(PROFILE OF A FORGOTTEN GENIUS)
"My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes and oh, my friends
It gives a lovely light!"
-Edna St. Vincent Millay
It is an irony of life that often a lesser man, by well-planned orchestration, is installed on pedestals, while one really talented unfortunately gets a silent burial. Through passage of time, layers of dust gradually settle over what that brilliant man had achieved with dedication during his life-time and eventually the image of that man and his work, though deserving to be treasured, are permanently consigned to oblivion. Such has been the fate of late Sri Purna Chandra Rath, whose multi-dimensional genius could not fully blossom as Myeloid Leukemia (Blood Cancer) claimed him prematurely at the young age of 43. Within a brief span of about 12 years of creative life, he could accomplish a lot in cultural, social and political spheres by sheer will-force and organizational capability. Despite infrastructural deficiencies, financial constraints and geographical obstacles prevailing at his time, he over-stretched his energies to see his dreams come true. In the process, he untimely perished like a 'Candle burning at both ends'.
In the context of the present compilation, it would be opportune to give a biographical sketch of Sri Rath so that his aspirations, endeavours and attainments could be properly evaluated against the background of facts and circumstances that obtained during his lifetime, about 70 years ago. For fuller appreciation of a man's real caliber, totality of his output as well as the adversities he, in the process, had to contend with, need be taken into reckoning. Thus, the background too becomes relevantly important.
It is believed that long back the principal stock of the ancestors of Sri Rath migrated from Parbatipur Sasan of Puri District and branched off to different feudatory States of Western Orissa. However, it is confirmed that one such branch settled in village Nuagarh of erstwhile Sonepur State.
According to existing records, Sri Balaram Rath, grandfather of Sri Rath, came away from Nuagarh in search of fresh pastures. In 1906 he was engaged as one among the group of royal priests of Patna State and was granted a residential house in Bolangir town. His eldest son Brushavadhwaja continued to render the priestly service under the royal patronage till his death in 1924.
Purna Chandra, eldest amongst three sons of Brushavadhwaja Rath, was born on 29.06.1909. He lost his father at the tender age of 15 and was nurtured by his mother Uttarabali and grandmother Triveni Devi. Thus, from an early age he became acquainted with the grim struggles a lower middle class family had to encounter. Probably the bitter lessons of life taught him to pitch his aims higher and toughened him up to confront the challenges undaunted in pursuit of the set targets.
Sri Rath had no inclination to officiate as a royal priest and hence after passing matriculation from P.R. High School, Bolangir in 1927, he pursued higher studies in Ravenshaw College, Cuttack, depending upon the meager family resources supplemented by a stipend from the State Govt. He graduated from Ravenshaw College in 1931.
Sri Rath was a student of average standard during his school days. It was only during the College career that his latent talents found scope to flourish under the attentive guidance of renowned professors of the college. His leadership qualities, zest for research work and organising capability received due recognition in the college sphere.
It speaks volumes for the organising ability of Sri Rath as he, along with his classmate Sri Kedarnath Mohapatra, (who later became a reputed historian of Orissa) initiated and gave shape to the 'Ravenshaw College Museum' under the encouraging direction of Prof. Ghanashyam Dash, the well-known Professor of History of Ravenshaw College. This initial small step subsequently led to the establishment of the larger ' Orissa State Museum'. Many of his historical essays were conceptualized during this period. In fact the skeletal draft of the discourse ' A Treatise on Koshal and Toshal' was highly commended by his mentor Prof. G. Dash. At a later date, Dr. P. Parija, Principal of Ravenshaw College was impressed enough to make the following comment about him- 'x x x x If proper encouragement and training be given to him, I am sure, he will become a very good research scholar. Such scholars are needed to reconstruct the History of Orissa'.
On return to Bolangir the restless spirit of Sri Rath sought suitable avenues to channel his energies for betterment of public life. He organized several Adult Education Centres in Bolangir. 'Kalinga Sahitya Parishad', a cultural institution, also took shape by his efforts.
