Nilakantha Das
Pandit Nilakantha Das.png
Born5 August 1884 (1884-08-05)
Sri RamachandraPur, Puri, Orissa (now Odisha), India
Died6 November 1967 (1967-11-07) (aged 83)
Cuttack, Odisha, India
Resting placePancha-Sakha Cemetery, Sakhigopal, Puri, Odisha
EducationB.A., Ravenshae College
M.A., Calcutta University
OccupationLegislator, litterateur, social reformer, philosopher, freedom fighter, teacher
Years active1903-1964
Known forRole at Satyabadi School; Formation of Odisha Province; Research on Odia Language; Writing an Interpretation of Gita; Speaker of Odisha Assembly (1957-1961)
Notable work
Odia Sahityara Krama Parinama; Konarke; Gita Prabesha; Atma Jibanee; NabaBharat (periodical)
Spouse(s)Smt. Radhamani Debi (1894-1980)
HonoursPadma Bhusana, Govt. India; D. Litt., Utkal University; Sahitya Akademi Award, Central Sahitya Akademi, India

Pandit Nilakantha Das (1884-1967) was one of the most illustrious sons of Odisha, who appeared both in its political and literary arena at the most crucial period of its history, when Odisha had no political identity in the map of India, and Odia as a language was about to be extinct. He worked relentlessly for Odisha's recognition both politically and linguistically, and helped bring to fruition the dreams of Utkala Gaurab Madhusudan Das, Utkalamani Gopabandhu Das and all other Odia loving people.

As a colleague of Mahatma Gandhi, Motilal Nehru and Dr. Rajendra Prasad, among others, Nilakantha played a key role in the Indian Independence movement. He was a polymath who was an eminent teacher, exceptional leader, erudite scholar, renowned writer, great orator, and a powerful legislator. Pandit Nilakantha was renowned as the headmaster of Satyabadi Bana Bidyalaya, the brainchild of Utkalamani Gopabandhu. He was a prime architect in creating the independent Odisha Province in 1936, who worked untiringly as the right-hand man of Madhusudan Das to achieve this goal. Because of his legislative efforts in Delhi Central Assembly, Odisha became the first Province in India to be formed on a linguistic basis.

His in-depth research on the evolution of Odia language revealed a number of facts that helped establish Odia as the sixth Indian classical language. Odia is also the first language from the Indo-Aryan group of languages to get the classical tag.

Because of his unfathomable knowledge in many important fields, Nilakantha Das is also revered as Utkala Guru.

Life history

Early life and education (1884-1911)

Nilakantha Das was born in a respected Brahmin family in the village of Sri RamachandraPur, a Brahmin Shasan, near Puri, Odisha on 5 August 1884. He was the only surviving son of his parents, born to them late in life. His grandfather was a well-to-do landowner and the chief of his village, but died young at the age of 28.The family then lost all their property due to British Government imposed ‘Sunset laws’ for tax collection from the people of Odisha. Consequently, Nilakantha's father Ananda Das could not pursue higher education, but he was a man of firm character and progressive ideas, and was a strong supporter of all Nilakantha's social reforms and other activities at a big social cost to himself.

After completing the middle school education in his village, Nilakantha studied at Puri Zilla School, and also briefly in Ravenshaw Collegiate school. He completed his bachelor's degree from Ravenshaw College, Cuttack in Chemistry and Philosophy. Later, Nilakantha went to Calcutta to earn his MA in Literature/Philosophy.  He also studied Law simultaneously, but did not complete the degree. His education was supported by scholarships all through. He was also a voracious reader with an impeccable memory, and educated himself on both eastern and western cultures, literature, religions and folklore. He was equally eloquent in Odia, English and Sanskrit.

Influence of Pandit Gopabandhu Das

During his high school days, Nilakantha came under the strong influence of Pandit Gopabandhu Das, whom he always respected deeply and regarded as his mentor. Along with Acharya Harihara and another friend, he took a vow with Gopabandhu on the banks of river Bhargavi near Puri, not to accept any jobs under the British Government, and to dedicate their lives for the service of their motherland. They worked together on relief efforts in several flood and cholera-devastated areas, both in Nilakantha's student days and afterwards. Throughout Gopabandhu's lifetime, Nilakantha sought his advice before taking any major step, and worked as his right-hand man - trying to translate Gopabandhu's visions into reality.

Headmaster of Satyabadi School (1911-1918)

Gopabandhu's initiative for the Satyabadi Bana Bidyalaya [1] started in 1909, and Nilakantha went to Calcutta to study M.A. to better prepare himself to take the helm of this school. It was a “grove school,” in a beautiful forest like setting patterned after ancient gurukula. The school started in 1911 with 19 students and some old furniture, with 27-year old Nilakantha as its strict headmaster or kulapati. Acharya Harihara Das and Krupasindhu Mishra became his co-workers. Other patriotic young men also served as teachers, and later Godabarish Mishra also joined the group.

