Oriya people

Oriya people
Oriyas (Odias)
Chaitanya-Mahabrabhu-at-Jagannath.jpgKolkata Dharmatal4.jpg
Nandita Das still2.jpg
Madhusudan Daschaitanya Mahaprabhu • Sudarshan Pattnaik
Biju PatnaikDilip TirkeyNandita Das
Kelucharan Mohapatra • Pathani Samanta • Kharvela
Total population
31 million
Regions with significant populations
Primary populations in:

Orissa • Andhra Pradesh • West Bengal
Jharkhand • Chhattisgarh • Gujarat[1]


Israel • Mauritius[1] • United States United Kingdom • Australia




Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Sikhism, Jainism

Related ethnic groups


The Oriya, known classically by various names (Odiya, Odri, Utkaliya, Kalingi, Dakhini Kosli, Oriya: [jʊrz], Latin: Uri), are an ethnic group of eastern India and of eastern Indo-Aryan stock. They constitute a majority in the eastern coastal state of Orissa, with minority populations in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

The vast majority of the Oriyas are Hindus and are known for their history of Sun worship. Orissa is home to some of the oldest Sun temples in India, including Konark. There are small Christian and Muslim minorities.

The term 'Oriya', while generally used today to refer to any inhabitant of Orissa, actual refers to the ethnic group of the same name. Orissa marks the south eastern frontier of Aryan expansion and is therefore also home to a large tribal population who have Dravidian origins. While many of them have adopted the Oriya language, they still maintain a very distinct identity and there is no discernible admixture between them and the Oriyas.

The Oriyas are distinguished by their religious customs as well as the use of the Oriya language. Orissa's relative isolation and the lack of any discernible outside influence has contributed towards preserving a socio-religious setup that has disappeared from most of North India. Orissa was first conquered by the Mauryan Empire around 250 BC. The resulting bloodshed was the catalyst that led to the Mauryan Emperor, Ashoka eschewing warfare and converting to Buddhism. It remained an independent regional power for more than a thousand years thereafter when it began to undergo a slow decline. It was conquered by the Mughals under Akbar in 1568 and was thereafter subject to a succession of Mughal, Bengali and Maratha rule before finally falling to the British. It was carved out from Bengal in 1912 and finally became a separate province in 1936.



The word Oriya comes from ancient Sanksrit Odra. The Odrakas are mentioned as one of the people 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 Oriya dates from the 15th century when it was used by the medieval Muslim chroniclers and adopted by the then ruling Gajapati king.


Most of modern Orissa was inhabited by native tribes since the Neolithic period. These tribes were later pushed towards the interior by the Aryans who occupied the fertile coastal belt. This was one of the last waves of Aryan migration and marks the south eastern limits of their expansion. While there is no unanimity regarding the date of this advance, the Oriyas were a well known community by the time of the Mahabharata.

Occupying this frontier of the Aryan world, the Oriyas adopted and assimilated many tribal practices into their religion and culture over a long period of time. They are closely related to the Bengali people and to a lesser extent to the Assamese people and Bihari people. The languages spoken by these communities all belong to the same Eastern Indo Aryan group with varying levels of Hindi influence.


As an Indo Aryan race, the Oriyas are no different from their neighbours like the Bengalis and the Assamese. They are generally of moderate height and of a wheatish complexion. The Dravidian population tends to be smaller in stature with darker complexions; depending on the level of admixture between the groups skin complexions and hair texture varies.


It is impossible to arrive at a precise figure for the Oriya population. The Census of India 2001 pegged the population of Orissa at around 36 million. Around 8 million of these are people belonging to the Scheduled Tribes. Therefore the Oriyas number around 27 million. Smaller Oriya communities may also be found in the neighbouring states of West Bengal (Midnapore), Jharkhand (West Singhbhum), Chhattisgarh and Andhra Pradesh (Vishakhapatnam and Srikakulam district). Surat in Gujarat also has a large Oriya population, primarily from the southern district of Ganjam that works in its diamond industry. The sex ratio is around 970 women per 1000 men, high by Indian standards.


Orissa has a rich indigenous culture that is heavily influenced by the original tribal inhabitants of the land. It is also remarkable for its almost total absence of Islamic influence, largely owing to its relative isolation from the Indian mainstream.


The Oriyas speak the Oriya language, an eastern Indo Aryan tongue that shares a common root with Maithili,Bengali and Assamese. The spoken language varies substantially across the state and has no less than seven dialects. Mughalbandi Oriya, spoken in the Cuttack and Puri districts is generally considered as the standard dialect and is the language of instruction and media. Oriya shows little foreign influence but borrows liberally from tribal languages like Santhali and Ho.


Orissa is one of the most religiously homogeneous states in India. More than 95% of the people are followers of Hinduism. The Jagannath sect and its devotion is extremely popular in the state and the annual Rath Yatra in Puri draws pilgrims from across India. Christians are generally found among the tribals especially in the interior districts of Boudh and Kandhamal. Around 2% of the people are Muslims, most of them converts from the lower castes along with a few descendants of migrants from North India and elsewhere.


The Oriyas express themselves in a variety of ways. Odissi is one of the classical dances of India and also one of the most popular. The Applique work of Pipli, a small village in Khordha district is world famous.


Oriya cuisine is a reflection of the state's location. Many dishes of Oriya origin are mistakenly considered to be Bengali in the rest of India. Seafood and sweets dominate Oriya cuisine. Rice is the staple cereal and is eaten throughout the day. Popular Oriya dishes are Rasgulla, Chhena Poda, Chhenagaja and Pakhala


Well known festivals, that are popular among the Oriya people, are the Ratha Yatra which is celebrated in Puri, Orissa, Durga Puja, Raja, Pana Sankranti (as Vaisakhi is called in Orissa ).

Notable people

See also

  • Non Resident Oriya


External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

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