ETHNONYMS: Odia, Odiya; adjective: Odissi, Orissi (Orissan in English)
Identification. In Orissa State in India, the Oriya constitute the regional ethnic group, speaking the Oriya language and professing the Hindu religion, to be distinguished from an Oriya-speaking agricultural caste called Odia found in central coastal Orissa. Some Oriya live in the adjoining states. The Oriya language and ethnic group are presumably derived from the great Udra or Odra people known since Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Mahabharata epic times.
Location. The state of Orissa is located between 17°49′ and 22°34′ N and 81°29′ and 87°29′ E, covering 155,707 square kilometers along the northeastern seaboard of India. The large majority of the Oriya live in the coastal districts and along the Mahanadi and Brahmani rivers. Orissa falls in the tropical zone with monsoon rains from June-July to September-October. Western Orissa is afflicted with recurring drought.
Demography. The last national census in 1981 records the population of Orissa as 26,370,271 persons, with a Population density of 169 persons per square kilometer as compared to 216 for India as a whole. Of the total population of Orissa, 84.11 percent speak Oriya. Although rural, Orissa's urban centers with 5,000 or more persons rose from containing 8.4 percent of the population in 1971 (81 towns) to 11.79 percent in 1981 (108 towns). Most of the ninety-three Scheduled Castes, which constitute 15.1 percent of Orissa's population, speak Oriya. Of the 23.1 percent of Orissa's Population categorized as Scheduled Tribes, many speak Oriya as their mother tongue. With 34.23 percent literacy in 1981 compared to 26.18 percent in 1971, Orissa trails behind many Indian states, especially in female literacy.
Linguistic Affiliation. Oriya belongs to the Indo-Aryan Branch of the Indo-European Family of languages. Its closest affinities are with Bengali (Bangla), Assamese (Asamiya), Maithili, Bhojpuri, and Magahi (Magadhi). The Oriya spoken in Cuttack and Puri districts is taken as standard Oriya. The Oriya language has a distinctive script, traceable to sixth-century inscriptions. It has thirteen vowels and thirty-six consonants (linguistically, spoken Oriya has six vowels, two semivowels, and twenty-nine consonants).
History and Cultural Relations
Orissa has been inhabited since prehistoric times, and Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, and Chalcolithic cultural remains abound. By the fourth century b.c. there was a centralized state in Orissa, though the hill areas often nurtured independent princedoms mostly evolving out of tribal polities. In 261 b.c., Orissa, then known as Kalinga, was conquered by the Emperor Ashoka after a bloody Kalinga war, leading to the conversion of the king into a nonviolent Buddhist who spread Buddhism in Asia. In the early second Century b.c. Emperor Kharavela, a Jain by religion and a great conqueror, had the famous queen's cave-palace, Ranigumpha, cut into the mountain near Bhubaneswar, with exquisite sculptures depicting dancers and musicians. Both eastern and western Orissa had famous Buddhist monasteries, universities, and creative savants. Starting in the first Century a.d., according to Pliny and others, there was extensive maritime trade and cultural relations between Orissa (Kalinga, Kling) and Southeast Asian countries from Myanmar (Burma) to Indonesia. Orissa was ruled under several Hindu dynasties until 1568, when it was annexed by the Muslim kingdom of Bengal. In 1590, Orissa came under the Mogul empire, until the Marathas seized it in 1742. In 1803 it came under British rule. As early as 1817 the agriculturist militia (Paik) of Orissa revolted against the British in one of the first regional anticolonial movements. In 1936 Orissa was declared a province of British India, and the princely states with an Oriya population were merged into Orissa in 1948-1949. The cultures and languages of south India, western India, and northern India—and also those of the tribal peoples—have enriched the cultural mosaic and the vocabulary of the Oriya.
In 1981, 88.21 percent of the people of Orissa lived in Villages. In 1971, 51,417 villages of Orissa ranged in population from less than 500 persons (71.9 percent), 500-900 persons (18.8 percent), 1,000-1,999 persons (7.5 percent), to more than 2,000 persons (1.78 percent). The Oriya villages fall into two major types: linear and clustered. The linear settlement pattern is found mostly in Puri and Ganjam districts, with houses almost in a continuous chain on both sides of the intervening village path and with kitchen gardens at the back of the houses. Cultivated fields surround the settlement. In the cluster pattern each house has a compound with fruit trees and a kitchen garden. The Scheduled Castes live in linear or cluster hamlets slightly away from the main settlement, with their own water tanks or, today, their own wells. In the flooded coastal areas one finds some dispersed houses, each surrounded by fields for cultivation. In traditional Orissa, two styles of houses (ghara ) were common. The agriculturists and higher castes had houses of a rectangular ground plan with rooms along all the sides (khanja-ghara ), leaving an open space (agana ) in the center. Mud walls with a gabled roof of thatch made of paddy stalks or jungle grass (more durable) were common. The more affluent had double-ceiling houses (atu ghara ) with the inner ceiling of mud plaster supported by wooden or bamboo planks. This construction made it fire-proof and insulated against the summer heat and winter chill. The entrance room was usually a cowshed, as cattle were the wealth of the people. Men met villagers and guests on the wide front veranda. Poorer people had houses with mud walls and straw-thatched gable roofs, without enclosed courtyards or double ceilings. The smoke from the kitchen escaped under the gabled roof. The Oriya had, in common with Eastern India, a wooden husking lever (dhenki ) in the courtyard for dehusking paddy rice or making rice flour. Nowadays houses with large windows and doors, roofs of concrete (tiled or with corrugated iron or asbestos sheets), walls of brick and mortar, and cement floors are becoming common even in Remote villages. In the traditional house, the northeastern corner of the kitchen formed the sacred site of the ancestral spirits (ishana ) for family worship.
Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Subsistence cultivation of paddy is ubiquitous as rice is the staple food. Double-cropping, sometimes even triple-cropping in irrigated fields, and single-cropping in drought-affected or rain-fed areas are all common. Large-scale farming with heavy agricultural machinery is still uncommon. Plowing with two bullocks or two buffalo is usual, with a wooden plow. Only recently have iron plows been coming into use. Cash crops like sugarcane, jute, betel leaves on raised mounds, coconuts and areca nuts (betel nuts) are grown in coastal Orissa, and pulses and oil seeds in drought-prone areas. Recently coffee, cocoa, cardamom, pineapples, and bananas have also been raised on a commercial scale. Fish are caught in traps and nets from Village tanks, streams, rivers, coastal swamps, and also in the flooded paddy fields. Fishing boats with outboard motors and trawlers are nowadays used at sea. The domestic animals include cows, goats, cats, chickens, ducks, and water buffalo among the lowest castes, as well as pigs and dogs among the urban middle class.
Industrial Arts. Most large villages had castes of artisans who served the agricultural economy in former times. Carpenters, wheelwrights, and blacksmiths were absolutely necessary. Some villages had potters with pottery wheels and weavers with cottage looms (cotton was formerly grown and yarn spun). Today, industrial products are displacing the Village products except for the wooden plow and cart wheels. Some cottage industries, especially the handloomed textiles (including the weaving of ikat, cotton textiles that are tied and dyed), are producing for export. Brass and bell-metal utensils and statues and silver and gold filigree ornaments have a wide clientele.
Trade. In villages, peddling and weekly markets were the usual commercial channels. Since World War II ration shops have sold scarce essential commodities.
Division of Labor. Men plow, sow, and carry goods with a pole balanced on the shoulder, whereas women carry things on their head, weed, and transplant the fields. Harvesting is done by both sexes. While men fish and hunt, women perform household chores and tend babies. Traditionally, among higher-caste and higher-class families, women did not work outside home. Nowadays men and some women are engaged in salaried service, but only lower-caste and lower-class women undertake wage labor.
Land Tenure. Before Independence land under agriculture had increased substantially. However, because of the high rate of population growth and subdivision of landholdings, the number of marginal farmers and the landless increased sharply thereafter. Following Independence some land above the statutory ceiling or from the common property resources was distributed among the landless, weaker sections of society. Large-scale industrial and irrigation-cum-power projects displaced people and added to the ranks of the landless. All of this has resulted in various categories of tenancy and contractual lease of land for subsistence cultivation.
Kin Groups and Descent. Traditionally and currently, three patterns of family organization have obtained: (1) the multihousehold compounds where the separate families of the sons of the common father are housed as an extended family; (2) joint families with all the brothers living together, with a common kitchen, with or without the parents living (more common in villages than towns); (3) several families belonging to a patrilineage among whom kin obligations continue, residing in neighboring villages. Descent is patrilineal.
Kinship Terminology. The social emphasis on seniority in age and differentiation by sex and generation are observed. Kinship terminology follows the Hawaiian system. Fictive or ritual kin terms are used widely and are expressed in respect and affection and also in meeting appropriate kin obligations.
Marriage. Although polygyny was practiced earlier, most marriages today are monogamous. Most marriages even now are also arranged by parents, though some are based on the mutual choice of the marriage partners. Only in western Orissa and southern Orissa is cousin marriage practiced. Marriage partners must not belong to the same gotra (mythical patrilineal descent group). Bride-price among the lower and middle castes has been replaced by a more costly dowry for the bridegroom among all classes and castes. After Marriage, residence is patrilocal, with the bride assuming the gotra of the husband. Nowadays residence tends to be Neolocal near the place of work. The Hindu marriage was ideally for this life and beyond, but since 1956 divorce has been permitted under legal procedures.
Domestic Unit. Living in a family is considered normal and proper. Most families today in both villages and towns are nuclear, though some are joint families. Members working and living outside usually visit the residual family and shrines occasionally. Often land is cultivated jointly by sharing the farm expenses. Recently there has been a tendency to reduce the size of the rural household through family planning.
Inheritance. Traditionally only sons inherited land and other immovable properties. The eldest son was given an additional share (jyesthansha ). Since 1956 the widow and daughters have been legal cosharers in all property.
Socialization. Parents, grandparents, and siblings care for infants and children and provide informal—and, recently, formal—education before school. Education of girls is still not common beyond primary school. Physical punishment to discipline a child is common, though infants are usually spared and cuddled. Respect for seniors in all situations and the value of education are emphasized, especially among the higher classes.
Orissa is a state in the Republic of India, which has an elected president. The governor is the head of Orissa State, and the chief minister is the elected head of the government of Orissa.
Social Organization. Traditional Oriya society is Hierarchically organized primarily on the basis of caste (and subcaste) and occupations and secondarily on the basis of social class. The highest castes, Brahman, are priests and teachers of the Great Tradition. Below them in descending order of status are: the Kshatriya, warriors and rulers; the Vaisya, or traders; and the Sudra, or skilled and unskilled workers and service holders. The occupations involving manual and menial work are low in status, and polluting occupations like skinning dead animals or making shoes are associated with the lowest castes, the Untouchables. Ascriptive status in the caste system is sometimes checked now by acquired status in the class system. In rural Orissa patron-client relationships are common and social mobility is difficult.
Political Organization. Orissa is divided into thirteen Districts (zilla ), and each district is divided into subdivisions (tahsils ) for administrative purposes, into police stations (thana ) for law-and-order purposes, and into community development blocs (blok ) for development purposes. There are village-cluster committees (panchayat ) with elected Members and a head (sarpanch ) for the lowest level of self-administration and development. The community development bloc has a panchayat samiti or council of panchayats headed by the chairman, with all the sarpanch as members. Each caste or populous subcaste in a group of adjacent Villages also had a jati panchayat for enforcing values and institutional discipline. The traditional gram panchayat, consisting of the leaders of several important castes in a village, was for maintaining harmony and the ritual cycle.
Social Control and Conflict. Warfare between adjacent princedoms and villages came to a stop under British rule. The police stations (thana) maintain law and order in the rural areas.