Pancha Sakhas - The renowned teachers of Satyabadi Bana Bidyalaya
Pancha Sakhas - The renowned teachers of Satyabadi Bana Bidyalaya

Satyabadi school strived to become a center in the harmonious development of a child's personality. It was soon regarded as a man-making factory, many famous persons of Odisha being products of this school. Children from all castes and socio-economic levels lived, dined and studied together in the school, long before Mahatma Gandhi's crusade against untouchability. It angered the orthodox Brahmins of the area who set fire to and burnt the school. Undaunted, Nilakantha held the school, from next day, in the open area of the surrounding Bakula Bana.  Later a brick building was constructed for it. It also became a high school, initially affiliated with Calcutta University to hold its first matriculation exam in 1914. Nilakantha left the headmaster position in 1918, but was associated with the school till 1920. During that period he also participated in many relief efforts. The years from 1911 to 1921 is known as the “Satyabadi Era” of Odisha.

Satyabadi School attracted many outstanding visitors, Sir Ashutosh Mukherji, the Vice Chancellor of Calcutta University, being one of them. He was extremely impressed with Nilakantha's knowledge and asked him to join as the professor of ‘Oriya and Comparative Philosophy’ at the Presidency College. With Gopabandhu's advice, he reluctantly left the school for Calcutta in September 1920, planning to return to the school in two years. But he quit the professorship only after three months to join the Indian Independence movement as well as to work on uniting the Odia speaking regions, scattered in different British Presidencies, into one independent state.

It is well known that once Madhusudan Das told Gopabandhu on Satayabadi School, “Gopabandhu, you have created a Nalanda here.” and  Gopabandhu promptly replied “Not I, Nilakantha!”

The Legislator and Litterateur (1921-1964)

After leaving the professorship at Calcutta University, Nilakantha started his work in Sambalpur in January, 1921. Under the leadership of Gopabandhu, he aimed to observe the conditions of local people, encourage their spirits, and help and unite them in various ways. He stayed in Sambalpur for nine months, helped dealing with an outbreak of cholera there, and published a magazine called “Seba” (Service). He established a very good High school there with the help and cooperation of many prominent local leaders. Moreover, Nilakantha led grass-root efforts to bring other bicchinna or annexed Odia speaking regions in Bihar with frequent trips to those areas as well.

Gopabandhu Das soon realized the lack of strong Odia representation in Delhi Central Legislative Assembly to champion Odia causes. On his advice, Nilakantha contested and was elected to the Central Assembly from Odisha in 1924, with three main objectives:

  1. To amalgamate (unite) all the Oriya-speaking tracts under one province
  2. To bring all-around development of Odisha and India, and
  3. To fight British Imperialism from within.

In no time, he established himself as a powerful legislator in the Central Assembly in Delhi, and introduced many bills on behalf of Odisha, including the bill to repeal the Salt Tax on its people, and several bills for the formation of an independent Odisha Province. He worked tirelessly, with an undaunted spirit, on these issues. He also worked on improving the wages and living standards of labourers in various fields.

He retired from the Central Assembly and came to Odisha in 1945, and from 1945 to 1951 devoted his time primarily to literary pursuits. Later he joined as a legislator and speaker of the Odisha Assembly, and continued till 1961. He wrote his autobiography in 1963, for which he received India's Central Sahitya Akademi award in 1964. He died on November 6, 1967, at Cuttack.

The following sections elaborate the specifics of Nilakantha's work in the arena of his state and his country.

Formation of independent Odisha

Map of Amalgamated Orissa (in Red border) with Bihar before 1936
Map of Amalgamated Orissa (in Red border) with Bihar before 1936

The context for the creation of an Independent Odisha (then known as Orissa) province is as follows: During the Nineteenth century and first part of the Twentieth century, the once-proud Odisha, which did not come under a full British takeover until 1803, was subsequently dismembered and annexed by the British to four neighboring states, namely: Bengal, Bihar, Central Province (Madhya Pradesh) and Madras, and governed by the corresponding British presidencies. Originally, only the coastal districts, namely:  Balasore, Cuttack, Puri, and areas nearby made-up Odisha, which was placed under Bihar/Patna jurisdiction.[2] (The map in this section shows the amalgamated Orissa, outlined in red, before 1936.)  Because of their linguistically minority status, the Odias in the annexed regions faced discrimination in jobs and academics and their children were not taught Odia in schools, which stifled the self-identity of Odias, and resulted in the drainage of financial resources of Odisha as well.  So, for a long time, from 1880s, many prominent and concerned Odias wanted to amalgamate all Odia speaking regions under one administration.[3] Madhusudan Das made it a prime issue for Odias through his Utkala Sammilani.

