Folklore Studies In Odisha Revisited

Kailash Chandra Dash

The folklore studies have widened the historical horizon of Odisha and have encouraged the scholars to undertake a comprehensive study of Odisha through the traditional accounts and folklores. In this paper, an attempt has been made to understand the past of Odisha through the selected articles and monographs written by some noted historians and folklorist.


There was considerable focus on the cultural past of Orissa during the colonial phase in the 19th and 20th century A.D. The efforts of the colonial officers coupled with that of the institutions led to the rediscovery of the brilliant past of Odisha. Colonial historians like A.Stirling, Bhabani Bandyopadhyaya, Rajendralal Mitra, Brijkishore Ghose, John Beames, Pyarimohan Acharya and Sitanath Ray, in the 19th century A.D, reconstructed different phases of the history of Odisha.on the basis of traditional accounts and folklores. Their seminal work was further elaborated by a host of brilliant historians in the 20th century A.D. In the 20th century A.D., . with the articulation of Odia identity, the nationalist institutions like Utkala Sammilani and Utkal Sahitya Samaj fostered in Odisha a spirit of historical consciousness through the traditional accounts and folklores. Newspapers like Utkala Dipika, Sambalpur Hiteisini, Sambad Bahika, Asha, Nabeen and Samaj presented the folklores in different ways, and they were profusely supplemented by the write-ups in the Odia magazines like Utkala Sahitya, Sahakara, Mukura and Satyabadi. The great writers in Odisha, in this phase of awakening, who had given considerable emphasis on the folklores, were Rudranarayana Sarangi, Birupakshya Kar, Kripasindhu Mishra, Jagabandhu Singh, Godavarish Mishra, Nilakantha Das and Gopabandhu Das. Renowned historians and anthropologists like Satindra Narayan Roy, Verrier Elwin and Sarat Chandra Ray, in the research journals like Bihar and Orissa Research Journal, Man in India and Prachi, presented in English studies on Orissan folklore. In Odia several monographs were published on the folklores of Orissa. This interest in folklore studies led to the widening of the historical horizon of Odisha and it attracted the scholarly attention of the scholars abroad for a comprehensive study of Odisha through the traditional accounts and folklores. Hence in this paper I would give considerable attention to the folklore aspects on Orissa through the selected articles and monographs of some noted historians and folklorists.


The real interest on folklore of Odisha began with the publication of Satyabadi, a periodical by Gopabandhu Das who wanted to highlight the folklores for articulating a spectacular past of Odisha. He actually stated in Satyabadi the significance of folklores in the study of the glorious past of Odisha and his associates elaborated his ideas in different platforms in Odisha and in Calcutta (now Kolkata)1. in the first two decades of the 20 th century A.D, Nilakantha Das, Gopabandhu Das, Kripasindhu Mishra and Godavarish Mishra projected the significance of folklores on Odisha in their works, which were published in the Odia periodicals like Mukura and Satyabadi. They accepted these folklores as facts and utilized them for reconstructing the history of Odisha. Thus nationalist narratives in Odisha gave considerable emphasis on the traditional accounts as well as on the folklores on Odisha, and the purpose was the glorification of the past of the Odias. Bihar Orissa Research Society from Patna, Prachi Samity from Cuttack and Orissa Research Samity of the Utkala Sahitya Samaj became active in this respect to study the folklores on Odisha (Dash, 2008). The twenties and the thirties of the 20th century witnessed a remarkable resurgence in this direction..

