Hinduism of various sects is a central and unifying force in Oriya society. The overwhelmingly important Vaishnava sect have their supreme deity, Jagannatha, who lords it over the religious firmament of Orissa. Lord Jagannatha's main temple is at Puri on the sea, where the famous annual festival with huge wooden chariots dragged for the regional divine triad— Jagannatha, Balabhadra, and Subhadra (goddess sister) — draws about half a million devotees. The famous Lingaraja temple of Lord Shiva at Bhubaneswar, the famous Viraja goddess temple at Jajpur, both in coastal Orissa, and Mahimagadi, the cult temple of the century-old Mahima sect of worshipers of Shunya Parama Brahma (the absolute soul void) at Joranda in central Orissa, are highly sacred for the Oriya people.
Religious Beliefs. The people of Orissa profess Hinduism overwhelmingly (96.4 percent), with Christianity (1.73 percent), Islam (1.49 percent), Sikhism (0.04 percent) and Buddhism (0.04 percent) trailing far behind. Obviously many Tribal groups have declared Hinduism as their religion. Apart from supreme beings, gods, and goddesses of classical Hindu religion, the Oriya propitiate a number of disease spirits, Village deities, and revered ancestral spirits.
Religious Practitioners. In the villages each Brahman priest has a number of client families of Kshatriya, Vaisya, and some Sudra castes. There are also magicians ( gunia ) practicing witchcraft and sorcery. Kalisi or shamans are consulted to discover the causes of crises and the remedies.
Ceremonies. A large number of rituals and festivals mostly following the lunar calendar are observed. The most important rituals are: the New Year festival (Bishuba Sankranti) in mid-April; the fertility of earth festival (Raja Parab); festival of plowing cattle (Gahma Punein); the ritual of eating the new rice (Nabanna) ; the festival worshiping the goddess of victory, known otherwise as Dassara (Durga Puja); the festival of the unmarried girls (Kumar Purnima); the solar-calendar harvest festival (Makar Sankranti); the fast for Lord Shiva (Shiva Ratri); the festival of colors and the agricultural New Year (Dola Purnima or Dola Jatra); and, finally, the festival worshiping Lord Krishna at the end of February. In November-December (lunar month of Margashira) every Thursday the Gurubara Osha ritual for the rice goddess Lakshmi is held in every Oriya home.
Arts. The ancient name of Orissa, Utkala, literally means "the highest excellence in the arts." The Oriya are famous for folk paintings, painting on canvas ( patta-chitra ), statuary and sculptures, the Orissan style of temple architecture, and tourist and pilgrim mementos made of horn, papier-mâché, and appliqué work. Classical Odissi dance, the virile Chhow dance, colorful folk dances with indigenous musical instruments (percussion, string, and wind) and also Western instruments, dance dramas, shadow plays (Ravana-Chhaya) with puppets, folk opera ( jatra ), mimetic dances, and musical recitation of God's names are all very popular. Orissi music, largely following classical ( raga ) tunes, and folk music, are rich and varied.
Medicine. Illness is attributed to "hot" or "cold" food, evil spirits, disease spirits, and witches; and mental diseases to sorcery or spirit possession. Leprosy and gangrenous wounds are thought to be punishment for the commission of "great" sins, and, for general physical and mental conditions, planets and stars in the zodiac are held to be responsible. Cures are sought through herbal folk medicines, propitiation of supernatural beings and spirits, exorcism, counteraction by a gunia (sorcery and witchcraft specialist), and the services of homeopathic, allopathic, or Ayurvedic specialists.
Death and Afterlife. Death is considered a transitional state in a cycle of rebirths till the soul ( atma ) merges in the absolute soul ( paramatma ). The god of justice, Yama, assigns the soul either to Heaven ( swarga ) or to Hell ( narka ). The Funeral rites and consequent pollution attached to the family and lineage of the deceased last for ten days among higher castes. The dead normally are cremated.