Nilakantha was greatly inspired by Madhusudan Das's goal for the amalgamation (unification) of all Odia speaking regions under one administration by first attending his Utkala Sammilani in 1903 and then meeting directly with him in 1904. In 1917, Nilakantha presided over the Manjusha session of Utkala Sammilani and greatly helped in strengthening the demand for amalgamation of scattered Odia-speaking tracts including undivided Koraput, Ganjam, Paralakhemundi etc. of that time. This proposal is not the same as having an independent Odisha province, for which the proposed state must be financially independent. That requirement could not be fulfilled by Odisha, especially since the annexed areas were quite underdeveloped and poor. So Madhusudan and other prominent leaders of this movement (such as: Maharaja Shri Krushna Chandra Gajapati of Paralakhemundi), were willing to just put the cash-stripped amalgamated Odia-speaking regions as a sub-province under a single governing state, preferably Madhya Pradesh.[4]

But Nilakantha was not satisfied with a sub-province status for Orissa, where it would still be subordinate to the governing state. After being elected to the Delhi Central Assembly in 1924, he became instrumental in creating the current independent Odisha Province, not just an amalgamated region or sub-province, in the important ways described below.

Introduction of legislative bills

When Nilakantha, as a member of the Congress party, first tried to introduce the legislative bill informally for creating an independent Odisha Province, he did not get much support from top leaders in the Congress party. Pandit Motilal Nehru, due to other priorities, opposed its presentation to the British Government. So Nilakantha organized mass processions in Calcutta and other places denouncing this attitude of the Congress party.

Then Nilakantha bypassed many other hurdles in the Central Assembly and finally moved a resolution there in 1927, which asked for All Oriya-speaking tracts to be put under one local administration, in the form an independent, linguistically-based Orissa Province, claiming that "otherwise Odias won’t be satisfied and agitations would continue.”

He also reintroduced the resolution in All India Congress session in 1929 in spite of opposition at central level, and rejected an offer of Sir title  by Mr. Alexander Muddiman, Finance Secretary, Government of British India, to accept Odisha as a sub-province.[5][6] Nilakantha also wrote several articles in The Statesman and The Bombay Chronicle on the formation of separate provinces on linguistic basis.[7] Finally, Mahatma Gandhi mediated on the subject so that the bill was forwarded for further consideration in the Round Table Conference and by the British Parliament.

Inclusion of southern Odisha regions

Nilakantha Das was responsible for the inclusion of southern regions, including Koraput, Paralakhemundi and Ganjam up to Chilika, in Odisha when it was formed on April 1, 1936. Until then those regions were under the Telugu-speaking part of the Madras State. A meeting was arranged by the “Andhra Eastern Culture Research Committee” on 16 June 1927 at Mukhalingam,[6] where the committee wanted to establish the cultural root of those areas in the Telugu region and keep it in Madras. But Nilakantha presented historical facts and concrete evidence to the contrary, based on his in-depth research on the cultural heritage of the Southern Odisha regions, which the Andhra committee could not refute and was forced to relinquish its claim once for all.

Formation of language-based Odisha Province

Map of Independent Odisha Province with 13 districts (after merger of Princely states in 1949)
Map of Independent Odisha Province with 13 districts (after merger of Princely states in 1949)

It was Nilakantha's irrefutable arguments and efforts in the Delhi Central assembly that finally resulted in dropping the “financial independence” requirement for creating an independent Odisha State. He successfully argued that the poverty and underdeveloped nature of the annexed areas should be an important reason for bringing them to Odisha and improving their condition concurrently with the rest of the state.

He had also prepared and submitted a memorandum to the O’ Donnell committee, which constituted the foundation for the formation of the independent Odisha Province. Unfortunately, annexed areas in Bihar (Sadheikala and Kharasuan) were not given approval for this merger due to some unanticipated political problems at the last minute.[8]

Finally, the modern Odisha was born on April 1, 1936, as the first Indian province to be created on a linguistic basis, and with an initial grant of Rs. 40 lakhs from the Central Government to defray its financial deficits.[9] The princely states of Odisha initially wanted to stay independent of the Odisha Government, but were integrated into it by 1949, and the 13-district Odisha was formed.

Madhusudan Das, who died in February, 1934, was not alive to see the formation of this new, independent Odisha Province, but prior to his death he expressed his full confidence in Nilakantha in carrying on his legacy and bringing his dreams to fruition.[10] Nilakantha was later proclaimed as the “Veritable father of Orissa” by Prof. N. G. Ranga, Deputy Leader of the Congress Party in the Indian Parliament (1980–1991), because of his extraordinary, pioneering efforts in this regard.[11]

Upon the creation of the independent Odisha province in 1936, Nilakantha was its presumptive first chief minister, but that did not happen due to certain legislative issues (i.e. Nilakantha was a member of the Central Assembly, not the local one) raised by the local Congress Party.

