Written by Subhendu Kumar Mishra
The state of Odisha not only endowed with the most precious natural resources but has a rich culture and tradition. The State depicts amazing convergence of art and beauty through its ancient rock inscriptions, temples, pagodas, music, dance and crafts. The language of the land is known as Odia and is spoken by close to 50 million inhabitants.
A moment of glory and euphoria filled the heart of every Odia in February, 2014, when Odia language became the sixth language in the country and the first from the Indo-Aryan Linguistics group to receive classical status after the union cabinet approved it on the premise of the language possess high antiquity of its early texts/recorded history over a period of 1,500-2,000 years, a body of ancient literature/texts which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers and a literary tradition that is original and not borrowed from another speech community. The demand of the state which was pending since 2005 finally became reality. Nevertheless, the path to this distinction was not without challenges and many renowned linguists and scholars like John Beames, G.A. Grierson, L.S.S. O’Malley, Suniti Kumar Chatterjee, S.N. Rajaguru, K.B. Tripathy, John Boulton, and D.P. Pattanayak have time and again argued in favour of the antiquity of the language. Dr. Debi Prasanna Pattanayak who headed the committee to prepare a report to be submitted to the cabinet strengthen the claim of Odisha is praiseworthy. The scholars claim that the Udra Bibhasha (Language) later known as Odia language is derived from Ardhamagadhi Prakrit and was found to be mentioned in Bharatmuni’s ‘Natyashastra’ in 4th Century BC. Moreover, the rock inscription during King Ashoka in 1st Century BC and King Kharbela in 3rd Century BC and many Buddhist and Jain writings during 8th and 12th Century were testimonial to the Odia language as a distinct one.
Dr. G.N. Das in his article “History of Oriya language” has brought the story of Odia language upto 1500 A.D and the story of the development of prose and poetry in Odia language about which information is provided by palm leaf inscriptions and copper plate grants and rock inscriptions. The epigraphists, historians and archeologists have faound evidences of the earliest settlers of Odisha were primitive hill tribes. At the rock shelters of Bikramkhol, Ushakothi, Ullafgad, Gudahandi, Jogimatha (Odisha) humans lived throughout the Upper Paleolithic age, revealing cave paintings dating to 7000 BC. More than 5775 cave paintings dating for 20,000 B.C. to 1000 B.C. have been found in 55 caves in Odisha. The Indian script ‘o’ [ ]tha] discovered in the Yogimatha rock painting of Nuapada dating 2000 B.C is the ancient form of Indian script. It is the first glimpse of the possible origin of the Odia language and script. In addition to it the script in the Ashokan edicts at Dhauli and Jaugada and the inscriptions of Kharavela in Hâtigumphâ of Khandagiri afford the first glimpse of the early stage of the development of Odia language and script.
The palm leaf manuscripts depicts the use of Odia language still today many of these are in the private possession of brahmins, zamindars, eminent persons living in rural area, or in the collections of museums, private institutions , amply testify to the tradition of Odia language from about 10th century A.D. Palm leaf inscribed Odia dictionaries such as Trikanda Sesha and Haravali of Purusottama Dev, Medini Kosha of Medini Kara, and Madala Panji received wide recognition.
Following the historic events with respect to the Odia language represents rare example of the fact that how a language struggles to survive and maintain its original identity. After the period of Kharabela, the Kalinga empire gradually disintegrated. The influence of Sanskrit language dominated during the golden age of the Guptas. During the Ganga Kings Odia language received the royal and administrative patronage. After them, the Gajapati rulers continued the process of patronizing Odia language and literature. Odia became wide spread to cover the entire Kalinga Empire and continued influencing the neighbouring territories including the South-East Asian peninsula and islands as well as the landlocked Central Asia and other parts of the globe as earlier. During this stage, although Odisha was occupied by Muslims and Marathas, their language s viz. Persian and Marathi could not harm Odia language in any manner. During the Muslims and Marathi rule, official work was being done in Odia and other languages. During the 19th century The Odia intelligentsia challenged the expansionist claims of neighbouring Indian languages and strove for a regional, linguistic and cultural identity. They protested the linguistic dominance of Bengali and Telugu language over Odia and suspected that and the attempt to include other languages as a medium of education and other official work may displace Odia language. The publication by Kantichandra’s Bhattacharya advocating Odia is not a separate language rather an offshoot of Bengali was opposed by many Odia linguists, scholars and writers such as; Fakir Mohan Senapati, Gouri Shankar Ray, Gopabandhu Das, Madhusudan Das, Gangadahar Meher and some other rajas of Odisha who tried hard for the survival of odia language. The movement also lead to creation of Odisha as a separate state on basis of linguistics. The table below provides a brief anecdote of the events in history leading to the evolution of Odia language and Literature.
|Major Periods of evolution of Odia language & Literature||Description|
|7th Century – 1200||Odia language found to appear in engravings and inscriptions in temples , copper plates and palm leaf manuscripts|
|1200-1400||Madala Panji used at the Jagannath Temple Puri|
|1400-1700||Prose and Poertry on Odia such as Mahabharat, Chandi Puran, Vilanak ramayan written by Sarala Das and the era of Panchshkhas.|
|1700-1850||Haravali by Ramachandra Pattanayak, Baidehashi Bilasa, Koti Brahmanda Sundari, Lavanyavati by Upendra Bhanja, RasoKallola by Dinakrushna Das and Bidagdh Chintamani by Abhimanyu Samantsinhar|
|1850 Onwards||First Oriya printing typeset was cast in 1836 leading to manor revolution in Odia language and literature. Some of the leading writers include Fakir Mohan Senapati, Radhanath Ray, Gopal Praharaj, Bhima Bhoi, Kuntala kumari, Manoj Das to name a few.|
Odisha among the few states to be formed on a linguistics basis as per the schedule 8th of the constitution, and Odia language to have received the classical status are testimonial to a glorious history of language, script and Literature. The language and script are two vital part upon which any society is built and governed. However, with the rapid westernization many are refraining from using the language which can become catastrophic for the survival of Odia language. A renaissance is possible if there is a concerted effort from all stakeholders to adopt and promote the language. A stanza from Byasakabi Faki Mohan Senapati is worth mention.
‘Bhasa hi Jeevanishakti Jatimanankar
Jeun Jati Bhasahin Se Jati Barbar.’
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