The antiquity of Odisha is endorsed by her ancient people who continue to inhabit their traditional dwelling places in remote areas in the deep forests and hilly interiors. Steeped in the mystery that surrounds their ancient ways, the Odishan tribals continue to be a source of deep interest not only for anthropologists and sociologists but also for numerous tourists who flock to Odisha in search of the exotic mystique of this relatively unexplored state.
Of all the states of India, Orissa has the largest number of tribes, as many as 62 endogamous tribes have been notified by Government of India. Among these 62 endogamous groups different sub-tribes maintain their endogamous solidarity. Since the age of Ramayana and Mahabharata, the tribals occupy an acknowledged role and the Jagannath cult of Orissa is interwoven with the tribal religion which has given genesis to a paradigm of assimilation. Tribals of Orissa are known as Adivasi, Vanabasi, and Girijana. They are described as aboriginals of Orissa in anthropological literature. The Adivasi (aborigine), Vanabasi (forest dweller) and Girijana (mountain dweller) constitute 22.13% population of Orissa. These tribes mainly inhabit the Eastern Ghats hill range in the state running in the north-south direction. More than half of their population is concentrated in three districts of Koraput (undivided), Sundergarh and Mayurbhanj.
There are certain tribal groups who are techno-economically backward and are relatively less acculturated. Keeping eye upon their development, Government of India has classified and declared certain tribal groups as Primitive Tribal Groups (PTGs). Low level of literacy, pre-agricultural level of technology and declining or stagnant population are the parameters on the basis of which certain groups have been declared as PTGs.
Though out of 62 notified Scheduled Tribes, there are 13 Primitive Tribal Groups namely (1) The Birhor, (2) The Bondo Poraja, (3) The Didayi, (4) The Dongria Khond, (5) The Juang, (6) The Kharia, (7) The Kutia Khond, (8) The Lanjia Soura, (9) The Lodha, (10) The Mankidia, (11) The Paudi Bhuyan, (12) The Soura and (13) The Chuktia Bhunjia (Hasnain, 1992; Verma, 2002) in the state of Odisha, only 8 Scheduled Tribes are declared as Primitive Tribal Groups by the Government of India. Those tribes are Juang, Bondo Poraja, Lodha, Didayi, Mankidia, Birhor, Kharia and Soura.
Linguistically the tribes in India are broadly classified in to four categories, namely (1)Indo-Arya speaker; (2) Dravidian speakers; (3) Tibeto-Bermese speakers; and (4) Austric speakers. In Odisha speakers of the Tibeto-Bermese language family are absent. The Indo-Aryan family in Odisha includes Dhelki-Odia, Matia, Haleba, Jharia, Saunti, Laria and Odia (spoken by Bathudi and the acculturated sections of Bhuyans, Juang, Kondh, Savara, Raj Gond, etc.). The Austric language family includes eighteen tribal languages namely Birija, Parenga, Kisan, Bhumiji, Koda, Mahili Bhumiji, Mirdha Kharia, Ollar Gadaba, Juang, Bondo, Didayee, Marmali, Kharia, Munda, Ho, Mundari and Savara. Within Dravidian language family there are nine languages in Odisha namely Pengo, Gondi, Kisan, Konda, Koya, Parji, Kui and Kurukh or Oraon.
Though the tribes of Odisha belong to three linguistic divisions, yet they have lots of socio-cultural similarities between them. These commonalities signify homogeneity of their cultures and together they characterize the notion or concept of tribalism. Tribal societies share certain common characteristics and by these they are distinguished from complex or advanced societies. In India tribal societies had apparently been outside the main historical current of the development of Indian Civilization for centuries. Hence tribal societies manifest such cultural features which signify a primitive level in socio-cultural parameter.
In conformity with the origin and growth of post Gupta temple architecture in India, there are temples at Mahendragiri, Jajpur, Bhubaneswar and Bankada near Banpur in erstwhile Puri district (now in Khurda district) in the state of Orissa. Besides, a number of sculptural and architectural remains are found in the above places which evidently were early temples in Orissa and which clearly indicate the origin and growth of a separate regional style in ancient Orissa like that of the early Pallav architecture at Mahabalipuram or early Chalukyan architecture at Aihole and early temples in parts of north and central India.
