Tribal heritage of Odisha – Simple, colorful, vibrant

Tribes of Odisha: When Time Stands Still

Home to 62 tribes, Odisha represents a significant percentage of India’s simple and fun-loving adivasis, who grace the remote interiors of the country. In perfect harmony with nature, these adivasis of Odisha remain largely unaffected by the rapid advances of civilization elsewhere in the state. Often considered primitive, the tribal population exemplifies the joys of simplistic living; their culture and philosophy offering a striking contrast to the fast-paced life of the rest of the world.

A life where song, dance and revelry is not entertainment, but a way of life. Where learning is not about languages or science, but of respect for nature and traditions, for art and culture. Where there is no honking of cars or pollutants, just fresh air to breathe in and the sounds of nature to wake up to. Where there is no hurry to reach the end of the day, but calm acceptance and joyful living of each moment – that’s how the tribes of Odisha live. A life of contentment.

A Beautiful Life

The tribal folk here, like in the rest of the world, are traditional, superstitious, hardworking people who believe strongly in the supernatural and afterlife. Step into their shoes and you will find that traditions, family and community are at the core of their existence. They love their festivities and celebrations, be it the change of seasons, the start of the hunt, birth, or even death.

Every occasion is marked by exuberant expressions of emotions – through songs and dances, and merrymaking (mostly the result of over indulging in mahua – the local brew). Raucous but graceful, tribal dances celebrate the essence of nature; be it the spring dance of the Santals, the Dhimsa of the Gadabas, the ring dance of the Oron, the courtship dance of the Ho, the dance of the Koyas with the head dress of the bison, or the deer dance of the Juang. The vivid dresses and jewellery, the drum beats, the musically accompaniments, all electrify the atmosphere, transporting you to a magical land.

Art In Their Heart

An enthralling feature of the tribes in Odisha is their folk art, unchanged over the centuries. Step into any tribal home and see for yourself. The colourful imagery on the walls with depictions of flowers, animals, and birds. Geometric designs and carved figures, painted human forms showcasing daily life, basket weaving from bamboo, khadi cloth weaving and intricate metal jewellery; are all reminiscent of a culture steeped in art and creativity.

Tribal Jewelry – Rustic yet Gorgeous

The amazing array of jewellery, worn as a part of their daily lives, depicts the role art plays in the tribal culture. Wide anklets, delicate nose-rings, quaint armlets, thick neckbands, and multiple earrings: the heavy jewellery complements and competes with the tattoos adorning the tribal women. Beauty is not the only reason for wearing jewellery though. They wear jewellery to ward off evil spirits as well. Children have their noses and ears pierced at very tender ages and wear bells to protect themselves from these spirits.


The captivating beauty of tribal life has blurred all borders and can be seen today in multiple dimensions of urban living, across the world. From the walls of tribal homes, it has moved to uber-chic fabrics and textiles; the  mountain inspired temple spires and colourful motifs of bird and animals have been incorporated by designers in not only fabrics but also furniture, accessories, stationary and even crockery.


Mainstream contemporary music has blended and adapted not only the music and dance, but also tribal instruments such as the Madol (two faced drum), the flute, and the traditional stringed instruments. Come, close your eyes, wrap yourselves in the exquisite and colourful fabrics inspired by the tribals, experience the subtle touch of ethnic delight and you might find yourself at one with the adivasis, moving in tandem to the reverberating drum beats that celebrate life in all its glory.


4 thoughts on “Tribal heritage of Odisha – Simple, colorful, vibrant”

  1. The poverty in Odisha is always highlighted but the beautiful and age-old heritage is really appreciated. A lovely read! Waiting to read more such pieces soon!

  2. It’s inspiring to see how communities can make art a lifestyle rather than a sporadic event. Great piece! Do you think people living in urban conditions can mirror this/ are we mirroring this already?

    1. Not yet! But I think the urban community dreams to have such a simple and conflict-free life. Now at least there is appreciation and acknowledgement of the effort put by the tribal community in safe-guarding the nature and the environment. There is a very nice and informative documentary on the Dongoria Kondh tribe of Odisha and their struggle to save their surroundings from POSCO and Vedanta.

  3. Tribes of Odisha sound wonderful – traditional yet evolved in a way that we urbanites can only dream of. Keep bringing us more of this.

    Maybe the next step could be to arrange heritage and cultural tours to these lovely places for the discerning?

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