History of Oriya Literature (Odia Literature)

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History of Oriya Literature (Odia Literature)

History of Oriya Literature

Oriya Literature is also known as Odia Literature, Odisha literature, Orissa Literature. There is a consensus among eminent Indian Philologists that Oriya is a separate language and has a rich literature.

Oriya language was derived from Magadhi Apabhramsa. Emperor Kharavela’s inscription (1st century B.C.) at Udayagiri hills near Bhubaneswar in Orissa has very close resemblance with Pali.

Ashokan inscriptions at Dhauli hills near Bhubaneswar (3rd Century B.C.) provide specimens of Magadhi sub-dialect. Of course quite a few scholars of Eastern languages have claimed Buddhist Caryapada (Budhagana and Doha) as the earliest stage of each of their languages (8th to 10th Century AD).

It is, however, an established fact that Oriya emerged as a separate and independent language around the tenth and eleventh A.D. with a standard Oriya script.

Evolution of Oriya Literature

We would now turn our attention to the evolution of Oriya literature over the ages.

Oriya Literary works can broadly be divided into three phases:

 Old Oriya literary period 

From the inception of Oriya literature up to Mahabharata Kabya of Sarla Das i.e. up to 15th Century A.D.

Oriya Literary Medieval period

From Sarla Das i.e. from 16th Century AD to nineteenth Century AD. This includes the Bhakti Movement Period in Oriya Literature and includes Ornate Oriya Kabya period popularly called ‘Riti Yuga’.

Modern Oriya Literary 

From mid-nineteenth Century Period up to the present day — this includes the renaissance Period following occupation of Orissa by the Britishers and spread of English education and development of Oriya fiction, poetry, drama etc.

The Mahabharat of Sarala Das 

The Imperial Ganga Kings of Orissa ruled the State from 1100 A.D. to 1435 A.D. They were lovers of Sanskrit literature and promoted the development of Sanskrit scholarship. The love for Oriya language, literature and culture emerged with the enthronement of Emperor Kapilendra Deva of the Gajapati Surya Vanshi dynasty in 1435 A.D. He was a warrior of indomitable courage. Adikabi Sarala Das was the leading poet of this period during which Orissa was at the apex of her political and military glory and economic prosperity.

During this period of Oriya resurgence, Sarala Das wrote three of his epoch-making works in Oriya — namely

  • Mahabharata,
  • Bilanka Ramayana and
  • Chandi Purana,

The most important of the above three Oriya Literary works being Mahabharata.

All the three epics were composed in Dandi metre. His Oriya Mahabharata contained many deviations from and additions to the Original Sanskrit Epic. It was not a simple translation. Sarla Das has included in his works very many historical pictures of the then social life, military strategy, etc. which were deviations from original Sanskrit text. The Bilanka Ramayana and Chandi Purana were also new creations of Sarala Das which did not merely follow the outlines in the original Sanskrit texts.

The great Sanskrit classic ‘Geeta Govinda” by saint poet Jayadeva represents a high point of Lyricism and Bhaktirasa, which has enchanted performers and audiences all over the world, till today.

Bhakti Movement in Oriya Literature – Literature of the Panchsakha Age

The Bhakti literature in Oriya flourished during 16th Century. Oriya literature was largely enriched by the contributions of the five saint-poets (Panchasakha) who however did not emerge at a time. They were Jagannath Das, Balaram Das, Achyutanda Das, Yasovanta Das and Ananta Das. Jagannath Das and Shri Chaitanya were contemporaries. Shri Chaitanya propagated Goudiya Baishnav religion (Raganuga Prema Bhakti) whereas others were exponents of Utkaliya Baisanav Tatwa (Gyana Bhakti). The Panchasakhas were held in high esteem and formed a unique group holding forth Bhakti as the best path to realize God. They popularized religious and spiritual literature in Oriya which were formerly in Sanskrit language and had a close preserve of ballads, prayers and stories in verse which have a moral, cultural and religious bearing and were intelligible to Oriya laymen.

Jagannath Das (1492-1552) was the most famous of the Panchasakhas and famous for his immensely popular Oriya Bhagabat. It is not a mere translation of the Sanskrit Bhagabat. Oriya Bhagabat was easily intelligible and could be memorized by the devotees, mainly rural masses. Almost every village had a place called Bhagabat Tungi where religious discourses based on Bhagabat were held. Jagannath Das had adopted a style in his Oriya Bhagbat which was at once chaste, elegant, dignified, beautiful, simple and intelligible to all classes of people and hence it’s abiding popularity down the ages to the present day.

Imaginative Oriya poetry of 16th to 17th Century 

After Bhakti-Kavyas, imaginative and romantic poetry occupied the next important place in Oriya literature. The simple Oriya used in ‘Bhagabat’ of Jagannath Das greatly influenced these works. The Kabyakars (poets) of this genre were Kanhai Khuntia (Mahabhava Prakash), Arjun Das (Ramviva), Banamali Das (Chata Ichhamati) Narasinga Sena (Parimala), Bishnu Das (Premalochna), Sisu Sankar (Ushavilas), Pratap Ray (Sasisena), Devadurlava Das (Rahasya Manjari), Kartik Das (Rukmini Vivah), Danai Das (Goparasa) and Purusottam Das (Kanchikaveri).

During this period, a number of poets enriched Oriya language by their remarkable literary contributions called ‘Chautisas’. Thirty four stanzas from ‘Ka’ to ‘Kshya’ are placed at the beginning of each composition. Chautisa normally used to cover narratives, love stories or religious feelings. The first Chautisa of Oriya literature is ‘Kalasa Chautisa’ of Bachya Das. This piece details marriage ceremony of Siva and Parvati. Other Chautisa works are Mandakini Chautisa, Barsabharna Chautisa and Kesava Koili of Markanda Das.

