Evolution is that intimate nature of life which makes the living beings different as well as unique from each other. With every passing time our culture, our customs, believes change in the same way as any other kind of genetic or agenetic mutation. Change is inevitable but the basic ethos on which the society has been built over centuries cannot be forgotten due to negligence or nepotism. Keeping in pace with this theory of evolution the customs and traditions of odia literature and culture have made way for upgradation. The uniqueness of Odia language in being only the 7th ancient classical language of the country out of hundreds of other languages lies in its basic literature and not merely the populist modern English influenced odia. In this quest to maintain this special status of language the one person whose contribution has been immense and impactful is Kavi Samrat Upendra Bhanja. It is a matter of surprise how only one person single handedly added 32,500 new indigenous words to the odia dictionary, yet there was a time when Bhanja was almost forgotten by the people of this state. Today as Kalinga Bharati will be celebrating its 75th Bhanja Jayanti Week they must be proud of the fact that their movement has been able to rekindle the hunger of this state to know Kavisamrat. The time when they were fighting against the nepotism of the then modern odia literary giants who wanted to erase Bhanja from people’s memory and a time now when various organizations all over the state and outside are very sportively organizing Bhanja Jayantis to get some fame for themselves in the name of Bhanja are itself a testimony to the fact of Bhanja Literature being indestructible,immortal and incessant.
Upendra Bhanja was born with royal blood in the late 17th century roughly around the date of May 16( that’s the day Kalinga Bharati celebrates its week long Bhanja Jayanti since 1944) and lived upto the early or mid of the 18th century. Within this very short life span of may be just a little above half a century Upendra Bhanja created literary marvels which are mysteriously exciting for any lover of literature. Four centuries down the lane when we talk about relevance of Upendra Bhanja in this 21st century we are yet to find an alternative for Bhanja. It was Bhanja’s determination to write only in odia that made him create such marvels but at the same time it was Bhanja’s misfortune that he wrote only in Odia for which he couldn’t be popularized outside the odia speaking boundaries. Bhanja is that genius who not only took odia language to a level as high as the then dominating Sanskrit culture enriched with the works of Kalidasa and Harshvardhan or Hindi enriched with the works of Tulsidas and Kabir. The writing of Bhanja when translated into English will give a good competition to even Shakespeare. Today had Bhanja been a Bengali then we would be hearing about Bhanja Sangeet and not Ravindra Sangeet. Odisha and its people at a time did grave injustice to the person who promoted, protected and potrayed Odia language at par with any other language or culture of the world. The very fact that even today there are some who discuss Bhanja in great depth gives a ray of hope that Bhanja is still significant. Upendra Bhanja himself in his poems many times has prayed the lords to bless his works with immortality as –
“ O lord! May my work stay in this world in all times
published in every country and language and bring smile”
Upendra Bhanja is that visionary thinker who could bravely yet very humbly declare to the world that his works are here to stay for generations to come. It was not Bhanja’s pride or prejudice when he said “I have sailed the ocean of words” but it was his confidence and conscience that made him believe what he has achieved. Yet he surrendered all those fame in the name of his chief deity and showed the world how to be humble even when you are at the top-
“My name is Upendra and my Lord is Shri Ram
Is the same Vishnu residing in Vaikunta
He is the one who churned the Amrit from the oceans
And so also the songs recited from his throat.”
When a person with the help of his gifted knowledge and devotion can write a full Ramayana with using any vowel he ought to someone extraordinary. Many a times the commentators of Kalinga Bharati have challenged the world to discover or invent one such poet or writer who could have or can write an entire Ramayana without calling any of its main characters by their original name. In India there are over 100 Ramayanas but Kavi Samrat Upendra Bhanja’s “Abanarasataranga” is the only Ramayana where a single ‘vowel’ or ‘mantra’ is not used. Such was the expertise of Upendra Bhanja in Odia that he could write an entire epic-poem in palindrome form i.e. irrespective of the side you start reading from the words and meaning will be same in either of sequence.
