In Odisha, the Khanda-puja or Astra-puja is carried out from Saptami to Dashami. This tradition was started by King Surath of Mahameghavahana/Chhedi dynasty of Utkalinga (Odisha), in 300 BC. The Chhedi dynasty is also called the Cheti or Chaitra dynasty.
After King Surath, this tradition was popularized with great fanfare by the great Khandayat emperor Aira Kharavela, who was born in the same Mahameghavahana/Chhedi dynasty. He was called JimutaVahana/MeghaVahana (Jimut or Megha means cloud) for this reason.
Kharavela had conquered a vast region of India and drove away the Greek invader Dimitrius from Mathura, who had attacked India. After Kharavela and his descendants, the kings of the Somvanshi Gajapati dynasty carried on this tradition from the 4th century onwards.
Apart from being Shaivate and Vaishnavite, the Somvanshi rulers were Shakti Upashak too. Somvanshi kings used to worship in front of the shrine of Maa Stambeswari. The Somvanshi kings had conquered many parts of India.
After the Somvanshi kings, Khandayat Emperor Rout Anantavarman Chodaganga Deva of the Eastern Ganga dynasty took over the rule of Odisha in the 11th century. He was a great follower of Shakta tradition along with Shaivaism and Vaishnavism.
Under the guidance of his tantrik Guru Nitei Dhobini, Anantavarman Chodaganga revived the Shakti Upasana tradition in Kalinga and started the practice of Gosani Yatra in Puri, which is associated with Maa Durga/Devi Vimala of Jagannath Dham Puri.
His capital was Cuttack & Jajpur was its entrance. Durga Puja is the 3rd most popular cultural & religious festival in Odisha due to its long root since 300 BC. Durga Puja of Cuttack has some unique historical aspects due to its direct association with history of Anantavarman.
In Kalinga(Ancient Odisha), Vijaya Dashami was also celebrated as army day. There is a history behind it. Half a century after the death of Anantavarman Chodaganga, Kalinga had to stay strong against an Islamic invasion. The Kalinga army led by Anangabhima Deva III faced the invaders.
Anantavarman’s descendant Anangabhima Deva III, who took the title of Durgaputra, defeated the Turkic invaders easily. After his victory, he paid special tribute to Maa Durga on Vijaya Dashami and from that day onwards, Vijaya Dashami was celebrated as army day in his dynasty.
Like his father Anangabhima Deva, Langula Narasimha Deva also took the title of Durgaputra, Rudraputra (inscribed in Kapilasa) and took the fight against the Turkic invaders to their own region- the Bengal under the Sultanate.
To commemorate his successful campaigns against the foreign invaders, Langula Narasimha Deva built the massive Konark temple, which according to many scholars, was commissioned on Vijaya Dashami.
Kalinga had a feudal structure since ancient times. As such, each Khandayat chief or vassal used to live in a fort dedicated for his clan. Inside the fort, there was a Devi temple in the prominent place dedicated to the clan Deity of Khandayat Chief.
In the month of Ashwin, the Chief used to examine the quality of weapon, men & strategies on the occasion of Dashahara. Apart from religious and spiritual importance, the Durga Puja in Odisha has historical importance too.
After rebuilding the Jagannatha temple, Anantavarman Chodaganga started the tradition of recording down all historical events as chronicle. According to the tradition, Chodaganga created 24 families of Karanas to preserve the temple records.
Of these, five Karana families were entrusted with the year-to-year writing and preservation of the Madala Panji, the chronicles that contains all the historical events of Kalinga.
These five Karana families were: •Panjia Karan—preserves the Madala Panji. •Tadau Karan—writes the Madala Panji. •Deula Karan—enforces the Madala. •Kotha Karan—the main compiler. •Baithi Karan – assistant
The Karanas used to record down all the historical events in their respective copies, and on the day of Bijaya-Dashami (Vijaya-Dashami) these events were finally recorded in the Madala Panji, on annual basis.
Suryanashi Gajapati king Purushottam Deva Routaray had written a historical records of Vijaya Dashami celebration in Kalinga. The book “Durgostav-Chandrika” describes the complete rituals of Dashami during his time. It is believed that the book was completed on Vijaya Dashami.
Dashahara in Odisha was completely a war festival & all Khandayat chiefs used to prepare their armies for future expedition. In Odisha military culture, the months between Ashwin to Jayistha was considered as ideal time for military campaign in foreign lands.
The day of Ashwin Purnima was dedicated to the Lord Kartikeya as he was the chief General of Devas. The Khanda Puja (Weapons Worship) of Odisha is one of the longest surviving martial festival in India celebrated in unique and at it’s original way by the Kshatriya in Odisha.
The martial legacy is still carried out in a ceremonial form via its Kshatriya Khandayat community. The ritual starts on the day of Saptami, where all the weapons are washed in turmeric water, and placed on a Singhasan. A brief yajna is carried out followed by placing the Kalash.
A lamp is lighted for next 4 days till Dashami. On each day a specific yajna is conducted for the worship of the weapons. On the day of Dashami, the Kshatriyas/Khandayats take the weapons and do a march in their designated areas or villages, performing various stunts and dances.
During Dashami, in the early hours of the night, the small villages, the drummers and musicians of the village enthrall the environment. Some Khandayats come out with their swords, axes, spear & sticks and gather infront of the temple of Gramdevati.
Before beginning of the campaign, sacrifices are made for the satisfaction of the Goddess. On the occasion of Vijaya Dashami, the swords are first washed and cleaned with turmeric water, then covered with new cloth and offered to the Mother Durga’s feet.
Few rituals of astra-pujan might differ clan-wise and it is done secretly- only a Khandayat will know how to perform it and can’t fake it. In the evening, the courtyard of the temple is echoed by the roar of the Khandayats who chant mantras of matri-vandana.
At first, the teenagers and youth perform the art of arm-wrestling, lathi-khela (sparring with sticks) and self-defense. Elder Khandayats too, participate in various “manly” sports that require extensive physical activity like “mallayuddhya”, “tug-of-war”, “swordsmanship”, etc.
The war dance of Khandayats, known as Paika-nrutya is also performed by the people of village to commemorate the martial tradition. As the sound intensifies, the Swordsmanship of the Khandayats soothes the dust of the temple courtyard.
Durga Puja in Ashwin month was the premilitary preparation of the Khandayats. Khandayat community formulated battle tactics, innovated new weaponry & rewarded new joinees with new weapons- especially after the teenaged & young Khandayats take part in the battle.
Then, they joined the military forever. Animals were sacrificed in front of the goddess to remove the hesitation from the mind of the newly joined Khandayats. Nowadays, animals are no longer sacrificed in current days. Worship of swords begins on the seventh day of Durga Puja.
Khanda-puja is performed publicly on the tenth day of Durga Puja. During these four days, the Khandayats celebrate with great pomp and ceremony in the village. Also, it is mandatory for the Gram Pradhan of the Khandayat villages to serve prasad to every elder of the village.
Naga Puja during Durga Puja/Dashami is a rare culture found only at Puri, Odisha. Naga culture derives from the old age Jaga Akhada Of Puri. Some scholars say Nagas were Saiva Devotee- besides worshiping they also practiced body building and wrestling.
To commemorate this old tradition huge figures of Naga are used to build in different place of Puri at the time of Durga Puja. The Naga Puja of Bali Sahi and Harachandi Sahi are old and famous in Puri’s local culture. These clay figures resemble a well-built muscular human being standing in heroic pose. His face consists of big round eyes, sharp nose, curly mustache and a beard. A beautiful heavy headgear adorns his head. Headgear has a lotus flower. Under his feet, a tiger can be noticed.