Geographically located between 850 40/ to 870 11/ East longitude and 210 16/ to 220 34/ North latitude, Mayurbhanj is the largest district in Orissa covering 10418 sq.km. The size of the land forms approximately 6.68% of total geographical area of the state. The district is landlocked and hilly. It is also one of the bordering districts of Orissa, its frontiers touching two states: viz Bihar and West Bengal. It is flanked by Keonjhar and Bihar in the west, West Bengal to the East, district of Balesawar to the South and West Bengal and Bihar to the North. With an area of 1641.89 Sq. km of forests, it is the district with the largest area under forest in the state.
The district is known worldwide for its unique form of dance ‘the Chau and the Jhumar’. Another thing that is typical of Mayurbhanj is “The Mudi”, the puffed rice which is a very popular meal of the place. Mayurbhanj district is mainly inhabited by the tribals who constitute 57.67% of its population, Bhumijas and Kolhas being the chief among them. The geography of Mayurbhanj can be divided into three natural divisions. The first one being the hilly terrains that cover the centre of the district running across most of the region. Mostly the Simlipal Mountains, which divides the district into the other two separate geographical regions, Western and Eastern. The Eastern part is made up of fertile slopes that stretch from the foot hills to the sea. The Western part is mainly plain lands with gentle slopes and rocky hills. The temperature of the region is moderate with summer temperature reaching 38°C, while the winter temperature hover around 8°C.
Tracing the history of Mayurbhnaj may take us to prehistoric times: it is well known now that Mayurbhanj had been dwelled by ancient Paleolithic people since the prehistoric times. There are evidences of an archaic Lower Paleolithic human occupation, which evolved into an Acheulian form comparable to the Midinapur district of West Bengal. Some historians opine that Mayurbhanj in fact acted as a large, rich, and pristine epicenter of Lower Paleolithic occupation from where successive periodic movements have entered Midnapur district and other parts of the country. The district has been the centre of activity of The Bhanja Kings who incidentally had very good relations with the Mayur Kings of Keonjahr. In fact, the name of the district has been derived by joining both these clans; the Mayurs and the Bhanjas. The Bhanjas are known to be the longest reigning clan of Kings in the district. With their capital in Khiching of today, the Bhanjas ruled Mayurbhanj for more than 1000 years in royal succession until the freedom of the country. Founded by Sila Bhanja Angaddi, the rule of Bhanjas was responsible for all-round development of the district. The Bhanjas were known to be the promoters of Art, Architecture and S Culture. The Haribaldev temple, the Khichhing temple and numerous other architectural buildings around the district stand testimony to this. The Bhanjas were also responsible for the development and promotion of the Chau dance form, which is now acknowledged worldwide for its unique martial, tribal and classical elements.
Mayurbhanj: Society and Culture
Most of the population of Mayurbhanj belongs to Tribal groups. Tribes believe in many Gods and Goddesses like their non-tribal counterparts. According to them, the Sun is omnipotent: he is the creator and father while the earth is believed to be their mother. Mother Earth is the female and the Sun God is the male and all other are their offspring. Different tribal clans worship the Sun God with different names. The Santalese name Him as ‘Thakur Jew’. Mankadia and Oraon worship as ‘Bhagaban’. Ho Munda and above all some Santalese worship all powerful Sun Gods such as ‘Singabonga’ and Kolha as ‘Maranburu’. As the tribes worships the Sun God in different names, similarly they used to worship the Mother Earth as ‘Dharitree Maa’, ‘Basumata’, ‘Bhumidevata’, ‘Basuri Thakurani’, ‘Basuti Mata’ etc.
The tribes believe in incorporeal beings like Ghost & Witch. Like other Adivasis, the Lodha not only worship ‘Bhagaban’ Sheetala, but they believe in witchery and sorcery to protect themselves from the scourge of Ghost, Witch and other incorporeal beings. Bhuyan, Bathudi and Bhumija, having belief in the Hindu Gods, worship ‘Kali’, Kichakeshwari’ and other Hindu Gods. The Adivasis here consider the trip to Damodar and the above immersion in the river Ganga as the holiest rituals. They celebrate different festivals, which are based on agriculture, social and religious life and are interlinked with beliefs & customs as well. Some of them are celebrated in groups and some individually. The pivot of all celebrations being dance, song, playing the various musical instruments and more, whilst drinking the country liquor ‘Handia’ and merry making.