Life in Jajpur – Thousand years ago!

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    Have you ever imaged how people lived a thousand years ago? What did they eat, drink and wear? What did they do for recreation? How did they study and work? It is fascinating how through a combination of inscriptions, texts, sculptures and paintings, we can piece together how life in a particular area was like a thousand years ago. One such place is the town of Jajpur in Odisha, which was once the capital of the Bhaumakara and Somavamshi kings and one of the most important ancient and medieval cities in Odisha.

    Noted Odiya Historians such as KC Panigrahi, SP Mishra and others have extensively pieced together the daily life in Jajpur and its surrounding region in their research. We bring to you some fascinating aspects from this historic research -

    How Jajpur looked like then

    Jajpur, once known as ‘Viraja’ as well as ‘Yayatinagara’ was important trading town as the boats sailed down the Baitarani river and met the Bay of Bengal at Dhamara, which was a trading port till the 19th century. A number of medieval texts have referred to Jajpur as the ‘Abode of Kubera’ and there are descriptions of large palaces, royal treasury brimming with wealth, royal stables and homes of nobles. These were all located around the present day Biraja temple. Sadly, most of these buildings have disappeared with time. The common folk lived in huts made from mud and wood.

    Due to the large number of rivers in the region like Baitarani, Brahmani and others, boats were the most popular mode of transport. The riverfronts were important, not only as religious sites but even for commerce and daily travel.Most of the town was situated along the banks of the Baitarani river.

    Daily life in the medieval city

    Jajpur, a bustling town in medieval times, was a vibrant hub of cultural and commercial activities. Its streets were a mosaic of colors, sounds, and smells, infused with the hustle and bustle of daily life. A thousand years ago, the town was a thriving center of pilgrimage and trade, where people from all corners of the Indian subcontinent converged to pay homage to the gods and exchange goods.

    The day would begin with the clanging of temple bells, signaling the start of the morning rituals. Devotees would flock to the numerous temples dotting the town, seeking blessings from the deities. The air would be thick with the aroma of incense, flowers, and sandalwood, adding to the mystical ambiance of the town.

    As the sun rose higher, the streets would come alive with the sounds of vendors hawking their wares. The markets of Jajpur were a sight to behold, filled with the most exotic goods from far-flung lands. Spices, textiles, and precious metals were just some of the treasures on offer, attracting merchants from as far as the Middle East and Southeast Asia.

    Alongside the markets, the craftsmen of Jajpur plied their trades, honing their skills in weaving, pottery, and metalworking. Their creations were as diverse as they were beautiful, reflecting the rich cultural tapestry of the town.

    In the afternoons, the town would come to a lull as the heat of the day set in. The streets would empty, and people would retreat to the shade of their homes or take a nap under a tree. But as the sun began to set, the town would once again come alive, with people gathering at the riverfront to watch the boats sail by and take a dip in the cool waters.

    Evenings in Jajpur were a time for socializing and entertainment. Musicians and dancers would perform in the town square, regaling the crowds with tales from mythology and folklore. The smells of street food would fill the air, tempting passersby with savory and sweet delights.

    As night fell, the town would gradually settle into a peaceful slumber, lulled by the sound of crickets and the occasional barking of dogs. The stars would twinkle overhead, casting a serene glow over the town, as people drifted off to sleep, ready to start a new day in the vibrant town of Jajpur.

    What People ate in Ancient Odisha

    Coastal Odisha, known as Kalinga in ancient times, was a land of fertile soil, yielding a variety of fruits and vegetables. The 7th century Chinese traveler Hieung Tsang states that the soil of Wu Cha (Odra) was very rich and fertile “yielding fruits larger than those of other lands”. He observes about Kalinga that “there were regular seed time, harvest, fruits and flowers grew profusely”.

    Rice was the primary cereal consumed by the people of Odisha, as attested by various copper plates and historical accounts. The Hindol copper plate of King Shubhankaradeva describes a special preparation of boiled rice with milk and mixed with clarified butter, a recipe also found in other copper plates. Rice cooked with curd and ghee was popular in coastal Odisha and offered to the gods.

    Milk, milk products, and sweet dishes were also produced and used. The people grew and used mango, tamarind, guava, coconut, lemon, orange, blackberry, jackfruit, and betel nuts. Mango and coconut were important items of trade. Different types of spices were added to the dishes to increase their fragrance and taste. Meat from hunting was also consumed, and wines made from rice, mahua, and khajura were common. Wine was also made from Madhuka flowers.

    The eating habits varied depending on the season. Pungent food was considered good for spring, sweet and cold for summer, salty and sour for monsoon, and hot soups for winters. Coastal Odisha's rich and diverse agricultural landscape and varied climate allowed for a colorful and nutritious diet, which is still a hallmark of the region's cuisine.

    Dressing, Fashion, Entertainment and Eductaion

    Jajpur, a thousand years ago, was a land of rich cultural heritage and diverse customs. The sculptures found in Jajpur provide a glimpse into the attire of men and women during that time. The lower garment, Antariya, and the upper garment, Uttariya, were the standard attire for men, while women wore sarees with bejeweled tiaras, earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. The rich wore silk fabrics while the poor wore cotton. Necklaces made of pearls and precious stones were in vogue, and both men and women wore ear studs and girdles. Elaborate hairstyles were prevalent, with men using bee wax as a styling gel and a red dye known as Yavaka as lipstick.

    In terms of entertainment, board games, hunting, and fishing were popular pastimes. Hunting scenes can be found in many temples in Jajpur. Catching and taming elephants was a popular game during the Somavanshi period. Wrestling and acrobatics were also very popular. Dramas and musical performances were well-received and formed a significant part of the cultural scene in Jajpur. The Gita Govinda of Jayadeva was performed through Jatra performances, and there were several sculptures depicting musical instruments such as flutes, conches, and drums.

    Education was an essential aspect of life in Jajpur, with Agraharas and Buddhist learning centers serving as the primary places of learning. Temples also patronized education, with large donations made for the maintenance of teachers and disciples. The Bhaumakara monarch Shubhakara II granted land for the upkeep of maintenance of teachers and disciples in temples.

    In conclusion, life in Jajpur a thousand years ago was a rich tapestry of experiences, and its legacy lives on in the region's cultural traditions and landmarks.

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