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Explained: Why ‘Odisha Itihaas’ is important; why PM Modi has released its Hindi version

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday released the Hindi translation of the book, ‘Odisha Itihaas’, written by former chief minister Harekrushna Mahatab. Why is this important?

Written by Aishwarya Mohanty , Edited by Explained Desk | Bhubaneshwar |
Updated: April 11, 2021 12:45:45 pm
Prime Minister Narendra Modi addresses at the release of the Hindi translation of the book "Odisha Itihaas", in New Delhi, Friday, April 9, 2021. (PIB/PTI Photo)

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Friday released the Hindi translation of the book, ‘Odisha Itihaas’, written by former chief minister Harekrushna Mahatab. Releasing the book, which is already available in Oriya and English, the Prime Minister said, “It is important that the diverse and comprehensive history of Odisha should reach the people of the country.”

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Who was Harekrushna Mahtab?

Dr Mahatab was born in 1899 to a poor family at Agarpada village in Balasore. He was inspired by the ideals of Bagha Jatin and was influenced by Ramakrishna Mission. At a very young age, Mahatab joined the freedom struggle and even accompanied Mahatma Gandhi to various districts during his visit to the state in 1921. He eventually left his family to devote his life for the uplift of the Congress organisation.

He went on to become the first chief minister of the state from 1946 to 1950 and was re-elected in 1956. He also earned the sobriquet ‘Utkal Keshari’.

He is also credited with setting up Bhubaneswar as the capital of the state, along with the construction of the Secretariat building, Raj Bhawan and Assembly buildings.

Considered a historian, during his term in jail, Mahatab translated a lot of History books. He translated Valmiki’s Ramayan from Sanskrit into Oriya and also wrote the Oriya version of the Gita. In 1946, during his stay at Patna camp jail, he published poems collected from political prisoners called “Bedira Jan Jan”.

The history of the book ‘Odisha Itihaas’

The idea behind publishing a book on the history of Odisha took shape when Mahatab was imprisoned in Ahmadnagar for participating in the Quit India Movement. Dr Hemanta Kumar Mohapatra, in an article on Dr Mahatab published in the 2015 edition of Odisha review magazine by the Government of Odisha, writes about Mahatab’s term in Ahmadnagar: “Nehru showed Mahatab some lines from Edward Thomson’s book ‘The Beginning of Indian Princes’. In this book, Thomson depicted Jagannath Temple as a ‘notorious Shrine, the uncouth temple where an incomprehensible people reverenced ugliness as the personification of divine attribute and Brahminism seems to flaunt its differences from all other religions of the modern world.’

“Mahtab was sorry because he had little historical knowledge to counter such an “uncalled for” view of a foreign historian. Even he could not name a standard book on Odisha history for reference to refute such a humiliating version in the book of Thomson.”

It was then that Mahatab decided to explore the history of Odisha, especially to know about the ancient history of Lord Jagannath. He studied a lot of historical writings, including that of Toynbee, Gibbon and other historians, and published the Oriya version of his ‘History of Odisha’ in 1948.

To take it further, he also conducted a special session of the Indian Historical Record Commission in Odisha to address important historical issues from the state and initiate a dialogue between historians and prominent people from across the state.

Why is the book’s release considered important?

The decision to release a Hindi translation on the history of Odisha, written by a prominent leader of the Congress, is considered to be an important move by the BJP which has been trying to increase its presence in the state after making some inroads in the last elections, political analysts say.

After 2019, the BJP emerged as the main opposition in the state assembly replacing the Congress. In 2017, during the gram panchayat elections as well, the party had emerged as the second largest party in the state. Ever since, the party has been preparing for gaining more grounds in the state and hopefully ruling the state in the future. Odisha has been ruled by the BJD, once a BJP ally, for more than two decades.

Prior to this, Congress was a key political party in the state. A number of political analysts and party insiders also believe that one way for the BJP to mark a win in the next elections could be to rope in Congress heavyweights to increase their vote share.

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