Odia Literature and its great legacy

Odia Language has a living legacy of at least 2500 years making it a classical language with a distinct script.

As early the 1870s Sir John beams has said that, “At a period when Oriya was already a fixed and settled language, Bengali did not exist, the Bengalis spoke a vast varieties of corrupt forms of Eastern Hindi”.[Beams, Sir John, “Comparative Grammar of four Indo-Aryan Language”, Vol 1.pp-120].

In what is known as the Mughalbundi, which consists of Cuttack, Puri and the southern half of Balasore, the language is one and the same.” [Linguistic Survey of India, Vol-V, P-368-369]. The following observations by L.S.S O’ Malley, who knew not only all these languages but also Sanskrit, both classical and Vedic, may be of interest to the readers. According to O Malley- “The great majority of the people speak Oriya or as it is sometimes called Odri or Utkali, the language of Odra or Utkala, both of which are ancient name for the country now called Orissa, Oriya, with Bengali, Bihari and Assamese forms one of the four speeches which together make up the eastern group of Indo- Aryan Language. Its Grammatical Construction closely resembles that of Bengali, but it has one great advantage over Bengali in the fact that, as a rule, it is pronounced as it is spelt”.

The earliest literary evidence is provided by Buddhists monks (7-12th Century A.D.), Short poems written by Kanhupâ, Luipâ, Sabairpâ, GunDuripâ, Sântipâ, Bhusukupâ, are collection in ‘Âscharjya arjyâchaya’ popularly known as Boudhagâna O Dohâ, written in the protolanguage of Odia. Although Boudhagana O Doha is claimed as the precursor of Odia, Assamese, Bengali and Maithili, which is close to Odia the eldest of the eastern languages. The following few lines of Kanhupâ will show that the language of the chraya is closest to colloquial Odia.

Pre-Sarala Age: (12th-14th century AD)

Odisha’s literary contribution to the history is unparalleled. Jayadeva’s love treatise Geeta Govinda is the biggest literary monument in medieval times.  12th century A.D saw the rise of the “Nâtha Dharma”, under the guidance of Matsyandranath and Gorakhnath and it has heavily influenced the religion and literature of the Odias. We see that the “Nâtha community” and “Shaiva community” were imbued with tantric beliefs. In the ancient Odia literature, especially Pre- Sâralâ literature, Sishuveda, Amarakos and Gorakha Samhita has acquired an important place. During this period Sishuveda (13th century A.D.) is another important composition. It can be included among the Saivaite Nath literature to which Gorakha Samhita (12th century A.D.) is another important contribution. But what is important during this period is the development of prose. One important composition is Mâdalâ Pâñji (11th century A.D.), which is the historical record of the Gajapatis and that of the Puri temple. The next important composition of this period is Rudra Sudhanidhi (14th century A.D.). Sisu Veda is a remarkable production in more ways than one. Saivite in content, it is linguistically the last lingering echo of the Buddhist Charya literature of the 7th -12th centuries. In the “Sishuveda”, a very ancient tradition of Odia prose literature has been kept alive. It has been accepted to be the link between charyâ literature and Sarala literature, fulfilling a major gap, thus completing the chain that started with the chronicle of Kharavela in the 1st century B.C. and evolved slowly but steadily by a simple natural process. Though dealing with the esoteric knowledge of Tantra, this Sisu Veda is written throughout in some of the lilting metres of the Buddhist lyric, and hence it is pleasant both to read and to hear.

The pre-Sarala literary scene was SoRasâ, Chautisâ, Webi, Loli, Gitâ, Samhitâ , Mâdalâ Pânji , Nâtha literature. One of the most important pre-Sarala literary texts was Bichitra Ramayana by Sidheswar Das. The use of Prakrit words in abundance gives evidence of its preSârala composition. This was so popular that it was translated in to Telugu by six eminent Telugu poets, one after another.

