Oriya is an official language of the state of Orissa in India. It is spoken by over thirty five million people all over the world. It is a member of the Indo-Aryan language family and its history can be traced from the days of the Kalingas.

Oriya is derived from Magadhi Prakrit and Pali that was spoken across cultures from eastern regions of India over a thousand and five hundred years ago.  Though Oriya has a strong resemblance to Bangla and Ahomiya from Assam, it is not influenced by Arabic and Persian despite Orissa’s long rule by the Moghals.

Oriya is regarded to be the modified form of Odri Prakrit which is derived from the Bibhashas. Modern Oriya vocabulary is made up of Sanskrit, Hindustani and traces of Adivasi origin. Outside Orissa, there are people speaking Oriya in other regions like the Midnapore district of West Bengal, the Singhbhum district of Jharkhand, the Srikakulam, Vizianagaram and Vishakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh and the eastern districts of the Chattisgarh state.



The history of Oriya has been categorised into five main stages – Old Oriya, Early Middle Oriya, Middle Oriya, Late Middle Oriya and Modern Oriya.

Old Oriya – The period between the tenth and the fourteenth centuries – The origin of literature can be traced to `Bauddha Gano O Doha’ written by the Buddhist Siddhas of Orissa. The earliest traces can be found on the inscriptions in temples and copper plates.

Early Middle Oriya – The period between the fourteenth and the sixteenth centuries – Earliest use of prose can be found in `Madala Panji’ or the `Palm Leaf’ Chronicles of the Jagnnatha Temple at Puri which dates back to the fourteenth century.

Middle Oriya – The period between the sixteenth and the eighteenth centuries – Five poets emerged as the `Panchashakha’. They were Balaram Das, Jagannath Das, Achyutamanda Das, Ananta Das and Josobanta Das.

Late Middle Oriya – The period between the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries – A new form of novels in verse form came about in the beginning of the eighteenth century when Ramachandra Pattanayaka wrote `Haravali’. 

Modern Oriya – The period from the nineteenth century till the present day – In the modern period, the first Oriya printing typeset was cast in 1836 by the Christian missionaries who made a great contribution to the language. Though the handwritten Oriya script resembled Bengali and Assamese scripts, the printed typeset adoption leant more towards Tamil and Telugu scripts. Amos Sutton wrote the Bible in Oriya in 1840, compiled an Oriya dictionary in 1841 and wrote `An Introductory Grammar of Oriya’ in 1844.

The possible origin of the Oriya language can be found in the script with which the edicts of Ashoka were written about two thousand and two hundred years ago at Dhauli and Jaugada and the inscriptions of Kharavela in Hati Gumpha of Khandagiri. The Hati Gumpha inscriptions that are written in Pali language were perhaps the only evidence of stone engravings. This may be the reason why the German linguist and Professor Hermann Oldenberg mentioned that Pali was the original language of Orissa.



Oriya literature has had a varied history through the ages and was comprised mainly of poems and prose depicting religion with the stories of gods and goddesses as main themes until the early sixteenth century. The first great poet in the history of Oriya literature is Sarala Das who is also referred to as the Vyasa of Orissa. His best known works are the `Chandi Purana’ and the `Vilanka Ramayana’ written in praise of the Goddess Durga.

Arjuna Dasa’s `Rama Bibha’ is considered as the first epic poem in the history of Oriya literature. In the fifteenth century, the writings of Shri Chaitanya evolved a new form in the Sanskrit style with religious themes. The Panchashakha or the great five poets were the main exponents of religious works in Oriya. Other prominent works are the `Ushabhilasha’ by Sisu Sankara Dasa and `Rukmini Bibha’ by Kartikka Dasa.

A new form of verse based novel writing developed during the early seventeenth century after Ramachandra Pattanayaka wrote `Haravali’. Poets like Madhusudhana and Sisu Isvara Dasa used simple Oriya to write epic poems based on themes from the Puranas called `Kavyas’.

Oriya literature was influenced by the use of verbal wordplay around the turn of the eighteenth century. Upendra Bhanja was a good exponent of verbal wordplay in this period. The tradition was kept alive till the middle of the nineteenth century by poets like Arakshita Dasa and Bhima Bhoi. Another prominent use was that of family chronicles in prose relating to religious festivals and rituals.

