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Utkal Deepika: The lamp that showed the path

4/08/2020 at 6:00 AM

Utkal Deepika continued publication till 1936. Gourishankar Ray remained its editor till his death in 1917 March. Nilamani Vidyaratna was the editor of this paper after Ray’s death.

By Dr. Mrinal Chatterjee

Many historians opine that Madala Panji (A chronicle of the Jagannath Temple in Puri. Though the actual date of starting of Panji is not known, but it is believed that it might have started from 12th to 14th Century AD. ) could be taken as the first instance of journalism in Odisha, as it systematically chronicled events related to Jagannath Temple, Puri in particular and Odisha in general.

Some also believe that Kujibara Patra deserve that distinction. In 1769, the Mahant of Kujibara Math in Choudwar, Sadhu Sundar Das circulated a periodical called the Kujibara Patra. This palm leaf periodical of irregular frequency included homilies on social and religious issues. It also included news items based on political, administrative and socio cultural matters.

The birth of print media owes to the Christian missionaries, who came to Odisha on February 12, 1822 according to the Government Gazette. However, the first book in Odia, The New Testament was printed and published by Serampore Baptist Mission Press in Bengal in 1809. Thus the beginning of print in Odisha, as in several parts of the world was rooted in the propagation of the holy word. 

The Christian missionaries established the first printing press in Odisha (at Cuttack) in 1837 known as Cuttack Mission Press to print the New Testament and other religious books. By this time, however, rapid development in publication of non-religious, general interest and text books had taken place in other states of India with adoption of Lord Maculay’s educational policy in 1935. Spread of Western education infused a spirit of learning. Odia was adopted as the court language in 1839 after prolonged demand. All this created an atmosphere conducive to publication of books and periodicals.

Cuttack Mission Press brought out the first Odia journals Gyanaruna (1849) and Prabodha Chandrika (January, 1856). Arunodaya, another magazine was published in 1861. Reverend C. Lassey was the editor of Gyanaruna. Some historians believe he was also the editor of Prabodha Chandrika. The editor of Arunodaya was, however, not known.  Their circulation was restricted to Cuttack, which was then the sociopolitical hub of the state.

Gyanaruna closed down after few issues but Prabodha Chandrika continued for three years. It was basically a religious-literary magazine, aimed to propagate Christianity, which also contained few news items – from Britain, other states of India and Odisha. Arunodaya also lasted for three years.

In 1861, five years before the famine of 1866 (known as Naanka Durbhikha), Bodha Dayini was published from Balasore. However, these periodicals were considered to be the missionaries’ mouthpiece for propagation of their religion. As a result, they failed to cover the news in real sense and lost their popularity and subsequently their publications were closed.

The first Odia newspaper, in the real sense, to be published was the weekly Utkal Deepika by Gourishankar Ray on August 4, 1866. That is why it was later observed as Odia Journalism Day.

It was born at a time when Odisha was beleaguered with many problems. A devastating famine (Na-anka Durbhikha) was underway, which wiped out one third of the population Odisha. Odia language was under attack. Odia literature needed a strong fillip. The society weighed down by superstitions and badly needed reform. A nationalist movement was slowing taking shape. It was in this critical juncture that Utkal Deepika took birth and it played a very significant role in sociopolitical life of Odisha. It brought the plight of common people to the notice of the concerned authority. It constantly highlighted the impact of the famine and suggested measures that should and could be taken.  It strived for the development of Odia language and literature and protection of Odia interests. It fought for the amalgamation of outlying Odia-speaking areas, which remained scattered under different provincial administrations by launching a vigorous campaign. In many ways it was much ahead of its times. It contained almost all the constructs of modern journalism. It tried to engage with people’s issues. It encouraged people to write letters to the paper regarding their problems.

Utkal Deepika continued publication till 1936. Gourishankar Ray remained its editor till his death in 1917 March. Nilamani Vidyaratna was the editor of this paper after Ray’s death. Vidyaratna was associated with  Utkal Deepika till his death in 1923. After his death, the paper gradually lost steam and finally closed.

In its 70 years of existence Utkal Deepika provided a strong foundation for Odia journalism.

***

Journalist turned media academician Dr. Mrinal chatterjee presently works as Professor and Regional Director of Eastern India Campus of Indian Institute of Mass Communication (IIMC), located at Dhenkanal. He has written History of Journalism in Odisha.

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