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Kuilta is a caste or community of the Hindus belonging to the Western Odisha region of India. This caste is categorised as a socially and economically backward community in both State and Centre (Oct 1994) list. The main occupation is agriculture.
Kuilta is a sub-branch of a major social group migrated from the Kullu Valley of Himachal Pradesh. Many similarities are found in the culture of Kullu Valley with that of the Kuiltas. For example, goddess Ramachandi who is the principal deity of the Kuiltas is also worshiped in Kullu Valley.
Due to geographical isolation and historical factors they have developed their own social identity. They have adopted some cultural elements from the local tribes. With the help of the local tribes, they have developed the agriculture of the area. They have the greatest role in increasing the cultivable area out of the forest cover of the region.
For their peace-loving nature some writers are of the opinion that Kuilta people might have followed Buddhism in the past.
It is said that the Kuiltas migrated from Ayodhya to Boudh. Their ancestors were employed by the king Dasharatha. They accompanied Rama, Lakshman and Sita in their exile and settled in Boudh. Sarsara and Jagati of Boudh are considered to be the main centres of the Kuiltas.
Establishment in Odisha
The area of Boudh is regarded as the original home of the Kuiltas in Odisha. From there they migrated and settled in different parts of Odisha. The writings of Cobden Ramsay about the Kuiltas substantiate this contention. He writes that the Kultas worship the goddess Ramachandi, whose principal shrine is situated at Sarsara near Boudh.
The Raja of Boudh sent a group of Kuiltas as agriculturists to help alleviate the agricultural situation and brought food relief to Patnagarh.
Some Kuiltas might have migrated from Patnagarh to Bargarh Gaisama area during the last phase of the reign of Raja Ajit Singh of Sambalpur (1725–1766). But, some of them migrated much earlier, in the first half of the sixteenth century AD during the reign of Raja Balaram Dev. There is a Kuilta dominated village named Kamgaon near Bargarh. This village is a very old one and is said to have been established by the Kuiltas, when they migrated to this part of Bargarh from Boudh in around the first part of the sixteenth century AD. There is a temple of Ramachandi in this village, which is held in great veneration by the Kuiltas. Their chief families, the Bhois and the Pradhans, are its priests.
One Kuilta gauntia (village headman) of Patnagarh fled away with his men and property, crossed the border, which was the Ong River, and entered into the territory of Sambalpur. Thereafter, they marched further and reached Gaisama, situated 13 km southeast of Bargarh, and settled there. Bargarh was than an important seat of power and one of the eighteen garhas (forts) of Odisha. It was a flourishing centre of trade and commerce. It is known that Kuiltas were living in large numbers in the Bargarh area in the basins of the rivers, namely the Mahanadi, the Jira, the Ong and the Tel.
Migration to Gaisima
Regarding migration of Kuiltas to Gaisima we find an interesting narrative. As per the tradition, there was a Kuilta gauntia family in Patnagarh in the reign of Raja Raisingh Dev as mentioned earlier. The surname of this family was Sahu. The gauntia had two sons named Kuvera Sahu and Amar Sahu and also a beautiful daughter. An influential noble of the royal family of Patnagarh was smitten with surpassing beauty of his only daughter and wanted her hand; but the proposal was not readily acceptable to the reigning beauty and her family. Apprehending trouble, one night the old gauntia left the territory of Patnagarh with his family and belongings loaded in one hundred carts and a thousand cows and bullocks. When exactly they left is difficult to say due to want of evidence. However, the Sahu family marched relentlessly throughout the whole night and crossed the river Ang/Ong. Reaching the territory of Sambalpur kingdom early in the morning, they heaved a sigh of relief. The old gauntia stood there and pointing his right hand towards the rising sun, took an oath that in future he or his descendant would never cross the river Ang/Ong. Thereafter, they proceeded further north, passed through Barpali, crossed the river Jira and spent the night on the northern bank of the river. At that time, Sambalpur was also passing through a phase of political turmoil. Raja Ajit Singh (1725-1766) the ruler of Sambalpur was an indolent and weak ruler. He was completely under the evil influence of his Dewan who was virtually ruling over Sambalpur kingdom. The ruler was taking very little interest in the administration of Sambalpur and his authority was grossly misused by the wicked and corrupt Dewan whose integrity was always doubted. From this, it can be inferred that the Kuiltas did not want to proceed further and finally decided to settle down there on the northern bank of the river Jira. In order to justify and legitimize their decision and for the concurrence of their ideas and opinions, probably the Kuiltas manufactured a myth which may be narrated in the following manner. At night, the old gauntia had a strange dream. A female deity appeared and told him not to proceed further. She told the old gauntia to settle down there with the lands as far as his cows and bullocks were then taking rest. Consequently, a new human settlement started at that place. Since the limits of this settlement were determined by the presence of the cows it was popularly called Gai-sima - Gai means cow and sima refers to boundary. Later on, Gaisama came to be known as Gaisama. The place Gaisama was named either after the creation of the myth or the myth might have been created so after the name of this place Gaisima/Gaisama. Subsequently, other sections of Kuiltas probably migrated to Bargarh area. Thus, it is known from history that the Kuiltas have been living in large number in Bargarh areas. The myth, however, is most important one and throws significant light on the socio-economic and political history as well as culture of Kosal region during the eighteenth century AD.
