Odia People
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Odia People

Total population
c. 34 million[1]
Regions with significant populations
 India33,026,680 (2011)[2]
Om.svg Hinduism

The Odia (), formerly known as Oriya, are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group native to the Indian state of Odisha and have the Odia language as their mother tongue. They constitute a majority in the eastern coastal state of Odisha, with significant minority populations in Chhattisgarh and West Bengal.


The earliest Odias were called Odra or Kalinga, which later on became Utkal.

The word Odia has mentions in epics like the Mahabharata. The Odras are mentioned as one of the peoples that fought in the Mahabharata. Pali literature calls them Oddakas. Ptolemy and Pliny the Elder also refer to the Oretas who inhabit India's eastern coast. The modern term Odia dates from the 15th century when it was used by the medieval Muslim chroniclers and adopted by the Gajapati kings of Odisha.


The Odias are distinguished by their ethnocultural customs as well as the use of the Odia language. Odisha's relative isolation and the lack of any discernible outside influence has contributed towards preserving a social and religious structure that has disappeared from most of North India.

Odisha remained an independent regional power till the early 16th century A.D. It was conquered by the Mughals under Akbar in 1568 and was thereafter subject to a succession of Mughal and Maratha rule before finally falling to the British in the year 1803.

Hard impositions of taxes by the British, administrative malpractices by the pro British Bengali landlords or officials and stripping the rights of local people along with suppression of native landlords in Odisha led to India's first[3] reorganized revolt against the British in the year 1817 popularly known as Paika Bidroh or rebellion. Battle worthy leaders like Jayi Rajaguru (1806) and Buxi Jagabandhu (1773) along with the Paikas and Kondh tribal conscripts fought gallantly against the British and won for brief time declaring the independence from the British authority. A series of rebellions and uprisings led by numerous brave Odias like Tapang rebellion (1827), Banapur rebellion (1835), Sambalpur uprising (1827-62), Ghumsur Kondh uprising (1835), Kondh Rebellion (1846-55), Bhuyan uprising (1864), Ranapur Praja Revolt (1937-38), etc. followed in Odisha making it a difficult task for the British to maintain absolute authority over Odisha.

While under the Maratha rule, major Odia regions were transferred to the rulers of Bengal that resulted in successive extinction of the language over the course of time in vast regions that stretched until today's Burdawan district of West Bengal. The British applied their divide and rule policy and subsequently transferred Odia areas to the neighboring non-Odia administrative divisions that contributed to the extinction of Odia culture and language in the formerly core regions of Odisha or Kalinga. Following popular movements and rise of consciousness for Odia identity, a major part of the new Odisha state was first carved out from Bengal Presidency in 1912. Finally Odisha became a separate province and the first officially recognized language-based state of India in 1936 after the amalgamation of the Odia regions from Bihar Orissa Province, Madras Presidency and Chhattisgarh Division was successfully executed. 26 Odia princely states including Saraikela-Kharswan in today's Jharkhand also signed for merger with the newly formed Odisha state while many major Odia speaking areas were left out due to political incompetence.

Geographic Distribution

The total Odia population is unclear. The 2001 Census of India gave the population of Odisha at around 36 million. There are smaller Odia communities in the neighbouring state of West Bengal, particularly in Midnapore and the Indo Aryan communities of Bankura except the Bengali/Kannauj brahmins.[]Surat in Gujarat also has a large Odia population, primarily diamond workers in the southern district of Ganjam. The sex ratio is around 979 women per 1000 men, high by Indian standards.

Although the Odia population abroad is 80% from the districts of northern, eastern, southern and Western Odisha. Most of the American Odias come from Balasore, Brahmapur, Sambalpur and Cuttack. Migration to UK was from 1935 and continues till this day whereas sailors and men were hired for white collar jobs. Most of the British Odias have gained British citizenship.

