The name Odisha refers to the current state in India. In different eras the region and parts of the region were known by different names. The boundaries of the region also have varied over the ages.
Human history in Odisha begins in the Lower Paleolithic era, as Acheulian tools dating to the period have been discovered in various places in the region. The early history of Odisha can be traced back to the mentions found in ancient texts like the Mahabharata, Maha Govinda Sutta and some Puranas. In 261 BCE, Ashoka of the Mauryan dynasty conquered the region in the bloody Kalinga War which was fought at the banks of River Daya near present-day Bhubaneswar. The resulting bloodshed and suffering of the war deeply affected Ashoka. He turned into a pacifist and converted to Buddhism. He sent peace emissaries to various neighbouring nations. Thus as an indirect consequence, the event caused the spread of Buddhism in Asia.
The region was also known to other kingdoms in region of East Indies due to maritime trade relations.
The year 1568 CE is considered a pivotal point in the region's history. In 1568 CE, the region was conquered by the armies of the Sultanate of Bengal led by the iconoclast general Kalapahad. The region lost its political identity. The following rulers of the region were more tributary lords than actual kings. After 1751, the Marathas gained control of the region for almost half a decade. In 1803, the region was passed onto the British Empire. The British divided the region into parts of other provinces. In 1936, the province of Odisha was formed on the basis of populations of Odia-speaking people.
Historical names of Odisha
The region which comprises the modern-day Odisha was not known by the same name throughout history. It and parts of it were referred by different names in different era.
- Kalinga: According to some scriptures (Mahabharata and some Puranas), a king Bali, the Vairocana, the son of Sutapa, had no sons. So, he requested the sage, Dirghatamas, to bless him with sons. The sage is said to have begotten five sons through his wife, the queen Sudesna. The princes were named Anga, Vanga, Kalinga, Sumha and Pundra. The princes later founded kingdoms named after themselves. The prince Vanga founded Vanga Kingdom, in the current day region of Bangladesh and part of West Bengal. The prince Kalinga founded the kingdom of Kalinga, in the current day region of coastal Odisha, including the Northern Circars. Ptolemy, Pliny the Elder and Claudius Aelianus have also mentioned one Calinga in their texts.
- Utkala: Utkala was a part of Kalinga in some parts of Mahabharata. Karna is mentioned to have conquered kingdom of Utkala among others. But, according to other texts like Raghuvasma and Brahma Purana, they were separate kingdoms. There are several views regarding the etymology of the name. Utkala may have meant northern (uttara) part of Kalinga or ut-Kalinga. Utkala desha (country or land) may have meant the land of "finest art" (utkarsha kala). There are also other arguments regarding the origin of the name.
- Mahakantara: This name has been found in some Gupta-era inscriptions. It literally means "great forest" and it is usually identified with the modern-day Kalahandi and Jeypore region. The Mahabharata also mentions a Kantara, which may have or may not have referred to the same region.
- Udra: Udra (also Urda-desha) may have originally referred to an ethnic group or tribe called Udra. But later may have referred to the kingdom of Udra, around the coastal region of Odisha.
- Orda: Odra (also Orda-desha) similar to Udra, may have meant a tribe of people called Odra, but later came to refer to the land of Odras.
- Oddiyana: Oddiyana, mentioned in some Buddhist texts, according to some scholars may have referred to Odisha.
- Kamala Mandala: Literally "lotus region", a c. 13th-century inscription found in Narla in Kalahandi refers to the region by this name.
- South Kosala: South Kosala (also Dakshina Kosala) may refer to the modern-day Chhattisgarh and some part of Western Odisha. It should not be confused with Kosala, which is in current day Uttar Pradesh. According to Ramayana, one of Rama's sons Lava ruled Uttara Kosala and his other son Kusha ruled over this region.
- Kongoda: A copper plate found in Ganjam district refers to region as Kongoda (also spelled Kangoda).
- Trikalinga: This name has been found inscribed on some copper plates found in Sonepur. Tri-Kalinga may have literally meant "three Kalingas" and may have referred to the three states of Kalinga, South Kosala and Kangoda.
- Chedi: Chedi (also known as Chedirashtra) referred to the kingdom of Kharavela. It was named after his dynasty, Chedi (also Cheti dynasty and Mahameghavahana dynasty). It should not be confused with Chedi kingdom of western India.
- Tosali: Tosali (also spelled Toshali) referred to a city and the region around it was called Tosala, possibly a subdivision of Kalinga in Ashoka-era. The capital of Tosala has been placed in modern-day Dhauli. In later era (c. 600 CE), North Tosali (Uttara Tosali) and South Tosali (Daskhina Tosali) have been mentioned, which were possibly kingdoms north and south of the Mahanadi river.
- Uranshin: The name has been used by some 10th century Arab geographers.
- Jajnagar: The name used for Odisha in the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri (c. 1260), Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi (c. 1357), and other texts of the period.
- Odivissa: A name used in some Buddhist texts, including in those by Taranatha.