This ‘Grand Old Man’ was the first Odia to obtain a legal degree and was instrumental in the establishment of Odisha.

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Madhusudan Das, a lawyer and social reformer, laid the groundwork for the current state of Odisha in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Regrettably, amid the pantheon of prominent Indian historical characters, he is virtually forgotten. (Odia legend Madhusudan Das is pictured above.)

He founded the ‘Utkal Sammilani’ in 1903, as present-day Odisha’s first graduate and advocate, through which he not only campaigned extensively for the creation of Orissa Province (modern-day Odisha, India), but also gave a strong impetus to the Odia linguistic movement, which was struggling under British repression.

On April 1, 1936, this province was officially established. One could argue that modern Odisha would not exist today if not for the contributions of ‘Kulabruddha’ (Grand Old Man) or ‘Madhu Babu,’ as he was called.

Das was held in high regard by national leaders like as MK Gandhi and BR Ambedkar. When authoring ‘The Untouchables and the PAX Britannica,’ the former referred to him as a ‘great philanthropist,’ while the latter recognised his speech criticising the caste system and emphasising other Dalit causes.

This is the amazing historical figure’s story.

According to an April 2005 article in the state-run Odisha Review magazine by academic Dr Janmejay Choudhury, the drive for a unified Odisha began in earnest in the later part of the nineteenth century. Odia-speaking populations have been fragmented for centuries under successive kingdoms, from the Mughals through the Marathas, and finally the British.

“In 1875, Raja Baikuntha Nath De of Baleswar and Bichitrananda Patnaik of Cuttack proposed the consolidation of the scattered [Oriya] Oriya-speaking territories under a unified rule. In this regard, they issued a memorandum to the [British Colonial] Government. The Lieutenant Governor of Bengal, Sir SC Bayley, paid a visit to Orissa [Odisha] in November 1888. The ‘Utkal Sabha’ [a significant political organisation] of Cuttack presented him with a memorial. He was asked, among other things, to look into the matter of combining the Oriya-speaking provinces of Madras, the Central Provinces, and Bengal into a single administrative unit so that it may grow holistically,” writes Choudhury.

However, Sir SC Bayley rejected the request, and the Chief Commissioner of the Central Provinces barred the Odia language from “official usage” in the Odia-speaking region of Sambalpur in 1895. Protests erupted in response to the ruling, although they were ineffective. Even though the linguistic movement had widespread support among native speakers well into the twentieth century, it required a leader with the intellectual and moral commitment to be taken seriously by the British establishment.

Madhusudan Das was born on April 28, 1848, in Satyabhamapur, some 20 kilometres from Cuttack. Das grew up in a Zamindar family as a member of the ‘Karana’ or writer caste, but in 1868 he “made a clean break with tradition and changed his religion” to Christianity, according to writer Hiranya Kumar Panigrahi in his book “Odisha of my Times.”

“It was only after he was free of the shackles of tradition that he came up with creative ideas for ushering in a new age in Odisha.” “He is followed by many nationalist poets, literateurs, and Satyabadi school of thought supporters,” Panigrahi claims. The Satyabadi school, founded by poet, patriot, independence warrior, and priest Gopabandhu Das, had a significant role in instilling national awareness among many Odia-speaking pupils in the region.

The ‘Utkal Sammilani’ was founded in late 1903 and met every year in different places where Odia was spoken until 1936, when Odisha was created. Das was the driving force behind the language movement through this organisation. Apart from that, Das used his education (being the first Odia to earn a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and LL.B degree) and considerable legal training to draw attention to other concerns plaguing the region.

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