In Odia the focus on the folklores was a part of the literary resurgence, which began with Radhanath Ray and Fakirmohan Senapati. The trend was further intensified in the narratives of Kripasindhu Mishra, Gopabandhu Das, Nilakantha Das and Godavarish Mishra. The folklore on the construction of the famous temple of Konarka-the so-called Dharmapada tradition, the story of Chodaganga, the story of Ramachandi and Kalapahad were associated with nationalist temper of the Oriyas and they were appreciated in the stages as well as in the literary associations. In 1926 Upendra Narayana Duttagupta completed his work entitled Folk-Tales of Orissa which contained fifteen folk stories, four children stories and some adages(prahelika) in English and was published by S.K.Lahiri and Co of Calcutta. It was appreciated in Odisha by the famous critic Biswanath Kar (1926) in his Utkala Sahitya. A great admirer of the folklores of Odisha was Godavarish Mishra whose famous collection Alekhika was a significant landmark in this respect (Mishra, 1952). It contains the study on Abhiram Singh, Padmavati, Aryun Sngh, Kalijai, Dukhidhana, Mamu Bhanaja, Kalapahad, Sakhigopal, Vikrama Singh and Galamadhava. These poems were published in different Odia magazines in the 1920s and 1930s. In these poems the author despite his admiration for the nationalist cause accepted the memorable folklores as were communicated to him and he did not like to alter the content to suit the nationalist passion. For example in case of Kalapahad he used the idiom- Suvarna Thalire Heda Parashile Mukunda Devanka Rani which means the queen of Mukunda Deva served beef to Kalapahad in a golden pot. This idiom which was well known in Odisha in the 19th century A.D. was transformed by Kripasindhu Mishra in his study of Barabati Fort in the second decade of the 20th century who stated- Suvarna Thalire Hira Parashile Mukunda Devanka Rani which means the queen of Mukunda Deva served diamond to Kalapahad in a golden pot and it was intended to cover up national disgrace (ibid p.112-131; Dash op.cit p.176). But Godavarish was true to his old idiom. His fine collection Alekhika presented some rare folk traditions and they need to be reexamined for a comprehensive account on Odisha. These anecdotes actuate the passion and patriotism of the enthusiastic Odias and at the same time they appeal to the scientific temper of the historians and anthropologists.

Another significant contribution in this respect was Baitarani, which was a long poem composed by BIrupakshya Kar and published in 1932 (Kar, 1932). Birupakshya Kar was a famous writer in Odia on the traditional accounts and folklores on Odisha and had several fine presentations on the early history of Odisha and Odisha`s maritime trade. His articles were published in the Odia magazines like Utkala Sahitya and Sahakara. In the poem Baitarani, the author was very successful in his presentation of the different historical and archaeological sites and centres on the banks of river Baitarani and he was able to link them with the history of Odisha. In the 1930s this work actuated many nationalists of Odisha, and Gopal Prasad Singh of Rambagh near Jajpur town through which flows river Baitarani, presented a great forwarding note on this poem. Needless to say this long poem contains many folk idioms, which need proper study and appreciation in Odisha

Another interesting milestone in the study of Orissan folklore was a kavya entitled Virata nagara O svarnarekha(Viratanagara and Svarnarekha) composed by Rudra Narayana Sarangi of Balasore in 1930s (Sarangi,1932).Rudra Narayanaarayana was a famous historian of Odisha in the colonial phase and he was credited with many historical texts in Odia, like the history of the Brahmins of Odisha. He was a member of the Orissa Research Society, which had functioned through the Utkala Sahitya Samaj in the second decade of the 20th century A.D. and was successful in the collection of historical materials of Balasore and Mayurbhanj for compiling the history of Orissa. This kavya was based on a famous folk tradition of North Odisha (particularly Balasore and Mayurbhanj), which presents the existence of Virata Nagara mentioned in epic Mahabharata as situated in this zone on the bank of the river Suvarnarekha. According to the folklore, the Matsya Desh of Mahabharat, where the Pandavas were hiding during their period of exile living incognito (ajnata vasa) and which king Virat ruled, was actually situated in this belt of North Odisha in the bank of Suvarnarekha. Sarangi has appreciated this standing folk element in his work. Besides, the poet had given an account of the early history of this zone purely on the basis of folk elements.


