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People

Since prehistoric days the land of Orissa has been inhabited by various people. The earliest settlers of Orissa were primitive hill tribes. Although prehistoric communities cannot be identified, it is well known that Orissa had been inhabited by tribes like Saora or Sabar from the Mahabharata days. 

Saora in the hills and the Sahara and Sabar of the plains continue to be an important tribe distributed almost all over Orissa. Most of the tribal people have been influenced by Hindus and have adopted Hindu manners, customs and rituals. Bonda Parajas of Koraput district are the best example of these tribes. 

Tribel Most of the tribal people and much of the population in Orissa belong to the Australoid group in racial history, while most of the general population belong to the broad-headed Alpinoid type. Besides  this, a sprinkling of Mediterranean type is found in the general population. 

Orissa had a high percentage of scheduled castes and tribes which together make 9.78 million. The scheduled tribes are concentrated in two belts. The northern belt comprises the district of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundargarh. The southern belt consist of the district of Koraput, Ganjam and Phulbani. A large percentage of the tribal population in these districts have their own oral tribal languages and they do not know Oriya. The most important of these languages are Mundari, Santali, Saora and Kui / Kuvi.

There are four cultural regions within the present boundaries of Orissa. The north-eastern areas bordering on Bengal have been influenced in dress, food, habits, languages, social customs and festivities of Bengali culture and language. The southern parts of Ganjam and Koraput districts have a sizable Telugu-speaking population and have been influenced in language, food habits, dress and marriage customs by the Andhra culture and language. The western districts of Sambalpur, Bolangir and Kalahandi may be said in many ways to be a cultural and to some extent, linguistic continuum with the region of Chhatisgarh of Madhya Pradesh just belong the border where many Oriya-speaking castes live even at present. The fourth region may said to be the distinctive or typical or at least the tone-setting  one, in both cultural institutions, social customs and linguistic and literary sophistication. This region comprises roughly the coastal districts of Balasore, Cuttack and Puri and portions of adjoining districts. Some of the tribes like the Kond and Saora have developed internal social differentiations along occupational specialisations as potters, weavers and basket makers. Some of these tribes like the Bhuiyan, the Bathudi, the Gond and the Binjhal (Binjhawar) of northern and western Orissa have been very much Hinduised.

(washer-man), the Kumbhar (potter), the Chasa (farmer), the Tanti (weaver), the Keuta (flattened-rice-maker or fisherman), the Barhai (carpenter), the Kamar (blacksmith), the Teli (oilman) and the Chamar (shoemaker), Karana (writer), Guada (cattle keeper), Khandeita (Swordsman) and the Paana (untouchable weaver). Each caste practically had its own cultural world and social milieu, with its peculiar festivals and rituals, its own tutelary deities and sacred centres, its peculiar marriage, funeral and other customs, and its own level and limitations of social interaction with members of other castes and religious communities in the village society. These inter-caste relations were usually limited to social necessities. Some cementing bonds were established through a peculiar social institution called ritual Kinship and friendship (Mahapatra 1968).This institution ensured a semblance of  social interaction between the families of persons so related.

Language

Oriya is the regional language of Orissa. It  belongs to the Aryan family of languages and is closely related to Assamese, Bengali and Maithili as a direct descendant of  eastern Magadhi. Under the influence of neighbouring regional languages of the Aryan and Dravidian families, as also that of the Austric group of languages current among the tribal groups, Oriya has developed many linguistic variations, such as Baleswari (Balasore), Bhatri (Koraput), Laria (Sambalpur), Sambalpuri (Sambalpur and other western districts), Ganjami (Ganjam and Koraput), Chhatisgarhi (Chhatisgarh of Madhya Pradesh and adjoining areas of Orissa) and Medinipuri (Midnapur district of West Bengal). Besides, hilly regions of north and south Orissa have their own local versions of Oriya with many linguistic peculiarities. The first dated, inscription in Oriya goes back to 1051 AD discovered  at Urajang. But recent discoveries of Sanskrit inscriptions with Oriya words thrown in, reported from Orissa and Andhra Pradesh areas of the ancient Kalinga empire, push back its lineage to the 6th century AD. During the Surya dynasty(1435-1523), Oriya literacy activities were remarkable and the great epics and almost all the Puranas and some Upanishads were translated and often reinterpreted. The Oriya script, descending from Brahmi script, has been given the round or Dravidian finish, probably during the reign of the Ganga kings. The shape was admirably adopted to writing on processed palm leaves with an iron stylus.

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