It may be noted that following Nilakantha's arguments, other Indian states, such as Andhra, were also created on language basis in the post-independent India. Hence, Nilakantha was placed among the Makers of Modern India by Central Education Minister Prof. Nurul Hassan (1972-1977).[12]

Creation of Utkal University

Even though Odisha was made independent in 1936, it did not have its own university; all its colleges were under Patna University in Bihar.  Similarly, the high court was in Calcutta. So, Nilakantha also demanded successfully the creation of Odisha's own independent university and high court, arguing that an independent state must have these basic institutions as fundamental to self-determination. Thus, Utkal University[13] was finally created in 1943, when Pandit Godabarish Mishra was the education minister, and was housed in Ravenshaw Collage, Cuttack.

These facts regarding the Formation of Odisha Province, are discussed by scholars in various research articles, and in References [4] through [10] and Reference [14]

Other legislative work

Cover page of Nilakantha's Monograph as "Eminent Parliamentarian"
Cover page of Nilakantha's Monograph as "Eminent Parliamentarian"

Delhi Central Assembly

Nilakantha (right) with other renowned leaders in Delhi Central Assembly
Nilakantha (right) with other renowned leaders in Delhi Central Assembly

Pandit Nilakantha, an eloquent speaker in English, was renowned as a legislator both in Odisha as well as in India. In the Indian arena,he raised many issues of national interest, including the rights of political prisoners, and of non-resident Indians in South Africa. His work and arguments in various issues were regarded quite valuable so as to have them published in the Eminent Parliamentarians Monograph Series of India. The fourth volume in the series, titled Eminent_Parliamentarians_Series_Nilakantha_Das,[15] contains his speeches delivered in the Central Legislative Assembly, while participating in debates on local, national and international issues. Odisha Government has also compiled some of his speeches into a book, titled “Speeches and Remarks of Pandit Nilakantha Das in Central Legislative Assembly”[16] for the benefit of present-day legislators.

Mr. B. N. Pande, Governor of Odisha (1983–1988), who had in attended Nilakantha's arguments in the Delhi Assembly, once commented that when Nilakantha spoke, people used to say that “The Lion of Orissa is roaring!”

Labour leader

Nilakantha with All India Postal Union Workers
Nilakantha with All India Postal Union Workers

As a central legislator, Nilakantha was very concerned about the plight of labourers in India. He helped in the organization of the plantation workers of Assam Tea Gardens, and the labourers in Jamshedpur, Calcutta and Khidirpore (1929). His cut motion supporting the strike by tin-plate workers in Tata (1928-1930) resulted in the defeat of the Government in the Central legislative assembly. He fought in the Central assembly to remove the disparity of pay between the Indian workers (Rs. 88 per month) and British employees (Rs.1300 per month) for the same work. He also introduced bills related to many safety issues.

Due to his important work in these areas, Nilakantha was made a member of the Indian Railway Purchase Committee, where he introduced many improvements to railway buggies, especially to third class compartments travelled by poor people. He was also elected to the prestigious Central Assembly Public Accounts Committee. In addition, Nilakantha was elected as the "President of the All-India Postal Union" in 1927.

Odisha Assembly

Pandit Nilakantha retired from the Central Assembly in 1945 and came to Odisha's political arena. The next few years, however, he took leave from politics, devoted himself to literary pursuits, and wrote many of his valuable books. Later, with Pandit Godabarish Mishra, he created his own independent party called the “Swadhina Janasangha” and was elected to Odisha Assembly in 1952. He stayed out of the Congress party politics till 1954, when Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru requested him to rejoin Congress.

In 1957, Nilakantha was re-elected uncontested to the Odisha Assembly, and became the speaker of the Assembly. He stayed in that position till July 1961, although the administration collapsed in Match of that year. As a scholar of the Indian constitution, he brought to the attention of the Government of India and the Law Department the provision in the Indian constitution that "whenever the Assembly is dissolved, the Speaker shall not vacate his office until immediately before the first meeting of the Assembly after the dissolution". (The tradition till then was for the Speaker to leave his office along with the Assembly.) It was finally accepted by the Government of India, and now practiced in all cases of dissolution of the Assemblies in different States.[17]

A chronological account and details of Pandit Nilakantha's legislative contributions, both in Odisha and the Indian sphere, may be found in the PhD thesis on the subject, titled “PANDIT NILAKANTHA DAS, THE LEGISLATOR.”[18]

Indian independence movement

After coming to Sambalpur in January 1921, Gopabandhu and Nilakantha started the Satyagraha movement there. Many prominent persons, students and Government servants of the region participated in the movement by their inspiration. Nilakantha then joined the Swaraj Party (or Pro-Changers) of the Central Congress, led by Pandit Motilal Nehru and Mr. Chittaranjan Das. After being elected to the Central Assembly in 1924 as a member of the Swaraj Party, he became its Senior Secretary. He came in close contact with many of the Indian freedom fighters while stationed in Delhi and Shimla and worked closely with them for India's independence.

