People of Odisha

The Odia, known classically by various names (Odia, Oriya, Odri, Utkaliya, Kalingi), are an Indo-Aryan ethno-linguistic group of eastern India. They constitute a majority in the eastern coastal state of Odisha, with minority populations in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Germany, and Australia.The vast majority of the Odias are Hindus and are known for their history of Sun worship. Odisha is home to some of the oldest Sun temples in India, including Konark. There are small Muslim, Christian, and Buddhist minorities.The term 'Odia', while sometimes used to refer to any inhabitant of Odisha, more precisely refers to the ethnic group which natively speaks the Odia language. Greek and Latin writers like Ptolemy and Pliny refer to the Odra people as Oretes in their accounts.

Odisha People

The earliest Odias were called Odra or Kalingas. Utkals was a later name.The word Odia has mentions in epics like the Mahabharata. The Odrakas are mentioned as one of the peoples that fought in the Mahabharata, a testimony to their Aryan roots. 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 king.

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. The earliest Odias were called Orda or Kalingas. A later name is Utkals.

Language and literature

Around 55-60 million people in Odisha and adjoining areas speak and use Odia language which is also one of the six classical languages of India. 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 the 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 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 also popularized as Kosli 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 comapred 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. The practices of the Jagannath sect are extremely popular 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[clarification needed] 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, Lalitgiriand 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[clarification needed] temples and making them state religion over their time of rule in history. Lingaraja 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 house- hold 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 Boudh 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.

Art and Entertainment

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 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.


A major ancient Indian classical dance that originated in the Hindu temples of Odisha.The theoretical foundations of Odissi trace to the ancient Sanskrit text Natya Shastra, its existence in antiquity evidenced by the dance poses in the sculptures of Odissi Hindu temples,and archeological sites related to Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. Odissi is traditionally a dance-drama genre of performance art, where the artists and musicians play out a mythical story, a spiritual message or devotional poem from the Hindu texts, using symbolic costumes, body movement, abhinaya (expressions) and mudras (gestures and sign language) set out in ancient Sanskrit literature. Odissi is learnt and performed as a composite of basic dance motif called the Bhangas (symmetric body bends, stance). It involves lower (footwork), mid (torso) and upper (hand and head) as three sources of perfecting expression and audience engagement with geometric symmetry and rhythmic musical resonance. An Odissi performance repertoire includes invocation, nritta (pure dance), nritya (expressive dance), natya (dance drama) and moksha (dance climax connoting freedom of the soul and spiritual release).


A predecessor of Odissi dance that was mostly performed by the temple Devadashi community or royal court performers.


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


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 battle field 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 complext 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

Baagh Naach or Tiger Dance is performed in Binka, Sonepur of Subarnapur district and Brahmapur and in some parts of Ganjam district in Odisha. It is performed in the month of chaitra.In this, the male dancer paints himself like a tiger. Thus, it is called Baagh Naach or Tiger Dance.

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.

Cuisine of Odisha

Odia cuisine is a reflection of the state's location. Many dishes of Odia origin are mistakenly considered to be Bengali in the rest of India. 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.

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