The most outstanding achievements of Ancient Odisha was its flourishing maritime trade and commerce. The identity of present Odisha has been manifested in different names as places in the past.
They were as Kalinga, Odra, Utkal, Kangoda and Kosala.1 Among them Kalinga was the most popular in the mythological and historical eves of Ancient India. So accordingly the vast and extensive Bay adjacent to Kaling was known as the “Kalinga Sagar”. The merchants of ancient Odisha braved the perils of the sea to seek fortune in the land supposed to be rich in gold.
On its coast flourished several ports which served outlets of external trade. It has not only enjoyed an extensive maritime trade with south-East-Asian countries but also had colonial settlements in sourthern Burma and Indonesia Island.
If one travels in the contrived corridor of History, one will be simply amazed at the rich maritime heritage of Odisha. Ancient and medieval literature is replete with such glories. Early literature like Ramayana, the Mahabharata2, the Rigveda, the Puranas, Koutilya’s “Arthasastra”, Kalidasa’s “Raghuvamsam”, Dandinis “Dasakumara Charitam”, Brihatsamhita of Varahamihir’ Gangavamsanu Charitam of Vasudeva Ratha, Dinakrushna Das’s Rasakallola, Upendra Bhanja’s Lavanyavati and the Buddhist sources like Dipavamsa, Sutakas, Jatakas, Anguttar Nikaya and the foreign sources like ptolemy’s3.
Geography, plinny’s Natural History, Travel accounts of Hiuen-Tsang, I-Tsing, Marco Polo, Ibn Batuta etc. speak the glorious maritime activities of Odisha. The eulogizing forms like “Mahodadhi Pati”4, “Kalingah Sahesikah”, “Varunapattanam” and “Kalinga Udadhi” etc. Credit Kalinga as a maritime power in the past. The folklore of “Tapoi”, Kabikarnas “Sadananda Saudagara Pala”, the worship of Varuna, Mangala, “Khudurikuni Osha”, Baliyatra, “Boita Bandhana” festival also bear ample testimony of Odisha as a great seafaring country.
We also get enough sculptural references about the maritime activities of Ancient Odisha. A sculpture of the Brahmeswar Temple, Bhubaneswar depicts boats carrying elephants.
In the Jagamohan of Konark temple, the Mrtanda Bairavas are shown dancing on boats. On the Bhogamandapa of the famous Jagannath temple at Puri there is a magnificent representation of a boat. Similarly two early medieval temple sculpture corroborate the above fact by depicting series of boats, carrying elephants, zigzag lines indicating waves of the sea with half shown fishes, carbs and crocodiles.
It is not possible to say exactly when the people of Odisha started their maritime contacts. Reminiscences of the Voyages of Ancient Odias are still preserved in the folklore in the land, Odisha. One of such powerful folklores is the “Khudurukuni Osha” observed in the month of Bhadrava (August- September) every where in Odisha particularly in the costal villages. The study behinds this relates to a Sadhava (merchants or traders) family consisting of seven brothers, their devotion to Goddess Mangala5, the ill treatment to their only sister “Ta-Poi”6 by their wives during their absence, their ultimate-reunion etc.
This Osha is deeply associated with Baliyatra festival, which reminds the traditional memories of a young maidens waiting for the return of her sailor brothers.