The search for the salvation of the soul has been a continued preoccupation of the Hindus from very ancient times. The Vedas prescribed the Vanasharams to strike a harmony amongst the diverse desires and aspirations of man, harmony between material and spiritual ends. This quest has had its ups and downs no doubt as different religions have appeared in India as well as in Orissa at different times, such as 'Brahminism', 'Jainism', 'Buddhism', 'Vaishnavism', 'Islam', 'Christianity' and 'Nath Dharma'.
Orissa has a unique distinction of acting as a confluence of these diverse faiths. It is here that one can vividly witness how religion has evolved from animism, nature worship, shamanism, ancestor worship and fetishism as prevailing among the 'Adivasis' or tribals to the highly evolved forms of religion like Brahminism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism with philosophical systems of a high order to back them up.
The synthesis and harmony of the different forms of Brahminic worship - 'Vaishnavite', 'Shaivite', 'Shakta', 'Ganapatya' and 'Soura' -- are all to be found in the great and grand temple of Jagannatha or Jagannathwhose origin goes back to the tribal worship of a 'wood god'. Around him revolves the entire cultural milieu of Orissa. Religion and culture cannot be separated in a land, which claims to celebrate 'thirteen festivals in twelve months. The life-giving stream of religion has flowed past the rise and fall of empires producing and nourishing the sublime virtues of love, tolerance and compassion.
The Influence Of Brahminism
The religion of the Aryans known as "Sanatan Dharma" originated in the 'Vedas' and spread to Orissa, which in course of time came to be held in high reverence as the land of the gods or "Deva Bhumi". Around the 5th century BC the 'Nandas' stabilized Brahminic settlements in the coastal region.
The 13th Ashokan edict shows that before the invasion of 'Kalinga' by 'Ashoka' and his conversion to Buddhism Brahmanism had spread swiftly in Orissa and it continued to hold its power till the reign of 'Kharavela' who was a Jain and propagated that religion as is seen from the Hatigumpha inscription.
These ancient religions of Orissa, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism seem to have co-existed peacefully with varying fortunes. It is interesting to know that the royal ceremonies of Ashoka and Kharavela were performed according to the Vedic rites although there were Buddhist and Jain respectively.
The revival of Vedic religion after the waning of Buddhism and Jainism brought in wide assimilative powers for it and as a result 'Bhagavala', 'Bagavata', 'Shaiva', 'Sakata', 'Soura' religious sects. All unfolded Hinduism, and the deities like 'Vasudeva', 'Narayana', Shiva, 'Shakti Surya' were included in its pantheon.
Brahminism seems to have flourished Orissa under the 'Mathara' rulers between the 4th and 5th centuries AD. The 'Sailodbhava' rulers made arrangements for the study of the Vedic wisdom and an 'Aswamedha' sacrifice was performed by 'Madhav Varman".
In the time of the Keshari rulers, Shaivism gained importance. 'Yajati Keshari', to preserve the sanctity and purity of Brahminism, brought Aryan Brahmins from 'Kanyakubja' ('Kanauj') and settled them in Jajpur in Orissa, which became a famous site for the performance of ancestral funeral rites.