sun, sand and shiva




Malaysia and many Southeast Asian places notably Java, Bali, Thailand and Cambodia owe a lot of their culture and language to an obscure historical region in India called Kalinga.

It is a fertile, fabled and forested land located a quarter way down the eastern side of the Indian Peninsula between the Bay of Bengal and an eroded broken range of mountains known as the Eastern Ghats.

The people of Kalinga were a peaceful, open-minded and artistic lot. They were also skillful with their sail boats and had good knowledge of the sea. When the wind was right they would set out south-easterly to fish for food and pearls and trade with people from distant lands.

Due to the region’s relative isolation away from the population centers of India’s Aryan north and Dravidian south, Kalinga developed its own distinct identity and an economy based on both its overland connections and maritime links.

Wrapped up for the morning, a man begs for money at the beach in Puri. Coastal Odisha enjoys cool and pleasant weather from December to the middle of February. From March onwards the heat builds up until the rains arrive in June.
A young female visitor writing on a boulder at the caves complex in Udayagiri, which means Sunrise Hill
Ascetics getting their daily fix of paan in the village of Sakshigopal
Photographer for hire, Puri
Traffic policewoman standing in front of Biju Patnaik Signboard. In Odisha’s capital Bhubaneswar many places including its airport are named after this local hero. Bijayananda or popularly Biju Patnaik was a freedom fighter, airforce pilot and two-term chief minister of Odisha. His son Naveen Patnaik is the current chief minister
Couple having their photograph taken in front of the Sun Temple in Konark
The beautiful Mukteswara Temple in Bhubaneswar built in the 10th century AD

Kalinga’s success soon attracted the attention and envy of its powerful neighbour.

Around 260 BC a  king named Ashoka from the Mauryan Empire sent his armies to attack and conquer Kalinga.

The people of Kalinga fought back bravely but they were no match for Ashoka’s mighty army. The scale of death and destruction occasioned by the Kalinga War at 100,000 dead and 100,000 enslaved was epic and appalling.

Just like Hiroshima two milleniums later the effect of the war caused an unprecedented show of remorse and repentance by its victor and chief perpetrator, Ashoka the emperor himself.

Ashoka turned Buddhist and proclaimed that so long as he was king he would never let such barbarity and carnage happen again. He promised to rule justly and ordered his new pacifist policy to be carved onto stone pillars near the battle sites for all to know and to guide future rulers.

After the Mauryas, Kalinga was ruled most of the time more or less as an independent country by a succession of kings and dynasties including the famous Kharavela of the Chedis, the Guptas and the Eastern Ganga.

It was during this period that Kalinga exported its custom, religion, architecture to Southeast Asia, the region the ancient Indians called Suvarnabhumi or the Golden Lands.

By the 16 th century and with the muslim invasion in 1568 and its later absorption into the Mughal Empire, Kalinga had all but disappered as a geo-political entity.

The territory of ancient Kalinga coresponds to roughly today’s Odisha, a state with a population of 42 million famous for its entrancing Odissi dance, monumental temples and indigenous tribal people.

Under British rule most of the area that was once the Kingdom of Kalinga became part of Bengal. In 1936 a separate province of Orissa was created on linguistic ground.

In 2011 Orissa became Odisha and its ancient Sanskrit-based language Oriya was renamed Odia by an Act of Parliament.

A timeless scene under an ancient tree beside the Jagannath Temple in Puri
Flower Boy at the Lingaraja Temple in Bhubaneswar
A  view of rural Odisha just before sunset
Wedding reception at a village on the way to Bhubaneswar
Crossing the bridge to the hidden village of Hirapur
Afternoon prayer and bath at the village pond
Kind Odia face at the Sun Temple in Konark
Sunset over the Udayagiri Hill
Man with colourful beanie outside a store for farm produce
Young stall assistant, Puri


Puri with its great Jagannath Temple is one of the holiest religious sites in India.
Sex in sandstone and the climax of Kalinga architectural genius at the Sun temple of Konark
Student couple on a motorbike outside the Sakshigopal Temple
A famous sweet and dessert shop in Puri
Udayagiri Caves
Hot tea on the beach
Greetings and smile under the hot sun in the village of Sakshigopal
Vegetable Vendor in Dhauligiri
Devotees outside the Jagannath Temple in Puri
Grocery shop in the precinct of the Jagannath Temple in Puri
Turquoise green and Cobalt blue are favourite colours for homes like this one in a small village on the way to Puri
Caretaker and priest at the 9th century Chausathi Jogini Temple in Hirapur
Women in colourful sarees at the main entrance to the Lingaraja Temple in Bhubaneswar
Devotees at a Hindu shrine on Dhauligiri
Beach vendor in Puri
A foreigner’s only view of the awesome Lingaraja Temple is from a platform outside the walls. Only Hindus and Indians are allowed inside.
Young Odissi dancers after their performance
Young souvenir vendor in Puri
Puri the pilgrims town also plays host to many vacationers from West Bengal in search of a holiday by the beach
Motorbike riders in the Jagannath Temple precinct where motorcars are not allowed



All text and photographs copyright Kerk Boon Leng February 2018