Language and literature

Around 35-40 million people in Odisha and adjoining areas speak and use Odia language which is also one of the six classical languages of India and the only regional language in the Indo-Aryanic family to receive classical language status.[4] Odia shares a common root[] with Pali and Sabari language and is the oldest and richest[] in vocabulary among four sister languages derived from Sabari language, the other three being Maithili, Bengali and Assamese. Odia words are found in the 2nd century B.C Jaugada inscriptions of emperor Ashoka and 1st century B.C Khandagiri inscriptions of emperor Kharavela. Known as Odra Bibhasa or as Odra Magadhi Apabrhamsa in ancient times the language has been inscribed throughout the last two millenniums in ancient Pali, Prakrit, Sanskrit and Odia scripts. The Buddhist Charyapadas composed in the 7th to 9th centuries by Buddhists like Rahula, Saraha, Luipa, etc. The literary traditions of Odia language achieved prominence towards the rule of the Somavamshi and Eastern Ganga Dynasty. In the 14th century during the rule of emperor Kapilendra Deva Routray, the poet Sarala Dasa wrote the Mahabharata, Chandi Purana, and Vilanka Ramayana, praising the goddess Durga. Rama-bibaha, written by Arjuna Dasa, was the first long poem written in Odia. Major contributions to the Odia language in the Middle Ages were contributed by the Panchasakha, Jagannatha Dasa, Balarama Dasa, Acyutananda, Yasovanta and Ananta.

Mughalbandi or Kataki Odia, spoken in the Cuttack Khordha and Puri districts is generally considered as the standard dialect and is the language of instruction and media. There are eight major forms of Odia spoken across the Odisha and adjoining areas while another thirteen minor forms spoken by tribal and other groups of people. New literary traditions are emerging in the western Odia form of the language which is Sambalpuri and prominent poets and writers have emerged like Haldar Nag.

Position of women in Odia society

The position of women in the Odia society has been always held with high value. Besides the historical depiction of queens surrounded by female bodyguards on the temple arts, Odia women are accustomed to follow traditional ways along with acceptance of modern culture. Odia culture celebrates female concentric festivals like Raja, Khudrukuni Osa, Sudasa Brata, Kumar Purnima, etc. which is unique in its nature compared to other cultures in India. Remarkable Odia women like Sarala Devi, Rama Devi, Kuntala Kumari Sabat, Malati Choudhury, Pravavati Devi, Arnapurna Devi, etc. played a pivotal role in the national and freedom movement of India. Nandini Satapathy became the first female chief minister of the state of Odisha in 1973. The new generation of young women in Odisha pursue higher education and are career-oriented in nature.



Odisha is one of the most religiously homogeneous states in India. More than 95% of the people are followers of Hinduism[]. Hinduism in Odisha is more significant due to the specific Jagannath culture followed by Odia Hindus. The practices of the Jagannath sect are extremely popular[clarification needed] in the state and the annual Rath Yatra in Puri draws pilgrims from across India. Under the Hindu religion, Odia people are believers of a wide range of sects with roots to historical times.

Before the advent of the Vaisnava sects Purrushotam Jagannath cult in Odisha, Buddhism and Jainism[] were two very prominent religions. According to Jainkhetra Samasa, the Jain tirthankar Prasvanth came to Kopatak which is now Kupari of Baleswar district and was the guest of a person called Dhanya. The Kshetra Samasa, says that Parsvnath preached at Tamralipti (now Tamluk in Bengal) of Kalinga. The national religion of ancient Odisha became Jainism during the time of the emperor Karakandu in the 7th Century B.C. The Kalinga Jina asana was established and the idol of Tirthankara Rishabhanatha then also known as the "Kalinga Jina"was the national symbol of the kingdom. Emperor Mahmeghvahana Kharavela was also a devout Jain and a religiously tolerant ruler who reclaimed and re-established the Kalinga Jina that was taken away as a victory token by the Magadhan king, Mahapadma Nanda.