Salt tax and salt march

The Salt tax, for producing salt from sea water, was doubled by the British Government in 1923, and it very much affected the coastal salt producers of Odisha. Nilakantha made his demands in the Central Assembly in 1929 to repeal this Salt Tax on Odisha. The British Government, however, paid a deaf ear to it, and others at the national level were also not paying much attention to Odisha's problem. So, a rebellion then started smoldering among the peoples of Odisha.

Then Mahatma Gandhi seized upon the idea and made salt tax a national issue - since a tax on salt affected every individual at a basic level. He started his historic Dandi Salt March in 1930, as a demonstration of civil disobedience, in defiance of the salt tax. Gandhi chose Dandi, in Gujarat, as he was more familiar with his own home state. But many Odia leaders joined Gandhi and organized Salt March in Odisha in its coastal areas. Nilakantha led the march in Kakatpur/Astarang area near Puri, for which he was promptly jailed. The Salt Tax on Odisha was later repealed.

Imprisonment

Taking part in many activities related to the Indian Independence movement, Nilakantha was jailed four times by the British Government, spending a total of more than two and half years there.[6]

  1. The first time, in 1923, he was imprisoned for leading agitations for the amalgamation of Odia regions, and sent to the Hazaribagh jail for four months. It is an interesting fact that when Nilakantha was taken from Puri to the prison in Hazaribagh, he refused to be handcuffed like a thief. As King Porus had asked Alexander the Great, Nilakantha demanded to be treated like a gentleman by the authorities. Consequently, he was taken to Hazaribagh without handcuffs, first in a carriage to the railway station, and then in the train being escorted by a sub-inspector of Police.
  2. The second time was in 1930, for Civil Disobedience of Salt March. He was jailed in Hazaribagh for six and half months, but was released a little early to participate in the All India Educational Conference held in Banaras.
  3. He was again arrested and sent to jail for two months in 1931 for Civil Disobedience.
  4. Last time in 1932, as the Congress Organization was declared unlawful by the British, he was jailed for 16 months in Hazaribagh, but was sent to the Patna jail for a period when he became quite sick in Hazaribagh.

Nilakantha's in-depth research, presentation of facts and inspiring speeches had endeared him to many leaders in the Indian political arena, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Govind Ballav Pant, Acharya Kriplani and Motilal Nehru, to name a few. In the Hazaribagh jail, he interacted closely with some of them as his co-prisoners, and they carried on discussions and plans for the independence of India.

Dr. Rajendra Prasad, later the first President of the Independent India, was a jail-mate of Nilakantha in Hazaribagh. After listening to Nilakantha a few times on his interpretation of the Bhagavad Gita, Dr. Prasad encouraged him to write his discourse on the interpretation of Gita; and so Nilakantha started on this invaluable contribution during his imprisonment. Nilakantha also wrote two of his other books, Dasa Nayak and Labanyabati ra Tika, while in jail.

With Gandhi, Nehru and Subhas Bose

With Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1937,  campaigning for Congress at Satyabadi
With Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in 1937, campaigning for Congress at Satyabadi

During Gandhiji's Swarajya movement, upon Gopabandhu's invitation, Mahatma Gandhi first came to Odisha in 1921, and later took seven more trips to its various regions. Nilakantha accompanied him many times to different parts of the state and inspired others to join the movement. As mentioned earlier, upon Gandhi's call, he led the Salt March in Odisha in 1930. He and his wife always wore simple homespun (khaddar) clothes all the time, being inspired by Gandhi.  

Nilakantha also worked directly with Jawaharlal Nehru on his trips to the Odisha state after its formation, and accompanied him on many of his trips to various regions of the state to campaign for the Congress party.

Nilakantha (right) with Subhas Bose (center) in Odisha in 1939
Nilakantha (right) with Subhas Bose (center) in Odisha in 1939

Nilakantha was a supporter of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose who was born and brought up in Cuttack (and whose father was a close friend of Nilakantha) and arranged several meetings for him in Odisha on his freedom fights using his Indian National Army (INA). Although Subhas Bose was not successful in getting freedom for India and died in 1945, he garnered enough sympathy in the Indian Armed Forces (Army, Navy, Air force) to raise question of their loyalty to the British Government. Consequently, it influenced the crash-stripped British Government's decision to leave India in 1947. But because of his sympathy for Netaji, whom the Central Congress boycotted, Nilakantha was later denied ticket from the Central Congress High Command to seek re-election. Nilakantha did not want to fight against that decision as an independent candidate because of his loyalty to the party at the time.  

