The most permanent contribution of Odisha to our cultural heritage is Bhima Bhoi, Poet-prophet of Mahima dharma, who wielded his pen against the prevailing social injustice, religious bigotry, and caste discrimination. With his firm belief in one God, one society, one religion, he led this movement from Khaliapali Ashrama. The goal of his mission is “Jagata Uddhara” (liberation of entire world).
The 19th century in India was a period of decadence and disintegration that warranted religious and social reform. Mahima Dharma emerged as a Yuga Dharma (religion of the age) at a time of transition (Yugasandhi). It appears as a Loka Dharma (religion of the mass),when religious discriminations regarding race, caste and class were rife. In the 19th century Orissa, when this religion developed, the society was already ridden with divisive tendencies, casteism, selfishness, savagery and coercion. In the field of religion irrationality and fetishism reigned supreme immorality and corruption were rampant.
Mahima Dharma is contemporary to the socio-religious movement like Brahmo Samaj, Prarthana Samaj and Arya Samaj. Yet Mahima dharamdiffers very much from these reaction and movement. It rested on indigenous foundation and had nothing to do with external forces. It is exclusively Orissan. In essence it is for mankind and of mankind.
Though Mahima Gosain, Guru of Bhima Bhoi, is said to be the original founder of Mahima Dharma, the devotional catchy Prayer verses composed by Bhima Bhoi are greatly responsible for the spread of Mahima religion. In the history of Mahima Dharma, Bhima Bhoi was to play the role of Vyasa the poet, expounder and propagator ordained by eternal God. Mahima dharma soon gained popularity in the tribal belts of not only Orissa but also neighboring. Andhra Pradesh, Chhattishgarh, Bengal and Assam.
While we know enough about the philosophy and poetry of Bhima Bhoi, his life still remains a mystery in many respects. We don’t know for certain when and where he was born, who his parents were, his early education etc. But, it should not be forgotten that Bhima was by birth a Kondh. He spent his early life in modern Rairakhol and Birmaharajpur region of Western Orissa. Now it is an admitted fact that he was born in this region around the year 1850. We are told that Bhima Bhoi was born into abject poverty. During his infancy became an orphan. The neglected boy left to himself.
In his poems there are references to the fact that when Bhima was only four years old, he saw a wandering yogi with the divine signs of Sankha and Chakra on his arms, begging for rice holding an earthern pot. That was Bhima’s first brust with Mahima Gosain, who later in his life, became the Great Guru and to whom he dedicated many of his Bhajan and Poem.
As the days went by the poor and hapless Bhima worked under the local farmers. A boy of twelve, he used to tend cattle in the forest to feed himself. Bhima received no formal education, but he had a fantastic retentive memory and a sweet voice. To compose songs and sing them was his boyhood habit. In his locality Bhima Bhoi had already gained popularity as a signer and composer before his conversion toMahima dharama.
The love-songs of Radha and Krishna, composed to the folk tunes of western Orissa, i.e. Rasarakeli, Dalkhai, Jaiphula etc, are said to be the product of the first flush of his youth.
Bhima Bhoi would sit for long hours outside the village Bhagabata Tungi and later he would memorize every syllable uttered.
In 1862 Mahima Gosain is said to have attend his Siddhi or final realization near the Kapilas hills of Dhenkanal and there after started out on his missionary purpose of spreading the message of Mahima Dharma. At Balasingha near Boudh first he converted Govinda Baba into his disciple.
After this Gobinda Baba became one of his closest associates and the Mahima faith got organized into a popular movement.
Once in the midnight Mahima Gosain and Gobinda baba came to Bhima’s house at Kankanapada (Gramadiha) and initiated him. Mahima Gosainblessed him and said that he had a preordained role to play in the propagation of the tenets of Mahima religion in this century. MahimaGosain blessed him to have the intense power of poetic vision. Bhima has referred perhaps to this incidents in the 1st chapter of hisNirveda Sadhana. Further in Adianta Gita Bhima writes that he started poetics at the age of 16 at the behest and blessing of his Guru.