Major changes came about in the modern period of Oriya literature, mainly in its style. Great poets and writers of the modern era were Rai Bahadur Radhanatha Ray and Fakira Mohana Senapati who is recognised as the father of modern Oriya literature. Their writings introduced a new spirit into Oriya literature and gave it a modern outlook. Modern drama got a good boost with the writing of `Kanchi-Kaveri’ in 1880 by the great playwright Rama Sankara Ray. This spirit was carried further on by modern writers like Nanda Kishore Bal and Gopabandhu Dasa.

The novel form in Oriya literature became strong with the works of many great Oriya writers like Umesha Sarakara and Kalindi Charana Panigrahi. Modern style of poetry began with the poet Sachi Kanta Rauta Ray. Other modern poets are Godavarisa Mahapatra and Kunjabihari Dasa. 

Some writers also made significant contributions by the translation of several classics from Western literature. Prabhasa Chandra Dwivedi was the main facilitator in this process of the reorientation through adaptations. Oriya literature developed further with critiques, essays and treatises. Notable essayists were Girija Shankar Ray and Hare Krushna Mahatab.



Midnapori Oriya is spoken in the Midnapore district of West Bengal.

Singhbhumi Oriya is spoken in the East Singhbhum district of Jharkhand.

Baleswari Oriya is spoken in the Baleswar district of Orissa.

Ganjami Oriya is spoken in the Ganjam district of Orissa and the Srikakulam District of Andhra Pradesh.

Desiya Oriya is spoken in the Rayagada district of Orissa and in the hilly regions of the Vizianagaram and Vishakhapatnam districts of Andhra Pradesh.

Sambalpuri Oriya is spoken in the Bargarh district of Orissa and by some people in the Raigarh district of Chattisgarh state.

Bhatri Oriya is spoken in the south western Orissa and south eastern Chattisgarh.


Grammar and Script

The modern Oriya script is a development of the Kalinga script. This script actually descended from the Brahmi script. The earliest inscription in the Kalinga script dates from the eleventh century. A notable feature of the Oriya script is the curved calligraphy of the alphabets of those times. This kind of appearance is a result of the age long tradition of writing manuscripts on palm leaves. These leaves have a tendency to tear if too many straight lines are marked on the surface. The writing was done with an iron stylus.

Oriya has syllabic alphabets where all the consonants have a distinct vowel embedded within. Diacritics appear above, below, before or after the consonant they belong to. Diacritics change the form of the vowel. When the diacritics appear at the beginning of a syllable, vowels are written as independent letters. When some consonants come about together, special conjunct symbols are used in combination with the essential parts of each letter.

Oriya has twenty eight consonant phonemes and six vowel phonemes. Unlike Hindi, Oriya keeps most of the cases of Sanskrit. The nominative and the vocative verbs merge with the accusative and dative. The genders are masculine, feminine and neuter. The grammatical numbers are both singular and plural. The tense covers present, past and future.

The Unicode range for Oriya is U+0B00-U+B7F. The Oriya script which is also known as Utkala Lipi can be used for several other Indian languages like Sanskrit and Hindi.


Oriya and the Spread of Journalism

The first Oriya newspaper to be printed was the weekly `Utkal Dipika’ by Gouri Shankar Ray in 1865. This weekly was a result of the surge in nationalism during the late nineteenth century. This paper played an important role in the socio-political life of Orissa. In the early part of the twentieth century, the Swadeshi movement had gained some momentum and it had a considerable impact on Orissa’s social life. This period was also marked by the spread of journalism in different parts of Orissa.

The first Oriya daily newspaper `Dainik Asha’ was published from Berhampur in 1928 by Sashibhushan Rath. This was a turning point in the history of Oriya journalism. It set an example of the power of the press in uniting Oriya people for a cause. In this particular case, it was first the unification of the bordering and outlying Oriya areas under one administration and secondly, it was a great help to the freedom movement.  

Oriya is a relatively young language in comparison to some other Indian languages. Efforts are being made currently to go ahead with the digitisation of the Oriya language and such attempts will make sure that this unique language will continue to retain its distinct place in the culture and history of modern India.

Article Posted By : tahnaklView All Articles

Tahseen Nakavi Juror

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