Kuiltas in Bargarh
As told in oral history, a year-long effort and struggle of the Kuiltas brought dramatic changes. They excavated some thirteen tanks round about their new settlement. The digging of tanks was meant for conservation of water for multiple purposes; but the Kuiltas utilized these tanks mainly for agricultural purposes during scanty rainfall and thereby cultivated the fertile lands successfully. In that area water is a far more important factor than soil to farmers. Artificial irrigation is absolutely necessary and is a matter of vital importance when the amount of rainfall is insufficient. The then British Political Agent, Cobden Ramsay, wrote that the Kulitas were excellent cultivators, very industrious and very skillful in irrigation.
Later on, some Kuiltas migrated to Kalahandi district from Sambalpur, most probably from Bargarh area, about the year 1867 to participate in the agricultural development of Kalahandi. In this context, it would not be unwise to mention the significant contribution of Raja Udit Pratap Deo (1853-1881 AD) of Kalahandi made towards the improvement of agriculture in his state. He was married to Asha Kumari Devi, the only issue of Maharaja Narayan Singh, the last ruler .
The Kuiltas have the reputation of being very good cultivators in western Odisha. In the past, irrigation was done mostly by tanks called kata, munda, or bandh. The very existence of villages over a large portion of the area is dependent on the tanks which have been constructed near them. Accumulated agricultural acumen of Kuiltas over the years has had a significant contribution towards the agricultural development of the region where they have settled. Today, agriculture is the key sector of this region's economy and bulk of its population primarily depend on agriculture for occupation and livelihood. Kuiltas had made a whole cycle of environment friendly economy. They have been a driving force behind the economic, social, cultural and religious activities of the area where they live.
Lately, use of chemical pesticides and fertilizer is destroying the land, water, flora and fauna. The so-called advanced agricultural practices have ruined the economy of the Kuilta and other farmers. However they have understood it and are returning to green and organic farming.
Jagati and Sarsara have been seats of Vaishnavism and Shaivism from ancient times. Near the village Jagati at Gandharadi is situated the famous twin temples of Lord Nilamadhaba and Lord Siddheswara constructed on a common platform. The significance of the Gandharadi temples lies in the fact that they represent the harmonious co-existence of the two major religious faiths of Western Odisha during that period. This type of twin temple constructed during the medieval period is not seen anywhere else. Nilamadhaba temple is dedicated to Lord Vishnu whereas Siddheswara temple is dedicated to Lord Siva. On the basis of the detailed analysis of structural and sculptural features, the temples have been dated to the later half of the eighth or first half of the ninth century AD (Senapati and Kuanr, 1983:379-80; Panda, 2004:22).
Thus, historically speaking, Kuiltas have been associated with a glorious religion-cultural tradition although their principal deity is Ramachandi. It was the period when Lord Vishnu elicited great reverence like Lord Siva in Jagati. The above analysis suggests that in Jagati a great civilization flourished since at least eighth century AD (Sahu and others, 1981:131; Senapati and Kuanr, 1983:33, 134, 379-80; Behera, 1991:310-11; Panda, 2004:22).
- Gazette of India, 27 October 1994. Retrieved on 24 July 2014.
- Caste in India: Its Nature, Function and Origins, p50, p247