Age of Sarala Das (15th Century AD)

Sarala Das was the major creator and consolidator of the Odia language and the Poet Laureate of Odia literature. His Mahabharata is not a translation but a transcreation. Many new stories with local flavor have been added to the Mahabharata. Yudhisthira had married to the daughter of an Odia merchant of Jajpur described in Sarala Mahabharata. His Laxminarayana Bachanika and Laxmi Puran of Balaram Das the manifesto of feminism book in the Indian literature of that time. The popularity of Sarala Das’s Mahâbhârata was translated into Bengali. In the Bana Parva, Sarala Das introduces the interesting “True Mango Story”. This True Mango story has got, mutatis mutandis, into the Bengali Mahâbhârata of Kasiram Das. It indicates the deep influence that Sarala’s epic exercised over neighbouring language. In the counterpart of this episode in the original epic eminent Bengali Writer Professor Bijaya Chandra Mazumdar said that -”It is remarkable that this Odia poet acquired celebrity status in Bengal and his Mahabharata was introduced in Bengali translation not later than the early part of the 16th century” – BC Majumdar. Sarala Das was given the title Shudramuni, or seer from a backward class. He had no formal education and did not know Sanskrit. Sarala-Das, born in the 15th century Odisha of the Gajapati emperor Kapilendra Deva, was acclaimed as the “Adikabi” or first poet. The reign of the Gajapatis is considered the golden period for Odisha’s art and literature. Kapilendra Deva patronized Odia language and literature along with Sanskrit unlike his predecessors who used only Sanskrit as their lingua franca. In fact a short Odia poem Kebana Munikumara is found in the Sanskrit Drama Parashurama Vijaya ascribed to none other than the emperor Kapilendra Deva himself. It is believed that Sarala Das’s poetic gift came from the goddess Sarala (Saraswati), and that Sarala-Das wrote the Mahabharata as she dictated it. Though he wrote many poems and epics, he is best remembered for the Mahabharata. His other most known works are Chandi Purana and the Vilanka Ramayana. He also composed the Lakhsmi-Narayana Bachanika.

Arjuna Das, a contemporary of Sarala-Das, wrote Rama-Bibhaha, which is a significant long poem in Odia. He is also the author of another kavya called Kalpalata.

Age of Panchansakhas(15th Century – 16th Century AD)

Among the various great souls, the most prominent (in the domain of the known History) are the Panchasakhas who have deeply influenced both the Oriya Spiritualism & the Literature. These five friends lived between 1450 to 1550 AD and enriched the spiritualism in a way that normal man can also understand and benefit out of that. These great souls are: Achyutânanda Das, Ananta Das, Jasovanta Das, Jagannâtha Das, and Balarâma Das. They popularly were called as Panchasakhas (Five friends). The Panchasakhas  converted ancient Hindu texts into prose (of simple language) easily understood by the people of Udra desha (Odisha). Sri Chaintanya was so impressed by Jagannatha Dasa’s literary prowess that he gave him the title of Atibadi.

The Panchasakha’s individual characteristics are described as follows:

Yasovanta knows the things beyond reach
Yantras uses lines and figures known to Ananta
Achyuta speaks the past, present and future

Balarâma Dasa is fluent in tatwa (the ultimate meaning of anything)
Ultimate feelings of devotion are known to Jagannâtha
These five friends are my five mahantas

The most influential work of the period was Jagannatha Das’s The Bhâgabata, which had a great influence on Odia people as a day-to-day philosophical guide. There must be few books in the whole of Indian literature that can be compared with this Odia Bhagabata of Jagannath Das. Says the Bengali scholar B.C. Majumdar in his introduction to Typical Selections from Oriya Literature: “There cannot be any hesitancy in making this statement that Jagannath Das, by presenting his Oriya Bhagabat to the people, induced all classes of men of his country to cultivate the vernacular language. The benefit which Jagannath Das has conferred upon his countrymen is immense, how the moral ideas preached by him in the book have molded and still molding the character of many millions of men can be easily appreciated. When the people learnt that the Bhagabat, which is the most sacred of sacred books, was within their easy reach, the people took to the study of the vernacular with uncommon zeal and energy. This is why the art of reading and writing is known and practiced by the commom people more extensively in Orissa than Bengal. Long ago, Bhudev Mukherjee as Inspector of Schools duly observed this fact of Oriya mass education and reported the matter in his public report.“There is not a single Hindu village in Orissa where at least a portion of Jagannath Das’s Bhagabat is kept and daily recited.”