Age of Ornate Poetry in Oriya Literature

The Age of Oriya ornate poetry (Riti Yuga or Alanakar Yuga) extended from Dhananjaya Bhanja of mid-seventeenth century to Abhimanyu Samantasinghar of mid-nineteenth Century. During this period Bhakti Rasa was replaced by Srinagara Rasa. Although there were very many poets, Kabi Samrata Upendrabhanja took this ornate Oriya poetry to its zenith in the eighteenth Century. That is why this literary period is often called ‘Bhanja Yuga’. In his poetic compositions Upendra Bhanja used his Slesha, Yamak, Chhandas (irony, humour, alliteration etc.) and other literary styles. He was a supreme exponent of mellifluous combination of words and had studied Sanskrit Abhidhans like Amarkosa and Trikandakosa. His mastery in rhetorical (1670- 1720) usage conveyed ‘Bahudha Artha’ (multiple meanings) to each and every stanza by different juxtaposition of words.

Upendra Bhanja, the prince of Oriya Ornate poetic style, was a prolific poet. His works included-Chitralekha, Hemamanjari, Chandabhusan. Sadha Rutu, Kalakautuka, Subhadra Pirinays, Baidehisa Bilas, Rasa Panjanga, Prema Sudhanidhi, Rasika Harabali, Kanyabihar, Labanyabati, Purusottam Mohatmya, Geeta Abhudi, Koti-Braharmanda Sundari etc. The age of ornate Oriya poetry commenced with poet Dhananjaya Bhanja. After him came poets like Lokanath Bidyadhar (Sarbanga Sundari), Bhakta Charan Das (Mathura Mangal), Dinakrushna (Rasakallol). For over one century, however, Upendra Bhanja dominated this genre of poetry. Very many poets after Upendra Bhanga also composed Kavyas — Sadananda Kabisurya Brahma, Chanapati etc. The ornate Kabya tradition in Oriya literature ended with Bidagdha Chintarmani of Abhimanyu Samantasinghar (1757- 1807), who was a great Vaishnaba poet in the twilight of medieval Oriya literature.

Oriya Lyrical Poetry

Towards the end of eighteenth century, the ornate Kavyjuga gave way to the age of Oriya Lyrical poetry (Geeti Kabita). Most of the lyrical poetry was composed in locally popular musical forms (Raga) so that those could be sung. During late 18th century and first half of nineteenth century, the most prominent lyrical poets included, Kabisurya Balladev Rath (Kishore Chandranan Champu) (1789-1845) Copal Krishna (1785-1862), Gaurhari, Gauracharan, Basamali, Haribandhu. They mostly composed ‘Chaupadis’, which are now popularly called ‘Odissi’.

Towards the close of the medieval period, Orissa was occupied by Britishers. Orissa then came in contact with English educations and civilization and with that, commenced the period of modern Oriya literature of nineteenth century.

Modern Oriya Literature (1803 Onwards)

The British occupied Orissa in 1803 A.D. brought with them English education, English literature and printing press. There were also publications of religious journals. The renaissance of modern Oriya literature commenced after 1850. The western impact was felt in every aspect of Oriya literature. The Oriya writers took interest in new genera like poetry, fiction, essays, drama, etc. Traditional Oriya poetry was replaced by elegy, ode, lyric, sonnet etc.

Fakir Mohan Senapati: (1843-1918)

He is considered the Father of modern Oriya literature, particularly in prose — in the field of novels and short stories. The first full-fledged novel in Oriya was written by Fakir Mohan Senapati called ‘Chhaman Atha Gunta’ (Six Acres and Half) based on the then feudal social systems with vivid portrayal of characters. Dr. J.V. Bolton in his book on ‘Fakir Mohan – His life and prose fiction,’ has said that the novel, is a satire on the British judicial system. Dr. Bolton also translated Fakirmohan’s autobiography titled ‘His times and I’. The master creator wrote three more novels — ‘Mamu’, ‘Prayaschita’ and ‘Lachhma’. Fakirmohan had a unique style of his own, using colloquial Oriya language replete with humour and satire. These Literary creations remain unsurpassed even today. The foundation of modern Oriya short story was also laid by Fakirmohan in late nineteenth century. His first short story was Rebati’ published in 1898. This was about female education, a sensitive subject a century back. Fakirmohan wrote scores of short stories covering the then Oriya village life, society, urban centers etc. His was a forceful literary genre in Oriya fiction.

Other founders of modern Oriya literature

Other founders of modern Oriya literature during the late 19th and early 20th century periods were Radhanath Ray, Madhusudan Rao and Gangadhar Meher. Radhanath Ray (1848-1908) started writing modern Oriya poetry in late nineteenth century. He wrote mainly long narrative poems called `Khanda Kavyas’. Among his long poems was ‘Kedar Gouri’, Chandrabhaga, Nandikeswari, Usha, Parbati, Darbar. Most of his themes were adapted from stories of Greek Legends set in Orissan surroundings. He wrote ‘Mahayatra’ which had a grand style, written in blank verse. Radhanath’s contemporary was Madhusudan Rao (1853-1912). He was a talented poet. He ushered in modern age in Oriya poetry. He sang in praise of God and led a pure and sublime life. His famous poetical collections include Chharumala, Basantagatha, Kusumanjali, Bibhidha Kabita etc. Gangadhar Meher (1862-1924) was a famous poet of western Orissa of late nineteenth century. In Oriya Poetry, he used both classical and modern forms. His famous poetical works include ‘Arghyathali’, ‘Tapaswini’, ‘Indumat’, ‘Kichakabadh’, etc.

This article is  a broad and brief survey of Oriya literature and its history. It is not a catalogue of all writers in Oriya. Oriya literature has now entered the 21st century with lot of promises.

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