Religion and Expressive Culture
Hinduism of various sects is a central and unifying force in Oriya society. The overwhelmingly important Vaishnava sect have their supreme deity, Jagannatha, who lords it over the religious firmament of Orissa. Lord Jagannatha's main temple is at Puri on the sea, where the famous annual festival with huge wooden chariots dragged for the regional divine triad—Jagannatha, Balabhadra, and Subhadra (goddess sister) — draws about half a million devotees. The famous Lingaraja temple of Lord Shiva at Bhubaneswar, the famous Viraja goddess temple at Jajpur, both in coastal Orissa, and Mahimagadi, the cult temple of the century-old Mahima sect of worshipers of Shunya Parama Brahma (the absolute soul void) at Joranda in central Orissa, are highly sacred for the Oriya people.
Religious Beliefs. The people of Orissa profess Hinduism overwhelmingly (96.4 percent), with Christianity (1.73 percent), Islam (1.49 percent), Sikhism (0.04 percent) and Buddhism (0.04 percent) trailing far behind. Obviously many Tribal groups have declared Hinduism as their religion. Apart from supreme beings, gods, and goddesses of classical Hindu religion, the Oriya propitiate a number of disease spirits, Village deities, and revered ancestral spirits.
Religious Practitioners. In the villages each Brahman priest has a number of client families of Kshatriya, Vaisya, and some Sudra castes. There are also magicians (gunia ) practicing witchcraft and sorcery. Kalisi or shamans are consulted to discover the causes of crises and the remedies.
Ceremonies. A large number of rituals and festivals mostly following the lunar calendar are observed. The most important rituals are: the New Year festival (Bishuba Sankranti) in mid-April; the fertility of earth festival (Raja Parab); festival of plowing cattle (Gahma Punein); the ritual of eating the new rice (Nabanna) ; the festival worshiping the goddess of victory, known otherwise as Dassara (Durga Puja); the festival of the unmarried girls (Kumar Purnima); the solar-calendar harvest festival (Makar Sankranti); the fast for Lord Shiva (Shiva Ratri); the festival of colors and the agricultural New Year (Dola Purnima or Dola Jatra); and, finally, the festival worshiping Lord Krishna at the end of February. In November-December (lunar month of Margashira) every Thursday the Gurubara Osha ritual for the rice goddess Lakshmi is held in every Oriya home.
Arts. The ancient name of Orissa, Utkala, literally means "the highest excellence in the arts." The Oriya are famous for folk paintings, painting on canvas (patta-chitra ), statuary and sculptures, the Orissan style of temple architecture, and tourist and pilgrim mementos made of horn, papier-mâché, and appliqué work. Classical Odissi dance, the virile Chhow dance, colorful folk dances with indigenous musical instruments (percussion, string, and wind) and also Western instruments, dance dramas, shadow plays (Ravana-Chhaya) with puppets, folk opera (jatra ), mimetic dances, and musical recitation of God's names are all very popular. Orissi music, largely following classical (raga ) tunes, and folk music, are rich and varied.
Medicine. Illness is attributed to "hot" or "cold" food, evil spirits, disease spirits, and witches; and mental diseases to sorcery or spirit possession. Leprosy and gangrenous wounds are thought to be punishment for the commission of "great" sins, and, for general physical and mental conditions, planets and stars in the zodiac are held to be responsible. Cures are sought through herbal folk medicines, propitiation of supernatural beings and spirits, exorcism, counteraction by a gunia (sorcery and witchcraft specialist), and the services of homeopathic, allopathic, or Ayurvedic specialists.
Death and Afterlife. Death is considered a transitional state in a cycle of rebirths till the soul (atma ) merges in the absolute soul (paramatma ). The god of justice, Yama, assigns the soul either to Heaven (swarga ) or to Hell (narka ). The Funeral rites and consequent pollution attached to the family and lineage of the deceased last for ten days among higher castes. The dead normally are cremated.
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Das, K. B., and L. K. Mahapatra (1979). Folklore of Orissa. New Delhi: National Book Trust India. 2nd ed. 1990.
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Mahapatra, L. K. (1987). "Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar, and Bonai Ex-Princely States of Orissa." In Tribal Polities and Pre~ Colonial State Systems in Eastern and Northeastern India, edited by Surajit Sinha. Calcutta: K. P. Bagchi.
Marglin, Frédérique Apffel (1985). Wives of the God-King: The Rituals of the Devadasis of Puri. New Delhi: Oxford University Press.
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L. K. MAHAPATRA
LOCATION: India (Orissa state)
POPULATION: 31 million
RELATED ARTICLES: Vol. 3: Hindus; People of India
The Oriya are the dominant ethnic group in India's eastern state of Orissa. They speak the Oriya language and share historical and cultural traditions that date to the 6th century bc, if not earlier. The Oriya are identified with the Odra (or Udra), a people mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts and the Mahabharata epic. The lands to the north of the Mahanadi River, which flows into the Bay of Bengal, were known as Odradesha, or the "country of the Odra."
The hilly nature of Orissa allowed the existence of numerous small kingdoms in the region. From the 4th century bc on, however, important regional states, such as Kalinga, extended their control over much of the area. During the 4th and 5th centuries ad, a foreign people (possibly Greeks) rose to power in the region, to be followed by a series of local dynasties. The end of the 11th century saw the rise of the Eastern Gangas, whose rule ushered in a golden era in Orissa's history. Th is dynasty was able to resist the spread of Muslim power into eastern India. The region remained a stronghold of Hinduism until it was conquered by the Muslim rulers of Bengal in 1568. Orissa subsequently became part of the Mughal Empire, but with the decline of Mughal power, its western areas fell to the Marathas. The British acquired the coastal regions in 1757 and the Maratha-held lands in 1803. Under the British, the region consisted of both directly administered territory and independent princely states that accepted British political rule. Orissa assumed its present form in 1947 when India gained its independence from Britain.
LOCATION AND HOMELAND
The Oriya make up some 75% of Orissa's population, the remaining people belonging to the numerous tribes that live in the state. The 2001 census reported Orissa's population as 36.7 million. Based on projected growth rates and including the small numbers of Oriya who live in adjacent areas of neighboring states, the current number of Oriya is estimated at 31 million people.
