The history of Sambalpur as depicted by eminent historians is full of events including Indian freedom struggle representing the different sections of society. Since Sambalpur is one of the ancient district of India, which survived even in the prehistoric age, much of the historical records about the origin and the existence of Sambalpur in the political scenario of Orissa are still in obscurity.
Sambalpur is mentioned in the book of Ptolemy (2nd century) as Sambalaka on the left bank of river “Manada” now known as Mahanadi, other evidence are available from the records of Xuanzang, and in the writings of the celebrated King Indrabhuti of Sambalaka of Oddiyan or Odra Desha(oldest known king of Sambalpur), the founder of Vajrayana Buddhism and the Lama Cult. Sambalpur had also been known as ‘Hirakhand’ meaning ‘Land of Diamond’. In the past Sambalpur was famous for diamond mining and trade. Even now, the adjoining areas yield a large volume and value of semi-precious stones.
In the time of Kalingan emperor Kharavela this area was known as Attabhika, one of the fuedatory state of Kalinga empire. Later part of this region was included in Dakhina Koshala. Goddess Samaleswari is the presiding deity of the area. This area was ruled by the Samanta Raja or Fuedatory Chiefs of Soma Vamsi, Ganga Vamsi, Surya Vamsii Gajapati rulers of Kalinga-Utkala Empire.
French merchant Jean Baptiste Tavernier (1605 – 1689) in his travel account “Six Voyages en Turquie, en Perse et aux Indes (1676–77)” translated into English by Valentine Ball as “Travels in India” (2d ed., 2 vol., 1925) wrote about the numerous famous diamonds mines of Sumelpur (Semelpur), the present day Sambalpur. He states that 8,000 people were at work in these mines at the time of his visit, in the dry season at the beginning of February. Sambalpur is the headquarters of Sambalpur District. Sambalpur derives its name from that of the Goddess Samaleswari; an incarnation of Shakti, who is regarded as the reigning deity of the region. Sambalpur lies at a distance of 321 km from the capital city of Bhubaneswar. In history, it has been variously known as ‘Sambalak’, ‘Hirakhanda’,Odiyan/Uddiyan,Odra Desha, Dakhin Kosal, Koshal.
Sambalpur was governed by the feudal chiefs of the Chawhan dynasty till 1803 and then came under the sway of the British Empire. When its ruler died without a direct male heir in 1849, the British seized the state under the doctrine of lapse. The name of Veer Surendra Sai, who fought an epic struggle against the British Rule, is recorded in golden letters in the history of India’s struggle for independence. After the Sepoy Mutiny this region was included in Central Province. In 1895, the people of Sambalpur organized a sustained movement for the protection of Oriya language and culture against Hindi chauvinism. They finally demanded amalgamation with Orissa Division as a solution of the language crisis. This demand was accepted by the British Government in 1905 when Sambalpur and the adjacent Oriya speaking tracts were amalgamated with the Orissa Division under Bengal Presidency. The Zamindaris of Oriya speaking Phuljhar and Chandarpur remained with the Central Provinces (now in the Raigarh District of Chhattishgarh state). Bengal’s Orissa division became part of the new province of Bihar and Orissa in 1912, and in 1936 became the separate province of Orissa. After Indian Independence in 1947, Orissa became an Indian state. Source: Dilip Kumar Padhi Vu2DPI
Sambalpur retains its classic sleepy charm, even in the face of rapid, albeit unplanned expansion and a deluge of retail establishments. Some of the houses along the old part of Sambalpur are still maintained, and used, like they were, a century ago. A peculiar way the houses in the older parts of town are arranged is, the gulli system, literally, mazeway. Houses in Patnaikpara, Nandpara, and along the parallel streets of sansadak and badsadak are examples of the above. The streets of Badasadak and Sansadak extending from Kunjelpada Chowk to the office of Sambalpur municipality have a proud heritage and have contributed immensely to the fame of Sambalpur and enriched the cultural heritage of the country for two reasons namely, the origin of the Sitalsasthi festival(marriage of Lord Shiva with Goddess Parvati) and the origin of the World famous Sambalpuri Parda and the Sambalpuri Sarees that enabled the Baandha art of Western Orissa march from its threshold of oblivion to its pinnacle of glory.
