Bhubaneswar: The remnants of history leading to the unification of Odia-speaking tracts into a separate province, throws up names of many stalwarts. One among them is Pandit Nilamani Bidya Ratna. Though not a household name like his contemporary Madhusudan Das, his role in shaping the destiny of modern Odisha is no less significant.
On his 150th birth anniversary, Odisha Sun Times pays tribute to this great son of the soil.
Nilamani was born on December 14, 1867, in Brajabeharipur near Banki in Cuttack district. Poverty forced him to give up studies after Class VII, but the thirst for knowledge saw him emerge as a scholar in the field of Sanskrit and Odia literature.
At the age of 20, he took over as the editor of the literary magazine, Sambalpur Hitaishini, published by the Raja of Bamanda, Sir Basudev Sudhal Dev. It promoted the cause of Odia literature and nurtured a generation of Odia writers.
Sambalpur was then a part of Madhya Pradesh (Central Provinces) and Hindi was its official language. In 1903, the government finally decided to replace Hindi with Odia as the official language, owing to a relentless campaign by Nilamani in Sambalpur Hitaishini.
He was bestowed the prestigious tile of “Bidya Ratna” by Basudev Sudhal Dev and also made an honorary member of the State Council of the kingdom of Bamanda.
In 1902, he moved to Ganjam and took over as editor of ‘Prajabandhu’, a magazine published by the Raja of Khalikote, Harihar Mardaraj.
In Khalikote, Nilamani with the support of the Raja organised ‘Utkal Sabha’ (later known as Madras Odia Association) to which he invited two great Odia nationalists, Madhusudan Das and Biswanath Kar. This conference laid the foundation of Utkal Sammilani, which spearheaded the movement for the unification of Odia-speaking tracts into a separate province.
After leaving Khallikote, he edited ‘Guna Darpan’, which was published by the Raja of Badakhemandi, Anangabhima Dev. He also brought out a monthly magazine called ‘Utkal Madhupa’, in which one could see the beginning of the effort which culminated in the compilation of encyclopaedias in Odia, years later.
He was also the editor of the prestigious Odia weekly, ‘Utkala Dipika’, but gave up this job following difference of opinion with the other members of its Board of Directors.
He breathed his last on July 26, 1923.