Varnamala : Contemporary Oriya Poetry


Contemporary Oriya Poetry : An Overview

Rabindra K Swain

“True poetry cannot be dated and dead, cannot be classified into old and modern…Perhaps a single poem is being written…by all the poets, in their variegated splendour.”                                                                                                       —Rajendra Kishore Panda

We reiterate the limitless omnipresence of good poetry, but here we present an anthology of selected works of Oriya poets of the neomodern phase, ushered in by Satchidananda Routroy and other major poets, and further developed by poets of succeeding generations.

Before we delve into poetry, a few words about the ooze-point and course-lines of the flow may be useful.

India is a multilingual subcontinent. Oriya is one of the ancient and most developed Indian languages, with a rich legacy of literary creativity. The Oriya literary tradition is traced to the fifth-to-eighth century AD. Though the “Charyapadas” subscribe to a stream of Buddhist philosophy, they are poetry in essence : allegorical and mystic.

After the Charyapada period, a mass of texts is not traceable, barring a few works such as the Chautishas and Sisuveda. But that phase culminates in the emergence of Oriya Mahabharat by Sarala Das in the fifteenth century. It is a multi-volume epic, composed in unique “dandi vritta,” a metre of unevenly-lettered lines spreading in a natural-playful flow. It is also a treatise recording snaps of the socio-cultural milieu of the times. The next luminous event is the Oriya Bhagabat by Jagannath Das, produced in the sixteenth century. Composed in nine-letter line-rigour (“nabakshari”), but abounding in natural aphorisms and rare insight, it is an extraordinary treasure. This period is also noted for the works of Achyutnanda Das, Balaram Das and others, which epitomise the streams of metaphysical quests of the poets, put in evocative symbolism and neat rhythm.

During the medieval period, erudition and ornate poetics held sway over the poets which earned them the epithet “Reeti-kavis”. They finetuned the witty word-play which took rhythmic Oriya poetry to a lofty height. Upendra Bhanja is the prime figure among other gifted poets such as Dinakrushna and Abhimanyu Samantasinghar. Towards the end of the Reeti period, Baladev Rath crosses the not-so-resilient kavya format, with short poems which glisten with natural wit and vigour, which have a wide range and variety in theme and treatment. Gopalakrushna Patnaik and Banamali Das also adopt their own forms of evocative expression in verse with alluring aesthetics. So does Salabeg.

Then we find two great contemporaries who operated from divergent angles : Bhima Bhoi and Radhanath Ray. The time is the later part of nineteenth century and beginning of twentieth century. Bhima Bhoi, of tribal birth, is a gifted poet of spiritualism and rebellion in the subtlest sense of the terms, a humanist of rare insight. It is simply unbearable to witness the agonies of human and other animates, he feels. And he proclaims :”Let my life rot in hell, but be world saved.”

Radhanath Ray (1848-1908) is the principal architect of the era of initial modernity in Oriya poetry. During the later part of nineteenth century, as in other Indian languages, interaction of the Indian Muse with the Western perceptions starts in Oriya too. With Radhanath modern sensibility enters into Oriya literature. The other noted poets of this period are Gangadhar Meher, Madhusudan Rao and Nandakishore Bal .

In between the eras of “initial modernity” and “neomodernity,” we find the Satyabadi and the Sabuja groups. Gopabandhu Das, Nilakantha Das and Godabarish Mishra are value-teachers in nation-building, life and poetry. Baikunthanath Patnaik is the cynosure of the Sabuja period. Non-Sabuja poets who shine are Kuntala Kumari Sabat, Mayadhar Mansingh, Ananta Patnaik and Radhamohan Gadanayak.

Satchidananda Rautroy is the harbinger of the era of “neo-modernity” in Oriya poetry. As Ramakanta Rath and Haraprasad Das observe, he is the “principal idiom-maker of modern Oriya poeltry.” He has a wide range and a world-view. His phenomenal presence is acknowledged by major poets younger to Rautroy, who have had their own zones since long. This anthology starts with the poems of Satchidananda Rautroy.

A rebel and a romantic, a humanist par excellence, Rautroy has authored numerous works of poetry. His format is mostly sculpturesque, his architectonics neat and elegant. A poet almost having a pact with Time, a poet with macro world-vision and micro attention to details, Sochi Rautroy’s impact has spanned the entire second-half of twentieth century Oriya poetry.

Next to Sochi Rautroy and his peer Ananta Patnaik, it is Guruprasad Mohanty who is reckoned as an icon in contemporary Oriya poetry. With a poetic corpus of hardly twenty poems, he virtually gave up writing. The degree of decadence portrayed in his poems may not be reflective of the reality of Cuttack and Orissa of his times, even his poetry may often mirror too much of Eliot in a desi frame, but the free flowing traits of Guruprasadian lyricism ingrained in his style captivated generations of readers.

Despite his anglicized construct in diction and narration, Ramakanta Rath, especially the early Ramakanta, attracted the attention of critics and younger poets. He has a unique blend of modernist esotericism, sardonic slant and a recurring vein of negation turned into art. A poet of complex man-woman relationship, that borders on oblivion, he has the power of juxtaposing the physical and the metaphysical in a deep dark world of realizations. “I am your husband’s skeleton,” he may tell someone, and “you are my beautiful widow.”

As Jayanta Mahapatra has put it, no major Oriya poet remained wholly uninfluenced by Rautroy, but they have taken different courses in the process of their growth. If Guruprasad remained a “poet of a season” inspiring generations of poets or Ramakanta gradually entered into a mellower world of SriRadha, Sitakant Mahapatra, Soubhagya Kumar Misra and Rajendra Kishore Panda evolved their own diction, a world very much their own.