Litterateur

Nilakantha was equally devoted to the field of Odia literature as he was to an independent state of Odisha and to the cause of Indian Independence. He wrote books and articles in many different fields, of many different genres, with the goal of discovering the foundation of the Odia language and its heritage, as well as to enrich the Odia literature. He had also written many Odia short stories and poems for children. The main theme of most of his literary writings, therefore, was to bring into focus the past glory of the Odia nation and its untainted culture. This, he hoped, would help the children of Odisha get back their lost identity. His poetry works depicts purity of love rather than its glorification by Western ideas foreign to this country.

Nilakantha was a comparative philologist, and his work was the first scientific linguistic study of the Odia language and culture. It contains many facts, which were crucial to prove Odia as a classical language, the sixth in India, with literature from the 14th Century.

Famous books

Other kavyas and books

Nilakantha wrote many other books, both for adults and for children, including two Kavyas as adapted versions of Tennyson, namely Dasa Nayak (Enoch Arden) and Pranayini (The Princess). Among his scholarly writings Sanskruta O Sanskruti, Odia Bhasa O Sahitya, and Arya Jeeban are well-known.

He wrote the three major Indian Epics as Children’s Ramayana, Mahabharata and Bhagabata for the children of Odisha in very simple and descriptive language, and several children's books in Odia in the form of stories and poems with rural themes. He also wrote a devotional book named Bhakti Gatha in 1918 for the students of the Satyabadi school for their daily prayer. It contains, along with his own hymns, the Odia translation of a number of hymns from the Vedas and other scriptures.

Other facets

Pandit Nilakantha, from young age, exhibited his powerful, multifaceted personality through his many actions. So he was often fondly called "Satyabadi-ra Savyasachi" (the Savyasachi of Satyabadi), where Savyasachi refers to Arjuna, the most powerful middle Pandava of the Mahabharat, who could shoot arrows using either hand with the same skill and accuracy. Below are some facts on other aspects of this outstanding, luminary person.

Pandit (intellectual)

Nilakantha's quest for knowledge knew no bound. He was extremely well-versed in many subjects, availing himself of large book collections in the libraries from Calcutta University to Delhi Parliament. He used to spend most part of his nights in reading books as day times were full of important activities.

Because of his depth of knowledge in the fields of philosophy, culture, and language, he was invited to present his views in many conferences. He addressed the All Asiatic Education Conference held in Banaras, December 1930 and presented a paper titled “The Ideal and Outlook in Education (IN INDIA AND THE EAST)”. He also presided over and/or submitted papers in several sessions of the Indian History Congress on the “Cult of Jagannath” and the Odia language between 1949 and 1959. The presentations in these sessions and some of his other lectures have been compiled into a book titled “Discovery of Orissa in the speeches and writings of Pandit Nilakantha Das”.[19]

Nilakantha was the first Odia linguist and the first Odia Juvenile litterateur. He was also the first Oriya Script reformer, and the first pure Odia grammarian.[20] In addition, Nilakantha was a Fellow of Delhi University Court for seven years.

Social reformer

Nilakantha tried to remove the ills of the society through his work and philosophy. Although born into a Shashan Brahmin caste of Puri, he was against all archaic cultures in Hinduism. He made scathing attack on occult power, horoscope and palmistry through his writings. He was the founder-secretary of the Orissa branch of Hindu Mahasabha in 1925, with Janakinath Bose, father of Netaji Subhas Bose, as the President. He used this platform in denouncing practices like untouchability, dowry, child marriage, prohibition of widow marriage, etc. For his own marriage at the age of 20, he rejected a cash dowry of Rs. 4,000 and married in a lower-middle-class family.[5]

He was against many social and cultural restrictions imposed by upper class Brahmins and wrote a series of articles, under the title Mo Nisha (My Mustache) in the well-known monthly magazine of the time called "Mukura" to protest against it.

Pandit Nilakantha edited the celebrated monthly magazine NabaBharat from 1934 to 1953 with occasional breaks, and published a daily paper of the same from 1941 to 1953. The intelligentsia of Odisha and experts from various fields published their critical articles in many different fields, including social reforms, in this magazine.

Nilakantha objected against Bhaktika Mithya, (lies or exaggeration due to admiration, devotion or misinformation) where upon admirers embellish the accomplishments or nature of a celebrated personality or a nation through either exaggeration or false narratives. Often, it starts as a fabrication of a poet and later others start believing it as true. He tried to point out such incidents involving himself and other well-known people, without bothering for criticisms by others for doing so.

