The origin of Oriya Literature can be traced back to the 8th or 9th century, but Oriya literary works of merit appears only in the 13th century. It was in the 14th century with Saraladasa’s Oriya version of Mahabharatha that Oriya literature assumed a definite character. The Pancha Sakha—five poets, Balarama, Jagannatha, Anant, Yosowant and Achyutanand—of the fifteenth century rendered the Sanskrit classics into simple Oriya for the masses to enjoy.
Under the Bhakti movement, Chaitanya’s influence coloured the literature deeply. Upendra Bhanja was adept with words and his poetry had an erotic element. Vaishnavism produced great lyrical inspiration and some outstanding poets—Baladeva Rath, Dina Krishna Das, Gopal Krishna and the blind Bhima Bhoi. In mid nineteenth century contact with the West through English education revolutionized Oriya literature. Radhanath Ray was the father of modern Oriya poetry; his Chilika shows nature poetry at its best. Madhusudan Rao, who founded the Brahmo movement in Orissa, was another great poet of modern Orissa.
It was only in the nineteenth century that prose came to be written in Oriya Language. Fakir Mohan Senapati was a major prose-writer besides being a poet and novelist as well.
In the 20th century, a famous name was that of Madhusadan Das, who may not have written much but whose one song composed for the Oriya movement is till sung in Orissa. The nationalist movement also produced the Satyavadi group of writers whose leader Gopabandhu Das’s Kara Kabita is noteworthy.
Today Oriya Literature has a rich harvest of writers and literary works. Gopinath Mohanty has specialized in depicting tribal life. His Amritara Santan and Mati Matala are beautiful works. Sachitanand Routray undertook to expose the evils of traditional society and project new social realities. His Baji Raut and Pandulipi are outstanding. Both writers have won the Jnanpith Award.