The Bhagabata Tungi (Tungi means Home) is an integral part of rural community life in Odisha. It is or was till recently a multi- purpose village institution- the village school, the village hall, the village court, the village devotee centre, the village mass hotel, and the village library, all combined into one. A Bhagabata Tungi was the rallying point for the entire village life. Influenced by the devotion and poetry of young Jagannath Das, the noted Assamese poet Shankardev wrote the Bhâgavat in Assamese, and played a key role in establishing the spiritual centres across Assam called Nâmaghara modelled on Odia Bhâgabat Tungi. The lord worshipped in nâmagharas is Jagannath of Puri. 158 years after the composition of Bhagavata in Odia, Sanatan Chakroborti was inspired to translate it in to Bengali. Yet the 10 skanda of the Odia Bhagavata couldn’t be transalated in to Bengali because of the inability of the Bengali language to express the exact devotional meanings of the particular skanda, which he has accepted and said that -”

Suna suna srotâgana Kari nibedanal

Prathama haite grantha lekhilu âpana

Dasamera sesa khanda bhâsha Na pâyila

anekeka ta pasi grâme grâme bedâila

E hetu utkala bhâshâ karila likhana

Jagannâtha dâsa kruta apurba barnana

Grantha samâpana hetu utkanthâ hayiâ

Bangaja bhâshâyâ utkala misâyâ

Ithe sâdhu Jana mora dosa Na lâyibe

sâdhu bâkya ânande sunibe

Besides this great work Jagannath Das also composed Artha Koili, Dârubrahma Geetâ, Shunya Bhâgabata, Dhruba Stuti, Tulâ bhinâ etc.

During the Panchasakha era another seer Raghu Arakhsita, who was not part of the Panchasakhas but was a revered saint, composed several Padabalis in Odia. The Panchasakha and Arakhshita together are known as the Sada-Goswami (six Lords).

Madhavi Pattanayak or Madhavi Das is considered as the first Odia woman poet who was a contemporary of Prataprudra Deva and wrote several devotional poetries for Lord Jagannath.

Medieval Odia Literature (16th-Mid 17th century)

The period of 300 years after the Sangam era in Tamil literature is known as Dark Age. But there is no such ‘Dark Age’ found in case of Odia language, because the political instability created by foreign rulers had failed to choke the literary development of Odisha after the demise of Kharavelian Empire. Although Pali language was replaced by Sanskrit through non-Odia rulers during this intervening period, Odisha’s literary activities were kept uninterrupted, traces of which can be clearly identified from various rock inscriptions as well as scholarly manuscripts created during the period.

Several Kaalpanika (imaginative) and Pauranika (Puranic) Kavyas were composed during this period that formed the foundation for Riti Yuga. The major works of this era other than those written by the Panchasakhas are Gopakeli and Parimalaa authored by Narasingha sena, contemporary of Gajapati emperor Prataprudra Deva, Chataa Ichaamati and Rasa by Banamali Das, Premalochana, Bada Shakuntala & Kalaabati by Vishnu Das, Nrushingha purana and Nirguna Mahatmya by Chaitanya Dash (born in Kalahandi), Lilaabati by Raghunatha Harichandan, Usha Bilasa by Shishu Shankar Das, Sasisena by Pratap Rai, Rahashya Manjari by Devadurlava Das, Hiraabati by Ramachandra Chottaray, Deulatola by Nilambara Das, Prema Panchamruta by Bhupati Pandit,Rukmini Vivaha by Kartik Das, Goparasa by Danai Das and Kanchi Kaveri by Purushotama Das. In the 16th century three major poets translated Jayadeva’s Geeta Govinda into Odia. They are Dharanidhara Mishra, Brindavan Das(Rasabaridhi) and Trilochan Das (GovindaGita). Brundabati Dasi, a women poet of great talent wrote Purnatama Chandrodaya Kavya towards the end of seventeenth century.

Several Chautishas (a form of Odia poetry where 34 stanzas from “ka” to “Khsya” are placed at the starting of each composition) were composed during this time. The famous ones being Milana Chautisha, Mandakini Chautisha, Barshabharana Chautisha, Rasakulya Chautisha etc.

Muslim poet Salabega was one of the foremost devotional poets of this era who composed several poems dedicated to Lord Jagannath during Jahangir’s reign in the 17th century.