But Sri Rath knew that he had miles to go before he could attain the higher goals he had set for himself. He needed to hone his talents further and also he had to take his family above the middle class milieu. So in 1932 he enrolled in the Patna University for pursuing Post Graduate studies.
However, Fate decreed otherwise. Due to acute financial problems and pressing demands of the family, Sri Rath had to cut his studies short. He returned to Bolangir after completion of 1st part law and 5th year M.A. course. Augmentation of the family income became a haunting priority. Thus, owning up his responsibilities, he joined Patna State service as Addl. Sub-Inspector of Schools in 1933. With innovative spirit, he introduced making of soaps, waist-belts, and tooth powder etc. in the school curriculum as a part of Cottage Industry Education. Within a year he was promoted to the post of Deputy Inspector of Schools on the basis of his meritorious service records. In the same year he took additional charge as State marketing Officer and submitted a detailed Industrial Survey report to the Maharaja for development of industries in Patna State.
Driven by his inherent urge, Sri Rath used to collect objects of Historical/Archaeological value from different villages in course of official tours and kept those items in the nearby schools under proper care. Many antiquarian stone images, earthen wares, swords, axes as well as palm leaf manuscripts then collected by him, adorned the ' Patna State Museum' subsequently.
Despite domestic pressures, official engagement and other commitments, Sri Rath passed D.Ed. examination in 1935.
Between 1933 and 1936 Sri Rath tried to adopt the role of a social reformer by making sustained efforts for Harijan uplift and also for removal of untouchability. He organized several public meetings to generate sympathetic views among people on these sensitive issues.
Yet another facet of the remarkable character of Sri Rath came to light when he was profusely praised by State administration for the selfless voluntary service rendered by him in combating the cholera epidemic that raged throughout the State in 1935.
Then came a period of diversion in the career of Sri Rath. For three years he had to work as a teacher in P.R.High School. Though he proved to be an ideal guide for the students, that was mostly an uneventful phase, off his targets.
Sri Rath earned special commendation for his collection of antiquities, old coins and palm leaf manuscripts presented in the Industrial and Agricultural Exhibition held in Bolangir in 1937.
Ultimately the stars smiled upon Sri Rath when in 1939 the Archaeology Department of Patna State was newly created and he was appointed as Supdt. of Archaeology in due recognition of his proven inclinations and capabilities.
To build up an institution from a scratch was an extremely challenging task, which Sri Rath undertook with commitment despite the prevalent formidable odds. There was no Departmental vehicle. Places of historical importance in the interior parts of the State could be approached only by cycle, bullock carts or on horse back. There was no official photographer or any engineering personnel to assist him in keeping permanent referential records of the historical places/objects. Field survey was handicapped in the absence of relevant scientific equipments and allotment of funds to the Dept. by the State was too meager. Although all these practical constraints stunted the development of the nascent institution, Sri Rath had the matching zeal to override them.
In course of time he founded the 'Patna State Museum' and 'Manuscript Library' where objects of historical importance and palm leaf manuscripts of rare value, collected from various sources, were preserved.
Besides his historical/archaeological pursuits, Sri Rath evinced keen interest in cultural activities also. In 1941 he presided over the Annual Conference of the Gangadhar Sahitya Parishad (History Session) at Sambalpur. 'The All India Cultural Unity' Conference was organized by him at Bolangir which was presided over by the eminent Historian Dr. D.R.Bhandarkar.
Because of his scholastic proficiency Sri Rath was accepted as a member of Royal Asiatic Society (Bengal), Indian Historical Records Commission, Indian History Congress, Numismatic Society of India and Bihar and Orissa Research Society. His intellectual horizon was not confined to the cooped sphere of Patna State alone. He interacted with renowned Historians/ Archaeologists of the day like Mahamohopadhyaya V.V. Mirashi, Prof. Nilakantha Sastri, Dr. B.C. Chhabra, Rev. H. Heras, Dr. K.N. Dixit, Dr. A.P. Karmakar, Dr. K. D. Nag, Dr. R.C. Mazumdar and many others.