Philosopher

Pandit Nilakantha was a philosopher of the highest rank and was a great believer in the uniqueness and teachings of Jagannath Dharma. The term Dharma here does not refer to religion, but to one's duty, philosophy and responsibilities as discussed in the Bhagabad Gita. To him, Jagannath, the tribal God of the Sabara people, was of special significance: it embodies the equality of all men; and he considered the traditions surrounding Jagannath to be Odisha's gift to the world. His book Arya Jeeban expresses his views and philosophies, the Manaba dharma, pertaining to a human being living harmoniously with the creation.

Nilakantha was influenced by the doctrines of Jain Dharma, and found great parallelism between Jainism and Jagannath culture, both focusing on the equality of all men rather than on a supreme God. He claimed himself to be a Yuktibadi (believer in reasoning), rather than a Bhaktibadi (believer in blind devotion). Although not an atheist, he was not a supporter of organized religion or cults.

Personality

Nilakantha's home in his village Sri RamachandraPur
Nilakantha's home in his village Sri RamachandraPur

Pandit Nilakantha was a simple and righteous man, prone to sudden flair of temper upon witnessing wrong things, but equally apt to cool down immediately if realized his own mistakes. He was a worshiper of the Truth, with deep love for Odisha and its heritage. He was always an original and unconventional thinker, and known as a Fighter par excellence for just causes. Nilakantha was never intimidated by criticism, threats, denouncement or personal discomfort, though he had to face it often for his critical thinking and indomitable spirit. In the true sense, he was forever a strict school master, who did not tolerate any weakness in his students, but appreciated and encouraged all their good qualities and helped them whole-heartedly to achieve their best.

Nilakantha was also a man of the soil and loved his village Sri RamachandraPur. On his infrequent trips to the village during his active life, he met the elders and young men there in his front porch almost daily - to get the village news and learn of the villagers' plights.

When Nilakantha wanted to join the Indian Independence movement, on the advice of Gopabandhu Das, he requested his father-in-law to take care of his young family and elderly parents. Two of his daughters died in their childhood at the age of four or five, when Nilakantha was away on his mission for the country, first in 1921 at Sambalpur, and the other time in 1923 while being transferred from Puri Jail to Hazaribagh. But it did not deter him from his goal.

For most part of his active life, Nilakantha did not even possess a car, and on returning from Delhi, Cuttack or other places, used to travel the two miles from the Sakhigopal Railway station to his village home in bullock carts. He never built a house outside his village, not even in Puri to spend his old days there, and had simply renovated his village home for the convenience of his parents and family. After retirement from politics, he often stayed with his children in the cities for medical treatment and other activities.

Resting place

Pancha-Sakha cremation ground Memorial park in Sakhigopal (From: IN.Worldorg.com)
Pancha-Sakha cremation ground Memorial park in Sakhigopal (From: IN.Worldorg.com)

Nilakantha Das died on 6 November 1967 in Cuttack, at the residence of his eldest daughter and son-in-law. He was suffering from ill health for the last few years of his life and died peacefully surrounded by his extended family and friends. He was cremated in full state honour in Sakhigopal, in the cemetery of the Pancha Sakhas, his dear friends of the Satyabadi era. The day was declared a state holiday for people of Odisha to mourn him properly.

Nilakantha's memorial was later erected there, near that of Gopabandhu and Godabarish, for the nation to pay its obeisance to these immortal souls. His statues are also erected in various places such as Satyabadi, Vani Vihar, Bhubaneswar General Post Office, and Calcutta.

Awards and accolades

Nilakantha was admired and respected for his knowledge, ethics, techniques, and perseverance by many prominent people both inside and outside Odisha. He was a great rajanitigyan, but never a politician.  He was given the Padma Bhusan award for Public Affairs in 1957, which was delivered to him personally by the then President of India, Dr. Rajendra Prasad at his Government residence in Bhubaneswar since he was unable to travel to Delhi. For his 75th birthday, many eminent persons, including Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Gobinda Ballav Pant, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, Mr. Bhimsen Sachar sent him their admiring messages.

Pandit Nilakantha received his honorary D.Litt. (Doctor of Letters) degree from Utkal University in 1955. He was also appointed as the pro-chancellor of the university from 1955 to 1962. He was the first President of the Odisha Sahitya Akademi (1957).

Because of his unfathomable knowledge in a wide range of disparate fields, he was honoured as Utkala Guru by Subhas Chandra Bose[6] and others.[5]

Nilakantha Smruti Samiti

Nilakantha had many, many admirers in Odisha among his colleagues, political leaders, educators, writers, philosophers and students. To preserve his valuable works and to acknowledge his astounding contributions in a wide range of fields, a Trust called Nilakantha Smruti Samiti was founded in 1978, with Dr. Sadashiva Misra (renowned economist and Ex-Vice Chancellor of Utkala University) as its president. The non-profit Samiti holds a vast repository of Nilakantha's published writings in prints and book form, as well as articles of many prominent people on his many different accomplishments. Some of those works are presently being republished and/or converted to digital form for easy access by general public.

