Silent Spectators of Killing of Oriya Classicism are Eager to Campaign for Its Classical Status: Good News to Enjoy; But Not Without Reservations

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Orissa became Odisha and Oriya became Odia under a very misconceived law enacted sans proper study of historicity of the concerned words and application of parliamentary wisdom thereto.

Shockingly, Orissa’s community of letters preferred to stay silent spectators, even though the two words – Orissa and Oriya – were samples of international recognition of classicality of Oriya language.

But a good news is that, Bhubaneswar Book Fair Committee (BBFC), in a meeting on Sunday has expressed interest in a campaign for classical status of Oriya.

BBFC, An Appropriate Forum

It can be said without any travesty of truth that, the BBFC is the mother of bibliophilic renaissance in Orissa. It will continue to be recognized for ever as the organization that has revolutionized people’s love for books in Orissa, where bibliophily was, till book fairs were started by this Committee, restricted only to the elites.

It is therefore quite becoming of this Committee to have started thinking of a campaign for recognition of Oriya language as a classical language.

In a meeting it held on 15th, with its President Satakadi Hota in chair, while welcoming the Oriya New Year, it has stressed on this recognition. Eminent authors such as Pramod Mohanty, Fani Mohanty, Rajendra Kishore Panda, Asit Mohanty, Sarat Chandra Mishra, Jugal Kishore Dutta, Sourindra Barik, Asutosh Parida, including former Director of Central Institute of Indian languages Dr. Debi Prasanna Pattanayak and the Committee Secretary Barendra Krushna Dhal observed that the oriya language being a very ancient language in vogue since the Puranic days deserves national distinction as a classical language.

If Oriya politicians that were and are in power, not been herds of factotums of their respective high commands and suffering incorrigibly from lack of courage due to a syndrome that has afflicted them all, which we can call the ‘supremo’ syndrome, the Government of India, when it declared Tamil as a classical language in 2004 or Kannada and Telugu in 2008, could have declared Oriya as a classical language of the country.

Juxtaposed with the apathy of Oriya politicians to Orissa’s cultural need, it should always be welcome if the State’s men of letters take up the issue and demand for declaration of Oriya as a classical language.

To me, personally, BBFC, established by Orissa’s men of letters, is an appropriate forum to raise this demand and to fetch the desired result. But, I have my reservations; because neither the Committee nor any participant in its meeting had thought it prudent to oppose the annihilation of its classicism by the Government that had used the Orissa Assembly to recommend for change of Orissa to Odisha and Oriya to Odia and steered the Bill through the Parliament till enactment and enforcement.

In these pages, I have been harping on about the classicality of Oriya language, which is evidenced by its archaic distinction and recognized by many linguists. So, nothing could be more desirable for me than a campaign for classical status for Oriya language, the ancient legacy of which needs be placed before the world.

I, therefore, most heartily welcome the BBFC and wish, its steps should be such so as to make me drop my reservations.

Legacy of Ancient Orissa

Orissa in ancient days had illuminated Indian sky of knowledge so brilliantly with its own unique luster that the Rig Veda in its tenth Mandala had to advise its followers to be cautious of Orissa where indigenous people find their object of worship in wooden logs.

A formal notification recognizing the classicality of Oriya language would be helpful in conducting in-depth researches with global input into the Protohistory of Oriya language, as Oriyas are a very prominent ancient people whose valor has been mentioned as matchless even in the Mahabharata. Though the Mahabharata is believed to be telling us of an internecine battle between the sons of two cousins – Dhrutarastra and Pandu – of Bharat clan, I am convinced that it is a Puranic depiction of the battle (described as the greatest war) that two different philosophical proponents – Patriarch: the Kauravas and Matriarch: the Pandavas – had fought on the soil of India. In this war, ancient Orissa had made a matchless mark.

Protohistoric Record

In Vishma Parva of Mahabharata, it is described that, after Bhima vanquished the great Vishma, whom his Sarathi had been able to save only by taking away his chariot from the battle field, no other Kaurav could dare to face Bhima. The war was going to be lost for the Kauravas, as Vishma was their Commander-in-Chief.

Duryodhan had to take refuge in Orissa’s king Shrutayu, who, as a proponent of Patriarchy like Vishma, had joined the Kaurava’s camp against the matriarch Pandavas.

