Niyamgiri is a hill range, about 250 sq. km. in area (Daspatnaik P.1984) lying between
19.33 degree N lat. and 83. 25 degree E longitude (Patnaik, N. and Daspatnaik, P.1982).
It forms the northernmost hill in the massif of the cluster of hills called the Niyamgiris or
the Dongaria Kondh country. Also known as the Niyam Dongar, it runs in a southwest
alignment with a maximum elevation of 1306 meters.
From socio-cultural, anthropological as well as geographic point of view, this is a single
hill-country; but from administrative point of view, the area comes three districts viz.
Kalahandi, Rayagada and Koraput.
To the anthropologists, Niyamgiri Hills are better known as the country of ‘Dongria
Kondhs’. Dongaria Kondha is one of the primitive and scheduled tribes of the State and
enjoys a critical and symbiotic relation with the Niyamgiri forests. The Dongarias believe
that the hill country belongs to Niyam Raja Penu, a male deity represented by a sword and
worshipped during Dussera and Jura parab. They claim themselves to be descendants of
the Niyam Raja. The Dongrias have derived their name from 'dongar' meaning agricultural
land on hill slopes. If one claims to be a Dongaria Kondha, he must reside in the Niyamgiri hills and
possess land of his own, and pass on to his posterity (P.S. Daspattnaik, ‘Ownership Pattern, land
Survey and Settlement and Its Impact on the Dongaria Kondhas of Orissa’ published in ‘Adibasi’
Journal in January 1984, Vol. XXIII, No. 4, p.26). The Dongrias have a distinguished
heritage, because of their dress style, mode of living, indigenous skills, cultural pattern
and social system interlinked with nature and forests.
Both culturally and ecologically, the Niyamgiri hills are extremely rich and significant.
Most importantly Niyamgiri Hills are the source of Vansadhara river as well as a major
tributary of Nagavali river. It forms a distinct phytogeographical zone because of its
height and its highly precipitous topography. It also has some of the most pristine forests
in Orissa, and is home to a number of vulnerable wildlife species including tiger,
leopards, sloth bear, pangolin, palm civet, giant squirrel, mouse deer, langur and sambhar,
etc. It is also on the path of migration corridor of elephants, and comes within the
territory of Royal Bengal Tiger. In view of its ecological importance, it was declared as
nature conservation / game sanctuary and also was proposed as a Wild Life Sanctuary in
the working plan of Kalahandi Forest Division. The State Wildlife organization has a
proposal to declare this area as South Orissa Elephant Reserve as mentioned in the vide
memo no. 4643/3WL(Cons) 34/04 dated 20.08.2004.
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