Fakir Mohan Senapati, known as the father of modern Odia literature, is an important figure in the history and culture of Odisha. His contribution in shaping the Odia language cannot be overlooked, especially at a time when its distinctness was in question.
Born on January 13, 1843, Fakir Mohan Senapati was a prolific author, reformer, and avid lover of the Odia language. He injected a new life in Odia literature in an environment of gloom and despair. Furthermore, his sense of humour remains unsurpassed in the history of Odia literature.
Remembering Fakir Mohan Senapati on his 103rd death anniversary. He passed away on June 14, 1918.
Father of modern Odia literature
Naveen Patnaik, the Chief Minister of Odisha once said that he loved his Rebati story the most. ‘Rebati’, a short story by Senapati is set against the backdrop of the cholera epidemic that devastated the family of the protagonist. It has been translated into 36 languages, which have been compiled and published by Dhauli Books.
What made Senapati the father of modern age Odia literature, was his perspective towards things. Senapati’s writings put a new light on women’s portrayal in literature. He portrayed them as courageous, spoke of women’s education, and expressed the problems they faced. He addressed and tried to reform societal issues by way of his writings.
Contribution to Odia literature
Senapati contributed to Odia literature in several ways. He not only wrote novels but short stories, poems, essays, and school textbooks as well. He is also known to have translated several Sanskrit classics into the Odia language. He believed writing is a corollary to the development of language and development of language is a corollary to the nation.
Senapati played a major role in saving the Odia language. He deliberately started reading and writing in the Odia language when the language’s distinctness was questioned by the Bengalis.
Senapati also established a printing press in 1866 from where two newspapers were published- ‘Bodhadayini’ and ‘Balasore Sambad Vahika’, however, they were not published regularly due to lack of writers.
Senapati’s career started as a poet and several of them were converted into volumes such as Pushpamala (1894), Upahar (1895), and Abasare Basare (1908). ‘Utkal Bhramana’, a long poem written by the late author, is a literary account of the culture and political situation of Odisha while ‘Baudhabatara Kavya’ (1909) is based on the life and preachings of Gautam Buddha.
He is known to have introduced novel writing, short story, and autobiography genres in Odia literature. He authored novels, Chhamana Athaguntha (1902), Mamu (1913), Lachhama (1914), and Prayaschita (Penance) and published ‘Galpaswalpa’, a collection of 20 of his short stories; and an autobiography – ‘Atmojivan Charita’ in 1927.
Sanskrit to Odia translations
During those times, Sanskrit was the main language in which books were written. However, this was beyond the understanding of common people like the peasants, or artisans.
Fakir Mohan Senapati, however, wrote in the common every day speaking language (known as chalita bhasa) that helped to bridge the gap that existed between the earlier writings and the common mass.
Writing in common day-to-day language also helped in preserving the Odia language as a separate and independent language. Senapati translated the Ramayana (1884-1895), the Mahabharat (1887-1905), and Gita (1887) from Sanskrit to the Odia language.
Language and nationalism
“Nation whose language is not developed is unawakened. It lacks initiative and is unable to maintain self-respect.”
— Fakir Mohan Senapati
Senapati entwined nationalism and language together as he believed that ‘nationalism was determined by language’. For this, he suggested four means that every educated person should do to promote the national literature- read and persuade others to read it, write and persuade others to write it. He said that a nation cannot progress by losing its mother tongue, and believed that the development of a nation’s language and literature is fundamental for the advancement of a country.
The Government of Odisha Higher Education department introduced a scholarship named after the late author to promote Odia language for students securing more than 90% marks in Odia in Higher Secondary (+2) examination.
Fakir Mohan Senapati’s contribution to Odia literature remains unparallel and has inspired many authors in modern times.