Odisha: A historical journey
Nothing can repress my spirits. Between highs and lows, between crest and nadirs, I maintain my calm within, because I must be myself, the essential Odia – silent, cultured, peaceful and yet high spirited. My land is the land of convergence, of equanimity and inherent simplicity.
I am the silent juggernaut
In my land, even Ashoka the great had to concede to the great doctrine of ahimsa and embrace peace. It is one of the biggest, most moving, and deeply impacting changes in character in the history of the world. The mighty Mauryan emperor Ashoka annihilated the Kalingans in 260 BC. Kalinga was mentioned as “Calingae” in Megasthenes’ Indica. He defeated Raja Anantha Padmanabhan in the war resulting in the conquest of Kalinga and its annexation to the Maurya Empire. Emperor Chandragupta Maurya Bindusara, grandfather and father of Ashoka respectively had made attempts to conquer Kalinga but were unsuccessful. And when their descendent, Ashoka defeated Padmanabhan, Ashoka himself was also defeated. His cruelty, savagery and arrogance was crushed and my land converted him a to “dharmashok” from a “chandashok” (from a barbarian Ashoka to a pious Ashoka). After the battle, Ashoka embraced the concept of Dhammavijaya or Victory through Dhamma and sent missionaries to Sri Lanka, Macedonia, Greece and Syria to spread the message of Buddhism and peace. I am a witness to the globalisation of faith and spread of peace, as early as the 261 BC onwards. Sanghamitta, daughter of Ashoka travelled and contributed to the propagation of Buddhism in Sri Lanka and established the Bikhhunī Sangha or Meheini Sasna (Order of Nuns) there. This was established not only in Sri Lanka but also in Burma, China and Thailand. Today the Full Moon day of December is celebrated as “Uduvapa Poya” or “Uposatha Poya” and “Sanghamittā Day” by Theravāda Buddhists in Sri Lanka, near Jaffna. As an indirect & divine consequence, the Kalinga war resulted in the spread of Buddhism in Asia. Great changes in humanity have their roots in Odisha.
The magnetism of the land and its people transformed Ashoka and he replaced conquest by force with what he called “conquest by righteousness” (dhammavijaya). He was possibly the first monarch to renounce violence, yet he remained a powerful and influential king and the intensity of such a large-scale, all-humanity encompassing change is one of its kind in the world. Many people believe that after the war one woman of Kalinga came to Ashoka and with unimaginable misery narrated how the battle took away her husband, father and son from her and she has nothing to live for. Those words moved Emperor Ashoka so much that he adopted Buddhism and walked the path of Ahimsa or non-violence. The spirit is always alive, both in misery and in fortune.
Ultimately governance became humanitarian and compassionate and its practice during Ashoka has been adequately indicated in the rock edicts at Dhauli and Jaugada specially known as Kalinga Edicts. I, the fortunate born in Odisha, change trends and transform human character.
After Ashoka, the strong & ambitious Kharavela ruled Kalinga. Crowned as the king of Kalinga at the young age of 24, his 13 years (approximately) of reign ushered in an era of development, high growth and ambitious expansion. Kharavela succeeded his father after his premature death in 149 B.C. at the age of fifteen. He assumed the title of Yubaraj and managed the administration with the help of noblemen and ministers. While being the Yubraj or the prince he trained himself before being finally and formally coronated as the King. Such is the discipline and system with which a phenomenon called Kharvela ruled Kalinga. Synonymous with Odia pride and self-esteem, Kharvela is the name I evoke every time I am conscious of my heritage and Odia power. The Hathigumpha inscription tells it all. The reign of Kharavela thus falls beyond 148 B.C. (147 B.C.) and that was the time when he renovated the gates and the ruined structures of Kalinganagari, his capital which was damaged by a severe cyclone. Odisha has always been devastated by natural disasters and every time the state has made a comeback which has been glorious, gutsy and full of gusto. After strengthening the public utilities, he set out on a minutely planned expedition, with the help of an elaborate cavalcade of elephants, infantry, and chariots towards the Krishna river. In the 13 years of his rule, Kharvela had maintained an equilibrium between annexation, foreign expansion and internal development of the kingdom which ensured him and his regime the stability and the backing. Development and growth were equally given importance. From Berar and Maharashtra region to Gorathagiri in the modern Gaya district, Bihar and the Cholas, Pandyas, Satyaputres, Keralaputras and Tamraparni of Tamil confederacy in the south, Kharvela, the monarch of Kalinga was the monarch of the vast expanse where his governance was a glorious blend of public welfare and territorial accession. This is the glowing testimony to the vigour and vitality of the Kalinga people and their strength of character. In the phase, out period of his rule he contributed to the practice of Jainism and hobnobbed with the monks.
