Oriya literature is the literature written in the Oriya language. Oriya is an official language of the State of Odisha in India. The region has been known at different stages of history as Kalinga, Udara, Utkala or Koshala. Besides Odisha, the Oriya language is also spoken by minority populations of the neighbouring States of West Bengal, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh. Odisha was a vast empire in ancient and mediaeval times, extending from the Ganges in the north to the Godavari in the South. During British rule, however, Odisha lost its political identity and formed parts of the Bengal and Madras Presidencies. The present state of Odisha was formed in 1936.
The modern Oriya language is formed from Pali and Prakrit words with significant Sanskrit influence. Besides these core elements, about 28% of modern Oriya vocabulary have Adivasi origins, and about 2% have Hindi, Urdu, Persian or Arabic origins. The earliest written texts in the language are about a thousand years old. Historians have divided the history of the Oriya language and literature into five main stages: Old Oriya (10th century to 13th), Early Middle Oriya (13th to 15th), Middle Oriya (15th to 16th), Late Middle Oriya (17th to 1850) and Modem Oriya (1850 to present).
Age of Charya Literature of Old Oriya: The beginning of Oriya literature coincides with the Charyapada or Charyageeti composed by Sahajiya Buddhist poets. It is also claimed as the starting of Bengali literature.
Early Middle Oriya or Age of Sarala Das: Oriya in this period was the language of the backward class, having no access to Sanskrit education. The first great poet of Odisha at that time was the famous Sarala Das who translated the Mahabharata, not verbatim, but with native concept, somewhat like that of Kashiram Das in Bengali.
Middle Oriya or Age of the Panchasakhas: Five Oriya poets emerged during the late 15th and 16th centuries: Balaram Das, Jagannath Das, Achyutananda Das, Ananta Das and Jasobanta Das. Although they wrote over a span of one hundred years, they collectively known as ‘Panchasakhas’ (five friends) since they adhered to the same school of thought, i. e. Utkaliya Vaishnavism. They converted ancient Hindu texts into simple prose that the people could easily understand.
Late Middle Oriya or Age of Upendra Bhanja: A new form of novels in verse evolved at the beginning of the 17th century, especially with the works of Upendra Bhanja, which are characterised by verbal tricks, obscenity and eroticism. His works are considered as landmarks of Oriya literature and he was conferred with the title ‘Kabi Samrat’.
Modern Age: The first printing of the Oriya language was done in 1836 by Christian missionaries, replacing palm leaf inscription and revolutionising Oriya literature. From this time books were printed and journals and periodicals became available in Oriya. Radhanath (1849-1908) is the most well-known poet of this period. Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918), the most-known Oriya fiction writer was also of this period. He is regarded as the Father of Modern Oriya prose fiction. His novel Chha Mana Atha Guntha 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 (1917) in Russia and emerging the Marxist ideas in India.
As freedom movement began in India under the leadership of Mahatma Gandhi, a new era in literary thought emerged through the trend of nationalism. Gopabandhu Das (1877-1928) founded a school in Satyabadi, and, taking a large part of this idealistic movement, influenced many writers of this period. Chintamani Das is particularly renowned and he was bestowed with the Sahitya Akademi Award in 1970. The early 1980s witnessed in Oriya literature a group of poets with new thoughts and style who overshadowed the earlier generation. They were highly influenced by T. S. Eliot. And out of them Ramakanta Rath later modified Eliot’s ideas in his work.
In the post-independence era Oriya fiction took a new direction. Gopinath Mohanty and Surendra Mohanty are renowned figures in this period. In his fiction, Gopinath explores various aspects of Odishan life. He uses a unique prose style choosing words and phrases from the day-to-day speech of common men and women. He also translated Tolstoy’s, ‘War and Peace’ and Tagore’s ‘Yogayog’ into Oriya. Surendra Mohanty is a master of language theme and concept. Some of his notable novels are Kabi O Nartaki, Sabuj Patra O Dhusara Golap, Andha Diganta, etc.
The trends started in the 1950s and continued up to 1960s which were challenged by the young writers in 1970s. Kanailal Das and Jagadish Mohanty began creating a new style and language popular among general readers as well as intellectuals. Sarojini Sahoo, a famous feminist writer, also significantly contributed to Oriya fiction. Giribala Mohanty needs special attention for her deep sensitiveness for the woman’s issues.
Manoranjan Das pioneered a new theatre movement with his brand of experimentalism. Pramod kumar Tripathi’s contribution to the growth and development of the immensely popular and thought-provoking lok natakas is universally recognised and he is often called the Rousseau of lok natakas.