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History of Odia Literature

The Odia Literature can be classified into five parts viz. Old Oriya (10th century-1300), Early Middle Oriya (1300-1500), Middle Oriya (1500-1700), Late Middle Oriya (1700-1850) and Modern Oriya (1850 till present day). Oriya literature is a mish-mash of ups and downs from it ancient glory to slumping down into almost non-entity.The earliest use of prose can be found in the Madala Panji or the Palm-leaf Chronicles of the Jagannatha temple at Puri, which date back to the 12th century. Sarala-dasa (Sidheswar Panda) of the 14th century was the first great poet of Oriya, who adapted the classic Mahabharata into simple Oriya and wrote the Chandi Purana and the Vilanka mayana in praise of goddess Durga. Arjuna-dasa wrote the first long Oriya poem called Rama-bibha.

The Odia literature was distinctly religious in nature up to 1500 AD. Odia literature upto 1500AD mainly covers poems and proses with religion, gods and goddesses as the main theme.  The next era, more commonly called the Jagannatha Dasa Period, stretches till the 1700 AD and was markedly influenced by the Vaishnava movement, typified by the compositions of Shri Chaitanya. The five friends or Pancha Sakha  — Balarama Das (author of Oriya Ramayana and Mahabharata), Jaganath Das (Bhagawata Purana) and Ananta Das, Yesowanta Das and Achutananda Das — were the main composers of this period, who mainly emphasised on translation and adaptation of Sanskrit texts. Other prominent works of this period include the Usabhilasa of Sisu Sankara Dasa, the Rahasya-manjari of Deva-durlabha Dasa and the Rukmini-bibha of Kartikka Dasa.

Ramachandra Pattanayaka’s Haravali set the trend for the emergence of a new form of novel in verse during the beginning of the 17th century. In contrast, poets like Madhusudana, Bhima, Dhivara, Sadasiva and Sisu Isvara-dasa composed Kavyas or long poems based on themes from Puranas. Between 1700-1850, the language became more complex and the usage of words more tricky.  The leaders of the Vaishnava poetry were Upendra Bhanja Das (1670-1720), Baladeva Rath (1779-1845), Devi Krishna Das, Bhakta Charan Das, Abhimanyu, Samanta Sinhar, Bhima-Bhoi (1855-1895), Arakshita Dasa and Gopal Krushna. Upendra Bhanja Das’s Kavyas, based on Puranic stories, were masterpieces.   His Lavanyavati is one such Kavya. Baldev’s Campu is the unique specimen of Oriya musical drama. Family chronicles in prose and literature relating to religious festivals and rituals were also produced in large numbers during this period. Samar Tarang by Brij Natha Badjena (1730-1800), the only historical poem in Oriya literature, and Catura Vinoda, a humorous prose work, were departures from the literary practices in vogue. The casting of the first Oriya printing typeset in 1836 by the Christian missionaries is another landmark of this period.

Rai Bahadur Radhanatha Ray (1849-1908), Madhusudana Rao (1853-1912) and Phakiramohana Senapati (1843-1918) were three great poets who brought in a modern outlook and spirit into Oriya literature in the middle of the 19th century. Radhanath Ray’s Cilika and Mahayatra reveal the influence of Dante and Milton. Modern Oriya poets include Sachi Kanta Rauta Ray, Godavarisa Mahapatra, Dr Mayadhara Manasimha, Nityananda Mahapatra, Kunjabihari Dasa, Prabhasa Chandra Satpati, Radhanath  (renowned for Mahayatra written in blank verse), Kalindi Charan Panigrahi (Matira Manisha), Mayadhar Mansinha and Gopinath Mohanty (Amritara Santan). Sitakant Mohapatra, a bureaucrat and winner of the Jnanpith Award, is also a name to reckon with in the contemporary Oriya literature.
Although the 12th century Madala Panji or the Palm-leaf Chronicles of the Jagannatha temple at Puri can be considered as the earliest form of Oriya prose, the modern Oriya prose was really born in the British period. Fakir Mohan Senapathi (1843-1918) was a prolific poet and novelist, who translated the Ramayana and Mahabharata into Oriya. His novel Chaman Atha Gunta deals with the exploitation of village folks by zamindars. Rama Sankara Ray’s Kanci-Kaveri (1880) led to the birth of modern drama in Oriya.

Nanda-Kisora Bala, Gopala Chandra Praharaja, Gangadhara Mehera, Chintamani Mahanti and Kuntala-Kumari Sabat Utkala-bharati, Niladri Dasa and Gopabandhu Dasa (1877-1928) were the notable Oriya writers of the 20th century. The most notable novelists were Umesa Sarakara, Divyasimha Panigrahi, Gopala Praharaja and Kalindi Charana Panigrahi. Criticism, essays and history also became major lines of writing in the Oriya language. Esteemed writers in this field were Professor Girija Shankar Ray, Pandit Vinayaka Misra, Professor Gauri Kumara Brahma, Jagabandhu Simha and Hare Krushna Mahatab. The two brothers, Ramashankara Ray and Gaurisankara Ray, were pioneers in drama, fiction and journalism. Visvanatha Kara and Nilamani Vidyaratna tried to promote Oriya literature through their magazines.

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