Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

The Beginnings of Oriya

Kapileswar Das

The innumerable languages spoken in their hundreds of dialects by different races and communities of people inhabiting the vast sub-continent of India have been classified broadly under seven groups as follows:

1. Austric Family (comprising seven languages and fourteen dialects) spoken by about five millions of people in the Malay Peninsula, Nicobar Islands, the central forests of Orissa and the highlands of Chota Nagpur (including the Mundas, Juangs and Kols of Orissa).

2. Karen Family (one language and fourteen dialects) spoken by one million on the borders of Burma.

3. Man Family (two languages) spoken by a few.

4. Tibeto-Chinese (one hundred and sixteen languages and eighty-six dialects) spoken by about fifteen millions in the North-East Frontier tracts.

5. Dravidian (sixteen languages including Telugu, Tamil, Malayalam, Kanarese, Oraon, Kin, Kandhi and Gondhi and twenty-three dialects) spoken by about seventy millions in the South.

6. Indo-European (thirty eight languages and four hundred and two dialects) spoken by about two hundred and forty millions in eastern, northern and central India.

7. Un-classed languages (two languages including Andamanese and Gipsy and nineteen dialects) spoken by about more than a lakh.1

Taking the languages falling under group six in this classification, which, by the way, are spoken by far the largest number of the Indian people, we are given to understand that it branches off into three sub-divisions, viz.,

(i) Eranian (comprising eight languages and thirty-five dialects).

(ii) Dardic or Paisachika (forty-three languages and twenty-two dialects).

(iii) Indo-Aryan (seventeen languages and three hundred and forty-five dialects).

Languages coming under the scope of the last sub-division are derived from Sanskrit alone through the different ‘prakrits’. They consist of the modern Indian languages of Sindhi, Marathi, Sinhalese, Bihari, Gujrati, Punjabi, Hindi, Bengali, Oriya etc. Thus, it is seen Oriya is one of the oldest Indo-Aryan languages.

It goes without saying that Sansktit is our original and fundamental stock. Our scriptures–the Sruti, Smriti, the epics of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the Puranas, the Sutra literature, the different systems of our ancient philosophy and sciences and arts are recorded in Sanskrit. Sanskrit embodies and furnishes proof of ancient Indian culture and genius. Though in a formal and technical sense Sanskrit is now labelled as dead, virtually it lives even today in this land of hoary civilisation, in our various languages and in the spirit of that hereditary prerogative. As usual with all growing languages, it has had gradual stages of development, transformation and decay. Viewed in terms of historical sequence it ceased to be the common spoken language of the Indo-Aryans by about 600 B.C., though it continued, and even now continues to be, the vehicle and the richest treasure-house of a high-class literature. In short, Vedic Sanskrit gave place to the classical. As ‘lingua franca’ it acted and reacted upon the then existing Dravidian, Kolarian and other languages and gave rise to a spoken medium known as Prakrit which in course of time branched off into different provincial languages, e. g., ‘Magadhi’, ‘Ardha-Magadhi’, ‘Sinhalese’, ‘Sauraseni’, ‘Maharastri’, ‘Prachya’, ‘Avantija’, ‘Dakshinatya’, ‘Balhika’ ‘Sabari’, ‘Dravidi’, ‘Abhiri’, ‘Chandali’ etc. 2 Another interpretation is that Prakrit was the original language of India and after the Indo-Aryan settlements it was refined, developed and enriched, giving place to Sanskrit.3 Whatever it be, these cannot be any doubt that Sanskrit and Prakrit, in their formative and adolescent periods, went on influencing each other. For our purpose at present it will suffice to note that from among the Prakrits, ‘Magadhi’ became the language of South Bihar and later branched off into ‘Pali’ (the language of the Buddistic scriptures and edicts), ‘Sinhalese’ (the language of Ceylon) and ‘Magadhi vernaculars’, viz., Bengali, Behari and Oriya; Ardha-Magadhi branched off into Hindi, Gujarati, Marathi, Sindhi, Nepali, Kashmiri, Punjabi, etc. Thus, it is seen, Oriya is derived from Sanskrit by way of prakritic vernacularisation.