Age of Upendra Bhanja/Riti Yuga(1650-1850AD)

Then came the age of Upendra Bhanja which saw great odia litterateurs like Kabi Samrat Upendra Bhanja and Kavisurya Baladev Rath.

Upendra Bhanja wrote in the last decade of seventeenth and the early decades of eighteenth century and championed a style of poetry called ‘Reeti’ and ‘Deena’ in Sanskrit poetics. Though many poets in the seventeenth and eighteenth centaurs write in reeti style, Upendra Bhanja is decided by the greatest of them all. Whether it is shringara, viraha, bhakti or karuna rasa, Upendra Bhanja is the poet of unsurpassed rhetorical excellence. We may venture to say that, apart from Sanskrit, no other language has a poet to compare with him. Upendra Bhanja had practiced his great poetic talents in using “upama”,”aLankara”, “rasas”in all his Kavyas.

The greatness of Upendra Bhanja was in his “Alankara” use such as: Anuprasa, Jamak, etc. The style of presenting facts with comparable factors (upama) is very distinguishable in his

“Baidehisha Bilasa” is the pioneer work of Upendra Bhanja as declared by the poet.”Rasika Harabali” was written on the basis of his own experience at the early part of his young life.His contemporary poet of Bhakta Kabi, Dina Krushna Das as described in his work “Kala Koutuka”. The socio-cultural way of contemporary Odias are vividly described in his literature .Upendra Bhanja is not only eminent poet of Odisha but also his writings will be explained through all classical contemporary music systems of India.

Dhananjaya Bhanja, grandfather of Upendra Bhanja wrote several kavyas like Anangarekha, Ichaavati, Raghunatha Bilasa, Madana Manjari etc..,

Tribikrama Bhanja (author of Kanakalata) and Ghana Bhanja (author of Trailokyamohini, Rasanidhi and Govinda Bilasha) of the Bhanja royal family also enriched Odia Literature, Lokanatha Vidyadhara, a contemporary of Upendra Bhanja wrote Sarbanga Sundari.

Dinakrushna Das’s Rasokallola and Abhimanyu Samanta Simhara’s Bidagdha Chintamani are also prominent kavyas of this time. Bidagdha Chintamani is considered the longest Kavya in Odia literature with 96 cantos exceeding that of Upendra’s longest kavya of 52 cantos. Other famous works of Abhimanyu Samanta Simhara are Sulakhshyana, Prema Chintaamani, Prema Kala, Rasaabati, Prematarangini etc.

Towards the end of Riti Yuga, four major poets emerged and enriched Odia literature through their highly lyrical creations. These were Kabi Surya Baladeb RathBrajanath BadajenaGopal Krushna Pattanaik and Bhima Bhoi. Kabisurya Baladev Rath wrote his poems in champu (mixture of prose and poetry) and chautisha style of poetry. His greatest work is Kishore Chandranana Champu which is a landmark creation extensively used in Odissi Music.

Bichitra Ramayana of Biswanaath Khuntia is one of the most celebrated works of this period composed in the early 18th century. Pitambar Das wrote the epic Narasingha Purana consisting of seven parts called Ratnakaras in the 18th century.  Maguni Pattanaik composed the Rama Chandra Vihara. Rama Lila was composed by Vaishya Sadashiva and Ananga Narendra. Bhima Bhoi, the blind poet born in a tribal Khondh family is known for his lucid and humanistic compositions like Stuthi Chintaamani, Bramha Nirupana Gita, Shrutinishedha Gita etc.The other major poets towards the end of Riti Yuga are Banamali, Jadumani Mohapatra, Bhaktacharan Das (author of Manabodha Chautisha and Mathura Mangala), Haribandhu, Gaurahari, Gauracharana, Krishna Simha all of whom enriched Odia lyrical literature.

Age of Radhanath Ray

In 1836 Christian Missionaries introduced printing press replacing the Palm Leaves. Many books and journals became available in Odia. The first Odia magazine, Bodha Dayini was published in Balasore in 1861, The first Odia paper The Utkal Deepika, was first published in 1866 under editor Gourishankar Ray and Bichitrananda.

Radhanath Ray (1849–1908) is the most well-known poet of this period. He wrote with a Western influence, and his kavyas (long poems) included Chandrabhaga, Nandikeshwari, Usha, Mahajatra, Darbar and Chilika.

Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843–1918), the most known Odia fiction writer, was also of this generation. He was considered the Vyasakabi or founding poet of the Odia language. Senapati was born raised in the coastal town of Balasore, and worked as a government administrator. Enraged by the attempts of the Bengalis to marginalize or replace the Odia language, he took to creative writing late in life. Though he also did translations from Sanskrit, wrote poetry and attempted many forms of literature, he is now known primarily as the father of modern Odia prose fiction. His Rebati (1898) is widely recognized as the first Odia short story. Rebati is the story of a young innocent girl whose desire for education is placed in the context of a conservative society in a backward Odisha village, which is hit by the killer cholera epidemic. His other stories are “Patent Medicine”, “Dak Munshi”, and “Adharma Bitta”. Senapati is also known for his novel Chha Maana Atha Guntha. This was the first Indian novel to deal with the exploitation of landless peasants by a feudal lord. It was written well before the October revolution in Russia and emerging of Marxist ideas in India. Other eminent Odia writers and poets of the time include Gangadhar Meher (1862–1924), Madhusudan Rao, Chintamani Mohanty, Nanda Kishore Bal and Gaurisankar Ray.

Age of Satyabadi

During the Age of Radhanath the literary world was divided between the classicists, led by the magazine The Indradhanu, and the modernists, led by the magazine The Bijuli. Gopabandhu Das (1877–1928) was a great balancer and realized that a nation, as well as its literature, lives by its traditions. Gopabandhu was a large part of this idealistic movement, founding a school in Satyabadi and influencing many writers of the period. Other than Gopabandhu himself, other famous writers of the era were Godabarisha Mishra, Nilakantha Dash, Harihara Acharya and Krupasinshu. They are known as ‘Panchasakhas’ for their similarities with the historical Age of Panchasakhas. Their principle genres were criticism, essays and poetry. Chintamani Das is particularly renowned. Born in 1903 in Sriramachandrapur village near Sakhigopal, he was bestowed with the Sahitya Akademi Samman in 1970 for his invaluable contribution to Odia literature. Some of his well-known literary works are Manishi Nilakantha, Bhala Manisa Hua, Usha, Barabati, Byasakabi Fakiramohan and Kabi Godabarisha.

Then came the Pragati Yuga and Sabuja Yuga which saw many literary geniuses like Nabakrushna Chaudhury, Ananta Patnaik, Malati Chaudhury, Mayadhar Mansingh and Kalindi Charan Panigrahi.

Gopal Chandra Praharaj came with the Purnachandra Bhasakosha with a 7 volume, 9500 page dictionary. The Purnachandra Odia Bhashakosha is an Odia language dictionary that lists some 185,000 words and their meanings in four languages – Odia, English, Hindi and Bengali. It includes quotations from wide-ranging classical works illustrating the special usage of various words.

Odia literature produced four Jnanpith Awardees Gopinath Mohanty(1973), Sachitananda Routray(1986), Sitakanta Mahapatra(1993) and Pratibha Ray(2011)

Finally, Odia culture is one of the primary independent sources of modern Indian culture and tradition. It is equally important that the great sacred works – Odia Bhagavata and Odia Vaishnavism, beginning with the Jagannath anthologies, have undergone the development of modern Hinduism. Their ideas were taken into the Bhagabata Purana, Laxmi Purana and other texts, and spread all over India. Sanskrit as the source of the modern Indo-Aryan languages, classical Odia is the source language of Thai, Tibet, Simhali, Bengali and Assamese. As Sanskrit is the most conservative and least changed of the Indo-Aryan languages, Odia is conservative and advanced updated language as well. Unlike the other modern languages of India, Odia meets all requirements. It is extremely old (according to L.S.S O’ Malley, as old as Latin and Vedic Sanskrit); it arose as an entirely independent tradition, with almost no influence from Sanskrit or other languages; and its ancient literature is indescribably vast and rich and Odia as a nation plays a very prominent role in ancient India and its valour has been mentioned as matchless.




2 thoughts on “Odia Literature and its great legacy

    1. The blog has various information about the writers and their contributions. Anything beyond that is out of scope of this blog. Odia bhasa has most number of Palm Leave Manuscripts after Sanskrit making it the preferred language for Vedic studies in Ancient India.


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