The economic life of the Primitive Tribal Groups revolve round the forest and the PTGs of Odisha are not out of it. Forest nurtures their life and the biotic and abiotic components of forest ecology fulfill their socio-economic, bio-social, religio-cultural and psycho- social needs. They collect their basic amenities from the forest and their economic life is interwoven with the forest eco-system.
Tribal economy in Odisha is subsistence oriented. It is based on mainly food gathering by way of hunting and fishing. Thus their lives mostly depend on the forests. Even the large tribes like the Santal, Munda, Oram and Gond, who are settled agriculturists, often supplement their economy with hunting and gathering.
Many tribes such as the Juanga, Bhuiyan, Saora, Dharua and Bonda practice a system of cultivation what is called shifting cultivation or Podu Chasa which is also known as slash and burn. They select a plot of land and generally on a mountain slope, slash down all the trees and bushes and burn them to ashes. Spreading the ashes evenly over the land, they wait for the rains before planting their crops. After having cultivation for two or three seasons on one plot of land since the fertility of the soil gets depleted the tribal move on. It is a way of their life.
Though the tribal economy appears to be shaky, but their culture is maintained to be in its pristine state which is rich in itself and distinctive. The tribal in a village manage their internal affairs very smoothly through two institutions – the village council of elders and the youth dormitory.
The youth dormitory is the largest hut in a tribal village. Three sides of the dormitory are covered with walls and the walls are decorated gorgeously with symbols of the animals. The fourth side of the dormitory is open. By night dormitory is home to the youth of the village. But the people gather at this dormitory before and after a hard day's work to chat and relax. The council of elders meets here too to discuss matters relating to the welfare of the village. The open space in front of the dormitory is used by the youths and maidens who used to dance in every evening in deserted condition. The tribal culture allows free mixing of the two sexes. Despite their poverty, the tribals of Orissa have retained their rich and colourful heritage of dance and music. Every tribal can sing and dance to the sound of pipe and drum and give tune to impromptu compositions that come to him/her as naturally as breathing.
The tribals of Orissa observe a sequence of festivals. Some are closed affairs, relating to birth or death within the family or a daughter attaining puberty. Others relate to sowing or harvest time and these involve the entire community. Mostly in a festival the tribal used to consume Mahua liquor, a game roasted on the spirit and a night of song and dance is partying. But there would be an animal sacrifice too, for the deities and spirits to be appeased first, particularly the malevolent ones, so they don't unleash drought or sickness on the land. Tribals are superstitious people and the 'Ojha' occupies a position of honour since he not only prescribes medicines for the sick but is also believed to exorcise evil spirits.
The Paraja tribe is primarily located in the Kalahandi and Koraput regions of Orissa. Their language is `Parij'. They worship numerous Gods and Goddesses who live in the hills and forests. They love dance and music during weddings. The Saora tribe is one of the most ancient and they are known for being marathon walkers, expert hunters and climbers. Personal hygiene is of intense importance to them. The Bondos are fiercely independent and aggressive, and continue to practice the barter system of exchanging produce from their fields for their daily needs. Bondo women prefer to marry younger men because they can have someone who will earn for them in their old age. The Gonds are the warrior caste who have travelled the vast tracts of central and south India. The Oraon tribals are economically better placed because of their more progressive ways and interaction with the modern world, in the field of agriculture.
The second important feature introduced in this period is the addition of two more chambers, natamandira or the dancing hall and bhogamandapa or the offering hall, along the axial plan of the rekha or pidha structures. We find the raised plinth as well as the natamandira and bhogapandap in the Lingaraj temple, the Jagannath temple at Puri, the Ananta Vasudev temple and the Parvati temple inside the Lingaraj temple complex at Bhubaneswar. But the famous temple of Sun God at Konark has only the natamandira and that too detached from the general plan of the main temple. Generally the natamandira has a flat roof and the bhogamandapa is a pidha structure. The four chambered plan of temple complex continued and there was no further elaboration on the plan of a temple either horizontally or vertically during the subsequent periods.