After Kharvela, my Kalinga was governed by the rulers from dynasties like the Kushanas, Satavahanas, Murundas, Guptas, Matharas, Sharabhapuriyas and the Eastern Ganga Dynasty. In many ways, the Ganga dynasty gave me my marquee identities – the Puri Jagannath temple and the Konark Sun temple. All of us in my land are Dharamapadas of Konark – brilliant and yet shy, erudite and yet reticent, simple beyond the trappings of ego and aggression. I am ready to sacrifice my life for the honour of my land and my people without a whimper and remorse. Today they call this ‘life skills’ which is what we are born with. When Purushottam is with me, my spirit is His. The lord of the Universe, Jagannath who is the ‘best of all’ resides in Purusottama Ksetra, Puri which has been described in the Puranas as the most sacred place in Bharata Varsa. It is the kshetra or the region where the Purusottama made his perpetual abode, Vaikuntha Bhubana. The sacred place, according to the traditional belief, existed even during the great universal deluge and in the beginning of this creation. Its greatness is unparalleled, its significance is unimaginable and its sanctity is ethereal. The Kapila Samhita refers to my land as the one “that takes away sin”. With Purushottam as the patriarch of my house, can I lack strength in character? I am the fortunate land and the destined race.
It is not that only now you see the Gajpati or the King of Puri serving the Lord as his chief servitor. In 1230 AD, King Anangabhima III dedicated his kingdom to the deity and proclaimed himself as the “deputy” of the God. The first Gajapati emperor Kapilendra Deva ambitiously expanded his kingdom from Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal to the eastern and central parts of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand and took the title of Sri Sri … (108 times) Gajapati Gaudesvara Nava Koti Karnata Kalvargesvara. This title is still used by the king during the Ratha Yatra but there is a great paradox, rare in this world. The King, despite being the ruler of a large empire, with a proud decoration of name, considers himself the chief servant of the Lord. The King over the years has been serving the people with ‘complete & active’ guidance from the Lord. A model of governance based on ‘divine interventions’. Purushottam, The Lord of the Universe supervises the welfare of the people through his representative the Sri Sri … (108 times) Gajapati Gaudesvara Nava Koti Karnata Kalvargesvara of Puri. Even the ambassador of Kanchi kingdom from the South of India was baffled when he saw King Purusottama Deva sweeping the chariot like a commoner. He was not sure about the eligibility of the King to marry his royal princess Padmavati. This simplicity and the complete surrender to the Lord is beyond common understanding. Simplicity is powerful, and this can be the best example. If the King can submit to the Lord of the Universe, imagine the culture of the subjects, the citizens. That is me, Odia. One who is unobtrusive and possessed with the enormous strength to surrender to the Nature, the Supreme or the Lord. Submission is the highest form of bhakti or dedication. The culture of Odisha starts from submission, or total abandonment of ego and domination.
