ALTERNATE NAMES: Ksatriya caste
LOCATION: India (Orissa state)
POPULATION: 27.2 million
1 • INTRODUCTION
The Oriya are the dominant ethnic group in India's eastern state of Orissa. They share historical and cultural traditions that date to the sixth century BC . The Oriya are identified with the Odra (or Udra), a people mentioned in ancient Sanskrit texts. The lands to the north of the Mahanadi River, which flows into the Bay of Bengal, were known as Odradesha, or "country of the Odra."
The hilly nature of Orissa once helped many small kingdoms thrive. From the fourth century BC on, however, major states such as Kalinga extended their control over much of the area. During the fourth and fifth centuries AD , a foreign people (possibly Greeks) rose to power in the region, followed by a series of local dynasties. The end of the eleventh century saw the rise of the Eastern Gangas, whose rule ushered in a golden era in Orissa's history. This dynasty remained a Hindu stronghold until Muslim rulers from Bengal conquered it in 1568. Orissa subsequently became part of the Mughal Empire, but its western areas later fell to the Marathas. The British acquired the coastal regions in 1757 and the Maratha-held lands in 1803. Orissa assumed its current form in 1947 when India gained its independence from Britain.
2 • LOCATION
Oriyas make up about 75 percent of Orissa's population with the rest belonging to various tribal groups. Oriyas traditionally lived at the delta of the Mahanadi River and in coastal lowlands along the Bay of Bengal. The Garjat Hills and Eastern Ghats are hills on the edge of India's Deccan Plateau, and they lie inland within Oriya land. To the west of these hills are interior plateaus. These hills and plateaus are some of the most heavily forested regions in India. The Mahanadi River flows across the middle of the state. Orissa receives about 60 inches (150 centimeters) of rainfall during the monsoon season, which begins in July and ends in October. It has cool winters with temperatures of about 68° F (20° C). In mid-February, the thermometer begins to climb as the hot, humid summer weather approaches. In June, average temperatures approach 85° F (30° C).
3 • LANGUAGE
Oriya is an Indo-Aryan language closely related to Bengali, Assamese, and other languages of eastern India. It has its own script and is one of official languages of India. Spoken Oriya varies throughout the region.
4 • FOLKLORE
Puri, a coastal town located at the south end of the Mahanadi Delta, has a famous shrine to Krishna in his form of Jagannath (lord of the universe). As one story goes, a hunter saw Krishna in the forest, thought he was a deer and killed him. He left the deity's body under a tree, where a pious person found it, cremated it, and placed the ashes in a box. The god Vishnu then asked a king to make an image from these sacred relics. The king asked Vishvakarman, an artisan, to do the work. He said he would if he were allowed to do it without being disturbed. The king became impatient after fifteen days and disturbed the artisan. The artisan was so angry that he never finished the work. To this day, the image is only a stump without arms or legs. The god Brahma gave the image its eyes and a soul. The temple in Puri keeps this legend alive by representing Krishna as a block of wood.
5 • RELIGION
Oriya are mostly Hindu. They worship Shiva, the Mother Goddess, the Sun God, and many other Hindu deities. The Vaishnava sect particularly reveres Krishna in his form as Jagannath.
Many local deities and spirits also influence Oriya life and activities. Often, they are believed to cause disease, and must either be appeased or handed over to shamans (kalisi) —healers who deal with them.
6 • MAJOR HOLIDAYS
Oriya celebrate most Hindu festivals and several regional holidays. Their biggest regional holiday is the Chariot Procession (Ratha Yatra) of Jagannath in Puri. It takes place in June or July, and attracts visitors from all over India. Images of Jagannath and two lesser deities are taken from the Jagannath temple to a country house about 2 miles (3 kilometers) away. The images are placed in cars or chariots and pulled by pilgrims. The word "juggernaut" comes from "Jagannath" and refers to the god's massive chariot.
7 • RITES OF PASSAGE
Most babies are born at home. Village women give birth by squatting, with a piece of cloth tied tightly around the abdomen. They grip a wooden pole to cope with labor pains. Male babies are greeted with special joy. After seven days, rites of purification are observed. The name-giving ceremony is held on the twenty-first day.
Children are the center of family life. They are spoiled and fussed over, but later they begin to share household tasks. Girls are usually segregated for seven days when they first menstruate. In some communities, they rub turmeric paste on their bodies and bathe before resuming their domestic and social activities.
The dead are cremated, although children and unmarried persons are usually buried. The corpse is anointed with turmeric, washed, and wrapped in a shroud. It is carried to the cremation ground by relatives, and placed on the funeral pyre with the head toward the north. Some groups place women facing up and men facing down. Relatives shave their own heads and don new clothes, and on the eleventh day they hold a feast.
8 • RELATIOSHIPS
Caste (social class) plays an important role in daily relationships. People often greet newcomers by asking which caste they belong to.
9 • LIVING CONDITIONS
Oriya mostly live in villages. Their villages usually have houses built along the sides of a single street and a small hamlet outside the central area where lower caste families live. Houses are usually rectangular and have mud walls and a gabled roof thatched with straw. Sometimes, richer families have a double roof, a small guest house, and a fence. Rooms in a typical Oriya home are used as cattle sheds, grain storage areas, bedrooms, and kitchens. Usually, part of the kitchen is set aside as an area where the family can pray. Furnishings include wooden beds, tables, and chairs. Oriya often decorate their walls with pictures of gods and goddesses, political leaders, and film stars.
