Category Archives: Odisha & Odia

Utkala Bhramanam: The Hidden Gem of Odia Literature

What are your favorite books? This is a question that many of us have answered multiple times—in social get-togethers, classrooms, job interviews and now, in social networking profile forms. Sometimes, it is restricted to a genre, a language, or to some sort of qualifications. As an Odia, I have got this question many times in friend circles: what are my favorite Odia books? I do not have a definite list of five or ten but some names that automatically prop up are Nilashaila, Amabasyara Chandra, Chhamana Athaguntha, Paraja, Sriradha, Utkala Bhramanam and so on. The names evoke different reactions: “I love that too” or “I do not know why people go mad over this”, “well, I have not really read that”, or even “poetry is not really my cup of tea”. But there is one name—Utkala Bhramanam—that invariably evokes a common reaction every time: what is that? Who is the author? Many even assume it must be some obscure work by some obscure writer which for some reason has appealed to me. But the eyebrows are invariably raised when I drop this bombshell: it is by Fakir Mohan. Fakir Mohan? You mean Fakir Mohan Senapati?

Yes, I mean Fakir Mohan Senapati, arguably the most well-known writer of modern Odisha. Chhamana Athaguntha, Daka Munsi, Rebati or Patent Medicine—which reader of Odia literature has not read these classics? And while many may not have read these books, most are aware of Galpaswalpa, Mamu, Prayaschita, Lachhama, Atmajibani Charita and the likes. But Utkala Bhramanam—what is that? Is it a novel, a collection of stories, or a travelogue, as the name suggests?

And the suspicion further rises when I say it is a long poem. Are you sure it is Fakir Mohan? Yes, I am. And that is the tragedy. Odias do not even know about one of the best works of (one of?) the best writers of Odisha.

The statement may sound arrogant to many of you. What gives me the right to call it one of his best work? Because I feel so. And if someone has read it and does not think so, I will respect that opinion. Problem is: few have even heard of it.

I do not know why. Why was such a beautiful work lost? I remember my father getting a torn copy of the book from a library some thirty years back. But after that I have tried to get it but have not been successful. I have asked in the usual places including Orissa Sahitya Akademi and other major publishers, without success. I will be obliged if someone gives me some good news on this.

Enough of justification. What exactly is Utkala Bhramanam? It is a long poem which is part satire, part parody, part history, part travelogue, and part biography. It is a comment of Odisha of that time—the good, the bad and the ugly. And the language is universal, something that would appeal equally to a scholar of literature and a high school student. BTW, I myself was in high school when I first read it. I am reproducing some of it here. I do not have the book with me now; it is completely from memory. So some mistakes might have crept in.

This is how it starts.

Jaganntha Mahaprabhu Sri Guru Gosain

Puri Zilla Postafisa (post office) Kundhibenta Sahi

And from the very beginning, you know what to expect. He invokes Goddess Sarala in his inimitable style

Tumbhara abhysa kavi kanthe basibara

Mo prati separi kara nahin atyachara

Kanthare basile hoijibi je hauda

Kipari lekhibi tebe grantha dui pada

And if Sarala is not spared, how can you expect the wannabe Sahibs to be spared?

Educated Babunkara nitya vyavahara

dekhi dekhi helini mu nihati nachara

Nidhuma Kharare pindha banatara coat

Fingi dei chhenabada kha biskot (biscuit)

Thia hoi muta pachhe ghsa nahin danta

Ingreza (English) na heba thiba Odia ekanta

Mayura lanjaku gunji bula nahi aau

Na heba mayura thiba je kau se kau

And then the satirical comment on the tendency to use Onglish (Odia+English) by the educated…

Odia egara pana baki Ingirezi

Adbhuta khechudi eka misi hue saji

Bhala gote matrubhasha kisa heba bhai

Chali jau achhi kama rundai pundai

Kukura kimpai gote banaiba ghara

Chati bule baramisa aintha patara

And finally, his apology too is sharp and humorous

Ahe babu mane kare request excess

Mo nama re na aniba defamation case

Nitanta raga re jebe heba gara gara

Withdraw kari nebi lekhata mohara

If part of the book made fun of those wanting to be Angrez, most part of the book is a tribute to many great sons of Odisha of that time. And here are some, not necessarily in the order in which they appear in the book.

About Utkala Gauurav Madhusudan Das

Asa Mister M S Kare Shake hand

Samruddha hoichhi tumbha joge motherland

and

Bhala bele kari accha okilati paas

sabaas sabaas bhai sabaas sabaas

About Bhaktakabi Maddhusudan Rao

Ojana re heba madhu adhai pashuri

Kipari rakhichhi ete guna pete bhari

and

Adarsha manyusha jebe dekhibaku chaha

Dhai jai thare dekhi asa Madhu Rao

About Pallikabi Nanda Kishore Bala (he was a political agent that rquired a lot of tact)

Sapa bi mariba aau badi na bhangiba

E policy tuma chhada aau ke janiba?