Sri Rath received due recognition as a profound Research Scholar and as such, on special invitation by Dr. M. Wheeler, the then Director General of Archeology, Govt. of India he participated in a training course at Taxila on scientific techniques of Archeological Excavation for three months in 1944-1945. He was the only person from Orissa to be so favoured. On his way back from Taxila, Sri Rath, on request, delivered impressive lectures in the Oriental Society, Lahore, Allahabad University and Balwant Rajput College, Agra on various historical topics.
During his tenure as Supdt. of Archeology, Sri Rath actively represented Patna State in the following conferences at All India level.-
1939- Indian History Congress at Calcutta.
1941- I.H.C. and Numismatic Society of India at Hyderabad.
1942- Indian Historical Records Commission at Trivendrum.
1946- I.H.C. at Bankipur Patna.
Such trips were a unique honour for the little known Patna State.
The golden moment of gratification for Sri Rath came in 1944 when 'Rajendra College' was established in Bolangir, primarily on the basis of the scheme submitted by him to Patna Maharaja. It was a very special occasion because none of the States in the Eastern States Agency had a college on that date. However, Sri Rath never claimed any credit for such a historic event because of his self-effacing nature. As emphatically declared in his scheme itself, his sole aim was to see Patna State become a center of culture and the younger generation of the region get the opportunity to be properly equipped in the highly competitive world.
The restless spirit of Sri Rath constantly reminded him that his mission in life still remained unfructified. He felt that he had not done enough in the sphere of History/Archeology as per his own estimation. He, therefore, focused all his vibrant energies to build up a top-grade Historical Research Centre at Bolangir, which would meet the long-felt need of the region. Such an institution, he envisaged, would train up higher-grade students on up to date scientific lines and simultaneously be of immense help to the scholars of the locality as well as of the whole of Orissa. With indefatigable perseverance he toured the length and breadth of Orissa, contacted scholars of the region and of different parts of India, sought financial aid from Ruling Chiefs of various princely states and at the same time appealed to the general public for cooperation.
Eventually the dream of Sri Rath came true. The unique institution-' The Kalinga Historical Research Society' took shape in 1945, patronized by Maharaja of Patna and Maharaja of Kalahandi'. Considering the circumstances prevailing then, it was an outstanding achievement of Sri Rath, as the institution was only one of its kind in whole Orissa, founded practically single-handed with singular dedication, in an out of the way and little known place like Bolangir. Later on, the Director General of Archeology, Govt. of India consented for affiliation of the K.H.R.S. on the score of the highly impressive progress made by the Society.
In furtherance of his high-set aims, Sri Rath brought out 'The Journal of the Kalinga Historical Research Society' with the active assistance of Sri Kedarnath Mohapatra and Sri Satyanarayan Rajguru (both prominent Historians of Orissa). With scholarly write-ups contributed by renowned historians and researchers from all parts of India, the quarterly Journal maintained a very high standard of quality. The Journal reached different parts of India and served to suitably disseminate the studied views and findings of experts in their respective fields.
Another monumental project conceptualized and initiated by Sri Rath was the compilation of a 'Corpus of Kalinga Inscriptions', targeted to scientifically scrutinize, methodically analyse and correctly interpret all the inscriptions of Orissa available till then. The complete work was scheduled to be published in 8 volumes under the editorship of -
1. Mahamohopadhyaya V.V.Mirashi M.A.
Principal, King Edward College, Amaraoti, Berar.
2. Sri Nilakantha Sastri M.A.
Prof. Of History, Madras University.
3. Dr. B.C. Chhabra M.A. Ph.D.
Epigraphist, Govt. of India, Ootty.
Schematically, each volume was sub-divided into historical periods, and an eminent historian was assigned work on each particular period. This daunting collaborative work required the assistance of 29 top-notch historians drawn from different parts of India. As per a report published in the Journal, work on some of the sections had already made some progress. For better appreciation, a copy of the scheme is incorporated in this compilation.