There was increasing focus on the folklore in the reconstruction of the history of Odisha in the colonial and nationalist phase. Besides Odia poems and narratives there were critical research articles in English, which presented the significance of the folk traditions on Orissa. An interesting focus on the folklore study in colonial Odisha was presented by Satindra Narayana Roy in the journals like Bihar Orissa Research Society (Roy (n.d.))and Prachi (Roy, 1932). In his significant note entitled Studies in Folklore he had given an analytical study on an antidote of Still-births and some Proper Names of North Balasore. On still-births he reported the belief in Odisha that a bath in Marichi Kunda in Bhubaneswar on the Ashokastami day in the month of Chaitra ensures a healthy baby to the mother afflicted with still-births. Marichi Kunda is a small artificial tank through which the water of the Kedar Gauri spring flows. There are other tanks in the course of the same spring quite near Marichi Kunda. But the water of Marichi Kunda alone is said to have miraculous powers on a particular day of the year. He had reported another semi religious ceremony quite akin to the bath in Marichi Kunda, but it is not confined to any particular day of the year. According to folklore women who have given birth to still-born children go to Puri with their husbands and stand by the side of the pillar on which the image of Garuda, the carrier of Krishna is worshipped; water is then poured on Garuda which drenches the married couple. They then retire to their house and change their clothes. The priest who accompanies them, performs their marriage ceremony once again with due incantations. This is believed to bring on a change in their married life with the result that they are blessed with healthy children. This practice, according to Roy, was prevalent among the Odias in the district of Ganjam. Roy also reported other folk elements in this respect.

1. If after repeated still-births a child is born alive he is given a bad name so that he may not attract the notice of Yama. Quite a number of people in Orissa bear such despicable names, which puzzle an outsider.

2. Parents afflicted with still-births take a solemn vow to make their first surviving son a mendicant and when the boy the reaches the age of five he is made the disciple of a mendicant. It is believed that by making the first living son a mendicant the parents ensure healthy offspring to themselves.

3. There is a vrata or occasional worship by females, which is called Bataosa. It is held in the month of Agrahan, either on the third, seventh or ninth day after the full moon. Rich cakes are prepared. Sugarcane, cocoanuts and radishes are put in a basket nicely dressed. A small cavity is dug in a secluded place in the village. The offerings are arranged round the ditch and women sit on all sides to hear the story of the vrata. Flowers are placed on the ditch. The story of the vrata is then recited by one of the devotees and is heard with rapt attention by the whole group. After it is over the place of worship is swept with a broom made of the Brajamuli tree. The origin of the worship is connected with still-births.

In another aspect this author reported on the proper names of North Balasore, which may be accepted as an important part of folk study. According to him the village names have had some principle behind them. The villages appear to have been named promiscuously and the import of the names has long been forgotten. But if we scrutinize a little, we shall see that village names have a lot of meanings to them. Topical and historical allusions, philological prefixes and suffixes that have gone out of use, lost habits and manners of the people, religious creeds that have long ceased to exist and traces of the past civilization live behind the village names in disguise. The writer has presented some proper names of North Balasore for this purpose.

1. The river Suvarnarekha, literally a streak of gold, has now lost its original signification. Formerly people used to collect gold dust from its sand by washing and lixiviation. There is a branch of the Suvarnarekha river called the Chitra Rekha (the diversified streak or stream). The name practically fits in with its parent stream and is of Sanskrit origin. There are two small streams in North Balasore . The river Jhulka has a meaning behind it. Jhulka in Odia means a man who has staring eyes without the power of sight. The river is a blind one. After flowing for some distance it stops short, as it were, and forms a blind channel. Pejagata, the river that is traditionally said to have taken its origin from the throwing away of gruel by Draupadi during the exile of the Pandavas in Matsyadesh. It is a little streamlet in summer and may have been named the gruel stream in disparagement owing to its small volume of water. In his search for interesting implications on the names of the places he had studied Palpala river, Lakhannath, Gobarghatta and many other places. Thus he was able to locate the social history of Odisha in the folklores and presented a documentary study in this article.