And so, Shrutayu led the battle for Duryodhan with his distinguished army, well equipped with a regiment of war elephants. (Orissa’s king emperor is traditionally known as Gajapati – the lord of elephants).

Vyasa has described that Bhima, the victor of Vishma, failed to face Shrutayu. As the Orissa army with its unique elephant regiment wreaked havoc on the Pandav side, the emperor of Orissa, despite being very senior in age, overwhelmed Bhima to such extent that the vanquisher of Vishma that day was clearly in utter grip of death in his hands.

Arjuna, drowned under surprise and shock, wanted to rush to the rescue of Bhima and boasted to eliminate the old king of Orissa to avenge reduction of his brother’s wonderful victory over Vishma into a defeat.

Krushna, his charioteer, not only refused to proceed, but also restrained Arjuna in such words that were a matchless tribute to the king of Orissa.

“Not even can I defeat Shrutayu in a battle, Arjuna; so it is not within your prowess to face him”, he said.

But as Bhima’s chariot was smashed by Shrutayu, it was essential to save him. So, Krushna asked Satyaki to rush to the spot to offer him his chariot and the moment he boards it, to bring away the chariot as quickly as possible from the engagements with Shrutayu.

While thus arranging for Bhima a narrow escape, Krushna himself rushed to Shrutayu challenging him to test his strength against him if he dares.

Shrutayu accepted the challenge and raised his divine spear to attack Krishna; but then he found that Krushna was without any weapon.

Shrutayu had, in his younger days while obtaining the divine spear, made a promise not to use it against any unarmed person.

The Spear was Abyartha – infallible – which also meant that the user must not make it fail. Once raised, it was certainly to be used, as otherwise it would tantamount to disrespect to its divinity.

With Bhima run away from engagements, at that moment in the battlefield there was only one man who was challenging Shrutayu; and he was Krushna. And, he was not armed with any weapon! Shrutayu was clearly in the worst of predicament.

If he was using the divine spear against Krushna, he would be violating his own promise not to use it against any unarmed person. If he was not using it, he would be acting against its divine distinction.

So he decided not to go against his promise and not to render the raised spear inconsequential.

He, therefore, decided to pierce the spear into his own heart.

And, thus he died in absolute adherence to his own principles.

This is the single most distinguished episode in Mahabharata, the like of which in the epic of war is nowhere found.

So, Orissa has her due revered recognition in Mahabharata.

By that time, language of the Aryas had not reached Orissa. Language is the basis of the strength of a land. What was Orissa’s language then that had made her so strong and elevated her to such stupendous stature? To know it, study of her Protohistory language is essential and for this study, declaration of Oriya as a classical language is necessary.

On records in History

After the epics, the greatest war that history had witnessed in ancient India and which the entire world recognizes as a turning point in world civilization that made nations after nations embrace Buddhism, was the Kalinga war fought below the Dhauli Hill at Bhubaneswar of Orissa. The people of Orissa had fought back Asoka, the invader in this war and stopped the spread of his empire for all time to come.

Asoka, as history admits, had nowhere faced the resistance he faced in Orissa in this war.

To him, as he has declared, Kalinga was “unconquerable”.

In his spree of empire building, he had never found any other people than the Oriyas “unconquerable” and has never used this epithet for any other region or people.

The history written by his courtiers has noted, Orissa’s resistance was so resolutely valorous and sacrifice of the Oriyas for their motherland was so matchlessly patriotic that Asoka’s wicked heart melted in repentance by seeing the ruin he had wrought through his invasion and he changed his creed and adopted Buddhism, (the religion in original of the Oriyas) in the battlefield itself and from Chandasoka he became Dharmasoka and dedicated his life to spread of Buddhism.

But, this, despite truth to a large extent, is far from the fact.

A wicked man like Asoka had no reason to repent on his victory, if at all he had vanquished Orissa.

His heart had never melted in pity seeing the plight of the vanquished as his bards had claimed.

Had it been so, all the Oriya civilians he had taken to arrest in sudden attacks before facing the Oriya army at Dhali Hills and exported to Magadh, should have been released with their dignity and honor after the war was over and all the riches he had looted en route before reaching Dhauli, should have been returned.