Some of the compiled books and articles published by Nilakantha Smruti Samiti are included under the Further Reading section below.

Further reading

Cover page of Nilakantha Smaraki - First Volume (1980)
Cover page of Nilakantha Smaraki - First Volume (1980)

Important Odia and English publications on Pandit Nilakantha Das under Smruti Samiti:

  1. Nilakantha Smaraki – On different aspects of Nilakantha's talents and contributions - by many renowned personalities of Odisha (Volumes 1–5, 1980–1988)
  2. Pandit Nilakantha O Tanka Prativa: Dr. Satya Narayan Rajguru (Published by Utkal University - 1983)
  3. Pandit Nilakantha Das – Life and Achievements:  Lila Ray (1985)
  4. Bakula Banara Guru: Jatiya Kabi Bira Kishore Das (Second edition, 1987)
  5. Darsanika Nilakantha – Articles on Philosophical Views of Nilakantha (1988)
  6. Utkala Guru Pandit Nilakanth – Life history and Achievements of Nilakantha: Dr. Kishore Chandra Padhy (1989)
  7. Loka Samskrutibid Nilakantha – Contributions of Folklores to Odia language: Dr. Mahendra Kumar Misra (1990)
  8. Atma Jibanee - Autobiography of Nilakantha Das discussing matters related to Odisha (1963)

References

  1. ^ Das P. C., Dr. ( Sep-Oct 2007). "Satyabadi High School - The Man Manufacturing Factory": Orissa Review: 70-74
  2. ^ Map of Amalgamated Odisha with Bihar before 1936 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bihar_and_Orissa_Province)
  3. ^ Choudhury, Janmejaya (Jan 2005). "The Utkal Sabha and Indian National Congress." Orissa Review: 1-2.
  4. ^ a b Sahoo, Shridhar Charan, Dr. (April 2007). "Pandit Nilakantha & Formation of Orissa Province": Orissa Review: 20-28.
  5. ^ a b c Ray, Lila (1985). Pandit Nilakantha Das: Life and Achievements. OCLC Number: 14214246
  6. ^ a b c d Padhy, Kishore Chandra Dr. (1989). Utkala Guru Pandit Nilakantha (http://odishaarchives.nic.in/node/191165)
  7. ^ Mishra, Anita (May 2012). "Pundit Nilakantha's Atmajivani: A Glimpse into Odishan Life and Struggle of an Era", Odisha Review: 27-31.
  8. ^ a b Das, Pandit Nilakantha (1963). Atma Jibanee
  9. ^ "GOVERNMENT OF INDIA (CONSTITUTION OF ORISSA) ORDER, 1936. (Hansard, 13 February 1936)". api.parliament.uk.((cite web)): CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ a b Das Benhur. Pagadi Purusha
  11. ^ Professor N. G. Ranga's Lecture at Rourkela on 11.4.8 6: Utkala Guru Pandit Nilakantha: Pg 84.
  12. ^ MAKERS OF MODERN INDIA, Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi (1974)
  13. ^ Utkal University, THE LEGEND
  14. ^ Dash, Rajendra Kumar, Dr. (July 2019). Re-engineering History: Odia Identity Crisis and Crisis Manager Pt. Nilakantha Das. Journal of Emerging Technologies and Innovative Research: 724-729
  15. ^ Lok Sabha Secretariat, New Delhi, 1990, Eminent Parliamentarians Monograph Series of India.Volume (#4)
  16. ^ Secretatiat of Odisha Assembly, Bhubaneswar. Bisishtha Bidhayaka Prakarana Pustaka Mala (#2), Pandit Nilakantha Das
  17. ^ Sahoo, Shridhar Charan, Dr. (January 2008). Pandit Nilakantha: His Role and Achievement as Speaker. Orissa Review, 13-18
  18. ^ Mishra, Harihar, Dr. (1992) PANDIT NILAKANTHA DAS, THE LEGISLATOR. Dissertation Submitted to Utkal University for Degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Political Science, 1992 (Shodhganga@INFLIBNET)
  19. ^ Das Mathura Nath, Editor (2019). DISCOVERY OF ORISSA IN THE SPEECHES AND WRITINGS OF PANDIT NILAKANTHA DAS. Published by: Odisha State Museum
  20. ^ Mishra, Kumudini, Dr., Editor (2013). Pandit Nilakanthanka Bigyana Sammata Bisuddha Odia Byakarana