The traditional home of the Oriya and the historical core of Orissa State is the alluvial delta of the Mahanadi River and the adjacent coastal lowlands that run along the shores of the Bay of Bengal. Inland from the coastal plains lie the Garjat Hills and the Eastern Ghats, the hills that form the edge of India's Deccan Plateau. Elevations in these hills vary from around 900 m (3,000 ft) in the north to almost 1,525 m (5,000 ft) in the south. To the west of this line of hills are the interior plateaus of western Orissa. The hills and plateaus of Orissa are among the most heavily forested regions left in India. The Mahanadi River flows in a southeasterly direction across the middle of the state. The open basin of the middle Mahanadi Valley forms the only area of extensive lowland in the interior. Climate is monsoonal, with rainfall averaging around 150 cm (60 in) over the region. The rainy season (July-October) is followed by cool winters, with mean temperatures around 20°C (68°F). In mid-February, the thermometer begins to climb as the hot, humid summer weather approaches. In June, average temperatures approach 30°c (85°F).
The location of Orissa on the Bay of Bengal makes it vulnerable to the deadly cyclones that periodically sweep up from the south from May to November. In October 1999, for instance, what came to be known as the Orissa Cyclone hit Orissa with winds peaking at 250 kmh (155mph), causing the deaths of over 10,000 people and affecting another 12 million. Th ousands of cattle were killed and over a million animals were lost. Damage in the path of the cyclone amounted to about $2.5 million, and 7 million people were left homeless. Relief agencies immediately sent assistance, and operations extended well into 2000. Unfortunately, many people died of starvation and diseases after the storm because rescue workers could not reach everyone in time.
Oriya is an Indo-Aryan language closely related to Bengali, Assamese, and other languages of eastern India. It shows less Muslim or British influence than do other Indo-Aryan languages because the region where it is spoken was one of the last to be conquered by these foreign powers. The language is one of the 23 languages spoken in India that are recognized as official languages and appears in the list of these languages printed on Indian rupee notes. Although written Oriya does not vary, the spoken form differs over the region. Standard Oriya is spoken in the Cuttack and Puri districts of Orissa.
There is a long literary tradition in Oriya, which is written in its own script. It dates back to the 14th century ad, and the early works consist of accounts of the Natha-cult, which replaced the Siddha-cult around this time. The literary tradition in Oriya is almost continuous from this time, consisting largely of songs and poetry, most of which is religious in nature. A major change in Oriya literature occurred towards the end of the 19th century, coinciding with the advent of the British administration and Western education. During the early 20th century, freedom fighters, such as Gopabandhu Das, came to the fore. In the immediate post-Independence era, writers, such as Chandrasekhar Rath, Shantanu Acharya, Mohapatra Nilamani Sahoo, and Gopinath Mohanty, became known for their fiction and short stories. In the 1970s, a reaction to the earlier fiction writers saw the emergence of literary figures, such as Jagadish Mohanty, but the latter part of the 20th century saw the appearance of feminist writers (e. g. Sarojini Sahoo) and new authors of Oriya fiction and drama.
Puri, a town located on the coast at the southern end of the Mahanadi Delta, is the site of a shrine dedicated to Krishna in his form of Jagannath (jagan-natha, "lord of the universe"). According to Puranic legend, the god Krishna was mistaken for a deer in the forest and killed by a hunter. His body was left to rot under a tree. It was found by a pious person, who cremated it and placed the ashes in a box. The local king was directed by Vishnu to make an image from these sacred relics. The king approached the divine artisan Vishvakarman, who agreed to do the work, provided he was left undisturbed until its completion. The king became impatient after 15 days of waiting and went to see how the work was progressing. The divine artisan became enraged and left the image incomplete, a mere stump without arms or legs. The god Brahma gave the image its eyes and a soul and acted as chief priest at its consecration. The king sacrificed 100 horses in honor of the occasion. The image at the temple in Puri, the most important Jagannath shrine in the country, perpetuates this tradition by representing the deity as a crudely carved block of wood.
The Oriya are overwhelmingly Hindu. They have the caste structure typical of Hindu society, with Brahmans performing their traditional role in ritual and religion. They accept the authority of the Vedas and the other sacred Sanskrit texts of Hinduism. The Oriya worship Shiva, the Mother Goddess, the Sun God, and many other Hindu deities. The most important sect, however, is the Vaishnava sect that reveres Krishna in his form as Jagannath.
In addition to the classical forms of Hinduism practiced by the Oriya, there is a level of popular belief embracing local deities and spirits that influence everyday life and activities. These spirits have to be appeased or otherwise dealt with through the services of shamans (kalisi), who identify and mediate with disease-causing spirits. Magicians (guni) are skilled in witchcraft and sorcery.
As Hindus, the Oriya observe the usual pan-Indian festivals celebrated by their co-religionists across the country, as well as some that are regional in character. However, there is one festival celebrated in Orissa that is of national importance and attracts pilgrims from all over the country. This is the Chariot Procession (Ratha Yatra) of Jagannath held at Puri in Orissa every year in June or July. The images of Jagannath and two lesser deities are taken from the Jagannath temple to a country house some 3 km (2 mi) away. The images are placed in cars or chariots and pulled by pilgrims. Jagannath's car is roughly 14 m (45 ft) high, with wheels over 2 m (7 ft) in diameter. The other images travel in smaller chariots. The English word "juggernaut" comes from "Jagannath" and refers to the god's massive chariot that crushes all before it.
RITES OF PASSAGE
Certain superstitions are observed by pregnant women in rural areas. For example, they are not allowed to go out in the dark in case they become frightened and have a miscarriage. Most babies are born at home. Village women give birth squatting, with a piece of cloth tied tightly around the abdomen, and gripping a wooden pole during the labor pains. Male babies are greeted with special joy. The entire family is ritually unclean until the seventh day, when rites of purification are observed. The name-giving ceremony is held on the twenty-first day. Villagers are invited to a feast, where the family Brahman performs the necessary pujas. Children are the center of family life. They are spoiled and fussed over, until such time as they begin to share in the family household tasks. Girls are usually segregated for a period of seven days at the time of their first menstruation. In some communities, they rub turmeric paste on their bodies and bathe, before resuming their domestic and social activities.
