Madhusudan Das (Pride of Orissa)

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Madhusudan Das (Pride of Orissa)

Madhusudan Das

The era of renaissance in Orissa was led by Madhusudan Das who was born in erstwhile landed aristocracy in Cuttack district. He was the first gradate, first post-graduate and first law graduate from Orissa. He was a distinguished lawyer, a literary figure, a celebrated politician and an intellectual ‘par excellence’. Above all he was a statesman. He made profound contribution in the field of journalism. He promoted industry in Orissa. He represented Orissa in Bengal Legislative Council three times. He was a member of Imperial Council. In 1921, he became the Minister of the Bihar-Orissa government. Madhusudan Das’s life-history synchronized with the history of Orissa. He was duly conferred the title of ‘Utkal Gaurav’ (Pride of Orissa) and also known as ‘Kula Briddha’ (Grand Old Man), for his distinct contribution to Orissan public life and selfless dedication.

Linguistic Nationalism

For a student of political theory it is a misnomer to use the adjective ‘linguistic’ with the term nationalism. Language itself constitutes a principal, element of nationalism. However, ‘linguistic’ may be added to Madhusudan’s nationalism since he laid total emphasis on linguistic amalgamation of a people who were living in a state facing identity crisis.

In his youth, Madhusudan witnessed the great historical incident of Italian Unification and German Unification. According to Madhusudan, language was a significant factor to bind the people cohesively. It provided basis for emotional integration. Culture developed organically with language. Madhusudan was born in distinct historical circumstances in Orissa. He had to work hard in mobilizing the issue of Orissan nationalism on linguistic basis.

Unity in Diversity

Linguistic nationalism of Madhusudan was certainly parochial in Indian context since Orissa was a part and parcel of greater and richer Aryan nationalism. However, oneness of Aryan or Indian culture did not reject the local sentiments, tradition and language. According to Madhusudan, Indian nationalism symbolized the values of every denomination. Indian culture is rich because of its potentiality to absorb and assimilate different heterogeneous tendencies. It provided vast scope of free growth of varieties of traditions and languages. Madhusudan recalled the great contribution of the Orissans for enriching the Indian culture.

Problems of Oriya People

Madhusudan said that ‘Orissa was a colony of a colony’. As compared to the rest of the country, Orissan problems were bent upon to cause extinction of the Orissa culture and language. A Bengali gentleman Bhattacharya went to the extent of writing a volume entitled ‘Oriya Ekta Bhasa Nae’ (Oriya is not a language). He argued that very small number of people used to speak in Oriya. In reply to this Madhusudan questioned if Dutch was not a recognized language of Europe. On the same ground the people of Bengal had been enjoying more advantage in the field of administration. St. William fort was the capital of the Central government as well as the Bengal Province. As a result Orissa was half a century back in comparison to its counterparts elsewhere in every aspect of life. Bengali apathy due to imperialism choked the imagination of the Oriya people.

Life of Linguistic Nationalism

In 1895, the then Chief Commissioner of Sambalpur division, Sir A. Fraser, ordered that in place of Oriya Hindi must become the official language of Sambalpur division. In such a historical calamity Madhusudan Das came to the front to hold the beacon of linguistic nationalism in Orissa. He did not aim at fighting with the fellow Bengalis, but wanted to prevent their unwanted onslaught and to assert the claim of Oriya speaking people to respectability. He put forth a demand before the British Government for amalgamation of Oriya speaking area within the framework of a single administration.

Higher education to fight the British

In his objective to fight the British, Madhusudan Das felt it necessary to get higher education in English. Only thus he could gain confidence to dictate them with him counterparts on equal footing. In a circumstance of financial hardship and local social intransigence against himself, he left Calcutta. Several highly educated elites’ eye-brows were raised against his activities. This, however, is the experience of every person who makes a novel bid. Earlier, Ram Mohan Roy made similar effort and suffered a lot.

Who is an Orissan?

Madhusudan’s definition of Oriya was not parochial as it sounds. Madhusudan said, ‘Irrespective of Hindu, Muslim and Christian and irrespective of language one speaks, one may be an Oriya, for whom this land is cradle of his adolescence, land of duty in his youth, land of rest during old age and soil of eternal peace after death’. According to him, anybody who lived in Orissa and embraced her collective life is an Orissan. Madhusudan’s concept of linguistic nationalism did not exclude any minority community. In a conversation with Gauri Shankar Roy, he clarified his stand that it was better to say that Oriyas were for Orissa rather than to say ‘Orissa for Oriyas’.

