The historical records reveal that the religion in Odisha has evolved from Animism, nature worship, Shamanism and ancestor worship. Finally all these early forms of religion have evolved into other higher forms of religion like Brahmanism, Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism.
In fact it can be said that the various religious beliefs of the state have sprung from the rise and fall of empires in the past ages.
Buddhism in Odisha
Buddhism gained popularity after the Kalinga War. It became a dominant religion in both India and Odisha under the patronage of Ashoka (B.C. 261). In the pre-Christian era Jainism appears to have been the most important religion in Orissa. From the Hathigumpha inscription it is known that Jainism in the second century B.C under the patronage of Kharavela got the status of the state religion. By the 7th century A.D. Brahminism had become influential, especially, in the courts. Hieun Tsang , Chinese Pilgrim, observed how Buddhist Viharas and Brahmanic temples flourished side by side. Shaivism was the state religion of Odisha during the rule of the Somavamsis within 8th to 11th century A.D., and Vaishnavism got popularity under the royal patronage of the rulers of the Ganga dynasty.
Hindus in Odisha
Jagannath Temple emerged during the rule of the reign of Gangas. Lord Jagannath is considered to be the incarnation of the supreme Lord Vishnu and worshipped as the foremost deity among gods of Hindu pantheon represented in Oriya Hindu theology. Lord Jagannath was originally worshipped by the Sabaras, the tribal group found mostly in south Orissa. The non-Brahmin priests called Daitas worship Lord Jagannath shoulder to shoulder with the Brahmin priests. They are considered to be the descendants of the Sabaras. During the car festival the deities wear the typical Sabara costume. So the present Jagannath cult is the result of an age-long metamorphosis from a tribal tradition to a Hindu tradition. Lord Jagannath is considered to be Bhairava, the great Tantric deity as well as an avatar of Lord Buddha. He is also called 'a great Jina' like 'Jina' of the Jainas. In Jagannath cult there is also found a synthesis of Ramanandi Vaishnavism of South India with Gaudia Vaishnavism of Chaitanya. The most popular Bhajans in praise of Lord Jagannath have been written by Salabega, the son of a Muslim 'Subedar'. The Jagannath Temple is a synthesis of various forms of worship like Brahminic worship, Vaishnavite worship, Shaivite worship, Shakta worship and Ganapatya worship. Thus, Lord Jagannath represents the grand synthesis of many major religions of India. For ages this synthesis is reflected in the culture of Odisha.
Other Religions in Odisha
Other religions in Odisha include those of Christianity and Islam. This Eastern Indian state is famous for its secularism and tolerance towards all religions.