The dead are cremated, although children and unmarried persons are usually buried. The corpse is anointed with turmeric, washed, and wrapped in a shroud. It is carried to the cremation ground by relatives and placed on the funeral pyre with the head toward the north. Some groups place women facing up and men facing down. Funeral rituals follow Hindu customs, with ceremonies being performed on the seventh, ninth, and eleventh days after death. A Brahman priest is engaged to perform these rites. Near blood-relatives shave their heads and don new clothes, and on the eleventh day a feast is held for caste members and Brahmans.
As is common in India, when people meet a stranger, the first question they always ask is, "What caste do you belong to?" This is the usual practice, and no one feels embarrassed or offended at the question. Caste plays an important role in interpersonal relations, particularly in rural areas, and determines the nature of social contacts between people.
The Oriya are a rural people, with only 14.97% living in areas classified as urban (2001 Census of India). Villages are typically linear in form, with houses built along either side of a single street. There is often a tributary hamlet near the village, where members of the Untouchable or service castes live. The Oriya house is rectangular in shape and has mud walls and a gabled roof thatched with straw. Affluent families may have a double roof (providing insulation and some protection against fire), a small guest house, and a fence enclosing the compound. Rooms serve as cattle shed, grain store, bedroom, and kitchen. In traditional houses, the northeast corner of the kitchen is reserved for family worship. Furnishings include wooden beds, tables, and chairs. Living rooms may be decorated with pictures of gods and goddesses, important political leaders, and even film stars.
The Oriya follow the normal North Indian traditions of marrying within one's caste or subcaste and outside one's clan. The preference is to marry outside the village or immediate area. An Oriya proverb states: "Marital relatives from distant places are beautiful, as distant hills are enchanting." Marriages are arranged, and although child marriage was common in the past, the age of marriage is increasing. The marriage ceremony and rituals follow the Hindu form. The daughter-in-law takes up residence with her husband's family, where she assumes various responsibilities in the household. Her status, of course, is considerably enhanced when she gives birth to a son. Divorce is uncommon, although legal under Indian law. In urban areas, there is a trend away from the extended family toward the nuclear family structure.
The usual dress for men is the dhoti (loincloth) and chaddar, a shawl that is draped over the shoulder. Sometimes a kurta, or shirt, is worn as an upper garment. Younger men, especially in the towns, favor Western-style clothes. Women wear the sari and choli (bodice). Orissa is known for its tie-dyed saris, and these are gaining in popularity across the country. Despite Orissa being known for its silver filigree ornaments, these are not popular among village women but tend to be favored, rather, by urban middle-class women. Village women display the usual array of ornaments and jewelry. Women of lower castes sometimes sport tattoos as decoration.
Rice is eaten by Oriya at every meal. At breakfast, cold rice, puffed rice (mudhi), or various types of rice cake (pitha) are taken with molasses or salt, and the meal is completed with tea. Thin rice pancakes are a specialty of Orissa and are frequently served to guests. A typical meal in an Oriya household consists of rice, dāl (lentils), and vegetable curry using eggplant, spinach, and seasonal vegetables, such as cauliflower, cabbages, or peas. For those who can afford it and who are not vegetarian, fish or goat meat may be served. Food is cooked in mustard oil, except for offerings to the gods, which are prepared in clarified butter (ghi). A particular favorite in villages is a rice dish called pakhala bata. Rice is boiled in bulk, and whatever is not consumed is stored in cold water. The rice ferments a little and is later served cold with fresh green chilies. This dish is popular in summer, when it is eaten with curds and green man-goes. Bananas, coconuts, and limes are the main fruits of the region. People are fond of sweets, cookies, and drinks, such as sherbets. Alcohol is avoided by caste Hindus, although the Untouchables drink toddy made from fermented dates. Hashish is made into a drink (bhang) and taken socially and at festivals.
Food has an important role in Oriya ritual. At the feast for Shiva, for example, villagers prepare a huge, steamed rice cake made in the shape of a lingam (Shiva's phallic symbol) and stuffed with cheese, molasses, and coconut. It is colored red with vermilion dye and is worshiped before being eaten. Similarly, there are over 50 types of rice cake prepared and offered to the deity at the Jagannath Temple at Puri.
Education is seen by middle- and upper-class Oriya as a means to economic advancement. Education levels in Orissa State, however, are among the lowest in India. Literacy rates in 2001 were 63.08% for those seven years of age and older (about the average for India as a whole), but this figure masks considerable differences between rural-urban populations and also gender differences. Male literacy in Orissa is 75.96% where as only 50.51% of females are literate. As against State literacy rate averages, districts like Koraput had only 35.72% literate, Malkangiri 30.53%, and Nawarangpur 33.93%.
Education is free and supposedly compulsory up to age 14, but attendance at schools is very much a matter of family choice. Girls rarely proceed beyond primary school, especially among the tribal populations. As is to be expected, test results from private schools far exceed those of government schools, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) are getting involved in educational projects. For instance, Mahila Vikas, an organization with experience in tribal development and one that has successfully executed other social welfare projects in the Gajapati district of Orissa aimed at ameliorating the economic and social status of women, is undertaking a project titled "Promotion of Girl Child Education of Primitive Tribals." The Gajapati District is one of the most backward areas of Orissa and is occupied by Saura tribals. Because of limited school capacity and the inability of parents to send their girl children to government schools located some distance away, an estimated 2,000 girl children in the area are school dropouts. Mahila Vikas has established a learning center for these children and transitions them into a government school. There is a great degree of community support for the project and a strong desire to remedy the situation.
There are numerous government-run colleges and five universities in Orissa. One of these, the Shri Jagannath Sanskrit University at Puri, is devoted to Sanskrit learning and culture.
