Oriya, Bengali and Assamese all come
from the same Eastern Magadhi Apabhramsa and are considered to be sister
languages. In the 16th and 17th century Oriya fell under the spell of
Sanskrit. However, during the 17th and 18th centuries it followed a new
line of approach. Oriya languages traces its origin to the 10th century.
The history of Oriya language is divided into 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 upto 1500AD mainly covers poems and proses with religion, gods and goddesses as the main theme. 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. The first great poet of Orissa is the famous Sarala-dasa who wrote the Chandi Purana and the Vilanka Ramayana, both praising the goddess Durga. Rama-bibha, written by Arjuna-dasa, is the first long poem in Oriya language.
The next era is more commonly called the Jagannatha Dasa Period and stretches till the year 1700. The period begins with the writings of Shri Chaitanya whose Vaishnava influence brought in a new evolution in Oriya literature. Balarama Dasa, Jagannatha Dasa, Yasovanta, Ananta and Acyutananda were the main exponents in religious works in Oriya. The composers of this period mainly translated, adapted or imitated Sanskrit literature. A few 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. A new form of novels in verse evolved during the beginning of the 17th century when Ramachandra Pattanayaka wrote Haravali. Other poets like Madhusudana, Bhima, Dhivara, Sadasiva and Sisu Isvara-dasa composed another form called Kavyas or long poems based on themes from Puranas. The language used by them was plain and simple Oriya.
However, from the turn of the 18th century, verbally tricky Oriya became the order of the day. Verbal jugglery, obscenity and eroticism became the trend of the period between 1700-1850, the most notable poet being Upendra Bhanja (1670-1720). Other poets turned up in hordes to imitate him but none could fit into his shoes, with the exceptions of Bhima-Bhoi and Arakshita Dasa. Family chronicles in prose and literature relating religious festivals and rituals also covered a large portion of this period.
The first Oriya printing typeset was cast in 1836 by the Christian missionaries. The actual Oriya script closely resembled Bengali and Assamese scripts but the one adopted for the printed typesets were completely different, leaning more towards the Tamil script.
Three great poets and prose writers, Rai Bahadur Radhanatha Ray (1849-1908), Madhusudana Rao (1853-1912) and Phakiramohana Senapati (1843-1918) settled in Orissa and made Oriya their own. They brought in a modern outlook and spirit into Oriya literature. Around the same time the modern drama took birth in the works of Rama Sankara Ray beginning with Kanci-Kaveri (1880).
20th century writers in Oriya include Nanda-kisora Bal, Gangadhara Mehera, Chintamani Mahanti and Kuntala-Kumari Sabat Utkala-bharati (quite tongue-twisting!), besides Niladri Dasa and Gopabandhu Dasa (1877-1928). The most notable novelists were Umesa Sarakara, Divyasimha Panigrahi, Gopala Praharaja and Kalindi Charana Panigrahi. Sachi Kanta Rauta Ray is the great introducer of the ultra-modern style in modern Oriya poetry. Others who took up this form were Godavarisa Mahapatra, Dr Mayadhara Manasimha, Nityananda Mahapatra and Kunjabihari Dasa. Prabhasa Chandra Satpati is known for his translations of some western classics apart from Udayanatha Shadangi, Sunanda Kara and Surendranatha Dwivedi. 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. Oriya literature mirrors the industrious, peaceful and artistic image of the Oriya people who have offered and gifted much to the Indian civilization in the field of art and literature.