The conquerors of Odisha like the Mughals, the Marathas and the British East India Company, attempted to gain control over Puri temple but in vain. Even Kalapahada, the tyrant general of Bengal monarchy tried to destroy the temple of Puri and other monuments and temples of Odisha but the spirit of the people and the energy of the land refused to diminish. Literally, the soul of the Lord was hidden by the servitors and what Kalapahada destroyed as the Lord’s idol was without the salagram or the life stone, which the servitors had taken out before the attack. This symbolises the permanence in the endowment of the Lord. Nothing can slaughter the élan vital of Odias.
The Lord of the Universe resides in Odisha. And how can avarice subjugate me, the Odia. I am the tribal, the beginning in nature, when I had Nila Madhava, the idol of Lord Jagannath in my possession. The tribal king Viswavasu, was the caretaker of the Lord. The Lord has come from Nature, from the beginning of time, from the wilderness. That’s the reason why I call my Land the “Soul of India”. The soul is indestructible like the salagram, which changes body every nabakalabra (rebirth) of the Lord.
Odisha constituted into a separate province towards the later part of the 16th century under Akbar’s monarchy and in 1607 Cuttack was declared its capital during the rule of Akbar’s son Jahangir and his successors. Odisha enjoyed this “independent” status for about two centuries during the Mughal rule. In the second half of the 17th century (1670) Kabi Samrata Upendra Bhanja was born at Kullada, Ghumusara a princely state in an area which is present day ‘Bhanjanagar’. Born into a royal family, the ‘Emperor of Poets’ who is considered the greatest poet of Odia Literature shunned the throne for poetry and literature. He stood by his passion. Many call him the Odia Kalidas, for his brilliance in using simile (Upama) in his kabyas/verse and was the doyen of the Riti Yuga period of Odia Literature. My land has always been the platform for exotic art, literature and fine arts. Kings and royalties have shunned power to embrace art and literature without remorse. That’s my soft power.
After 1751, the Marathas gained control of Odisha for almost half a decade. In 1803, the region came under the British rule and not before long, Jayee Rajguru (aka Jaya Krushna Rajguru Mahapatra) galvanised an army of Paika warriors and waged a revolt against the British in 1804. This was the first uprising against the British rule in Odisha and among the few early mutinies in India. Though he was severely punished and done to a ghastly death, he owned up the entire allegations against him by the British and helped get his king Mukunda Deva exonerated. The flag of Odisha flutters high and unfettered, even in the face of inhuman oppression. I am proud to be his descendant. The revolt laid the foundation for the early freedom struggle against British rule in the country. There was another Paika Rebellion against the British in Khurda area in 1817. This was a daring uprising of soldiers led by Buxi Jagabandhu (Bidyadhar Mohapatra) in Odisha. The Paikas have been the traditional land-owning militia of Odisha and have served as warriors. They revolted against the British after the later took over their rent-free land, 14 years after Odisha came under British rule in 1803. The Paika movement is a matter of pride for the nation and movement predates the officially recognised first war of independence, the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 and the country plans to celebrate the 200 years of the uprising by commemorating the bi-centenary. The Buxi-led rebels first attacked the police station of Banpur, burnt government quarters and looted the treasury. After a British commander was killed during a fight at Gangapada, the government officials fled Khurda in fear. The revolt spread like wildfire to other parts of the state such as Gop, Kanika and Kujanga and lasted for around one and half years. In 1861, Major Impey of the British conceded that “Surendra Sai was never defeated and would never be defeated”. He realised the futility of military operation against Veer Surendra Sai, the rebel from the royal family of Sambalpur at the age of 18, who was barred from assuming Kingship for his unrelenting, sustained fight for freedom. Veer Surendra Sai fought the British almost single handed till his arrest in 1864. He spent more years in jail as a political prisoner than anyone else in the world and was incarcerated by the British authorities for forty-one years, even more than Nelson Mandela, simply because they were afraid of him.