Chronicles of the Jagannath Temple at Puri, written in Oriya, date from the 12th century ad. The most productive period in Oriya literature began in the 14th century. Important contributions to Oriya literature were made by medieval bhakti (devotional) poets. Modern writing in Oriya, however, suffers from comparison with Bengali achievements. Orissa is famous for its traditions of dance, music, and architecture. The classical dance of Orissa, known as Odissi, originated as a temple dance performed for the gods. The Chhau dance, performed by masked male dancers in honor of Shiva, is another feature of Oriya culture. Cuttack is a major center for dance and music. Painting of icons (patta paintings), palm leaf painting, and woodcarving are important artistic traditions in Orissa. Orissan temples, ornamented with carvings and sculptures, are built in a distinct style regarded by some as the climax of North Indian temple architecture. Several important temples are found at Bhubaneshwar, though the Sun Temple at Konar ak is considered to be the masterpiece of medieval Orissan temple architecture.
Most Oriya are involved in rice cultivation. Orissa State accounts for around 10% of India's total rice output. Agriculture in the region is still fairly traditional, depending on animal power for traction and requiring considerable inputs of labor. Cash crops include oilseeds, pulses, sugarcane, jute, and coconuts. Fishing is important in coastal areas. Many families are engaged in producing traditional handicrafts. Industrial development in the state has occurred only in the decades following independence (following 1947).
Children amuse themselves with typical games, e.g., ball, tag, hide-and-seek, spinning tops, and kite-flying. Traditional games for adults include cards, dice, and other games of chance. Body-building and wrestling are common sports for men and kabaddi (team wrestling) is very popular. Modern sports, such as cricket, soccer, and field hockey, are played in schools.
ENTERTAINMENT AND RECREATION
Although modern forms of entertainment are found in towns, the Oriya are mostly rural and draw on the rich traditions of folk entertainment associated with Oriya culture. These include folk dances and songs, puppet plays, shadow plays (where the shadows of the characters are projected onto a screen using puppets), and folk opera (jatra), as well as the activities associated with fairs and religious festivals.
FOLK ART, CRAFTS, AND HOBBIES
Orissa is well known for its handicrafts, particularly its little carved wooden replicas of Jagannath and the other gods at the temple in Puri. Painted masks and wooden animal toys for children are also very popular. Local sculptors make soapstone copies of temple sculptures for pilgrims and tourists. Textiles include appliqué work, embroidery, tie-dyed fabrics, and various types of hand-loom cloth. The artisans of Cuttack are skilled in filigree work and the making of gold and silver filigree jewelry. Brassware and items made from bell metal (an alloy of copper and tin) are also produced by local artisans.
Some social problems that plague Orissa stem from the "super cyclone" that affected the region in 1999. Some of the survivors, especially from the Jagatpur District that was hard hit by the storm, suffered from post-traumatic distress syndrome, experiencing symptoms like restlessness and sleep disorders. The number of suicides and attempted suicides following the cyclone was quite high and, in a survey taken in the region after the storm, a staggering 11% of the respondents expressed a death wish.
Access to land is another problem in Orissa. While land reform legislation has reduced the share of agricultural land held under large holdings (more than 6 hectares) in Orissa since the 1950s, the proportion of households operating no land, whose livelihoods are based principally on agricultural labor, increased substantially following the widespread eviction of tenants from former landlord estates. Around a quarter of all households in Orissa still have no land. In spite of land reforms, formidable obstacles continue to prevent the rural poor from improving their access to land.
Orissa is one of a few states in India that has attempted legally to abolish tenancy (land-leasing), except in the case of persons of disability (the definition of which includes widows, divorcees, and other unmarried women). Land rights may pass to any cultivator who can demonstrate continuous occupation over a period of at least 12 years. However, tenancy remains widespread, and restrictions have led to concealed forms of tenancy (e.g. with oral contracts) that give tenants little or no protection in law. A ceiling on individual land holdings also applies and currently stands at 10 "standard acres" (depending on land quality). In addition to these provisions, which fall under land reforms legislation, three major acts govern land administration and respectively provide the basis for land survey and settlement, land consolidation/prevention of land fragmentation, and prevention of encroachment on government land.
Development also causes problems for rural people in Orissa. For instance, the giant Pohang Iron and Steel Company (POSCO) of South Korea's steel plant and port in Jagatsinghpur district of Orissa will displace 471 families in 11 hamlets. For the last several years, local communities have been fighting to retain the land they have been cultivating for generations but which, after Independence, has been deemed government forest land. It is doubtful that the recent Forest Rights Act will give them the ability to assert their rights over this land. The local people assert that their vibrant and self-suffi-cient local economy based on betel leaf, cashew, and paddy cultivation, pisciculture and fishing will be destroyed, rendering them homeless and jobless if the steel plant and port come up. The government and the company in question have been doggedly pursuing efforts to "clear the land of people," with the argument that the plant, port, and mines together will generate 45,000 jobs and unprecedented revenue for the state. The pressure on local communities is based on the contention that much of the occupation and cultivation in the area is illegal because it is on government land under the jurisdiction of the forest department.
The Scheduled Tribes and Other Traditional Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act of 2006 is a key piece of forest legislation passed in India on 18 December 2006. It has also been called the "Forest Rights Act," the "Tribal Rights Act," the "Tribal Bill," and the "Tribal Land Act." The law concerns the rights of forest dwelling communities to land and other resources denied to them over decades as a result of the continuance of colonial forest laws in India and affects the 25% of Orissa's population that are tribal, though some critics argue that the law does more to harm tribals than to defend their traditional rights.
Land alienation among the tribals of the state, i.e. the sale of tribal land to non-tribal peoples, continues to be a problem, despite the existence of legislation designed to prevent this.
Orissa is one of the poorest states of India, and many of the problems faced by its people reflect this. Illiteracy and poverty in rural areas are commonplace. Much of the region lacks a safe drinking-water supply, adequate schools, roads, and electricity. The use of child labor is common, and of concern to foreign organizations funding development projects in the region. Alcoholism in rural areas is such a problem that there is a groundswell, especially among low-caste women, for the imposition of prohibition. Modern social conditions, however, can be expected to improve as Orissa modernizes in the future. Today's social problems detract nothing from the important contributions the Oriya have made to Indian culture in the past.
