The Buddhist as well as Jain texts refer to Kalinga’s overland and maritime trade. The Chulla Kalinga Jataka11 mentions that Dantapur, the capital city of Kalinga was connected with other parts of India by a network of roads.
Ptolemy speaks of the port of Paloura which served as one of the bases for the preparation of his map. Port paloura was the starting point for the ships bound for the land of Gold’(Suvarnabhumi). Ptolemy, the author of the “Periplus of the Erythraean sea and Gerini 12 refer to Paloura as an important port.
During Hsuan Tsang’s visit to India in the 7the century A.D. a port flourished on the coast of Odisha. Herefers to it as che-li-ta-lo 13(Charitra) situated to the south-west of Wu-cha country, i.e. Odra. It was a famous port. Waddel 14 however, identifies che-li-ta-lo or Charitra with Chitropala, which is the name of the branch of the river Mahanadi. He locates the port near the mouth of the river in Cuttack district. Some scholars identify it with Chandrabhaga near Konark. This identification is based on the authority of Odia Mahabharat of Sarala Dasa (15thC. AD) where it is mentioned that Chandrabhaga was a famous port on the sea-shore.
In connection with his visit to Odra Hsuan Tsang refers to a famous Buddhist monastery Pu-si-Po-Ki-LI, i.e. Puspagiri. The present excavation at Lalitagiri in Cuttack district may result in its identification with Puspagiri. The port Che-LI-ta-lo is to be located near the monastery.
The above discussion led to the conclusion that in Ancient period on the Odishan coast flourished many ports.
During the early historic period, urban centre also developed in western parts of Odisha. The excavations in sisupalagarh, Dhauli and Junagarh prove the existence of urban centres in eastern portion of Odisha.15 The yielding of cultural material remains belonging to different phases suggests indigenous growth of cultures and rigorous urbanization. Urban centeres had developed in Odisha as places of administration, pilgrimage and trade. Establishment of political authority witnessed emergence of town with fortified area. The river system and forests with natural resources facilitated growth towns. The urban centres were linked with rural settlements to receive raw materials and surplus for exchange of material goods.
The towns developed in early medieval Odisha as centre of administration, pilgrimage and trade. The places like Dantapur, Kalinganagari, Simhapur, Suvarnapura and others were treated as administrative centeres. 16 The places of piligrimage like Sriksetra Puri, Arkatirtha Konark and Ekamratirtha Bhubaneswar were not only religious centres but also functioned in economic milieu of the period. The temples became instrumental for the growth of market around them pilgrims became consumers of the market.
Possessing a long coast line, Odisha had number of seaports through which is established commercial and cultural intercourse with outside world, places like Pithunda, Palura, Kalingapatnam, Maniakpatna, Khalkattapatna and Konarka became famous in internation map. Some of these urban centres retained their importance in late medieval period and new towns also grew up.
After advent of the Afghans in 1568, the political boundary of southern and eastern Odisha was subjected to changes, the area from Puri to Huguli coast was treated as part of Bengal. In the south the Gingelly coast i.e. region between Ganjam up to river Godavari was regarded as part of Coromandan region. After coming Patam declined to some extent probably the Mughal subedars and administrators showed indifference to the ports away from headquarters.
Lack of royal Patronage seemed to be another course for decline of port-towns of southern Odish. The decline of sourthern ports of Odisha resulted in shifting of commercial activity to northern region. Consequently the trading centres were established by the European powers and urban centres like Pipili, Hariharpur, Cuttack, Puri and Balasore rose into prominence.
Pipili was also a port on the estuary of the river Subarnarekha. A close survey on the contemporary maps drawn by various authorities clearly manifest the maritime importance of Pipili. Pipili was situated at distance of 30 miles north of Balasore. It was the earliest European settlement on the Bay of Bengal and soon flourished as an important harbor on the Odisha coast.
Hinterland of Pipili had cotton producing cente like Mohanpur, Olmara and Jaleswar. The Asian merchants visited to purchase different kinds of merchandise. A centre for shipbuilding, the importance of Pipili dwindled after silting of the river Suvarnarekha.
Hariharpur, situated at the mouth of river Patna was the first factory that English established in 1633. It was populous place and nearly three thousands weavers were present. Diferent varieties the cloth were produced in Hariharpur and exported from there. In 1642, the factory was withdrawn. Hariharpur another urban centre had been described by Thomas Bowrey as the only Sea-pot of Odisha and Sebastian Manrique visiting the place in 1940 termed it as a city. It was famous for cotton cloth, rice and ship building. Majority of urban centres developed due to textile manufacture, which was one of principal industries of medieval Odisha.
The port of Manikpatna, located on the bank of water-channel connecting chilika lake with Bay of Bengal had yielded Neolithic cells, two sheds of India roulette ware, fragments of amphora, sherd with Kharoshti inscriptions and Puri Kushana coins all pointers to Odisha’s contact with outside world in ancient period.
