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|Culture of Odisha|
The Oriya, known classically by various names (Odia, Odri, Utkaliya, Kalingi, 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 Odisha, with minority populations in Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, Karnataka, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
The vast majority of the Oriyas are Hindus and are known for their history of Sun worship. Odisha is home to some of the oldest Sun temples in India, including Konark. There are small Christian and Muslim minorities.
The term 'Oriya', while sometimes used to refer to any inhabitant of Odisha (that is, an Orissi or Odishan), more precisely refers to the ethnic group which natively speaks the Oriya language. Odisha marks the southeastern frontier of Aryan expansion and is therefore also home to a large tribal population of Dravidian and Munda origin. While many of them have adopted the Oriya language, they maintain a 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. Odisha'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. Odisha 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. Emperor Meghavahana Aira Kharavela, a Jaina ruler conquered vast territory and Odisha or Kalinga spread from river Ganges in the north to river Godavari in the south. He seems to have captured vast area of upper Punjab too. Thereafter Odisha remained an independent regional power for more than a thousand years 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 and Maratha rule before finally falling to the British in the year 1803. 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.
It is impossible to arrive at a precise figure for the Oriya population. The Census of India 2001 pegged the population of Odisha 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 (Visakhapatnam 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.
Odisha 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 Oriya speak the Oriya language, an eastern Indo Aryan tongue that does not share 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. Recently the Oriya language got the classical language status by the Central Govt of India.
Odisha 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.
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, chenna jhilli, Chhena Poda, Chhenagaja, Daalma and Pakhala. Rasgollah is a strictly Oriya preparation.
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