As a predominantly Hindu, rural people, the Oriya experience many of the problems associated with Hindu society. Purdah, child marriage, dowry payment and casteism were traditionally the lot of rural Oriya women and little has changed since the past. Sons are still preferred as offspring and feticide is not uncommon, as seen in the disparity of local sex ratios. Low-caste women are subject to sexual violence and rape, and the sale of poor girl children, either into prostitution or as wives in richer parts of India, is not uncommon.
Oriya women may appear, as in other parts of South Asia, to enjoy certain land rights in law, but legal protections rarely translate into effective control over land in practice, owing to embedded, gender-biased social norms and customs. It has been suggested that women's access to and effective control over land may be enhanced through joint land titling. Th is measure is rather limited in scope, since ideally what need to be promoted are women's independent land rights. But while the principle of joint titling is readily accepted at the level of the government of India, it has yet to be realized in practice in Orissa.
The life of urban, middle- and upper-class Oriya is, naturally, quite different. However, Oriya women find poverty, illiteracy, lack of rights to inheritance, lack of access to education, poor health services and lack of economic resources as barriers to improving their status in society.
Beruhia, Nrusinha Charan, ed. Orissa State Gazetteer. Vol. 1. Bhubaneshwar, India: Gazetteers Unit, Government of Orissa, 1990.
Das, Binod Sankar. Life and Culture in Orissa. Calcutta: Minerva Associates, 1984.
Jena, A. C. Devolution of Functions and Finances on Panchayats in Orissa. Hyderabad: National Institute of Rural Development, 2003.
Jena, B. B. Orissa: People, Culture and Polity. New Delhi: Kalyani Publishers, 1980.
Mohanti, Prafulla. My Village, My Life: Portrait of an Indian Village. New York: Praeger, 1973.
Mohanty, Jatindra Mohan. History of Oriya Literature. Bhubaneswar: Vidya, 2006.
Pandey, Balaji. Trafficking in Women in Orissa: An Exploratory Study. Bhubaneswar: Institute for Socio-Economic Development, 2003.
Pati, Rabindra Nath. Tribal and Indigenous People of India: Problems and Prospects. New Delhi: A.P.H. Pub. Corp., 2002.
—by D. O. Lodrick
ALTERNATE NAMES: Ksatriya caste
POPULATION: 27.2 million
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Oriya are the dominant ethnic group in India's eastern state of Orissa. They share historical and cultural traditions that date to the sixth century bc. The Oriya are identified with the Odra (or Udra), a people mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts. The lands to the north of the Mahanadi River, which flows into the Bay of Bengal, were known as Odradesha, or "country of the Odra."
The hilly nature of Orissa once helped many small kingdoms thrive. From the fourth century bc on, however, major states such as Kalinga extended their control over much of the area. During the fourth and fifth centuries ad, a foreign people (possibly Greeks) rose to power in the region, followed by a series of local dynasties. The end of the eleventh century saw the rise of the Eastern Gangas, whose rule ushered in a golden era in Orissa's history. This dynasty remained a Hindu stronghold until Muslim rulers from Bengal conquered it in 1568. Orissa subsequently became part of the Mughal Empire, but its western areas later fell to the Marathas. The British acquired the coastal regions in 1757 and the Maratha-held lands in 1803. Orissa assumed its current form in 1947 when India gained its independence from Britain.
2 • LOCATION
Oriyas make up about 75 percent of Orissa's population with the rest belonging to various tribal groups. Oriyas traditionally lived at the delta of the Mahanadi River and in coastal lowlands along the Bay of Bengal. The Garjat Hills and Eastern Ghats are hills on the edge of India's Deccan Plateau, and they lie inland within Oriya land. To the west of these hills are interior plateaus. These hills and plateaus are some of the most heavily forested regions in India. The Mahanadi River flows across the middle of the state. Orissa receives about 60 inches (150 centimeters) of rainfall during the monsoon season, which begins in July and ends in October. It has cool winters with temperatures of about 68° F (20° C). In mid-February, the thermometer begins to climb as the hot, humid summer weather approaches. In June, average temperatures approach 85° F (30° C).
3 • LANGUAGE
Oriya is an Indo-Aryan language closely related to Bengali, Assamese, and other languages of eastern India. It has its own script and is one of official languages of India. Spoken Oriya varies throughout the region.
4 • FOLKLORE
Puri, a coastal town located at the south end of the Mahanadi Delta, has a famous shrine to Krishna in his form of Jagannath (lord of the universe). As one story goes, a hunter saw Krishna in the forest, thought he was a deer and killed him. He left the deity's body under a tree, where a pious person found it, cremated it, and placed the ashes in a box. The god Vishnu then asked a king to make an image from these sacred relics. The king asked Vishvakarman, an artisan, to do the work. He said he would if he were allowed to do it without being disturbed. The king became impatient after fifteen days and disturbed the artisan. The artisan was so angry that he never finished the work. To this day, the image is only a stump without arms or legs. The god Brahma gave the image its eyes and a soul. The temple in Puri keeps this legend alive by representing Krishna as a block of wood.
5 • RELIGION
Many local deities and spirits also influence Oriya life and activities. Often, they are believed to cause disease, and must either be appeased or handed over to shamans (kalisi) —healers who deal with them.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
Oriya celebrate most Hindu festivals and several regional holidays. Their biggest regional holiday is the Chariot Procession (Ratha Yatra) of Jagannath in Puri. It takes place in June or July, and attracts visitors from all over India. Images of Jagannath and two lesser deities are taken from the Jagannath temple to a country house about 2 miles (3 kilometers) away. The images are placed in cars or chariots and pulled by pilgrims. The word "juggernaut" comes from "Jagannath" and refers to the god's massive chariot.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Most babies are born at home. Village women give birth by squatting, with a piece of cloth tied tightly around the abdomen. They grip a wooden pole to cope with labor pains. Male babies are greeted with special joy. After seven days, rites of purification are observed. The name-giving ceremony is held on the twenty-first day.
