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Op-Ed: Bande Utkala Janani Row: Why Utkal is much more than just a word

Controversy has erupted again in Odisha. This time also, it is revolving around a word and its proper use.  Odisha this time seems squarely divided.  While a section of its population in western Odisha are demanding that the word Utkala in the famous odia poem “Bande Utkala Janani” be dropped and an alternate word – Odisha can be used in that place. This demand of people of Western Odisha was aired by Hon’ble Minister Mr. Sushant Singh and once Mr. Singh vented this proposal out, a fresh debate started brewing both on social media and mainstream media. The supporters and opposition came with their logics and hashtags on social media. The debate soon became a rage in social media and even a few people from western Odisha started supporting the statement made by Hon’ble Minister Mr. Singh.

This illustrious song was written by Kantakabi Laxmikant Mohapatra in the year 1912 and soon became popular. Odisha was yet to be a state in a manner we see today.  The geography of Odisha, which changed every time there was an invasion, be it Afghans, Moughuls or British, was to be changed one more time. The present Odisha in which most of us are born and brought up came into existence almost two and a half decade of this poem.  Until independence, Odisha was more represented by the word Utkala. Even the premier and first university of Odisha which came up in the year 1943 at Bhubaneswar was named as Utkal University. Hence, Utkala represented today’s Odisha whose geographical boundaries kept on changing till 15th August 1947.

Hence, the term Utkala does not reflect the geographical boundaries of the current state. But it reflects the natural beauties, God’s choicest blessings that He bestowed upon us as well as Odisha’s rich tradition of arts and crafts in the temples, culture, literature and the peaceful social living.  The beauty of Odisha is mentioned herein this poem and we all know beauty transcends all barriers be it geographical or time.  Broadly speaking Utkala here is not a mere region but a mindset that calls for unification in the praise of the mother Odisha, the boundary of which has changed over time. Hence, Odisha’s geopolitical existence of today can be attributed to this mindset for which freedom fighters across the state have fought for. The coastal and western Odisha barriers never pre-existed neither this beautiful song vouches for such divisive mindset.

The song which is a beautiful description of Utkala’s heritage, art and culture has reiterated a very basic and fundamental truth. While geography of a region is subject to change, the culture as well as the cultural achievements of a country cannot be changed and realignment cannot be done just because the newly demarcated boundary of the state does not like it. The cultural and cultural artifacts evolve over a period of time and only time is the testimony to it. Hence, by changing a word here and a line there we are only going to damage the soul of the poem. Again the copyright of the poem rests with the author himself without whose consent, it cannot be changed.

The sections of the society who are advocating the replacement of word Utkala with that of Odisha has not come up openly in media justifying their reasons. If Utkala is anathema to their sentiments, how Odisha, a substitute of Utkala will be Ok with them. Again if Utkala does not represent their values and ethics, how come Odisha will represent them? It’s certainly not all about changing a word in a famous poem but also about identifying and underlining the bold reason behind this otherwise clarion call.

This poem is a prayer to mother Utkal. The words penned in this poem are strong hence raises patriotism, attracts and inspires the listener. The section of society, which opposes Utkala and wants to replace it with Odisha is perhaps forgetful of the fact that Utkala at time also represented western Odisha just like today’s Odisha which considers Western Odisha as an inseparable whole. Even though the inequalities and regional disparities exist between coastal Odisha and western Odisha, yet for inequality and disparities, language and culture should not be made a scapegoat. There’s no denying the fact that culture is often shaped by geographical boundaries, but unfortunately we cannot change our culture with change of boundaries or in anticipation of that.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same).

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