Coming to the historic evolution of the Oriya language, it is probably not an error to think that the first inhabitants of Orissa–a land of mountains and rivers, forests and glades– must have been of the Dravidian and Kolarian stock. Huien Tsang confirms this view and speaks of the dark-coloured and uncivilised inhabitants of Utkal. Again, as far as modern research goes, it is a fairly established fact that the Indo-Aryans first came into India through the north-west and settled on the banks of the ‘Saraswati’ and the ‘Drisadwati’ and advanced slowly to the rich plains of the Indo-Gangetic and the east, fighting all the way with the early inhabitants and driving most of them to the south of the Vindhyas or the forests of central India and assimilating a few into their fold. Bengal and Orissa being to the farthest east of Aryavartha, the Aryans must have made their settlements there in the end. These bands of civilised and civilising Aryans who came to Orissa are referred to as ‘Vratyas’ and ‘Odras’ (fallen Kshatriyas) in the Code of Manu, perhaps because their social customs and manners were at the outset modified to a great extent through a preponderating Kolarian influence, specially that of the ‘Savaras’ who formed the main bulk of the population. Thus in the realm of language, on the foundational elements of the ‘Savari’, a super-structure must have been raised by the Aryan Sanskrit. On this linguistic citadel, Pali exerted its due influence from the times of Asoka to those of Kharavela (300-100 B. C.). This is read even now in the Buddhistic inscriptions found in Orissa at Dhauli, Khandagiri and Jaugada. From 100 B.C. to 500 A.D. the Aryan influence became increasingly felt. During this period ‘Odra’ as a ‘Bihasha’ (dialect) is referred to in Sanskrit dramatic works (200-300 A.D.). In course of time Oriya as a distinct language was formed by the seventh century A.D., appeared in the form of a special ‘prakrit’ by 1000 A.D., and in a more or less developed form as it exists now by the twelfth century A.D., respectively.4 From that time Oriya has continued as an independent language as seen in the annals of Puri Jagannath, the most famous temple of India–preserved since the time of Cholaganga Deva (11th century A.D.) 5. From the stone inscriptions of Bhuvaneswar, it is also seen that a considerable prose literature had been created in Oriya by that time.

In spite of this emergence of Oriya as a distinct language, great Oriya scholars continued for some time to pay their homage at the shrine of Sanskrit, and produced standard works in Sanskrit literature. Among them the names of Sridhara Swamy,6 Madhava Kara,7 Visvanath Kaviraj,8 the great lexicographer Hemachandra and Chandrasekhar 9 stand out prominent.

Turning our attention to Oriya literature proper, we see that its expansion extends over a period of a thousand years from about one thousand A.D. right up to the present times. A few landmarks of this expansion may be briefly touched upon. At the beginning, on account of Sanskritic and Brahminic influence, there was not sufficient scope for the unfolding of popular literature. The first standard work in popular Oriya now available is "Kesava Koili" by Markanda Das (twelfth century A.D.)–a composition in "Chautisa" form, a structure of poetic embodiment unique in Oriya literature. "Chautisa" is a composition of thirty-four stanzas, each stanza containing lines of rhymed verses beginning with a particular letter of the Oriya alphabet ‘in seriatum.’ It is expressive of the simple joys and pathos, love and separation, life and experience of a people, in lyrical tilt. Then comes the Pauranic age extending up to the sixteenth century A.D., in which all the different "puranas" were translated and recast from Sanskrit originals more or less faithfully with modifications, adaptations, insertions or interpolations for the delectable reading of the masses as well as the cultured classes. The outstanding authors of this period are Sarala Das,10 Pitambar Das,11 Jagannath Das,12 and Balaram Das.13 In the latter works of this period traces of Buddhistic influence in the form of esoteric teachings, "tantric" rites and formulae are visible, which finally paved the way for a particular branch of Hymn literature in the 18th and 19th centuries A. D. Bhakta Charan, Bhupati and Bhima are notable poets of this branch, The main line of expansion, however, continued unabated through a series of metrical compositions, which led to the "Kavya" period. This period enshrines the flowering of Oriya literature into an all-round, rich and harmonious development comparable to the Elizabethan or the Romantic Revival periods of English literature. The literary vehicle of this period is the "Chhanda"–a form radiant with Sanskrit words, constructions, and rhetoric in tasteful garb, presenting a perfect blending of rich diction, decorative and ornate style, beautiful figures of speech, pregnant classical allusions, deep and intense emotion and a passionate, subtle and sensuous delineation of Nature, internal and external, The panoramic majesty of the epic, the profound study of human nature in the drama, the realistic romance and the shifting of a conditional ground in the novel, the pathetic languor of the elegy, the intense individuality and colouring of the lyric and the terse expressiveness of the sonnet are Woven into the sweet, melodious and profuse strains and cadences of the "Chhanda." The great masters of this period are Viswanath Khuntia–the herald of the dawn of a new age, Deena Krishna (sixteenth and seventeenth centuriesA. D.), Upendra Bhanja (eighteenth century), Krishna Simha, Abhimanya and Kavi Surjya (nineteenth century). Kavisurjya reintroduced the element of music almost with its classical finish in Oriya literature. 14