This ambitious project, which bore the seeds of far-reaching implications in respect of History of Orissa, manifested the expansive range of vision and the charismatic dynamism of Sri Rath.
As per Patna State Administration Report, Sri Rath had assumed charge of Devottar Dept. and Saradeshwari Ayurvedic Chikitsalaya. On the basis of his scheme an Ayurvedic Pharmacy was opened in 1945 for preparation of Ayurvedic medicines on scientific lines and to make them available to the general public at cheaper rates. Further, action for starting an 'Ayurvedic Herbal Garden' at Harishankar as a supportive base for the Ayurvedic Pharmacy was taken with all seriousness. This was another dimension of Sri Rath's utilitarian character.
Sri Rath functioned as a distinguished member of the Patna State Legislative Assembly in 1946.
As an educationist he was also elected as a member of Syndicate and Academic Council of the Utkal University.
In the mean time Sri Rath was promoted as Dy. Collector and Dy. Magistrate of Patna State cadre in 1947.
As a sequel to widespread political unrest and also due to historical compulsions, Patna State merged with the Province of Orissa in 1948. The changeover, by a strange quirk of circumstances had catastrophic effects on Sri Rath, in his personal life as well as in the sphere of his activities. Unexpectedly, Govt. of Orissa closed down the Archaeology Dept.s of Patna, Kalahandi and Mayurbhanj States on the plea that Provincial Govt. had no such department. Protests and suggestions for creation of a Provincial Research Dept. drew no response. Next, to add insult to injury, Sri Rath was not absorbed in an appropriate grade in the Provincial cadre, which was a clear violation of the terms of the merger Agreement.
Sri Rath suffered the severest blow emotionally when Provincial Govt. stopped payment of the promised annual grants to the Kalinga Historical Research Society and, at the same time, froze the grants committed by the Ex-Rulers, which were covenanted to be borne by the Provincial Govt. It did doubly hurt him, because Sri Harekrushna Mahatab, who was then the Premier of Orissa and who had initially made a public appeal for furtherance of the laudable aims of the Society, himself became instrumental for disintegration of the only institution, which had brought fame for Orissa in the field of Historical Research. Thus, when the flow of finance got choked, the Society, which was so assiduously nurtured by Sri Rath, with so to say, his blood and sweat, gradually withered and eventually met an underserved end in 1950.
Out of sheer disgust, Sri Rath resigned from the post of Supdt. of Archaeology and started legal practice as a lawyer of Bolangir Bar in 1949.
Characterisation of Sri Rath would be incomplete without projection of his role in the political set-up of his time. It would be proper to script an account of his involvement against the backdrop of the political scenario prevailing then.
During the pre-independence days, popular agitation against the Rulers of Princely States had progressively gathered pace all over India. It had taken virulent form in many Garjats of Orissa. However, as Patna state had a cultured and benign ruler in Sri Rajendra Narayan Singh Deo, incidence of political unrest here was minimal. Public opinion was more against the institution of Monarchy itself than against the Maharaja personally. The Congress party could mount massive campaigns elsewhere, but so far as Patna State was concerned, the atmosphere was comparatively calm.
In the political arena here, there were two major players- (a) The 'Krusaka Dal' set up by the Congress party and (b) The 'Praja Mandal' constituted by people loyal to the Ruler. However, confrontation between the two antagonists never took any serious turn because of the Maharaja's progressive measures and clean image.
We find another by-play in the political drama of Patna State during the pre-merger days. It appears that in 1946 an exploratory attempt was made for formation of a Federation of States under the aegis of the ESA (Eastern States Agency), presumably with the ultimate aim of establishing a "Koshal province", totally separate from the province of British Orissa. The proposal envisaged inclusion of all the out-lying Oriya-speaking tracts of Orissa, which till then remained attached to neighbouring provinces. The boundary of the proposed province was conceived to be co-extensive with the ancient Koshal kingdom. This noble objective was pronouncedly reflected in the Oriya booklet "Gandhara & Koshala" written by Sri Rath.