This had never happened. He had never even apologized to the people of Orissa for the offenses he committed against them.

So, even though it is true that he had attacked Orissa and had converted into Buddhism in the battlefield in Orissa, he had not defeated the people of Orissa and never in his heart had metamorphosed into a true Buddhist.

The sole purpose of his attack on Orissa was to desecrate the birthplace of Lord Buddha in Kapilavastu, the land of reddish soil spread below the Dhauli Hill on river Daya and to destroy the fountainhead of Buddhism, which was the strongest obstacle to the Magadhan empire building even since the days of Ajatasattu.

Therefore he had faced the massive resistance at Dhauli hill only.

In this battle against the people of Orissa, his army was completely overwhelmed and he had no other way than accepting Buddhism as his creed to escape the wrath of the people he had attcked.

It had taken decades for him to convince the Oriyas that he had really been loyal to Buddhism and then only he had dared to visit Orissa to pay prayers to Buddha at his birthplace Kapilavastu – later converted into Kapileswar when Vedic chauvinists occupying Orissa had converted Buddhist shrines into Hindu temples – and to commission stone inscriptions highlighting his concern for the people.

I have discussed this aspect in my book ‘Sri Jaya Devanks Baisi Pahacha’ (published in 2005 by Bharata Bharati, Cuttack) in course of focusing on the background of the love lyrics complied in Geeta Govinda.

Mother tongue being the sole unifying factor and hence the basis of collective strength of the people, what was the people’s language that had made them “unconquerable” and helped them conquer the great wicked Asoka to the extent of converting him into Buddhism, their own religion and had given their land this unique distinction?

Only specific researches into the Oriya language of the concerned period will bring out the missing chapters in history in this regard. Under the prevailing legal provisions, recognition of classical status of Oriya language will facilitate such research.


The Charyagities by Chourashi Siddhacharyas present us a previous shape of modern Oriya language that linguists suggest to be Proto-Oriya.

But Pali was Proto-Charya-Oriya.

Gurudev Buddha had preached in Pali and Pali was the then Orissa’s mother tongue.

So, it is necessary to know how modern Oriya evolved from Pali.

In the post 2004 scenario, only a legal declaration of Oriya as a classical language can help us conducting this highly expensive and world encompassing research. Therefore, it is essential to obtain classical status for Oriya language.

And, therefore, it is most welcome that the BBFC has now expressed interest in campaign for this.

But I know, no campaign can be a real campaign unless the campaigners have the total commitment and adherence to the cause of their campaign.

Neither the BBFC nor the participants in its 15th April meeting have raised any voice at any point of time against annihilation of a great instance of international recognition of classicism of Oriya language caused by change of Orissa to Odisha and of Oriya to Odia. The harm this change causes to classicality of Oriya language is discussed in these pages.

Ignoring the Wrong Law is Essential

If the BBFC is serious about its proposed campaign, the campaign should begin with demands for legal restoration of the international spelling of the name of the State as Orissa and of its language as Oriya. It may look time-barred and unrealistic, specifically as the change has come through a constitutional amendment. But, Orissa’s lost classicality in this particular regard can be reclaimed by authors ignoring the wrong law that hampers the uniqueness of their language. Here in Orissa Matters, we have declared to ignore the wrong law, as to us our mother tongue is too precious to be rendered subservient to any set of law, even if that be an instrument created by the country’s constitution. We have been using Orissa and Oriya in these pages because these two English spellings of our motherland and language depict the archaical magnificence of our mother tongue; and because, no law can force anybody to change the spelling of his / her mother’s name as the stupids in power desire. Therefore, BBFC should work out how to reclaim the politically dropped two words – Orissa and Oriya – as the first step to claim classical status for Oriya language.

Otherwise, to us, its attempt would appear like a farce, that men of letters hankering after publicity often resort to.

The agents of the rich in power have already shrewdly changed India into a plutocracy.

A plutocratic government kills the character of the people. Hypocrisy becomes the software of society. It corrupts even the creative persons whereupon authors hanker after prize and publicity instead of staying committed to preservation and furtherance of their languages. In this light we would allow ourselves to interpret the BBFC endeavor if no step is taken to revive Orissa and Oriya, the two words that were the global gateway to classicality of Oriya language.

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