10 • FAMILY LIFE
Oriya prefer to marry within their caste or subcaste, and outside their clan. An Oriya proverb states that "marital relatives from distant places are beautiful, as distant hills are enchanting," and so people often seek a marital partner from outside their village. Marriages are arranged. The daughter-inlaw usually lives with her husband's family. Divorce is uncommon.
11 • CLOTHING
Men wear a dhoti (long piece of white cotton wrapped around the waist and drawn between the legs and tucked into the waist) and a chaddar (shawl draped over the shoulders). Women wear the sari (a length of fabric wrapped around the waist, with one end thrown over the right shoulder) and choli (tight-fitting, cropped blouse).
12 • FOOD
Oriya generally eat rice at every meal. At breakfast, cold rice, puffed rice (mudhi), or various types of rice cake (pitha) are eaten with molasses or salt, and tea. Thin rice pancakes are a specialty of Orissa. A typical meal consists of rice, dal (lentils), and vegetable curry using eggplant, spinach, and seasonal vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbages, or peas. Fish or goat meat also may be served. Food is cooked in mustard oil, except for offerings to the gods. Those offerings are prepared in clarified butter (ghee) . A particular favorite in villages is a rice dish called pakhala bata. Rice is boiled in bulk, and whatever is not eaten is stored in cold water. When this rice becomes a little sour, it is served cold with fresh green chilies. This dish is popular in summer, when it is eaten with curds and green mangoes. Bananas, coconuts, and limes are the main fruits of the region. Oriya are fond of sweets such as sherbets, cookies, and drinks. Some Oriya drink a toddy (hot drink) made from fermented dates. Hashish (similar to marijuana) is combined with yogurt to make a drink called bhang and is drunk socially and at festivals.
Food plays an important role in Oriya ritual. At the feast for Shiva, for example, villagers prepare a huge, steamed rice cake made in the shape of a lingam (Shiva's phallic symbol) and stuffed with cheese, molasses, and coconut. It is dyed red and is worshiped before being eaten. More than fifty types of rice cake are cooked to be offered at the Jagannath Temple at Puri.
13 • EDUCATION
Orissa has a literacy rate (percentage of the population who can read and write) of under 50 percent. More people tend to know how to read and write in cities than in villages. Girls rarely proceed beyond primary school. Orissa has several government-run colleges and five universities. One of these, the Shri Jagannath Sanskrit University at Puri, is devoted to Sanskrit culture.
14 • CULTURAL HERITAGE
Chronicles of the Jagannath Temple at Puri date from the twelfth century AD . Medieval bhakti (devotional) poets have left Oriya literature with a rich tradition. Orissa also is famous for its dance, music, and architecture. Odissi, for instance, is a classical dance that originated as a temple dance for the gods. The Chhau dance, performed by masked male dancers in honor of Shiva, is another feature of Oriya culture. Cuttack is a major center for dance and music.
Oriya culture also includes vivid dances and songs, folk opera (jatra) , puppet plays, and shadow plays (where the shadows of the characters are projected onto a screen using puppets).
Painting of icons ( patta paintings), palm leaf painting, and woodcarving are important artistic traditions in Orissa. Orissan temples are decorated with carvings and sculptures and have a distinct style. The Sun Temple at Konarak is considered to be a particular Orissan masterpiece.
15 • WORK
Most Oriya grow rice. The state of Orissa accounts for about 10 percent of India's total rice output. Farmers still use a great deal of animal power and traditional tools. Cash crops include oilseeds, pulses (legumes), sugarcane, jute, and coconuts. Fishing is important in coastal areas. Many families also make traditional handicrafts. Since independence in 1947, some industrial development has occurred.
16 • SPORTS
Children play ball, tag, and hide-and-seek. They also like to spin tops and fly kites. Traditional games for adults include cards and dice. Bodybuilding and wrestling are common sports for men, and kabaddi (team wrestling) is very popular. Cricket, soccer, and field hockey are played in schools.
17 • RECREATION
Oriya enjoy folk dances and songs, puppet plays, and shadow plays. They also like a form of folk opera known as jatra.
18 • CRAFTS AND HOBBIES
Orissa is known for its handicrafts, particularly its little carved wooden replicas of Jagannath. Painted masks and wooden animal toys for children also are popular. Local sculptors make soapstone copies of temple sculptures for pilgrims and tourists. Textiles include appliqué work, embroidery, tie-dyed fabrics, and various types of hand-loomed cloth. The artisans of Cuttack are skilled in filigree work and make gold and silver jewelry. Local artisans also produce brassware and items made from bell metal (an alloy of copper and tin). Orissa also is known for its tie-dyed saris. Village women often like to ornament their bodies with tattoos.
19 • SOCIAL PROBLEMS
Orissa is one of the poorest states of India. Much of the region lacks a safe drinking-water supply, adequate schools, roads, and electricity. Alcoholism is such a problem that there is a popular movement to prohibit drinking.
20 • BIBLIOGRAPHY
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