Legend has it that Bhima Bhoi once inadvertently fell into a well and refused to come out until he was rescued by Mahima Gosain. At last Mahima Gosain, who was passing by, came to save him. It is pertinent to mention here that a site having a well at village Kandharahas recently been renovated to memorize the incident. Whatever the case may be, it symbolizes the indomitable will power of this young convert. It is however, undeniable that the entire event of Bhima Bhoi’s flowering up as a saint poet is deeply associated with his come in contact with Mahima Gosain. In his Bhajan Bhima Bhoi has treated him as the anthropomorphic form of Sunya Braham. Bhima soon bacame the spokesman of the Mahima Religion.
Mahima Gosain sent two Brahmins namely Basu Panda and Haripanda of village Banhar near Attabira along with Markanda Das andDharmananda Das belonging to Angul area, converted into the faith, to record the songs and hymns to the dictation of Bhima Bhoi.They met Bhima on the road to Kadligarh, and together, left for a hollock,at Kandhara, since Known as Bhima Dunguri.
As the days went by Bhima gained popularity as the poet and preacher of Mahima Dharma with his followers. Bhima started his mission from village to village. The Bhajans were first sent to Mahima Gosain, then these were song in different tungis and on the occasion of congregation held at different places in the West and East of Orissa.
Ordained by Mahima Gosain, one maiden named Annapurna of Madhigrama, near Dhenkanal surrender herself before Bhima Bhoi as his spiritual consort. Later she became a great spiritual force in managing the Ashrama and propagating the tenets of Mahima Religion. She was known as Maa Annapurna by the devotees and followers of Bhima Bhoi.
Mahima Gosain left his mortal coils at Joranda, the headquarters of the religion near Dhenkanal on Phalguna Sukla Dasami in the year 1876. The Sannayasis parted their way over ideological issues like the question of supremacy of the Bakalaladhari or Kaupinadhari order and other corollary matters. This stalemate was too painful a situation for the sensibility of a poet and a follower of God that Bhima Bhoi was. He was a humanist poet believing oneness among human beings. He wanted to take up the essence of Mahima religion and clothe it with a humanistic and immortive appeals to the common man. So he made up his mind to set up Ashrama of his own.
Bhima Bhoi, with his followers came to Binka of Suvarnapura district. The lane where he spent few days at Binka is known as Mahimalane since then.
He was accorded a nice reception at Golanda ,near Binka, where he setup an Ashrama on a plot donated by the village Gauntia.( village head)
In the mean time Bhima Bhoi accepted two ladies namely Sumedha and Rohini as his worldly companion and later he was blessed with a son and a daughter born to them respectively.
One Bhima Das,a Balkaladhari Sadhu with his friends from Joranda came and complained that Bhima Bhoi had kidnapped his sisterAnnapurna. There was a furor over this issue which is sometimes reported as Naga Attack. Bhima Bhoi had to quit Gulunda.
With his followers and family members Bhima Bhoi crossing the river Ang reached Khaliapali,a small village in Suvarnapur district in the year 1877.
Lochan Bagarty, the Gauntia of Khaliapali greeted Bhima Bhoi with devotion and admiration,and donated a plot of land where Bhima Bhoi set up his Ashrama. A child born in Bagarty family on the date Bhima Bhoi entered Khaliapali was named Bhima Bagarty.
Bhima Bhoi made Khaliapali his native place also his permanent abode form where he functioned till his death. He did not lead the life of a recluse at Khaliapali. He prayed and preached, composed and sang for the liberation of entire world. He sought a synthesis between the life of the world and life of the spirit. Maa Annapurna, his spiritral consort was a great spiritual force in the Ashrama.
Bhima Bhoi used to dictate four songs at a time to four scribes namely Basu Panda, Hari Panda, Markanda Das and Dharmananda Dasready with stylus and palm leaf to record the Bhajans. Such endless out burst of the prolific poetry is unprecedented in the history of literature.