Buddhism was also a prevalent religion in the Odisha region until the late Bhaumakar dynasty's rule. Remarkable archaeological findings like at Dhauli, Ratnagiri, Lalitgiri, khandagiri and Puspagiri across the state have unearthed the buried truth about the Buddhist past of Odisha in a large scale. Even today we can see the Buddhist impact on the socio-cultural traditions of the Odia people. Though a majority of Buddhist shrines lay undiscovered and buried, the past of Odia people is rich with descriptions about them in the Buddhist literature. The tooth relic of Buddha was first hosted by ancient Odisha as the king Brahmadutta constructed a beautiful shrine in his capital Dantapura (assumed to be Puri) of Kalinga. Successive dynasties in ancient Odisha's Kalinga or Tri Kalinga region were tolerant and secular in their governance over all the existing religions with Vedic roots. This provided a peaceful and secure environment for all the religious ideologies to flourish in the region for over a time period of three thousand years. The founder of Vajrayana Buddhism, King Indrabhuti was born in Odisha along with other prominent monks like Saraha, Luipa, Lakshminara and characters of Buddhist mythology like Tapassu and Bahalika were born in Odisha.

Hindu sects like Shaiva and Saktism are also the oldest ways of Hindu belief systems in Odisha with many royal dynasties dedicating remarkable temples and making them state religion over their time of rule in history. Lingaraja, rajarani, mausi maa temple and other temples in Bhubaneswar are mostly of Shaivaite sect while prominent temples of goddesses like Samleswari, Tara-Tarini, Mangala, Budhi Thakurani, Tarini, Kichekeswari, and Manikeswari, across the Odisha state are dedicated to the Sakti and Tantric cult.

The Odia culture is now mostly echoed through the spread of Vaishnavite Jagannath culture across the world and the deity Jagannath himself is deeply rooted to every household traditions, culture and religious belief of Odia people today. There are historical references of wooden idols of Hindu deities being worshiped as a specific trend of Kalinga region far before the construction of Puri Jagannath temple by the king, Choda Ganga Deva in 12th century.

Lately converted Christians are generally found among the tribal people especially in the interior districts of Gajapati and Kandhamal. Around 2% of the people are Muslims, most of them descendants of migrants from North India and elsewhere. The larger concentration of the minority Muslim population is in the districts of Bhadrak, Kendrapada and Cuttack.


The Odia architecture has a regional architectural tradition that dates back to at least the 6th century from the times of the Shailodbhava dynasty. From the times of the Somavamshi and the Eastern Ganga dynasty the Kalinga architecture form achieved prominence with its special style of temple designs which consist of four major sections of a religious structure, namely Mukha Deula, Nata Mandapa, Bhoga Mandapa and Garba Griha (or the inner sanctum). The examples of these marvelous structures are prevalent across the several hundreds of temples build across the state of Odisha mainly in Bhubaneswar which happens to be known as the temple city. Puri Jagannath temple, ruins of the Konark Sun temple, Lingaraj temple, etc. are the living examples of ancient Kalinga architecture.


Odissi (Orissi) is one of the classical dances of India. The Applique work of Pipili (a small village), and Sambalpuri saree are notable. The silver filigree work from Cuttack and Pattachitra of Raghurajpur are some really authentic representation of ancient Indian art and culture.

Odias were the master of swords and they were having their own form of martial arts, later popularly known as "Paika Akhada".


Ancient traces of entertainment can be traced to the rock edicts of Emperor Kharavela which speaks about the festive gatherings held by him in the third year of his rule that included shows of singing, dancing and instrumental music. Ancient temple art of the Odias give a strong and silent testimony to the evolution of Odissi classical dance form over the ages. Bargarh district's Dhanujatra which is also believed to be world's largest open air theater performance, Pala and Daskathia, Jatra or Odia Opera, etc. are some of the traditional ways of entertainment for masses that survive to this day. Modern Odia television shows and movies are widely appreciated by a large section of the middle class section of the Odias and the it continues to evolve at a rapid rate with innovative ways of presentation.

