A legend goes: About 1000 years back two Rajput brothers namely Nila and Shankar who belonged to the royal family of Chottanagpur had come to Puri to seek devotion of Lord Jagannath. They were handsome and brave but were suffering from the family dispute at home. The Gajapati King of Puri was highly impressed with their personality and asked them to stay back.
Both were offered the present Nilagri region in the western part of Balasore to rule. However, Nila stayed back and Shankar left for some other place. The kingdom was named after Nila as Gada Nilagiri.
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It is believed that the present-day village of Gadadih, some 15 km away from present Nilagiri Town was their capital. However, there is no archaeological evidence to support this.
Time moved on. Several of Nila’s heirs ruled Nilagiri than on. In the 16th century, one of his descendants who ruled Nilagiri was Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang Mandahta. He was a brave king and acted as a commander of Puri Gajapati King in his expedition against the Muslim invaders. Because of his skills and personality, he was offered to marry the daughter of Gajapati King, Princess Kalara Devi. From then on Nilagiri kingdom was influenced by the Jagannath Cult and culture of Puri. Because of his bravery, Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang was also awarded the title Harichandan by the Gajapati King.
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Narayan Basant Bhujang was succeeded by Raja Uttareswar. According to sources, Uttareswar had assisted Raja Mansingh of Amer (the present-day Jaipur in Rajasthan) in his expedition against the Afghans in Bengal on the banks of Subarnarekha River. Like his father, he was also a great admirer of Gajapati King at Puri. His successor Raja Krushna Das was awarded the title of Mardaraj by the King of Puri and it is still continued.
Nilagiri is located at a distance of 20 km from Balasore in the periphery of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary. Though it is a small town it does not have much-staying options. The nearby Panchalingeswra shrine located within Kuldiha has a number of staying options including the Panthanivas of Odisha Tourism. You can hire an auto or a cab from Balasore to travel around Nilagiri which can be covered in one day. Hotel Sagar and Hotel Tarini both located in the town serve decent local food in local style.
It is still not known what happened in the next two sanctuaries. In early 19th century, the capital was shifted to the present location under the foothill of majestic Swarnachuda Mountain and named it Nijagada.
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Today the star attraction of Gada Nilagiri is the 19th-century ruins and the added 20th-century palace built in the fusion of Rajput, Odia and Victorian styles. The main attraction of the palace is its high clock tower. Beside the clock tower is the beautiful chhau mandapa, an influence from Mayurbhanj introduced in the kingdom in the 19th century.
Nilagiri lost its power immediately after India got independence and merged with the Indian union.
Like all princely states of Odisha, Nilagiri is also modelled after Puri. Beside the palace is the temple of Jagannath facing the Grand Road (Bada Danda), a wide corridor through which the chariot festival of Lord Jagannath takes place in every Asadha Month. Like Puri, the trinity of Nilagiri also goes through the new embodiment of bodies (nabakalebara) during the same period. Towards the end of Bada Danda is situated the temple of Mausi Maa.
Nilagiri is surrounded by the wilderness of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, lush green forest and enchanting hills. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been inhabited from the time of Early Stone Age. At present, there are villages of Bhumija and Madia Tribes, both Austro-Asiatic speaking communities.
Bhumijas are an agricultural tribe and do occasional hunting. They are fun-loving and deep believers in nature. Salabani, a small village on the lap of nature is a major Bhumija settlement near Nilagiri. A visit to Salabani is like a journey back in time where you relive yourself in the old-world charm of Karma dance and music.
Babandha, a small village on the bank of Bugulibandha wetland in the periphery of Kuldiha Sanctuary is yet another hidden secret of Nilagiri. Inhabited by 350 Madia potters, Babandha is known for its unique earthen pot rafters. It is said that the community had migrated from Central India about 150 years back on the invitation of the royal family of Nilagiri.
Apart from the pot rafters, the surroundings of the village along the wetland area known for its tranquillity and age-old fishing practices.
Nilagiri is mysterious. It seems the time has stood here still for a soul searching traveller. It is tranquil and is the best-kept secret of Balasore in North Odisha.
Author – Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org