In 1866, Odisha was struck with a great famine, called Na Anka Durvikhya taking lives of about one million spread across different regions. People realised that if the state had been independent the famine would never have happened. The struggle for an independent state based on language grew even stronger after the famine. During the famine, Babu Bichitrananda Das and Gouri Shankar Roy decided to publish Utakala Deepika a magazine in Odia and it highlighted the famine issue and the unimaginable sufferings of millions. The first issue of appeared on 4 August 1866, which was the first independent publication in Odia. In the backdrop of abject poverty and debilitating famine, Odisha was grouping itself to a stronger confederation of freedom fighters. Towards the later part of the 19th century the progressive, intellectuals in Odisha huddled up, expressed their disenchantment with a “disintegrated” state and decided to give a proposal to the British government to bring together the scattered areas of Odisha, bind the state geographically which would ultimately result in a socio-economic bonding. The first proposal for the unification came from Raja Baikuntha Nath De of Baleswar and Bichitrananda Patnaik of Cuttack in 1875 (published in Utkal Dipika, 27 Feb 1875). They presented a memorandum to the Government and Sir S.C. Bayley, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal who visited Odisha in 1888. Bayley was presented with a Memorial by the ‘Utkal Sabha’ of Cuttack and was requested to consider uniting the Odia-speaking territories of Madras, Central Provinces and Bengal in one administrative unit. In 1870, Madhusudan Das became the first person from Odisha to acquire a graduate degree. He also acquired a law degree in 1878. After Madhusudan Das returned from Calcutta to Cuttack in 1881, the Utkal Sabha was formed in 1882. It marked the beginning of political activities in Odisha. In 1888, a durbar was held in Cuttack during the visit of Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, where the Utkal Sabha led by Gouri Shankar Roy presented the issue of bringing Odia-speaking territories under one administration. In 1896 Hindi was introduced in the Oriya speaking district of Sambalpur as a part of Chattisgarh Division of Central Province in place of Oriya as the court and administrative language. The Odia thinkers and leaders never wanted this to happen. The whole state was disturbed with the devious decision. Odisha was on the boil.
In 1882, a social organisation called ‘Utkal Sabha’, was established under the initiative of Gauri Sankar Roy and it took a major part in developing the political awareness among the Odias. By the end of 1895, Odia was abolished in the courts of Sambalpur. But Odisha found a friend in H.G. Cooke, the Commissioner of Odisha who supported the movement for amalgamation of the Odia speaking geographies in July 1895. It was the first official endorsement of the voices of the people. In his annual administrative report, Cooke, though seemingly benign in his approach, suggested certain measures in his report to his seniors. And he thought that the areas which could be united with the Odisha Division were: (a) Sambalpur district of the Chhattisgarh Division of the Central Provinces, (b) Tributary States of Patna, Sonepur, Rairakol, Bamra and Kalahandi and (c) the whole or part of the Ganjam district alongwith the States of Kimidi and Ghumsur. His suggestions were completely ignored and the Sambalpur agitation continued, for the restoration of Odia as the court language. Such was the fervour that in July 1901 some leading citizens of Sambalpur called on Sir Andrew Fraser, the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces and suggested that ‘if it was thought impossible to have Oriya as the language of one Central Provinces’ district, they would prefer to be transferred to Orissa’. The Chief Commissioner accepted the argument and advocated with the Government of India to transfer Sambalpur to Orissa Division. The power of persuasion, tenacity and perseverance of us Odias have always seen success, despite challenges.
Madhusudan Das, a member of the Bengal Legislative Council by then, informed Lord Curzon, the Governor General about the huge mass movement to the effect and it was their demand that the Odia-speaking area should be placed under a Chief Commissioner. The Sambalpur delegation consisted of social leaders like Madan Mohan Misra, Balabhadra Suar, Braja Mohan Patnaik, Bihari Das Mahant and Sripati Misra.
They even met the Governor General at Simla to acquaint him with the problems. As a result, Odia language was accorded its rightful significance in Sambalpur district from 1st January 1903.