As for the geographical extent over which Oriya is spoken. it has been estimated as covering an area of 82,000 sq. miles with a population of about fifteen millions. Grierson says in his picturesque way: "The Oriya language spoken in four provinces covers an area of a little less than Jugoslavia and is spoken by a people numbering a little more than the combined population of Norway and Sweden."15 In addition to this, more than a lakh of Oriyas are living now in Calcutta and its surroundings, about another lakh in Burma and Assam, besides small colonies established by them all over the country. In the north-east corner of Bastar State twenty thousand speak Bhatin–a dialect of Oriya; and in Chatisgarh and Sambalpur tracts thirty three lakhs speak Laria, which is taken as a dialect of Hindi but bears the stamp of Oriya to a marked degree.

A brief survey of the evolution of the Oriya script will not be out of place here. It has been ascertained through different channels of research that "Brahmi" was the original script of the Indo-Aryan languages, and it gradually evolved into the Kutila and Devanagara scripts. It is said that Oriya is an evolution of the latter. The difference between Devanagara and Oriya letters as seen now is the rounding of letters at the top in the latter. This might have been through the necessity of writing on parallel-grained palm-leaves with a heavy sharp- pointed iron stylo–the traditional way of writing in Orissa. There might have also been the influence of Telugu and Tamil scripts, with similar roundings, on Oriya in the dynastic times of the Gangas, who came from the south. First evidences of clearly-formed Oriya script are found in the stone inscriptions and copper plates of Patia and Bhuvaneswar to which reference is already made. These are ascribed to Subhankar Kesari, a king of Orissa of the seventh century A.D. From the photographed pages of the palm-leaf manuscript of Nepal of the tenth century A.D., brought by Mahamahopadhyaya Haraprasad Sastry (to which reference has also been made), it is seen that the letters ka, ga, nka, ta, tha, na, dha and pa are exactly like Oriya letters, and the letters ma, ja, ca, ra closely resemble the corresponding characters found in a copper-plate grant of Purushothama Deva, a famous king of Orissa of the fifteenth century A.D. Briefly, from different sources of evidence, external and internal, it may be concluded that Oriya as a distinct script must have been formulated somewhere near the fourteenth century A.D. Again two important considerations emerge from a study of Oriya on a scriptory basis. Firstly, following the original Sanskrit pronunciations, distinctions between almost similar sounds like la and la, na and na, da and da, dha and dha are still clearly maintained in Oriya, while in sister languages of Bengali and Hindi they are almost obliterated. In addition to this, Bengali and Hindi words ending with consonants are pronounced indistinctly with a smoothening of the last syllable, whereas in Oriya every part of the word is pronounced with distinctness and accuracy.16 It is now common knowledge that the phonetic values of the Sanskrit alphabet are based on a strictly scientific analysis, and it is a uniqueness of Oriya that these values, old and original, are still faithfully preserved it. Secondly, whereas many of the sister languages have been broken into several dialects, the grammatical frame-work of Oriya remains identical in the case of all Oriya-speaking people.17