In this highly scientific and proof oriented society of 21st century it is important that we support each of our claims with some facts and figures. Just think for a while, all that Upendra Bhanja wrote was between the 17th and 18th century, starting from then Bhanja literature was synonymous with the colloquial culture and works of life. In the 19th century Bhanja was a household name of every Odia pretty much like Tagore is in any Bengali family, Bhanja was made the uncrowned emperor of odia literature where his influence over writers of that period was pretty evident. Utkal mani Gopabandhu Das had rightly said-
“ O Upendra! Every knowledgeable person speaks of you in different forums
Again a roadside labourer also finds solace in singing your song
Be it in the countryside or in the royal courtyard the dancers dance to your tune
Time is mighty that brings new change and new knowledge
But your ‘Baidehisha Bilasa’ will the best in every time and every generation”
Then in the beginning of the 20th century with increasing influence of the western culture when there was threat to Bhanja Literature, it still survived by ignited the fire within some other warriors. Bhanja and his works has gone through many ups and downs yet it has survived so long till the 21st century, this itself is the example that Bhanja literature is everlasting.
Upendra Bhanja was very scientific in his approach. When it comes to preservation of his work he prays to lord-
“ O lord Ram! Bless my work
May no mouse or mite or fire destroy it
May it reach the every person without any hurdle
Save it from polluted interpretations of thugs and touts
Bless it to be published worldwide”
In those days there was no paper, people used to write on palm leaves and only things that could destroy them were the mouse/mites or the fire. Bhanja was aware that when in public domain the interpretations of his works is at constant threat of nepotism and jealousy, thus he prays to lord to make his work available to world , saved from the unsocial elements.
Mahatma Gandhi had once said-
“I love to keep the windows of my house open, but when the wind outside is very polluting, I prefer closing the window.”
Even before Gandhi, Bhanja knew what kind of a society we were heading towards. In today’s society when there is no “time to stand and stare” we have all become mechanical, running after money we have forgotten the real essence of calling someone a ‘honey. To his readers Upendra Bhanja has very prophetically said- “As a living being, I cannot deny the society, but I can definitely create a space of my own”. When it comes to the relevance of Upendra Bhanja in today’s society I believe the best example will be the portrayal of married life as is described by Bhanja. In today’s world where divorce is more of a common ritual a happy and successful married life is a need of the hour. The prescription that Upendra Bhanja gave through is writing is both divine and supreme which if followed by any married couple will give then great peace of mind. In the poems of Upendra Bhanja the newly wedded couples when live at far distance from each other due to work express their love for each other as-
“Days pass by, I think of thee when a storm of feeling arouse within
Until I life you will stay within me as a my lifeline
Else I shall roam around this world like a sage!”
Again in another place the lover writes to his love-
“Diamond, Emerald and all other valuable stones have some value
But the love of thou! My Lady, is invaluable.”
For those who called Bhanja a racist or tried to malign the beauty of Bhanja literature by giving it an erotic explanation, failed to understand the high thinking and high regard Bhanja had for woman in particular and women empowerment in general. At a time when males were dominating the society Bhanja had the courage to title three of his greatest works in the name of his heroines and not the hero:
1. Baidehisha Bilasha : the story of the Lord of Sita i.e. Ram
2. Lavanyabati: the love story of Lavanyabati and Chandrabhanu
3. Kotibrahmanda Sundari; the beautiful maiden of the millions of universe
The discussion about the relevance of Upendra Bhanja will continue but for now I would like to conclude by saying, Upendra Bhanja’s intention to write only Odia was not for any personal gain but for national interest. He loved his mother tongue and thus used his god-gifted intelligence in making Odia enriched, for he believed that an enriched literature will empower the society through education. George Eliot had once said-
“Till the future dares
Forget the past, his fate and fame shall be
An echo and light unto eternity.”
I believe Upendra Bhanja is that undisputed leader of odia literature whose work was, is and will remain indestructible, immortal and incessant.
Jay Maa Kalinga Bharati!!