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Utkalamani Gopabandhu – The Pride of Odisha

gopabandhu das

Odisha is the land of Lord Jagannath. The people of the State are culturally integrated with other linguistic and religious communities. Since time immemorial this land has given birth to several personalities whom the people of Odisha today and afterwards cannot forget. Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das is one among them. His life style, mission and vision and the sacrifices had justifiably decorated him as the ‘Jewel of Odisha’ (Utkal Mani). This title was given to him by Sri Prafulla Chandra Roy of the then Calcutta.

Gopabandhu Das who is known to every Oriya family was born on 9th October 1877 in a small village called Suando in the Satyabadi police station area of Puri district. The village is situated on the bank of river Bhargavi, a sacred river for the people of coastal Odisha. He was the son of Sri Daitari Das and his third wife Srimati Swarnamayee Devi. Sri Narayan Das was his elder brother.

Suando was a small village comprising of about forty families belonging to Brahmin, farming class, weavers and Harijans. The total population was around two hundred and fifty. In that village, Gopabandhu belonged to a middle class family.

His father was a Mukhtiar who had a reasonable practice in the locality. Gopabandhu had early childhood education in the village pathsala where he was taught about reading, writing and arithmatic which was helpful for the living of the villagers. He had an early exposure to Jagannath Das’s Bhagabat’. The language and style of presentation of this great book influenced him a lot. At the age of twelve, he married a young girl Apti. Of course the marriage did not stand in the way of his education.

After completion of upper primary education, Gopabandhu had to join middle vernacular school at a nearby village called Rupadeipur. By that time he had lost his mother. The Head Pandit of the school could appreciate Gopabandhu’s knowledge on literature. The young boy also found in the teacher a true guardian. The regular interaction between the two was beneficial to both. Gopabandhu later joined Puri Zila School in 1893.

While at Puri Gopabandhu came in contact with Mukhtiar Ramachandra Das who was not only generous but was a nationalist and had compassion for the distressed. This association had a deep impact upon young Gopabandhu.

Mukhtiar Das was also guardian of one Basudev. Every day, both the young students could learn about western and eastern education and their differences from their new guardian. While he was a student at Zilla School, Gopabandhu evinced interest in organising meetings and societies through which youngmind could learn about cooperation. This work generated in him an element of leadership and created abilities for team work. As a student he could dare to help the victims of dreaded disease cholera, a post-car festival outbreak in the holy city. The authorities were not alert and the response was poor. This led young Gopabandhu to form a voluntary corps ‘Puri Seva Samiti’ through which the volunteers helped the victims and cremated the corpses. During this great service to the community, Gopabandhu got the valuable support of Harihara Das, later called Acharya Harihara. During this service, an ugly incident occured relating to the maladministration and unresponsive activities of the English Surgeon Dr. Charles Beck. Gopabandhu’s handling of the situation spreaded information about his conflict management abilities and love for nation.

As a student Gopabandhu’s literary fervour was excellent. During those days the literary world was divided between the Ancient and the Modernists. He regularly wrote in local magazines – The Indradhanu and The Bijuli.While the Indradhanu supported those who advocated the cause of old literature, the later stood with modernists like Radhanath Roy, the then Inspector of Schools for Odisha. But Gopabandhu was a great balancer. He realised that a nation as well as its literature live by their tradition. He could not appreciate the thinking of contemporary writers and their views. In the opinion of a great scholar, Gopabandhu like Edmund Burke believed that a national superstructure of the present can endure only of it is based upon the solid foundations of the past heritage. He also wrote a satirical poem in ‘The Indradhanu’. This led to an ugly incident and also punishment meted out by the angry Inspector of schools for such satirical poem. He refused to apologise for such writing in lieu of punishment.

Gopabandhu graduated from Cuttack. He lost his father before joining Ravenshaw College. He took time to adjust to the new environment. His personality attracted friends. He formed a ‘Kartavya Bodhini Samiti’ to engage his friends in discussion on social, economic and political problems. During his Ravenshaw days, he along with Acharya Harihara and Braja Sundar Das engaged himself in helping the flood victims. During his studentship at Cuttack he lost a newly born son. Further his social service affected his educational pursuit. Due to this he was failed in B.A examination and he got this degree in the second attempt. Later he went to Calcutta where he did both M.A. and LL.B. While pursuing higher studies at Calcutta, classroom attracted him the least. Because he never thought to lead a lucrative career after the completion of education, his preoccupation was to acquaint himself with the life and problems of Oriya population at Calcutta. Since he believed in unity and sharing of the problems through cooperative living, he took steps to open night schools to teach the Oriya coolies and cooks living at Calcutta. During his Calcutta days, he came in contact with Bande Mataram group. This initiated Swadeshi spirit in him. His new mission was to reform the society and to develop education. Through these activities he had the vision of social service. When he was only twenty-eight, he lost his wife. By that time he had lost all his three sons and he had two daughters whom he left with his elder brother alongwith the share of his property in the village. This proved that he had no love for leading a family life and for that he refused to remarry even at a marriageable age. He was not an ordinary man and that is why he did not attach much importance to worldly life. This spirit was evident when he left his son on the death bed to serve flood marooned people despite requests by friends and associates.