A few observations may be made here regarding Oriya vocabulary, vocabulary being the essential ingredient and the raw material of a language. The fund of words as found now in Oriya is quite adequate and capable of expressing inner and outer nature not only in a conventional sense, but with all their subtle fineness, shades of meaning, depth of connotation and apperceptive suggestibility. Only in the field of modern scientific and technical terminology there is a deficiency. In his up-to-date and monumental Oriya Lexicography, Pandit G. C. Praharaj records words numbering one and a half lakh.17 All Oriya words can be broadly classified under the following heads:

(i) "Sanskrit"–words of Sanskrit used in Oriya "in toto" without any variation of sound, structure or inflexion in their usage.18

(ii) "Tatsama" (lit., equal to that)–Sanskrit words used with slight variations of inflexion and grammatical structure.19

(iii) "Tadbhava (lit., born from that)–Sanskrit words used with these variations and at the same time modified from the originals.20

(iv) "Desya" "Desaja" or "Pradesika"–words of provincial or local origin having no resemblance to Sanskrit words of the same meaning, or the Sanskrit or prakritic originals of which are not traceable, or which are mostly of Dravidian formulation, usage and colouring; colloquialisms and slang form a part of this head.

(v) ‘Vaidesika’–words adopted from other (foreign) languages.

A few observations may be made on the last head. Any language, if it seeks to be strong, effective, living and expressive, has to adopt words, idioms and usages from other languages. The richest languages of the world, ancient and modern, for example, Sanskrit, Latin and English followed this natural law and became great.

Specially is it instructive to read how the Anglo-Saxon language has attained the international importance of the English of today, drawing for its vocabulary, syntax, word and meaning formulations, accidence and development of sounds, in the course of its old, middle and modern stages, freely from Greek, Latin, Germanic, Scandinavian, Celtic, Teutonic, Aryan, French, Arabic, Persian, Indian, Hebrew, Chinese, Tartar, African, American, Spanish, Portuguese, Slavonic and Italian languages. Assimilation is the law of all vital and organic growth. To be ‘cribbed, cabined and confined’ to a few words and expressions on the plea of purity or originality is to court death in the realm of language as in all domains of life. Expressions of ideas are not confined to a particular people or locality. In the ever-continuous and all-pervasive flow of life, different communities, nations and races of people shake hands, exchange thoughts and compare notes. Again the thoughts of the past enshrined in language and literature influence the present. Hence it is truly said, time and space are virtually annihilated by language. All our intellectual, ethical and aesthetic wealth is in a sense the creation of language. Language is not merely expressive as viewed objectively; in the sense that words economise the processes of thought and render easy the formulation of the inner chaotic masses into complex and co-ordinated wholes, it is subjectively creative. In the dynamic and cohesive sphere of language–the common heritage of humanity’s glory–exclusiveness or narrow self-sufficiency is out of question. It is happy to note that the Oriya language has faithfully adhered to this wholesome principle all along. Hundreds of Muhammadan words of the Persian and Arabic type specially in the administrative side,21 Marathi words, Portuguese, Danish, Dutch and French words have entered into Oriya under the Muhmmadan and Mahratta regimes and during the brief sojourn of European merchants before the British occupation.

Again, under the British suzerainty, no doubt the political dismemberment of Orissa has been a great misfortune; but "sweet are the uses of adversity," sings the poet; this very national calamity acted as a blessing in disguise at least so far as the Oriya language is concerned. Parts of Orissa being attached to the tail-ends of four different provinces, Oriyas came in intimate contact with Hindi, Bengali and Telugu-speaking peoples and their language is indebted to all these for considerable affluence in vocabulary. It is needless to point out that under the British regime many English words have been and are being adopted into Oriya.

