IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 21 | Regions | South Asia


Urbanization in Medieval Orissa

The present project is designed to study the growth of urban centres covering a time span from the advent of Afghans in Orissa in 1568 up to the beginning of colonial rule in 1803.


The general tendency among historians dealing with post-fifteenth century Orissa has been to project the period as one of urban decay and decline in commercial activity. This argument is the product of two mistaken beliefs. Firstly that the advent of the Afghans marked the end of 'Hindu' kingdom of Orissa resulting in decline of commercial activity. This argument juxtaposes the efflorescence of Orissan society and economy under the Gangas (1035-1435 CE) and Gajapatis (1435-1537 CE) with the so-called Muslim rule. Secondly that, political developments should not be linked too closely with the process of urbanization. The contemporary Persian chronicles, accounts of foreign travellers, factory correspondence and diaries of the agents of European traders present a different scenario.

In medieval Orissa towns developed as centres of administration, pilgrimage, and trade. Places like Pithunda, Palura, Manikpatna, Khalkattapatna, Konarka, Puri, Kataka, etc. became important on the international map. After coming of the Mughals, there was a decline in the trade of the southern ports and the commercial activity shifted to northern region. Pipli, Balasore, Harishpur and Hariharpur rose to prominence as urban centres. But towards the second half of the eighteenth century, the rise of the Calcutta fleet affected the fortunes of Orissan ports. The European companies and traders had already made inroads into the preserves of Indian merchants. There was decline of commercial activity and the British occupation of eastern Orissa in 1803 sounded the final death-knell.

The problem of urbanization in Orissa will be studied in a theoretical context taking into account the advent of the Afghans, the Mughals and of European traders. The basic hypotheses supporting the project are:

a. There was neither urban decay nor a decline in trade and commerce in the period under review.

b. The unique character of Orissan towns could be attributed to commercial intercourse and in this way urbanization was result of developments happening on the high seas. Up to the seventeenth century, the Asian merchants had assumed a major share of maritime trade but from the eighteenth century onwards European shipping was in the ascendance.

c. The urban centre was linked vertically with the rural hinterland. There were horizontal linkages between different urban centres to facilitate the exchange of material goods. *

Dr P.P. Mishra, Department of History, Sambalpur University, Orissa, India.
E-mail: ppmishra@dte.vsnl.net.in

   IIAS | IIAS Newsletter Online | No. 21 | Regions | South Asia