And his good words are not only reserved for the Odias;  it is for all well-wishers of Odisha.

About Ravenshaw and John Beemes

He Ravenshaw punyashloka dharma parayana 

Dhanya heli tuma nama kari uccharana

Ravenshaw college kirti sabu dine thiba

Jaya jaya jaya jaya Ravenshaw Sahiba

and

Thila jane Beemes asha thila taha thare

matraka parila nahin rahi Odisha re

And of course, there are other gems too about places and people. I particularly like these ones about Jajpur

Asu asu mane padi gala adhadura

Parbati ma thila para ehi jajapura (There was a famous gundi called Parbatima Gundi)

Ki upama debi taku gyani pane

Heba Newton Galileo pari jane

Jagata durlabha pana tahin gundi puni

Amruta phopadi debe debataen suni

I can go on and on. And last time I read it (my father had copied the book on a notebook) was more than ten years back. I do not remember too much of it but I can still write a few more stanzas. That is the beauty of the poem.

I put it as one of my favorite books in Facebook by creating the page. After more than a year, I am the only person who likes it.

I sincerely wish the government of Odisha publishes and publicizes it. It is, in my opinion, one of the most precious hidden gems of Odia literature.

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Rangabati: The Making of A Cult Song

Almost two-three generations in Odisha in the 80s and early 90s have grown up swaying to the tune of this beautiful Sambalpuri song. There was a time when no marriage or bisarjan ( idol immersion) processions were imaginable without Rangabati Rangabati. There have been reports of violence by the audience if some orchestra programs (popularly called Melody in Odisha) failed to sing Rangabati. Such was the popularity of this song!

I doubt if there is any other song in Odia or any other language that has  such a sway over people for generations. Yes, there have been super hits but they rule for a while and then fade off.  In contrast, this song ruled for almost one and half decade.

The story of this song is fascinating. The original mukhda apparently was taken from a local folk song. But the actual lyrics of the song was written by Mitrabhanu Gauntia, a local teacher. My sister had interviewed him on record a few years back and I will try to post the video if and when I can lay my hands on the tape. It was set to tune by  Prabhudutta Pradhan and was sung by Jitendra Haripal and Krishna Patel.  The major instrumentalist was Chaitanya Paik.

The song was first recorded and broadcast by All India Radio in the mid-70s. After its popularity, a record company from Kolkata (then Calcutta) saw the opportunity and Haripal, who is from the local Dom community and was never trained as a singer, went to Kolkata and recorded the song in 1976. But there was some disputes about the ownership and after some legal battles, the disc was released in 1978-79.

The rest is history.

Unlike most Odia songs released by the popular singers of those days like Akshaya Mohanty or Prafulla Kar, this record did not become an instant hit. Rather, it took almost two years to be known. And another interesting fact about this song is that apart from Sambalpur, the song became a hit in other tribal areas such as Koraput and Kalahand before the popularity spread to other parts of Odisha, through south Odisha to Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. This was an exception, as most Odia artistes that time were in Cuttack.

But even at the peak of its popularity, few knew the artiste’s name. I was in school at that time and we used to hear all sort of stories. The one that was most believed was that the male artiste was murdered by someone. Thankfully, all that was nonsense.

While the onslaught of Hindi film music did dilute its popularity a bit in the late 90s, it was still a must for a place where you were supposed to dance. College picnics were incomplete without the song.

Its popularity resulted in the tune being copied in other language. And many of them were considerable hits. These two, Haule Haule in Hindi and Rangabati in Telugu were fairly popular.

But it was ironic that the artiste of the state’s most popular song ever was living in penury. A report by noted journalist P Sainath in The Hindu in 2001 about his conditions drew attention of the music lovers and finally the officialdom. In 2007, he was felicitated by Odisha chief minister Naveen Pattnaik.

In recent years, Rangabati has received the respect that is due to it. If the state government’s decision to choose this as the music to be played for Odisha’s Republic Day Tableau a couple of years back was the ultimate official recognition, the most respectful popular recognition came when the Odisha Cricket Association chose the song to be played during the third One Day International match played between India and Sri Lanka in December last year. It just shows there is no more popular song than Rangabati in Odisha–after 36 years of its first recording.

There are few songs that can be labelled as legends. In Odia, Rangabati stands No 1 on that list.

(Update on 17 Jan 2014: Odia director Nilamadhab Panda, famous for his films such as I am Kalam is using Rangabati in a dance sequence in his forthcoming film Kaun Hai Kitney Paani Mein)

(Update on 5 July 2015: A remix version of Rangabati is presented by musician Ram Sampath, singers Sona Mohapatra and Rituraj Mohanty, which also include the state song of Odisha, Bande Utkala Janani, in a mash-up)

 

 

 

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Filed under Music, Odia music, Odisha & Odia