By Sambeet Dash
Nilakantha Das was a maverick but a progressive person, piquant and at odds with the prevalent superstitions of the time. He has devoted an entire chapter to this, clearing the aura of BHAKTIKA MITHYA or devotional lies attributed to famous personalities.
One of them was about UTKALAMANI (The Jewel of Odisha) Gopabandhu Das, Pandit Lingaraj Mishra wrote this sometime in 1950s when a statue of Utkalamani was inagurated in Cuttack:
“When Gopabandhu’s only son was laying on his death bed in 1904, he got the news about the devastating floods in Odisha. Bidding adieu to his son at his bedside, Gopabandhu supposedly said – “So many sons of my country are perishing. I have to serve them, even if I have to leave my son on his death bed” – followed by proceeding to flood impacted areas to serve the impacted folks.
Then Poet Radhamohan Gadanayak wrote a long poem eulogizing Gopabandhu on this. No question about our beloved Utkalamani’s unflinching dedication and commitment towards social service, but this was simply a devotional lie spread by his BHAKTs (devotees).
Nilakantha Das has kept the records straight on this by providing detailed facts with timelines. Lingaraj Mishra who wrote this popular anecdote didn’t know Gopabandhu before 1921. The later was never involved in serving people in flood or draught affected areas until the year 1908 when he formed the “Young Utkal Association”. It was good 4 years after 1904 when the claim of him abandoning his sick son to serve the calamity -stricken people was made.
Pandit Das knew Gopabandhu from close quarters. Utkalamani was not a stoic person; rather he had a soft, caring heart. Nilakantha had seen in his own eyes, in presence of Late Sadashiv Mishra (a famed teacher in Puri Jilla School) the death of Gopabandhu’s infant son in the arms of his wife. Needless to say, the parents were inconsolable. He was his only son and there was no flood at that time.
Another devotional fabrication about Gopabandhu. It was ascribed to the time period after his son’s death and before the great flood of 1908: ‘he became a saffron clad Sanyasi (Yogi) and roamed across the nation.’ That was also nowhere close to the truth. Had these facts were not disclosed by Nilakantha, these urban legends would never have been debunked and turned into gospels.
(This is the 16th in series of recapitulation in the writer’s own words portions of Pandit Nilakantha Das’s Biography in Odia.)
Sambeet Dash is an Odia technocrat living in Georgia US.