Contribution of Utkal

As the President of the ‘Utkal Sabha’ Madhusudan was determined to elevate the Oriya language and literature, its art and culture on one hand and to amalgamate the Oriya speaking tracks on the other. Corroborating the view of Madhusudan, Lord Curzon said in the British House of Lords that the natural entity of Orissa had been artificially disintegrated and the people were being forced to accept other languages. These arbitrary acts were criticized severely. Madhusudan believed that language was not only the means of communication, but it was the means of expression of a nation (Jaati). The voice of force of the nation is silenced by exposing the people in a state of degeneration.

Utkal Sammelan, 1903

Madhusudan Das made firm bid to amalgamate Orissa comprising the whole length and breadth of Oriya speaking regions. In the year 1903, the historic Utkal Sammelan was convened by Madhusudan at Rambha (Ganjam). Among others it was attended by the native princes, lawyers, intellectuals and journalists. In his address to the conference, Madhusudan displayed strong sense of patriotism by revealing the concealed glory of Orissan race.

British Orissa Policy

Madhusudan’s claim was acclaimed by Lord Curzon, the then Viceroy. Subsequently it found sympathetic consideration in the Montague-Chelmsford Reform (1919) and Simon commission Report (1927). Ultimately it was materialized under the government of India Act, 1935. With effect from 1st April 1936, a separate Governor’s Province of Orissa was established. Orissa was born as the first linguistic province. This was confirmed by the State Reorganization Commission (1956) in independent India which organized the states on the basis of language.

Madhusudan’s Standpoint

In the third session of Indian National Congress held at Madras in the year 1887, Madhusudan put forth the cause of amalgamation of Orissa. He narrated the plight of the people who were put under different administrative units. But the mater was turned to deaf ears. True to his Indian spirit, Madhusudan persuaded his Orissan colleague Gauri Shankar Roy to merge the Utkal Sabha in Indian National Congress in view of a broader national interest. Madhusudan’s linguistic nationalism was propagated in consideration of a distinct problem Orissa was facing. His plea was not un-Indian, nor anti-Bengali, nor based on any such feeling of animosity. He wanted to save Orissan people, its language and culture. To achieve this end, he had to oppose Bengali’s stand in administration, their dominance over language factor and so on. At the same time he had cordial relations with prominent Bengali personalities like Surendranath Banerjee and Gangaram Mukherjee the father of great Ashutosh Mukherjee.

No Parochial Nationalism

In 1927, Mahatma Gandhi supported Madhusudan’s point when he wrote that the condition of Orissa was so much deteriorated that for him Orissa improved meant India improved.

Leaving the Congress

In 1872, Madhusudan Das again repeated the cause of Orissa. Now again, the same drama of Madras congress was enacted. The vested interests were determined to put aside his move altogether as if Madhusudan was going to secede from the mainstream of Indian national life. It was argued that the provincial or regional matters ought not to find support from the platform of the Indian National Congress. Madhusudan was disgusted with the attitude of Congress for Orissa’s cause. Therefore, he decided to severe his relations from this organization which he had nursed so lovingly in Orissa.

Contribution to Political Thought

  • Liberalism – In nineteenth century India witnessed, a peculiar type of liberalism, which must not be interpreted in strict. European sense. Liberalism in India meant liberal and obligatory attitude towards the British Empire in India. It was the realization of the inherent values of British system. It sought reform by constitutional means. Fed to English system, the intellectuals by and large appreciated the British sense of ‘justice and fair play’ in view of improving medieval socio-economic state of India in the new light of modernism shown by the British. Madhusudan was no exception to this common trend of his time. However, ‘his loyalty must not be construed as slavery’. Throughout his life time, he struggled against injustice. His method of struggle was neither extremist nor revolutionary. True to his liberal spirit, he meant justice by means of reform and constitutionalism. He was widely criticized for his stand. When the country was preparing for non-cooperation movement under Gandhiji’s leadership, Madhusudan was occupying a ministerial berth in Bihar-Orissa Government. However, the misunderstanding was perhaps due to the lack of audience at national forum to explain his stand. C.R. Das was not misunderstood on similar position in neighboring state rather he was applauded by a very powerful section of the congress. The charge of his co-operation with British would be dispelled if it may be recalled that Madhusudan was the pioneer of Swadeshi movement in Orissa when it had not gained momentum of national scale.
  • Secularism – Communalism had shown its heinous teeth in Indian life by the dusk of the last century. The term ‘secularism; was scarcely used in Madhusudan’s writings and speeches. However, in view of his equal attitude towards all religions he was a secularist. In his definition of ‘Orissan’, he did not exclude any religious denomination. Madhusudan was upset with the Hindu orthodoxy, its rituals and rigidity. On the other hand, he appreciated the rational and radical approach of Christianity as a way of life, though he did not fail to condemn the ‘churchism’ and monopoly of church officials. While he was accepted as a prominent public figure soon after his study at Calcutta, the chapter of his conversion was ignored. However, his conversion did not alienate him from the mainstream of Orissa’s religion. It became obvious in his stand on Puri Jagannath Temple affair. In 1878, the Gajapati of Puri was imprisoned. The next custodian of the Temple was the Maharaja of Khordha. But he was deprived of his association with the temple later on by an order of the government. The administration of holy shrine was taken over by the government. The administration of holy shrine was taken over by the Government. By this action the Government aroused the nationalists. Madhusudan fought legal battle in the High court of Calcutta and restored autonomy of the Temple.