No written text of Mahima Gosain founder of the religion has yet been discovered. His oral commandments know as Guru Ajna form the basis of the religion. The doctrines are comprehensively reflected in the poetry of Bhima Bhoi . Hence Bhima Bhoi’s writtings constitute the earliest source of Mahima literature and codes of conduct. Spreading the inner message of Mahima dharma was one of the major objectives of his writings, where the concepts of Mahimadhaarma were transformed from dry cerebration into an emotional realization and out pouring of the soul. The key-note of his poetry is compassion and commitment. No wonder they were more popular among the rural folks. His literature had very little to do with literacy.
On the full moon day of Magha, Bhima Bhoi and Maa Annpurna were used to be ceremonially worshipped on an alter decked with 108 pitchers. A large number of devotees not only from Orissa, but also from neighboring Chhattishgarh. Bengal .Assam and Andhra Pradesh assembled on the occasion at Khaliapali. The festival is popularly known as Maghamela. Bhima Bhoi has also composed Bhajans in Bengaliand his Mahima Vinoda is written in Bengali mixed with Oriya. Some of his works have also been translated into Telugu and inVijayanagaram area people still sing these Bhajans.
It is perhaps, because of this deification the Dewan of Raja Niladhar Singhdeo of Sonepur made some troubles at Khaliapali Ashrama.Bhima”s ardent followers Basu Panda and Hari Panda faced the problem. Bhima Bhoi boldly proclaims “I am not a vassal of any ruler nor am I a serf, an obedient servant of rich man, I obey the command of only one person and that person is the Guru”
Bhima Bhoi was equipped with a style which is so bold and so mellow at the same time. Sometimes he appears to be a true revolutionary as he was an intense lover of man. He dreams of a world that will be ruled by the laws of the Lord Eternal and where nothing but supreme truth will be the ultimate dispenser of the things. He does not believe in idolatry, Bramanical rituals and priesthood venerates the void and sees the presence of Divinity in all beings and objects. He raised a powerful protest against the distance between man and man. He included the female folk into the fold and upheld radical and progressive views like female education and secularism in his works. He implores the Lord of Universe to cry a haut and save the world from perdition. He raises a pertinent question that without the world surviving ,where would be the place upon which a man of God would stand and function as His messenger.
His innovation culminates in words which have made Bhima Bhoi immortal not only in Oriya but in all literature,
“Let my soul be condemned to hell But let the universe be redeemed”
This soul stirring couplet finds pride of place in the parliament hall of India.
It is an admitted fact that some of his works have been lost now, but those that remain show in ample measure that the genius that Bhima Bhoi was. They are Stuti Chintamani, Brahmanirupana Gita, Adianta Gita, Chautisa Granthamala, Nirveda Sadhana, Sruti Nisedha Gita,Manusabha Mandala, Mahima Vinoda, in four volumes (unpublisued ), Brihat Bhajana Mala and Bangala Atha Bhajan.
The magnum opus Stuti Chintamani is undoubtedly, the most important work of Bhima Bhoi. It is a collection of one hundred boliconsisting of two thousand stanzas. The work is a cluster of lyrics on his life, religion and philosophy.
Bhima Bhoi left his mortal coils on 14th day of dark fortnight of Phalguna in the year 1895 when he was barely 45 at KhaliapaliAshrama in the presence of his family members and followers. His mortal remains were interred and a samadhi temple was erected by his devotees under the leadership of Basu Panda and Hari Panda. All his family members and ardent followers died sometime during the first half of 20th century. Samadhi temples were erected in honour of each member except Maa Annapurna, who was buried by the side of Bhima Bhoi in the main temple.
The Paduka Mandir has been erected on a spot where Bhima Bhoi used to compose and sing with his scribes. The silver coated wooden sandals of Bhima Bhoi and Maa Annapurna are kept here for perpetual worship.
During the great festivity of Maghamela on full moon day of Magha thousands of devotees from far and wide come to this pitha to seek the blessings of saint poet, worshipping the padukas.
When the divisive terrorism has brought the world to a critical juncture, Bhima Bhoi’s message of oneness of human kind becomes more and more relevant. Even today his Bhajans and songs written in simplest possible language are the heart throb of million.