Gopabandhu’s political exposure begun when he was at Cuttack. He attended Utkal Union Conference, at Paralakhimedi in 1903. At 1903 conference his ideas were different from Madhu Babu who wanted amalgamation of Oriya speaking tracts under Bengal province as against Gopabandhu’s suggestion of amalgamation under central province. This was because the former’s suggestion would have led to Bengali domination over Oriyas. After completion of educational career Gopabandhu faced a puzzle as to whether lead an independent life with social service or to involve in educational upliftment of his people. He was impressed with the profile of the Deccan Education Society. After long consultation with his friends and associates, he, being a well to do legal practitioner at Cuttack and also the state pleader of Mayurbhanja, devoted his energy for educational experiment at Satyabadi on the model of Deccan Education Soceity. He named the new experiment as Universal Education League’. The popular name was Satyabadi Bakul Bana Vidyalaya and it was built on the ‘Gurukula’ tradition. Simplicity and auserity were two major inputs on the students. Great sons of the soil like Nilakantha, Harihara, Krupasindhu and Godavarish were associated in this noble venture. The institution was neither local or sectarian. Its basic ideal was to impart liberal education to the society. This experiment also received opposition from orthodox Brahmins. Several problems were created. But it did not affect the spirit of Gopabandhu and his associates. This institution spreaded idealism, patriotism, nationalism and intellectual pursuits among its clientels. The students received good training in self-discipline, democratic management and life based on cooperation. The curricular and co-curricular activities were planned to make its students good citizens.

Odisha was separated from Bengal and in 1912, Bihar and Odisha was made a separae province. Under Morley – Minto Reforms Act, 1909 a Legislative council was constituted. Madhusudan Das could prevail upon Gopabandhu who had no love for political career to contest for an additional membership representing local self-governments. A reluctant Gopabandhu ultimately elected as MLC in 1917. According to a noted political analyst, Gopabandhu as a Legislator had concentrated his attention on four major problems – (1) amalgamation of Oriya speaking tracts of Bengal, Central Province, Madras and Bihar and Odisha under one common administration, (2) permanent measures for eradication of flood and famine in Odisha (3) Restoration of Oriya’s right to manufacture salt free from excise duty, and (4) Spread of education on Satyabadi model. In this regard he devoted his time and energy sincerely. He was critical of Government for its inaction at the time of calamities. During one of its great drought, Gopabandhu’s statement moved the then Lieutenant Governor, Sir Edward Gait who paid a visit to marooned areas and saw that people were forced to live on leaves of wild plants. The report of Mr. Grunning, the then Commissioner of Odisha was anti-people and fabricated which was earlier said by Gopabandhu and this was verified to be a mischievous one by the Lieutenant Governor.

Because of Gopabandhu’s demand, MA in English and B.L. classes were opened at Ravenshaw College and an Engineering School at Cuttack and a Sanskrit College at Puri could be possible also. He also demanded for filtered drinking water supply at Puri to help the piligrims. He led the cooperative movement in the state to revive the moribund cottage industries. The democratic spirit of Gopabandhu was revealed when through his efforts the District Boards of Odisha could get non-official chairpersons in place of the District Magistrates being ex-officio chairpersons. Through his strong pleading there was relaxation in the rigidity of forest rules. It was his legislative acumen which convinced the government in converting middle vernacular schools into Middle English Schools. As a nonparty legislator Gopabandhu impressed all hue and cry, through his advocacy of the cause of the downtrodden. Even one of the senior British officer compared Gopabandhu with A J Balfour, one time British Prime Minister. Before Gandhi’s emergence, the Indian National Congress was an organisation of the middle class intellectuals. Gandhi’s programme of non-cooperation metamorphosed the organisation into a mass based organisation. Gopabandhu had attended the Calcutta AICC and later the Nagpur session. He persuaded Gandhi to accept the question of the formation of linguistic provinces in the Congress programme of reorganisation. A resolution in support of this mission was passed at Nagpur. This very resolution being the major objective of the Utkal Union Conference, Gopabandhu advocated merger of the conference with the Congress. It would make Oriya movement a part of Indian National Movement.

At the Chakradharpur session of the Conference, most progressive and favourable resolutions were moved by Gopabandhu and Krushna Chandra Acharya and supported by Chandrasekhar Behera and Nilakantha Das. The resolution expressed unity of purpose between conference and Congress. Thus Oriya nationalism was indistinguishable from that of Indian nationalism. The Utkal Union Conference became a part of the Indian National Congress and Gopabandhu became a Congressman. Including, his inclination towards Gandhi, Gopabandhu was also quite impressed with another personality – Lala Lajpat Rai. He met Lalaji for the first time in the special session of the Congress in September, 1920. During Lala’s visit to Puri, Gopabandhu could know in detail about servants of thepeople society and the Hindu Mahasabha. Gopabandhu was persuaded by Lalaji to join servants of the people society. The Samaj, the newspaper which was published under his leadership maintained its independence but acted as a mouth-piece of the society. The society enhanced the relief profile and Odisha Relief Fund was established. Later Gopabandhu became the All India Vice-President of the society in April, 1928. During his visit to Lahore to attend society’s meeting he fell ill from which he could never recover. He breathed his last in the evening of seventeenth of June nineteen hundred and twentyeight. It was on the Nabajauban Darshan of Lord Jagannath on the eve of Car festival of that year. Thus came the end of one of the most celebrated life of Odisha. The father of modern Utkal died at the age of fifty-one. Though, he is dead, yet his memory remains in the hearts of millions of people.

Author : Dr. Surya Narayan Mishra, Professor in the Department of political Science, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar

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