Sitakant’s vision of a suffering world, perpetually in the process of self-redemption, maintains a strong link with the Oriya tradition and heritage. The ‘sky of words’ has a link with ‘the speckled river.’ A lonesome ‘islander’ may be led towards an ‘oceanization.’ 

If Sitakant and pre-Sitakant poets tended to be reticent and, often, too undertonal, Soubhagya Kumar and Rajendra Kishore came up with the trait of vigour of Rautroy and, in their own individual ways, charged it with new dimensions and wider connotations. Rajendra refuses to be ‘classified' : “the male, the rebel, the ascetic, the child, the lover, the jester alternate” in poetry, says he. Variegated though, the residual is a positive vision, despite the presentday oddities. He espouses a humanist cause: “Tender is the rebellion;” he is “prepared to bloom with the bud or burst with the bomb, unconditionally," every moment.

Soubhagya is a master micro-observer, turning even trivia into art, enlivened by wit and a racy narrative. His earlier swiftness has turned into sedate subtlety. He continues to take the reader to insightful stumblings. His ‘blind honeybee’ finds honey-saps even in unimaginable founts. Soubhagya and Rajendra, each having distinct ‘creationism,’ have one common point : they have inspired their younger fellowpoets immensely, making them non-hesitant, bold and have ‘oriented them towards poetic freed-speech’ in handling complex and unusual themes. The Oriya poetic diction has become vibrant and resilient in usage and connotation.

Sochi Rautroy’s lineage is very strong. Sitakant, Soubhagya and Rajendra have many peers, with their individual strength. The oracular Dipak Mishra with a strong sense of Clio and other Muses, the automystic Harihar Mishra with his Puri-Mahodadhi waves, the esoteric-intellectual Haraprasad Das with his neo-Charyapadic chants, the creative-errant  Kamalakant Lenka with his undying metameaning ramblings, the poet-Adonis J P Das with his neat and symbolic articulations, the eternal adventist Pratibha Satpathy invoking the Lord, Savari-like, or bemoaning the lost child, the ever serene Sourindra Barik : all of them and many others have contributed to Oriya poetry. Jayanta Mahapatra, eminent in Indian-English poetry, has turned bilingual and has published original Oriya poems in several collections. Devdas Chhotray, the truant prince-of-romance, continues his search for evanescent Mallika!

If Brahmotri Mohanty has left the mossyard long back and has entered the sanctum, Rabi Singh continues to combat the forces of exploitation. Brajanath Rath loves both the red and pink colours of creativity. While Mamata Dash unifies subtle love with divine grace, Aparna invokes the passionate reality with unhesitant candour; Giribala’s poetry contains the feministic dissent within poetic limits. Asutosh Parida is a poet of creative dissent, a voice of conscience and humanist commitment.

Among the next generation poets who are both “young and not-so-young,” Amaresh Patnaik, Haraprasad Paricha Patnaik, Abhaya Kumar Padhi, Rohinikanta Mukherjee, Aswini Kumar Mishra, Hrushikesh Mallick, Bhagirathi Mishra, Satrughna Pandab and Aparna Mohanty have evinced their creative talents in variegated utterances. If one is a quasi-surrealist, another is village-nostalgic. Another moves from seerlike chant to populist polemics.

The latest group of poets who have attracted current attention are the young ones. Although universal inference is not always desirable, it seems that they have not absorbed much from their immediate predecessors. Many of them have taken the mantras from seniors, looking back to the generation earlier. But some of them have also looked around, and looked within. The bold approach, the ‘directspeak’ diction, the open-ended observations have been expanded. And, where all these aspects have been charged with flashes of vision, the results have been excellent. Among the emerging voices of this generation are Manoranjan Dash, Akhil Nayak, Pabitra Mohan Dash, Sucheta Mishra, Basudev Sunani, Sunil Prusty, Ajay Pradhan, Manoj Meher, Arupanand Panigrahi and many others. The oozings and cross-movements have been going on. It is premature to predict the courses of the streams and substreams.



The Web-Anthology of contemporary Oriya poetry has come up due to the support extended from various sources. I record our gratitude to all of them. 

The first honour goes to the poets. It is their creative works in Oriya, which, rendered into English, provided the materials for this anthology. 

The books and periodicals from which I collected many of the original and translated versions have been very useful. To all the authors, editors and publishers, I convey my thanks. 

I am grateful to the translators (some of them are poets of repute), whose works have enriched the anthology. Among them are : Ramakanta Rath, Sitakant Mahapatra, Jayanta Mahapatra, Bibhu Padhi, Sanat Das Patnaik, Niranjan Mohanty, Jagannath Prasad Das, Hrushikesh Panda, Ganeswar Mishra, 
Haraprasad Paricha Patnaik, Prafulla Kumar Tripathy, Abhaya Kumar Padhi, Rajkishore Mishra, 
Braja Kishore Das, B.K.Das, Harishankar Acharya, Jayanta Kumar Biswal, Shyamaprasad 
Choudhury, Manmohan Thakore, Jibon Krisna Banerjee, P. Asit and Premananda Panda.

Shri Jagannath Barik and other colleagues, who assisted in sculpting the web-pages, deserve special thanks. 

Lastly, I am grateful that Varnamala entrusted to me the task of editing a historical Web-Anthology of Oriya poetry, which has provided web-presence for Oriya in the WorldWideWeb. 


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