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Odia – The Language & Literature of India

Odia is the 6th classical language of India and has a literary heritage that dates back to more than 5,000 years. It is the native language of the Indian state of Odisha and its diaspora around the world, spoken by about 40 million people as a first or second language.

The language has been heavily influenced by languages like Arabic, Persian, and English. It also has a number of loanwords from other South Asian languages and other Dravidian languages like Tamil, Telugu, Marathi and Turkish.

It is an abugida, or syllabic, language and uses three diacritics: visarga, anusvara and candrabindu. It has six pure vowels, nine diphthongs and 28 consonants in a variety of lengths.

Aside from the major dialects such as Baleswari, Bhatri, Phulbani, Puri and Sambalpuri that are written with a phonetic alphabet, there are many other non-literary and tribal forms or dialects in Odisha. These include Sounti, Kurmi, Bathudi, Kondhan, Agharia and Bhulia.

Classical Literature & Music

The classical literature of Odisha was mostly written for singing with the aid of ragas and talas. It was written by a variety of poets and prose writers. It was in vogue during the 18th century and a large number of works were published, especially by Sarala Das. Other eminent poets in this period were Balarama Das, Jagannatha Das, Achyutananda Das, Sisu Ananta Das and Jasobanta Das.

Prose Writing & Poetry

As a result of the growing influence of English literature, the Odia poets and prose writers started experimenting with modern themes and form in their poems and fiction. The great Odia Poet Radhanath Ray (1849-1908) is considered the Vyasakabi or founder poet of the language, while Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918) is considered the Founder Prose writer. Other poets such as Ramakanta Rath, Sitakanta Mohapatra, Soubhagya Kumar Mishra, Rajendra Kishore Panda, Brajanath Rath, Kamalakant Lenka, J. P. Das, Brahmotri Mohanty, Mamata Dash, Amaresh Patnaik and Goutam Jena among others contributed to the development of the form.

Early Odia (1000-1200)

The earliest works in this period were in the form of poems and lyrical prose. A number of kavyas and kalpabhagas were written by Sarala Das in this period, and the work of Kabibar Radhanath Ray, Fakir Mohan Senapati and Madhusudan Rao made the Odia language more modern.

Mid Odia (1400-1700)

The middle period of Odia literature saw the writing of a number of ahshagas, anthologies and lyrical prose. These included the Ramayana, Lakshmi Purana and other ancient texts. Several works of contemporary authors such as Pallikabi Nanda Kishore Bal, Gangadhar Meher, Chintamani Mahanti and Kuntala Kumari Sabat were also written in this period.

Post-Independence era and 20th Century Era

The Post-Independence era saw the birth of modern drama in the works of Rama Sankara Ray and Fakir Mohan Senapati. Besides, it was the time when a wide range of writers began to write in Odia, including criticism, essays and history.

It is estimated that over 5,000 books have been written in the language, and a huge portion of this writing is still unpublished. It is one of the few South Asian languages that has a long and rich literary heritage in print and oral literature. As more and more people become interested in reading the language, the future looks bright for Odia.