Identification. In Orissa State in India, the Oriya constitute the regional ethnic group, speaking the Oriya language and professing the Hindu religion, to be distinguished from an Oriya-speaking agricultural caste called Odia found in central coastal Orissa. Some Oriya live in the adjoining states. The Oriya language and ethnic group are presumably derived from the great Udra or Odra people known since Buddhist and pre-Buddhist Mahabharata epic times.
Location. The state of Orissa is located between 17°49′ and 22°34′ N and 81°29′ and 87°29′ E, covering 155,707 square kilometers along the northeastern seaboard of India. The large majority of the Oriya live in the coastal districts and along the Mahanadi and Brahmani rivers. Orissa falls in the tropical zone with monsoon rains from June-July to September-October. Western Orissa is afflicted with recurring drought.
Demography. The last national census in 1981 records the population of Orissa as 26,370,271 persons, with a Population density of 169 persons per square kilometer as compared to 216 for India as a whole. Of the total population of Orissa, 84.11 percent speak Oriya. Although rural, Orissa's urban centers with 5,000 or more persons rose from containing 8.4 percent of the population in 1971 (81 towns) to 11.79 percent in 1981 (108 towns). Most of the ninety-three Scheduled Castes, which constitute 15.1 percent of Orissa's population, speak Oriya. Of the 23.1 percent of Orissa's Population categorized as Scheduled Tribes, many speak Oriya as their mother tongue. With 34.23 percent literacy in 1981 compared to 26.18 percent in 1971, Orissa trails behind many Indian states, especially in female literacy.
Linguistic Affiliation. Oriya belongs to the Indo-Aryan Branch of the Indo-European Family of languages. Its closest affinities are with Bengali (Bangla), Assamese (Asamiya), Maithili, Bhojpuri, and Magahi (Magadhi). The Oriya spoken in Cuttack and Puri districts is taken as standard Oriya. The Oriya language has a distinctive script, traceable to sixth-century inscriptions. It has thirteen vowels and thirty-six consonants (linguistically, spoken Oriya has six vowels, two semivowels, and twenty-nine consonants).