Voices from across the state were getting louder and more assertive. The Ganjam intellectuals petitioned Lord Curzon ” to bring together the scattered divisions inhabited by Oriya-speaking people, i.e., Ganjam in Madras, Sambalpur in the Central Provinces, and Orissa in Bengal under one government”. Raja Baikuntha Nath De of Balasore also advocated for a separate administrative unit for all Odia speaking territories or to keep them under one provincial administration. Since 16th century, Odisha has been traversing from one phase to another of externally administered governance and by the beginning of the 20th century, Odisha had realised the repercussions of “division of the state” and was become more and more united in its voice for one Odisha.
In 1903, a small group of ‘young Turks’ gathered in Rambha on the idyllic shore of Chilka lake to set up Ganjam Jatiya Samiti. Before the formation of Utkal Sammilani, Ganjam Jatiya Sammilani was the only forum, where leaders from all sections came together. Both the forums were patronised by Harihara Mardaraj, king of Khallikote who was one of the founders of Utkal Sammilani or Utkal Union Conference & the Ganjam Jaitya Sammilani. In 1903 major congregations of Odia nationalism were organised, one in Berhampur and another one at Cuttack, ably steered by erudite young influencers like Lingaraj Panigrahi (later attended London Round Table Conference, became the Chief Justice of Odisha High Court and Speaker of the Assembly), Nilamani Bidyaratna, King of Paralakhemundi Sri Krushna Chandra Gajapati, Utkalamani Pandita Gopabandhu Das, Pandita Godabarisha Mishra,Pandita Nilakantha, the editor of Utkala Dipika Sri Gaurishankar and others. Utkal Sabha of Cuttack called for a public meeting under the leadership of Madhusudan Das. It was decided in the conference to send a petition to the Governor General (I) to transfer to the Orissa Division the Oriya-speaking portions of the districts of Ganjam, Vizagpatnam, Sambalpur, Chhota Nagpur and Midnapur ii) retaining the judicial supervision of the High Court at Calcutta and maintaining the educational connection with the Calcutta University. On 30th & 31st December 1903 ‘Utkal Sammilani’ met at Cuttack amidst fanfare, unparalleled enthusiasm and steely determination. The conference was presided by Sriram Chandra Bhanja Deo, the Maharaja of Mayurbhanj, and was attended by several feudal chiefs, zamindars and royals besides other leaders. Rajendra Narayan Bhanj Deo, the Raja of Kanika was the Chairman of the Reception Committee and Madhusudan Das was the Secretary. Madhu babu was the driving force behind the Sammilani.
Orissa has the distinction of many firsts to its credit. It was the first state in our country to have been created on the basis of language. It paved the path for long cherished dream of our nationalist leaders for linguistic reorganization of states.
But time and again we have passed through the test of fire – through highs and lows in the life of the state and its people but always emerged stronger. I have always risen like the proverbial phoenix.
While Odisha was going through trials and tribulations, the power of information dissemination and public discourse was never undermined. Sashibhusan Rath began publishing the first Odia daily newspaper, Asha, from Berhampur in 1913 with Gopabandhu Das as the editor and in 1915, Gopabandhu Das began publishing a magazine called Satyabadi with the aim to promote Odia literature and culture. On 4 October 1919, he started his own weekly newspaper, Samaja. The disquiet under the British resulted in sporadic outbursts every now and then. In 1914, the revolutionary Bagha Jatin moved to a hideout in Kaptipada village in Mayurbhanj. On 9 September 1915, Bagha Jatin and his companions were discovered by the British and after a valiant 75 minutes gunfight he succumbed at the Balasore hospital.
“NUHEN BANDHU, NUHEN EHA CHITA,
E DESHA TIMIRA TALE E ALIBHA MUKATI SALITA”.
(It is not a pyre, O Friends! When the country is in dark despair, it is
the light of our liberty. It is our freedom-fire.)