Music and dance

Odissi music dates back as far as the history of the classical Odissi dance goes back. At present, the Odissi music is being lobbied by the intellectual community of the state to be recognized as a classical form of music by the cultural ministry of India. Be side Classical Odissi dance, there are some other prominent cultural and folk dance forms of the Odia people that have followed different parts if evolution over the ages.

  • Odissi
  • Mahari: A predecessor of Odissi dance that was mostly performed by the temple Devadashi community or royal court performers.
  • Dhemsa: Is a very popular dance format of the tribal area Undivided Koraput districts of Odisha. This generally performed by the Bhartas/Gouda/Parja Community of Koraput & Nabarangapur during the celebration.
  • Gotipua

The folk dance forms have evolved over ages with direct tribal influence over them. They are listed as below.

  • Chhau: The Odia Chhau dance is a direct result of its ancient martial traditions which are depicted in dance performances. Though Chhau is basically an Odia art form, it is also performed in West Bengal. Saraikella Chhau and Mayurbhanj Chhau are the only two Odia variants that have survived over time with its originality.
  • Ghumura dance: Is a direct result of the ancient martial traditions of the Odias when Odia Paikas who marched into the battlefield or rested on the beats and tunes of the Ghumura music.
  • Dalkhai Dance: Though this dance form has evolved from tribal dance forms, it shows a complex mix of the themes taken from various religious texts of Hinduism. It is very a popular folk dance form of western Odisha.
  • Jodi Sankha: It also derives itself from the martial traditions of ancient Odisha and the performers use only the music generated from the two conchs held by each of them.
  • Baagh Nach

Modern Odias have also adopted western dance and forms. Remarkably, the Prince dance group was declared as the winner of TV reality show "India's Got Talent" in the year 2009 and Ananya Sritam Nanda was declared as the winner of junior Indian Idol in the year 2015.


Seafood and sweets dominate Odia cuisine. Rice is the staple cereal and is eaten throughout the day. Popular Odia dishes are Rasagolla, Rasabali, Chhena Poda, Chhena kheeri, Chhena jalebi, Chenna Jhilli, Chhenagaja, Khira sagara, Dalma and Pakhala. Machha Besara (Fish in mustard gravy), Mansha Tarkari (Mutton curry), sea foods like Chingudi Tarakari (Prawn curry), and Kankada Tarakari (Crab curry). A standard Odia meal includes Pakhala (watered rice), Badhi Chura, Saga Bhaja (Spinach fry), Macha Bhaja, Chuin Bhaja, etc.

Pithas or country cakes are an integral part of Odia traditional life. Any Odia festival is incomplete without a variety of Pitha as traces its origin to the Odia culture and been adored by neighboring states.


Odia people are festive in nature and a wide variety of festivals are celebrated throughout the year for which it is said that there are 13 festivals in 12 months of a year. Well known festivals, that are popular among the Odia people, are the Ratha Yatra, Durga Puja, Kali Puja, Nuakhai, Pushpuni, Pua Jiunita, Raja, Dola Purnima, Pana Sankranti (as Vaisakhi is called in Odisha ), Karthika Purnima / Boita Bandana, Khudrukuni puja /Tapoi Osa, Kumar Purnima, Ditia Osa, Chaitra Purnima, Agijala Purnima, Bhai Juntia, Pua Juntia, Jhia Juntia, Sabitri Brata, Sudasha Brata, Manabasa gurubara etc.

Notable people

See also


  1. ^ "Odia". ethnologue.
  2. ^ Statement 1 : Abstract of speakers' strength of languages and mother tongues - 2011
  3. ^ https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/paika-bidroha-to-be-named-as-1st-war-of-independence/article19909264.ece
  4. ^ https://www.thehindu.com/todays-paper/tp-national/odia-gets-classical-language-status/article5711965.ece

External links

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Music Scenes