It is not perhaps sentimental or erroneous history to assert that Oriyas have been famous for their artistic achievement, martial valour, material well-being and cultural progress in past times. The excavations of Khandagiri, the temples of Bhuvaneswar (fifth to eighth centuries A.D.) and Konarka (fourteenth century A.D.) present an art, the sublimity and exquisiteness of which is rarely paralleled in the whole world even today. The ancient trade settlements and cultural embassies of the Odras and Kalingas22 in the far-off lands of China, Burma, Java, Sumatra, Bali and Ceylon are not fictions or exaggerations. Parts of Orissa were the last Indian territories to come under the British conquest. A nation rich in life can only be rich in literature, for it is a truism to say that literature is a mirror of the world of thought and action in which a people lives. It concretizes all human knowledge, human emotions, human faith, human ambitions, aspirations and ideals. The classical Oriya literature is rich because the life it portrayed was rich. But the comparative poverty of modern Oriya life in all directions has adversely affected it and impeded its blossoming and being fruitful. It should be the legitimate pride of Oriya ‘litterateurs to rejuvenate their ages-old culture and literature by means of the nourishing waters of a fuller, richer and happier life, and to make themselves worthy of a precious legacy. 23

1 Sir George Grierson: "Linguistic Survey of India"–Figures of population given here approximately must have of course increased by the general Indian population has increased as per Census Reports.

2 These names furnish an interesting nomenclature suggestive of different Indian provinces of ancient times.

3 Sanskrit, lit.: "refined", "reformed."

4 Vide the stone inscriptions and copper-plates of Patia (a village in Cuttack District) and Bhuvaneswar. It is interesting to note here that a manuscript entitled "Baudhagana o Doha" of Nepal of the 10th century A.D. brought to light sometime by Mahamahopadhyaya Haraprasad Shastry and claimed as of Bengali origin, is equally claimed to be Oriya by Oriya scholars in view of genuine words and idioms it contains.

5 "Madalapanji."

6 The great commentator of "Dharmashastras."

7 The author of "Vaidya nidanam," a standard work in "Ayurveda."

8 The author of "Sahitya Darpana," a most highly-prized work on Sanskrit poetics (Alamkara) studied at present in all Indian and foreign universities and academic circles.

9 The author of "Siddhanta Darpana," a standard work on Hindu Astronomy, which has elicited the admiration of Oriental as well as Occidental scholars.

10 Author of Oriya Mahabharata.

11 Author of Oriya Nrusimha Purana.

12 Author of Oriya Bhagavatam.

13 Author of Oriya Ramayana.

14 It is an irony of fate that this literature and language was sought to be superseded and its very existence denied in the thirties of the last century by certain vested interests holding that Oriya is a mere dialect of Bengali. But fortunately, stalwarts were there at the time in Orissa–Bichitrananda, Gaurisankar, the devotional poet. Madhusudan, the father of the modem Oriya novel, Fakirmohan, the precursor of modem Oriya poetry, Radhanath, the nature-poet of rural-life, Nandakisore, Sudhala Deva, the eminent journalist, Viswanath and dramatist Ramashankar–who proved the falsity of this view. It is the same irony of fate again that it has been written recently in a Government publication by a great research scholar of Andhradesa that Oriya is a Savara language with no substantial literature of its own. There is an element of truth in this statement but not the whole truth. We have seen "Savari" constituted a few of the foundational elements for the nucleus of Oriya. But to say on that score that the whole Oriya literature and language, subsequently developed as we have seen, was confined to these rudimentary beginnings is surely the same as to speak of ourselves as mere anthropoid apes as per the dictum of Darwinian Evolution. It may be due to the present political wardness of Orissa or the absence of modem advertising methods in the Oriya country or the comparative poverty of modem Oriya literature when viewed along with some other north Indian literatures of the day, that these views are made current. Depths of national culture cannot be guaged by means of hasty generalisations. Impartial study, sound investigation, artistic response and a catholicity of appreciation are essential for the purpose. In saying this we are fully conscious of the short-comings of modem Oriya literature. But want in a particular direction should not prevent the earnest student of truth and beauty to seek it at other sources, where it is in plenitude. But lest partiality should be attributed to us, let us see what a western linguist who cannot be open to the same charge says on the matter at hand:

"Oriya language used at the time of Upendra Bhanja continues to be used now, while Vidyapati’s (a contemporary of Bhanja) language is different from the present Bengali. At a period when Oriya was already a fixed and settled language, Bengali did not exist. The Bengalis spoke a vast variety of corrupt forms of Hindi. It is not till quite recent times that we find anything that can with propriety be called a Bengali language".