The Sea in the Folklore of Orissa was another significant aspect of Roy in his study of Orissan folklore in the colonial phase. Bichhanada Charan Pattnaik appreciated his focus and commented that Roy`s paper was an excellent supplement to the article “Maritime Activities in the Ancient Utkala” which was published in Prachi in 1931(Pattnaik, 1931). In this respect Roy in the beginning reported-“ Let us see what we can gather from the folklore and popular sayings about the sea voyages of the people of Orissa in the past. The anthology might prove interesting to a student of history who likes to reconstruct the past in all its varied outlines. It will also offer some consolation to the patriots who see in the dark present no image of past glories. A country that enjoyed from the very dawn of history uptil the 17th century A.D. a glorious seaborne trade is now without any harbor worth the name. The sea-voyages have been discontinued and the sea-ports have all disappeared. But all the same there are numerous traces in the folklore and popular sayings of the glories of the people in their enterprises over the sea”. This brilliant introduction is an explanation of the utility of the folklores of Odisha for reconstructing the history of Odisha of early and medieval phase. The author found numerous references in the stories and tales that have come down to us from antiquity. We have it that the merchant’s son is setting out for the sea, his ships, lying at anchor is worshipped or rather honoured by the ladies of the household. The merchant`s son after undergoing various trials and adventures in the course of his voyage comes home at last with a lot of treasures. But tales like these, as stated by Roy, are the common property of all nations and no reliance can be placed on them for showing the maritime greatness of the people in the past. The vratas or semi-religious observances which have passed into the bone and marrow of the people are of a more substantial nature and afford more reliable proofs of sea-voyages from references made in their vrata-katha or the story portion of the worship. The author pointed out the story of Khudarkuni Osa and Tapoi for his discourse on sea voyages in Orissa. He had also cited other folklore aspects on the maritime trade in early and medieval Orissa.


Thus in the colonial phase there was considerable focus on the study of folklores for the reconstruction of the history and culture of Odisha. The articulation of Odia identity in that phase demanded a thorough search on the pride of the Odias in the folklores. Even if it was in the nature of documentary study it widened our research on the past and allowed us to tread a scientific study of the past of Odisha. In the post-colonial phase writers like Krishna Chandra Panigrahi, Manmath Nath Das, Nilakantha Das, Nabin Kumar Sahu, Satya Narayana Rajaguru, Chakradhar Mahapatra, Kedarnath Mahapatra, Bhabagrahi Mishra, Kunja Bihari Dash, Gaganendranath Dash, Prasanna Kumar Mishra, Arabinda Pattnaik, Shyama Sundar Mahapatra, Mahendra Kumar Mishra, Anjali Padhi and many others have taken considerable interest in the study of Folklores in Odisha by analyzing several aspects of Orissan folklore. This has contributed to the deepening of our understanding of the society and culture of Odisha in the past. In this respect the contributions of the famous German historians like Hermann Kulke and others are to be properly appreciated for a comprehensive study of the folklores on Odisha.


1.There is an interesting note on the folklores on Odisha in Satyabadi. See Vol.I, No-II, Sana-1322, p.62. In this note the editor was very much emphatic on the significance of the folk elements in the study of the past of India as well as of Orissa. The editor stated that there was widening field for researches on the history of Orissa through numerous traditional accounts and folktales. In two lines he stated- Pachara se tutha shile ghasu jahi Pada/Kahiva se tora badapurusha sambad. It means- Ask the stones of the pond where you place your feet and wash,they will tell you the past of your glorious forefathers. This indicates that the satyavadi group was emotionally and nationalistically attached to the traditions and folklores of Orissa.


  • Dash, Kailash Chandra, ( 2008) “Historiography of Orissa in Colonial Phase:A Study of Some Native Historians”, Orissan Historiography, Studies on Orissan History, Vol.II,ed. Sishir Kumar Panda, Department of History, Brahmapur University, Brahmapur-7, , p.173-184.

  • Kar, Birupakshya (1932,), Baitarani(A Kavya in Oriya), Satyabadi Press, Cuttack.

  • Kar Biswanath (1926), Utkala Sahitya, 29/2, p.177.

  • Mishra, Godavarish (1952), Alekhika, New Students Store, Cuttack.

  • Pattnaik, B.C. (1931,), “Maritime Activities in the Ancient Utkala”, The Prachi, Cuttack, Vol.I, Part-II, p.1-31.

  • Roy, Satindra Narayana, (1927) “Studies in Foklore”, Journal of Bihar Orissa Research Society, Patna,Vol.XII, Part-II, p. 295-308.
    ------------------------------(1932,) “The Sea in the Folklore of Orissa”,The Prachi, Cuttack, Vol.II, Part-I, p.49-73.

  • Sarangi, Rudranarayana (1932) Virata Nagara O Svarnarekha(Virata Nagara and Svarnarekha), A Kavya in Oriya, Town Press, Balasore.