The above verse is Sachi Routray’s instant grief and exhortation to country men at the burning pyre of India’s youngest martyr Baji Rout. I belong to Baji Rout, the symbol of youth power, of integrity and immense strength of character. He laid down his life but not his honour for the country. He stood guard at the river ghat and did not allow the soldiers to capture Veer Baisnav Pattanayak. In turn he was slained ruthlessly at the tender age of 13. I belong to the land where conviction defies age and economic strata. The stanza quoted above is the first stanza of Sachi Rautroy’s famous poem “Baji Rout” was translated into English by Harindranath Chattopadyaya and the poem and the event stirred the nation’s emotion and had set an unprecedented restiveness in the country. People in various States were agitating against their ruling chiefs. The supreme sacrifice the thirteen-year-old boy Baji Rout sent a renewed wave of patriotism and demand for self-rule across the country and not only in Odisha.
Martyr Laxman Naik, the “Gandhi of Malkangiri”, a tribal hero of Odisha, hailing from Malkangiri of the then Koraput district demonstrated the strength of tribal commitment and chivalry when he helped spread the Quit India Movement in Koraput. On August 21, 1942, the tribals’ procession under Nayak tried to hoist the congress flag in the mitaili police station. The police cracked on the demonstrators injured and arrested Nayak in the fracas and sent him to Koraput Jail. He was indicted in the killing of a forest guard G.Rammaya and was sentenced to Death. The Gandhi of Malkanigir was executed in Berhampur jail on March 29, 1943. No amount of mental, psychological and physical pressure could deter the youths of Odisha to revolt against the foreign rule. The love for the land transcends anything else in life including pelf, power and scare. Even in the remotest of tribals in Odisha, freedom fighters like Laxman Nayak, Biswanath Pattanayak (Kujendri), Nilakantha Gamango, Gobardhan Gamango (Narayanguda), Bairagi Kandh (Gingerghada), G.Patika (Kariniguda) took up the cudgels alongwith grassroots people to join the national freedom movement. Women leaders, Champa Sabar, Shanti Sabar, Lakshmi Sabar, Sita Gamango, Jadi Sabar, Laxmi Gamango led the women wing of freedom fighters in Rayagada district, almost seven decades ago. It wasn’t about the level of backwardness of the district which hindered their volunteerism for freedom struggle, but it was the call of the Mahatma which reverberated across the country. Tribals in large numbers joined Quit India Movement and fought not only for the freedom of the country, but also raised voice against misrule of Rajas or the feudal chiefs.
Pathani Samanta, my homegrown astronomer without access to any modern laboratory or gadgets was in the league of the other great astronomers of India like Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta. He could measure the heights of Mountains accurately with the help of wood sticks and bamboo and calculate solar eclipse and lunar eclipse and astronomical episodes extraordinarily. My son of the soil Biju Patnaik has been conferred with ‘Bhumiputra’ honour of Indonesia, my daughters Sarala Devi, Rama Devi, Kuntala Kumari Sabat, Malati Choudhury, Pravavati Devi, Arnapurna Devi have played stellar roles in the national freedom movement of India, A super cyclone in 1999, dubbed as one of the greatest cyclonic disaster ever recorded in the last century has not been able to break me. The killer famine Na Anka Durvikhya made me more resolute and united my sons and daughter strongly to seek independence from foreign rule.
Simco village in present day Biramitrapur has witnessed the one of the biggest massacres by the British government in India, much bigger and ghastly than the Jalianwalabagh bloodbath but the latter has received wide recognition in history. But I carry no remorse because I flow with time. I have let go and survived the vicissitudes of time.
Today my children are world farers, placed in echelons of skills, my capital Bhubaneswar is India’s emerging “South east Asian’ city, my people follow their individual faiths with rare openness & I have remained undented & true to my pristine spirit of being unassailable and unshakeable in my moral fibre and élan. Indeed, I am the silent juggernaut.
By Charudutta Panigrahi