Children are the center of family life. They are spoiled and fussed over, but later they begin to share household tasks. Girls are usually segregated for seven days when they first menstruate. In some communities, they rub turmeric paste on their bodies and bathe before resuming their domestic and social activities.
The dead are cremated, although children and unmarried persons are usually buried. The corpse is anointed with turmeric, washed, and wrapped in a shroud. It is carried to the cremation ground by relatives, and placed on the funeral pyre with the head toward the north. Some groups place women facing up and men facing down. Relatives shave their own heads and don new clothes, and on the eleventh day they hold a feast.
8 • RELATIOSHIPS
Caste (social class) plays an important role in daily relationships. People often greet newcomers by asking which caste they belong to.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Oriya mostly live in villages. Their villages usually have houses built along the sides of a single street and a small hamlet outside the central area where lower caste families live. Houses are usually rectangular and have mud walls and a gabled roof thatched with straw. Sometimes, richer families have a double roof, a small guest house, and a fence. Rooms in a typical Oriya home are used as cattle sheds, grain storage areas, bedrooms, and kitchens. Usually, part of the kitchen is set aside as an area where the family can pray. Furnishings include wooden beds, tables, and chairs. Oriya often decorate their walls with pictures of gods and goddesses, political leaders, and film stars.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Oriya prefer to marry within their caste or subcaste, and outside their clan. An Oriya proverb states that "marital relatives from distant places are beautiful, as distant hills are enchanting," and so people often seek a marital partner from outside their village. Marriages are arranged. The daughter-inlaw usually lives with her husband's family. Divorce is uncommon.
11 • CLOTHING
Men wear a dhoti (long piece of white cotton wrapped around the waist and drawn between the legs and tucked into the waist) and a chaddar (shawl draped over the shoulders). Women wear the sari (a length of fabric wrapped around the waist, with one end thrown over the right shoulder) and choli (tight-fitting, cropped blouse).
12 • FOOD
Oriya generally eat rice at every meal. At breakfast, cold rice, puffed rice (mudhi), or various types of rice cake (pitha) are eaten with molasses or salt, and tea. Thin rice pancakes are a specialty of Orissa. A typical meal consists of rice, dal (lentils), and vegetable curry using eggplant, spinach, and seasonal vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbages, or peas. Fish or goat meat also may be served. Food is cooked in mustard oil, except for offerings to the gods. Those offerings are prepared in clarified butter (ghee). A particular favorite in villages is a rice dish called pakhala bata. Rice is boiled in bulk, and whatever is not eaten is stored in cold water. When this rice becomes a little sour, it is served cold with fresh green chilies. This dish is popular in summer, when it is eaten with curds and green mangoes. Bananas, coconuts, and limes are the main fruits of the region. Oriya are fond of sweets such as sherbets, cookies, and drinks. Some Oriya drink a toddy (hot drink) made from fermented dates. Hashish (similar to marijuana) is combined with yogurt to make a drink called bhang and is drunk socially and at festivals.
Food plays an important role in Oriya ritual. At the feast for Shiva, for example, villagers prepare a huge, steamed rice cake made in the shape of a lingam (Shiva's phallic symbol) and stuffed with cheese, molasses, and coconut. It is dyed red and is worshiped before being eaten. More than fifty types of rice cake are cooked to be offered at the Jagannath Temple at Puri.
13 • EDUCATION
Orissa has a literacy rate (percentage of the population who can read and write) of under 50 percent. More people tend to know how to read and write in cities than in villages. Girls rarely proceed beyond primary school. Orissa has several government-run colleges and five universities. One of these, the Shri Jagannath Sanskrit University at Puri, is devoted to Sanskrit culture.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Chronicles of the Jagannath Temple at Puri date from the twelfth century ad. Medieval bhakti (devotional) poets have left Oriya literature with a rich tradition. Orissa also is famous for its dance, music, and architecture. Odissi, for instance, is a classical dance that originated as a temple dance for the gods. The Chhau dance, performed by masked male dancers in honor of Shiva, is another feature of Oriya culture. Cuttack is a major center for dance and music.
Oriya culture also includes vivid dances and songs, folk opera (jatra), puppet plays, and shadow plays (where the shadows of the characters are projected onto a screen using puppets).
Painting of icons (patta paintings), palm leaf painting, and woodcarving are important artistic traditions in Orissa. Orissan temples are decorated with carvings and sculptures and have a distinct style. The Sun Temple at Konarak is considered to be a particular Orissan masterpiece.
15 • WORK
Most Oriya grow rice. The state of Orissa accounts for about 10 percent of India's total rice output. Farmers still use a great deal of animal power and traditional tools. Cash crops include oilseeds, pulses (legumes), sugarcane, jute, and coconuts. Fishing is important in coastal areas. Many families also make traditional handicrafts. Since independence in 1947, some industrial development has occurred.
16 • SPORTS
Children play ball, tag, and hide-and-seek. They also like to spin tops and fly kites. Traditional games for adults include cards and dice. Bodybuilding and wrestling are common sports for men, and kabaddi (team wrestling) is very popular. Cricket, soccer, and field hockey are played in schools.
17 • RECREATION
Oriya enjoy folk dances and songs, puppet plays, and shadow plays. They also like a form of folk opera known as jatra.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Orissa is known for its handicrafts, particularly its little carved wooden replicas of Jagannath. Painted masks and wooden animal toys for children also are popular. Local sculptors make soapstone copies of temple sculptures for pilgrims and tourists. Textiles include appliqué work, embroidery, tie-dyed fabrics, and various types of hand-loomed cloth. The artisans of Cuttack are skilled in filigree work and make gold and silver jewelry. Local artisans also produce brassware and items made from bell metal (an alloy of copper and tin). Orissa also is known for its tie-dyed saris. Village women often like to ornament their bodies with tattoos.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Orissa is one of the poorest states of India. Much of the region lacks a safe drinking-water supply, adequate schools, roads, and electricity. Alcoholism is such a problem that there is a popular movement to prohibit drinking.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
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