Similipal hills serve as a life-support system for the tribals and tigers. It is a treasure house of nature with captive scenic beauty, the lush green valleys, the majestic Sal and the stream and rivulets cascading down the hills. Being located in the heart of Mayurbhanj District of Odisha, the hills, forests, rivers, wildlife of Similipal are deeply ingrained in the culture of the region. Majority of the population in the district are forest dependent communities with nearly 58.72 per cent of the total population (2011 census) are Scheduled Tribes. Many tribes like Kolha, Santal, Bhumija, Gond & Ho live in and around Similipal landscape in the district. Particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs) such as Khadia, Mankidia & Lodhas live in the landscape who largely depend on forest-based livelihood.
The primary occupation of all communities is agriculture. However, they depend on forest produces for their livelihood. From the forests, people collect timber for construction of their houses, fuelwood for cooking and NTFPs for their self-consumption as well as sale. The major Non-Timber Forest Products that are collected from Similipal & adjoining forests are Honey, Jhuna (Sal exudate), Palua (Arrowroot), medicinal plants, Mahula flower & fruits (Mahua), Sal & Siali leaf for preparing Poly-leaf plates & cups, Siali bark for making ropes, mushrooms, wild edible leaf, fruits & tubers, Kurkuti (red ants) etc. Communities living close to the Similipal forests are dependent on the innumerable streams & rivers for their water requirement that originate from these forests.
The way of life of these forest dependent communities is fascinating. Their lifestyle is in harmony with nature & natural resources. Most of their requirements are met from the forest & agricultural resources, for others they are dependent on the weekly hata in their locality. The weekly hata is a local market place where one can find wide range products like forest produces, agricultural products, utensils, textiles and many other utilities that are required on day-to-day life. The forest produces vary as per the season & availability. One can find Sal leaf, twigs, red ants, mushrooms, Jhuna, Honey, Medicinal plants, etc. in these markets. At one of the corners, the Handia (local rice beer) is served by tribal women which is an important part of the Haat. Almost all people coming to Haat consume Handia after end of their business and before leaving the Haat.
Almost all the tribes have rich and vibrant culture & tradition. They celebrate all their festivals & social functions with great pump and show. They love music & dance. Music & dance are inherent part of all celebrations & functions.
The homes of the tribes are decorated with paints made from natural ochre of different colour ranging from white, red, yellow, blue, etc. A santhal home has distinct three colour pattern; Kolhas paint animals & plants on the walls of their homes. The Mankidias are known to construct leaf huts called ‘Kumbha’.
Similipal’s cultural significance is characterized by stories and paintings that date back to the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Puranas, many of which mention local sites linked with specific mythological stories. For example, a sacred grove called Shami Vrikhya is said to have been the secret hiding place of the bow and arrow of the hero Arjuna. Other writings allude to certain domiciles of the Goddess Ambika, or mention a sacred bathing place of Lord ShriRam. The names of places like Sitakund, Deokund, Bhimkund, Bagha-anta in Similipal landscape also indicate the link with the epics and mythological stories.
The rulers of the Bhanja dynasty continued to rule over Mayurbhanj State in unbroken succession since about the 9th century A.D. The state had an extensive territory comprising the present Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts as well as parts of Singhbhum district in Bihar and Medinapur district in West Bengal. During the Moghul Period, the territory of Bhanja rulers extended as far as the sea.
The Kings of Mayurbhanj were pioneering force in the upliftment of Odisha under British rule. In fact, it was one of the most progressive districts in the whole nation during the British rule. The Bhanja kings established the first medical college of the state in Cuttack. They donated huge sum of money and land for establishment of higher educational institutions like Ravenshaw College. They were also responsible for making endeavours and finally persuading the Britishers for a railway route to Odisha.
Similipal was a hunting ground of kings of Mayurbhanj & for commercial extraction of timbe for the state. Similipal forests were declared as Reserve Forests and managed by the kings of Mayurbhanja State. A forest policy was declared before 1885 for the purpose. The Mayurbhanj narrow gauge line was built up to Baripada in 1904 mostly for extraction of timber from Similipal. In 1907, State Forest Department was created for intensified forest management.
The Mayurbhanj state got merged in the state of Odisha on 1st January 1949. Since the date of its merger Mayurbhanj has been organized and is administered as one of the districts of Odisha. Their capital was located at Baripada which is now the district headquarters of Mayurbhanj District. Many buildings of the erstwhile princely state can be seen in Baripada town which were donated to the District Administration & Colleges. The Belgadia Palace in the town is still in use by the descendants of the princely families.
Mayurbhanj, apart from its long history, has very rich & vibrant cultural heritage. Makar Parva and Karama Parva are the two well-known festivals of Mayurbhanj District which are celebrated with great pump and show.
Amongst the performing art, the fame of Mayurbhanj Chhau dance has crossed geographical limitations and has claimed worldwide fans for its beauty, vigour and marvel of the art. The Jhumar folk dance is also quite famous.
Most of the tribes of Mayurbhanj are culturally affluent with folk dance, tribal ethnic dance, tribal songs and rituals. The famous tribal dances of similipal are Chhow, Dantha, and Bahabanga Dance of Santhal tribe . Pinkali, Bahabana, Kathi dance of Kolha tribes. Changu dance of Bathudis, Khadia folk dance and Mankidia Folk dance. Bhuiyan dance of Bhuinya tribes are famous and worth viewing. The tribal dance is a treat to the eye of the viewers. With the beats of drums, flutes & other musical instruments that the tribes use, one can not stop to move feet to the rhythm of music.
Apart from Puri, Lord Jagannath is worshipped as Shri Shri Haribaldev Mahaprabhu at Baripada. All the rituals for Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Suvadra are perfomed here. Every year Car festival is celebrated on the day after the day on which Car festival is celebrated at Puri. The three deities come to the Radhamohan Temple (Mausimaa Mandir) during car festival which lasts for two days. The speciality of the Baripada Car festival is that only ladies can pull the chariot of Maa Subhadra.
Mayurbhanj being the land of many tribal communities, one can explore their culinary flavours. The majority of population of the district is non-vegetarian. The Mudhi-Mangsha (Puffed rice with mutton) of Baripada is quite famous. The Kurkuti chutney (red ants) is also a delicacy mostly for the tribal communities. The chutney is said to have medicinal properties and is expected to get a GI Tag soon.