Beams; ‘Comparative Grammar of four languages’, Vol. I, p. 119.

"We may place Hindi with its subsidiary forms Gujarati and Punjabi first fixing their establishment as modem languages distinct from their previous existence as prakrit till the 12th or 13th century. Oriya must have quite completed its transformation by the end of the 14th century. Bengali was no separate independent language but a maze of dialects without a distinct national or provincial type till the 17th or the beginning of the 18th century. It was not till the gradual decay of the central Muhammadan power of Delhi enabled the provincial Governors to assume an independent position that Bengali severed itself from Hindi and assumed characteristics which now vindicate for it a right to be considered a separate language,"– Ibid, p. 120.

These quotations are given here not to question the vast progress some of our sister-literatures have made in modem times in philosophy, science, art, technique, history, law, polity, etc., by linking themselves with currents of world-thought and international culture. The way in which Bengali literature has been, and is being, enriched by the contributions of towering personalities like Bankimchandra, Rabindranath, Saratchandra and a galaxy of luminaries in the literary firmament affords an example of special inspiration and appeal to us. But this does not mean that we should not attempt to rightly defend our own literature from onslaughts born out of narrow provincialism, ignorance or a superiority-complex.

15 Under the British rule Orissa was cut into pieces in view of administrative expediency, and all considerations of racial unity, geographical contiguity, historical tradition and social harmony were flung to the winds, These pieces were carelessly assorted to Bihar. Bengal, C.P. and Madras. Since then an independent province of Orissa, which bare justice was crying for, for a long time, in the wilderness has been formed. But the Oriyas still claim that it is truncated and not complete. Much broader than the present political Orissa is the natural and historic Orissa consisting of the districts of Ganjam, Puri, Cuttack, Balsore, the partially excluded areas of Anugul, Sambalpur and Koraput, the out-lying areas in the neighbouring provinces and the 28 Oriya feudatory states of Mayurbhanj, Dhenkanal, Kalahandi, Talcher, Nayagarh, Athagarh, Keonjhar, Nilgiri, Bonai, Palahara, etc. These States are a treasure-house of traditional Oriya culture and civilisation and many of their princes are great patrons of Oriya literature and art. They are linked with political Orissa by the most intimate ties of social relation. By the way, our kind readers know how some of these States are now in the lime-light of publicity due to the peoples’ agitation for Responsible Government.

16 "Pandit" (Hindi & Bengali), "Pandital" (Oriya & Sanskrit) for Scholar "Pan" (Hindi & Bengali) "Pana" (Oriya & Sanskrit) for betel

17 It is interesting to note in this connection that Pandit K. L. Acharya, a well-known scholar of Orissa, recommends Oriya as the common Indian script in view of the fewer number of lines and strokes necessary to write Oriya characters compared to the same Hindi ones and in view of the grammatically structural simplicity of Oriya in cases of inflexion and variations of person, gender, number etc. However, as laymen, we leave the whole matter to the consideration of linguistic experts.

17 Whereas, says Pandit K. C. Acharya, Webster’s or the Hindi Lexicography drawn by the ‘Hindi Pracharini Sabha’ or Gnanendranath Das Bengali Dictionary contain each less than a lakh. We have not verified these statements.

18 e. g., ‘agna’ (order) ‘lata’ (creeper).

19 ‘Raja’ (King), ‘Nara’ (people) ‘Parvata’ (mountain), ‘Gruh’ (home) Vamsa (family or clan).

20 ‘Manisa’, (O)–Manushyah-S (man), ‘Ghoda’ (O)–Ghotakah-S (horse).

21 Ain (Law), Adalat (court), Kalam (pen), Kagaj (paper), Dokan (shop).

22 From whom the Oriya trace their descent. The correct word for Oriya is ‘Ordia’, ‘Oriya’ is a faulty pronunciation.

23 Most of the material utilised in this article is taken from G. C. Praharaj’s Ordia Dictionary Vol. 1. Introduction.

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