Strangely Sri Rath, inherently a man of cultural pursuits, somehow got caught up in the political crosswinds of the time. Probably the vision of a consolidated Koshal province prompted him to take up the mantle of a mediator between the Ruler and the Ruled, on behalf of the Eastern States Federation Committee. In that capacity Sri Rath appealed to some eminent persons to further the cause of the proposed Federation. According to him, it was the necessary first step towards formation of a greater Koshal province. Copies of letters available in the file were addressed to :-
1. The Raja & Ruler, Boudh State.
President, Council of States, ESA.
2. Dr. Vikram Dev Verma, Maharaja of Jeypore.
3. Shri Harihar Mishra, Advocate,Jeypore.
4. Shri Bodhram Dubey,
Member Constituent Assembly, Sambalpur.
However, copies of letters from Shri Sarangadhar Das, President, All Orissa State Peoples' Conference (Dt.4.12.46) and from Dr. Ramchandra Mishra, President Separation Committee, Sambalpur (Dt. 21.12.46), which were enclosed to the letter sent to the Raja of Boud state, are not available.
Unfortunately, apart from the correspondences mentioned above, we do not have any other record to follow up further development in respect of the proposal. However, as integration of the princely States by the Govt. of India ultimately became a historical fact, this proposal obviously did get aborted. Had the efforts of Sri Rath succeeded in carving out a new Koshal province, as per the scheme, it definitely would have been a monumental achievement impacting the course of the History of Orissa. Despite the failure, this phase certainly illuminated another facet of the caliber of Sri Rath.
Involvement of Sri Rath in active politics became more pronounced when "Ganatantra Parishad" -a new political party was formed in opposition to the Congress party. Responding to the call of Sri R. N. Singh Deo, Maharaja of Patna, he became one of the founder members of the new party and functioned as its first General Secretary. Since the sphere of operation as regards organisational matters covered practically the whole of Orissa, Sri Rath made meticulous plans and programmes and toured extensively. Because of his propulsive dynamism and personal charisma, he could bring many eminent persons of Orissa into the fold of the party. The party gained phenomenal success due to his organisational strategy and strenuous efforts. It was no mean achievement that the party could capture a sizable number of seats in the Orissa Assembly, whereby 2 members of the party were sent to the Council of States (Rajya Sabha). Although Shri Rath's name was processed by the Selection Board of the Party he was deprived of the opportunity due to various extraneous reasons. Sri Rath accepted the situation philosophically in the larger interests of the Party and continued to play out the pivotal role in the party despite his declining health.
In the letter Dt. 17.3.1952 to Smt. Sucheta Kriplani, Sri Rath had conveyed his candid views on Party affairs as well as on his personal principles and preferences in relation to the game of politics. Strangely there was not even a bit of hint about the terminal stage of his illness. It was another example of the spirit of selfless dedication to what he took up as his duty. Looking back, it could be said that it was the prognostic last flicker of the candle.
After weathering a series of devastating shocks, Sri Rath had little reserve of will force or stamina to resist the final onslaught of misfortune. In 1951 his illness was diagnosed as the incurable Myeloid Leukemia or Blood-Cancer. Although he was taken to Cuttack, Calcutta and Bombay for treatment under Specialists, the writing on the wall was clear.
With all his aspirations undeservedly shattered, and being emotionally and physically absolutely drained, Sri Rath, a completely broken man, finally found ultimate peace in the lap of death on 08.06.1952 at the very early age of 43. Thus, a brilliant spark of greater possibilities was prematurely snuffed out. The handful of his ashes, which was indicative of the gathering dark clouds over the cultural environment of this region at that point of time, was quietly immersed in the waters of the Ganges.
It is small consolation that a portrait of Sri Rath has been preserved in the History Section of the Sambalpur University in recognition of his distinguished contributions to historical research.
Further, mention may be made regarding the Special Distinction Award (1987) and the Citation (1990) given in favour of Sri Rath posthumously at the Platinum Jubilee function of the P.R. High School, Bolangir and Koshal Kalamandal Conference respectively.