Although it is generally accepted that Tantric Buddhism first developed in the country of Uddiyana or Odra Desha under King Indrabhuti, there is an old and well-known scholarly dispute as to whether Uddiyana or Odra was in the Swat valley, Orissa or some other place.
Indrabhuti, the oldest known king of Sambalpur founded vajrayana while his sister who was married to Yuvaraja Jalendra of Lankapuri (Suvarnapur) founded Sahajayana. These new Tantric cults of Buddhism introduced Mantra, Mudra and Mandala along with six Tantric Abhicharas (practices) such as Marana, Stambhana, Sammohana, Vidvesan, Uchchatana and Vajikarana. The Tantric Buddhist sects made efforts to raise the dignity of the lowest of the low of the society to a higher plane. It revived primitive beliefs and practices a simpler and less formal approach to the personal god, a liberal and respectful attitude towards women and denial of caste system.
From the seventh century A.D. onwards many popular religious elements of heterogeneous nature were incorporated into Mahayana Buddhism which finally resulted in the origin of Vajrayana, Kalachakrayana and Sahajayana Tantric Buddhism. Tantric Buddhism first developed in Uddiyana, a country which was divided into two kingdoms Sambhala and lankapuri. Sambhala has been identified with Sambalpur and Lankapuri with Suvarnapura (Sonepur).
Many celebrated Vajrayana Acharyas like Sarah, Hadipa, Dombi, Heruka, Tantipa and Luipa came from the so-called despised classes. The cult exerted a tremendous influence over the tribal and despised classes of people of Sambalpur Bolangir region. It was in the 9th/10th century A.D. that there appeared seven famous Tantric maidens at Patna (Patnagarh) region which was then called Kuanri-Patana. These maidens are popularly known as Saat Bhauni (Seven sisters), namely, Gyanadei Maluni, Luhakuti, Luhuruni, Nitei Dhobani, Sukuti Chamaruni, Patrapindhi Savaruni, Gangi Gauduni and sua Teluni. They hailed from so-called the low castes of the society and were followers of Lakshminkara. Because of their miraculous power and feats; they have been later on deified and worshipped by the folk people.
A systematic analysis of the trend of religious development of the period under review and circumstantial evidences reveal that Chakra Sambar Tantricism of Tantric Buddhism gained popularity in the Gandhagiri region. The chief deity of Chakra Sambara Tantra is Buddha Sambara, the deity whose worship is still popular in China and Tibet. According to Sadhanamala, god Buddha Sambara is one-faced and two-armed. He appears terrible with his garment of tiger-skin, garland of heads, a string of skulls round the head, three eyes and in Âlidhamudrâ, he tramples upon Kalaratri. A number of texts relating to the procedures of worship of God Buddha Sambara have been coposed by siddhacharyas like Darikapa, Santideva, Jayadratha and others. King Indrabhuti of Shambala (Sambalpur) Composed Chakra Sambara Stotra, Chakra Sambara Anubandha Samgraha, Chakra Sambara Tantraraga Sambara Samuchchaya Nama Brutti etc. The philosopher-king Indrabhuti became the source-inspiration to the adherents of Tantric Buddhist cult in Western Orissa including Gandhagiri region.
Indrabhuti and Laksminkara, the two royal Buddhist Acharyas creted a mass of followers to their cults. In the 9th-10th century A.D. the worship and Sadhana of Buddha Sambara, the presiding deity of Chakra Sambara Tantra gained popularity in the Gandhagiri region. In Gandhagiri which also contained a large number of caves and rock-shelters, apparently of the Vajrayanists and Sahajayanists, the adherents of the cults used to live in seclusion and practice Kaya Sadhana or Yogic practices along with worshipping god Buddha Sambara.
This Tantric Buddhist Culture greatly affected the religious faith and beliefs of the tribal of Gandhagiri, so much so that eventually even today one can notice the invocation of various Buddhist Siddhacharyas and Buddhist deities in the mantras of the tribal to ward off evil spirits or cure some disease. It is also interesting to note here that Buddha was worshipped by many tribal in the name of Budharaja. There is also a small hillock at the heart of present day Sambalpur by the name Budharaja.