The Dutch in 1621 and English in 1631 attempted to establish trading settlements in Manikapatna. Ganjam was another urban centre known for cotton cloth, bees, wax, sugar came and food grains. The Puri, Konark and Banpur retained their importance as urban centre in late medieval period. Puri as a port had also an advantage position over Balasore. The trade through Puri port consisted of rice export to madras coast and Mauritius. Situated by the side of Calcutta-Ganjam road, places like Bhadrak, Jaleswar, Ramachandrapur, Remuna and Soro had some importance on these were halting stations for armies and travelers.17
The city of Cuttack occupied a strategic position at the bifurcation of river Mahanadi and its branch of Kathajodi. The temple chronicle, the Madalapanji refers to the establishment of the city by a king named Nrupakesori. It was the capital of Odisha under the Mughals and was designated as Cuttack-Banaras in the Mahal-list of Bengal province. It was the second best city after Dhaka in the province. It was the second best city after Dhaka in the provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Odisha as mentioned by Thomas Bowrey in 1669.
He had described it as a city having nice buildings, broad streets, waters, springs and ponds. Hamilton who visited the city in 1708, found that different kind of fine and coarse clothes are much cheaper than compared to Balaosre. During the famine crisis of Gujurat in 1630-1632 and scarcity of price goods in Musalipatnam compelled the English to move Cuttack to meet the Mughal emperor on 9th May 1633 and received the permission to have direct commercial enterprise in Odishan coast for trading and building of factories and ships.
Cuttack emerged as a big town with influx of people belonging to different linguistic, religious and professional groups. There were not only merchants belonging to the Marwari and Gujarati community, but also land lords and money lenders from the neighboring Bengal. The belonging to Islam from 1568 to 1751 alongwith their officials tradors. Soldiers and saints caused the spread of Islam as well as developed the town presented a scenario of a urban centre having economic growth and social change.
Balasore rose into prominence at the time of the Mughals becoming one of the major ports of Indian ocean situated on the bank of the river Budhabalanga. It was well connected with centres of textile production like Mohanpur, Olmara, Dantan, Jaleswar and Mayurbhanj. The hinterland of Balasore had abundance of rice, pulse, tobacco, tasar, bees wax, iron and timber.
During the year of salt monopoly Balasore stimulated the business through export of salt. It had good means of communication to Delhi, Patna, Varanasi and Lucknow. The importance of Hariharpur and Pipili was lost due to silting up the rivers Patna, Alanka and Suvarnarekha. The English endeavor to have direct commercial enterprise Odishan coast was successful and the Mughal subadar granted them permission with a parwana on 9 May 1633 to build factories, repair ships and trade free customs. 18
Need for naval defence and checking of Arkanese piracy compelled the Mughal govt to construct a ship-building centre in Balasore. Availability of timber and iron from nearby Nilgiri Hill facilitated this task of employment for craftsman, blacksmiths and artisans.
The Mughal subadar of Bengal, Shistakhan ordered naval construction in Balasore & Huguli. Balasore had extensive trade will ports of coromandel coast, Culcutta and Dhaka and occassioanally with Malabar and Gujarat courries was being imported from Maldives and Chochin China (Southern Vietnam). 19 Import of elephants to the port town of Balasore was a regular Phenomenon. 20
The commodities that were being imported to Balasore were precious metals, vermilion, quick silver, European gums, copper, nutmeg, paper and cloves.
Chandbali was the gate way of Odisha and mega commercial port of Asia. Chintamani Mohant in his book “Mahodadhi kabya” wrote, “Pabitra Bahitra Ramya Chandabali, Banijye Gourabe rakhichhi Sanbhali.”
Then the importance of Calcutta grew up after acquirement of Zamindari right from Nawab in 1698 and Balasore looked into the requirement of ships calling there before going to Bay of Bengal. 21 The channel to the sea was silted up and the mouth of Budhabalanga became unsuitable for ships.
In western Odisha, there were urban centres like Sambalpur, Boudh, Binka and Sonepur which were connected with eastern chhatisgarh region and eastern Odisha through the Mahanadi Facilitating international trade in commodities like cotton, ivory, precious stones, paddy, cereal, salt and medicinal herbs.
Sambalpur which was famous as a diamond producing centre become the centre of Political commercial and military activities with the expansion of Chauhan Kingdom. Suvarnapur was not only an important capital city in medieval western Odisha, but also was an important centre for export trade though river. Different commodities were brought to suvarnapur for export from the neighboring rural hinterland as well as urbank centres like Bopudh and Patna. 22 It was also famous for manufacturing tussar cloth of excellent quality.
The weaving was done by a professional class known as Bhuliya in local parlance. Brass and bell metals utensils were manufactured in this important urban centres. In the middle of seventeenth century towns like Bolangir, Patnagarh, Barapali, Boudh, Khariar, Gangpur, Sonepur and Bonai had already developed an intricate political and trade network with Sambalpur.
Thus the British colonial rule brought significant changes towards the rapid growth of new towns and cities along with the administrative measures in the field of social structure, technology, education, mobility in occupation and decline in indigenous craft.