Telugu by birth was the last Hindu king of Orissa. In 1564-65, he had concluded a treaty with the Emperor Akbar to save his kingdom from the Afghans of Bengal but in 1568, when Akbar was occupied in wars in the west, Sulaiman Karanani, the Nawab of Bengal, sent his forces under his Afghan General Illahabad Kala Pahar, who quickly marched southwards through Mayurbhanj, defeated the king’s deputy and ravaged Orissa.Mukunda Deva, who had marched towards Ganges, returned to save his kingdom but was slain by rebel forces, The Afghans killed leader of the rebels.

Akbar’s Hindu generals Raja Todor Mal and then Raja Man Singh subsequently defeated the Afghans and captured all of their forts. Orissa was annexed to the Moghul Empire. It was administered by the governor of lower provinces, which included Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. All subsequent risings of Afghans were crushed and Orissa remained a part of Mughal Empire until 1751.

By 1775-76, the control of Moghul empire declined and the Marathas ruled the country. It was the most repressive and lawless period in the history of Orissa, when its people suffered the most. Maratha rule continued up to 1803 until British conquered the country.

The founder of Cuttack town according to this book was Makar(Markat)Kesari, who reigned from 953-961 AD on a strip of land between two rivers, Mahanadi and Kathjuri. He protected the town from inundation by the two rivers by means of masonry embankments several miles long. It became the capital by the end of 10th century. The Barabati fort was built by the last Hindu king, MukundaDeva. On subjugation of Orissa by Kala Pahar, the fort passed into the hands of the Muslims in 1575 AD. It remained with the Muslims, interrupted by Marathas, until it passed on to them again in 1751. It was with the Marathas when British occupied it in 1803.

The Barabati fort as described in the Ain-I-Akbari consisted of nine courts, the first used for elephants, camels and horses; the second a military store and residences of guards and attendants; the third housed porters and watchmen, the fourth by artificers and fifth was the kitchen. The sixth was Raja’s public apartments, the seventh used for private transactions, eighth was the zanana and 9th Raja’s sleeping apartments. There is no evidence of nine story building of Raja Mukund Deva, though excavations within the premises revealed presence of sculpted cornices and a massive pillar of chlorite might be remnants of a splendid edifice.

In spite of all its attractions, the Mughal and Maratha Governors did not reside in the Barabati fort, but in a palace at Lalbagh on the bank of the river Kathjuri.

The fort was vandalised in the initial period of British administration. The old buildings were striped of their stones and used for construction of the False Point Light House and other buildings, metalling of roads and converted the fort into an unsightly series of mounds and pits. The only remnants are the arched gateway and a mosque.

The British forces started their campaign to capture Cuttack from Ganjam on September 8, 1803 under the command of colonel Harcourt. They marched along the seacoast, crossed the dangerous channel, which connected the Chilika lake with the sea and entered Puri without any resistance. Marathas had gathered on the other side of the river, which was flowing past the city. After a surprise night attack by the British Army, the Marathas retreated and built up a defence at Mukundapur near Pipli. They were defeated. They dispersed into the jungles of Khurda. Colonel Harcourt with his army crossed the river Kathjuri and entered the Cuttack city through Lalbagh, where the gates were open, October 8, 1803 without any opposition.  The inhabitants of the city had fled to Tangi and all the houses were empty. The Barabati fort was occupied on October 14, 1803. The people, who had deserted their houses came back after Colonel Harcourt and the Commissioner Melvill persuaded them to confide in the new rule.

Forces sent from Bengal occupied Baleswar. Colonel Harcourt marched towards Kujang, Kanika and Harispur, which submitted to the British rule. Their forts were demolished and guns found in them taken away. The entire exercise was undertaken to impress people of the strength of the British arms and putting down any serious armed opposition.

For 24 years after British occupation, the whole province formed, but one district with head-quarters at Puri. Cuttack was made the Capital in 1816. The province was divided into 3 districts, Cuttack, Puri and Baleswar in 1829, under the charge of a Collector, and of Judge and Magistrate.

Initially the British found it to be difficult to run the administration, as a very few people in Orissa knew English. They had to get Bengalis from Calcutta to run their administration.

The Brahmans of Orissa held the monopoly of education with caste prejudices and religious superstitions. They firmly opposed to English education. When a learned Oriya was appointed as a Sanskrit teacher in a Government school in Puri in 1860, he was excommunicated from the Brahminical order for a couple of years.

The only college in the whole province was the Ravenshaw College, Cuttack. It was opened as a Zilla School 1841, became a High School in 1868, and was finally raised to the status of a college and affiliated to the University of Calcutta in 1876.

The book has 236 pages, 15 chapters dealing with physical aspects, history, people, health, agriculture, canals, calamities, wages, occupation, communication, administration, local self-Government, education and gazetteer.

(Dr Mitra is a former Dean, College of Agriculture, OUAT, Bhubaneswar. The information given in this write-up is entirely based on the book. E,mail:

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