There had been sporadic clashes between Hindus and Muslims on the matter of beef-stalls. Madhusudan interfered in it by pleading that it was not desirable to install beef-stalls in Hindu localities. Unnecessary tension was then averted by lifting the beef-stalls from the sensitive area. Madhusudan was a prominent spokesman of Hindu-Muslim harmony to construct a modern Orissa.

  • Democracy – Madhusudan was not a political scientist equal to the level of Mill or Bentham. He had nothing to contribute to the theory of democracy. His democratic thought may be deduced from his assigned task. Lord Rippon introduced local self-government in 1882. Local Boards were constituted on the basis of it. Madhusudan served as Vice-Chairman of Cuttack Local board since 1887 and continued for a decade. The Local boards were being dominated by the officials and the nominated members. Since Madhusudan thus lacked all sense of what was called, ‘self-government’, he strived to convert the Local Self bodies into true representative and autonomous. Madhusudan was also working for religious equality, tolerance and freedom.
  • Emancipation of women – Madhusudan was a pioneer of freedom of women and their equality with men every sphere of life. He had witnessed the performance of ‘sati’ sacrifice of his grandmother and was averse to the system. He felt that expansion of women’s education was a positive step in the direction of emancipation of women. In 1908, he established a girl’s high school at Cuttack which was the first of its kind in Orissa. It became Shailabala Women’s College later on. Madhusudan also pleaded for the right of legal practice of women, which was banned at that time. Women were also debarred of right to vote on 23rd November, 1921 Madhusudan introduced a resolution in the Bihar-Orissa Legislative Council to provide franchise to women.

The democratic spirit in Madhusudan’s thought may be deduced from his move to introduce in 1921, the system of ‘recall’ of the public representatives who failed to reflect the aspiration of the people.


Nineteenth century was the century of industrialization in developing countries of the world. The prestige of a nation was assessed on the basis of its industrial progress. Madhusudan Das felt it necessary lead Orissa in that direction. Due to the alien rule and backwardness of the people of India, Orissa had been primarily an agricultural state. ‘Therefore”, said Madhusudan ‘it was first task to promote agriculture; simultaneously the agro-industries because agriculture alone could not eradicate poverty”. He remained the people that Orissa had the tradition in the fields of cottage industry and small-scale industry. He was confident that the people and the potentiality to revive the old professions to maintain a decent standard of subsistence. Therefore, he took the following steps in the direction of industrialization of Orissa.

1. Production of Salt – Salt was supposed to be an important item which supported the livelihood of coastal people. British regime clamped restriction of manufacturing salt and imposed levy on it. In Allahabad Session of Congress in 1888, Madhusudan was most vocal against the salt policy of the government. In his speech in the Bengal Legislative Council in 1896, he described salt manufacture as an industry manned by the common people. He urged for a sympathetic attitude of the government.

2. Architecture and other Arts – Madhusudan’s scheme of industry included stone art and architecture, the kind of which is found in great temples of Orissa, golden and silver filigree, embroidery and hundreds of other items. In his London visit, Madhusudan had carried the Cuttack filigrees to draw the attention of foreigners of Orissa’s caliber in the field.

3. Art Wares – In nine decade of the last century, Madhusudan established one ‘Orissa Art Wares’, In 1902, he invited the Lt. Governor of Bengal Sir John to visit the institution and extend co-operation of the Government.

4. Weavers’ Society – Madhusudan also formed one Co-operative Weavers’ society to promote a large number of poor but talented beneficiaries.

5. Tannery – Orissa Tannery was Madhusudan’s another contribution where leather wares were carried on.

6. Utkal Shilponnati Sabha – Madhusudan also formed one ‘Utkal Shilponnati Sabha’ to accelerate the growth of industries in Orissa and to look after their grievances collectively. He was responsible to advance Orissa in the race of industrial revolution in small scale. While visiting the Institute of Madhusudan, the Industry Inspector of Bihar-Orissa Government, Mr. B.M. Das commented that Mr. Madhusudan was the first person in the entire Bengal division to make positive attempt on industrialization. In subsequent period Gandhiji also admired the service of Madhusudan in the field of indigenous industrialization.

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