Classical tag lifts spirits in Odisha

It was a proud moment for Odisha, known for its rich culture, tradition and heritage, when the Union cabinet chaired by prime minister Manmohan Singh recently approved a proposal to grant Odia, the mother tongue of the eastern state, the status of a classical language.

The decision was significant because it put Odisha in an elite club of only five other Indian languages that enjoy the prestigious status. They are the four southern languages of Kannada, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam besides Sanskrit. “It is certainly a historic milestone. Every Odia, both inside the state and outside, should be proud of this achievement”, said Dr P K Mohanty, the Director of Odia Bhasha Pratisthan, a government of Odisha agency which works for the development and expansion of Odia language.

The Centre’s decision to grant Odia the exclusive status has also proved that the language has come a long way since the formation of separate Odisha state in 1936. At that time many people outside the state had refused to acknowledge Odia as a separate language though Odisha was the first state to be formed on the basis of language. Writers, scholars and researchers of Odia language had been demanding the classical status for long. However, it gained momentum a few years back. The government of Odisha in the month of January last year had constituted an 11 member expert panel headed by an eminent linguist and former founder director of the Central Institute of Indian Languages, Mysore, Debiprasanna Pattanayak to prepare a detailed report containing both documentary as well as pictorial evidences supporting the demand for classical status for Odia.

Fulfilling criteria

The expert panel prepared a five hundred page report and in the month of July last year it was presented before a committee of linguistic experts appointed by the Centre’s ministry of culture to look into the demand. The report argued that Odia should be given the classical status as it fulfills all the criteria including the principal criteria that it must have a recorded history of 1500 to 2000 years and its literary tradition must be original and not borrowed from any other speaking community.
Apart from the prestige attached to it, the classical status would also bring in several other benefits. The Centre would now give a one time grant of Rs 100 crore for the development and research of the language. An annual grant of Rs 5 crore would also be provided every year for the same purposes.

The tag would further open up opportunities for setting up of literary awards in the language for writers and researchers. Odia language departments would now be opened in all the central universities. Besides, the state government can also now requests the University Grang Commission (UGC) to set up special professional chairs in the language in various universities, particularly in central universities.
However, despite the positive approach of the state government, particularly during and after the run up to the crucial meeting of the union cabinet which cleared the proposal - it had remained pending for nearly seven months till chief minister Naveen Patnaik wrote letter to union culture minister Chnadresh Kumari Katoch just a few days before the cabinet meeting requesting her to expedite the formalities - many in the state literature circles feel that the administration would have to take a more pro-active role if it really wants to develop and popularise the language.

There were instance in the past of non-implementation of important government decisions and orders on the matter of development of Odia language. For example, nearly a decade back the government had issued a notification that all official files will be written in Odia language. However, the order is yet to be implemented. The governenet should ensure the implementation of this type of orders, at least to give a signal to everybody that it is sincere about the development of its own language.
With the Odia language and Odissi dance getting the classical tag, efforts have now begun to get a similar tag for Odia music. Scholars, performers and researchers of Odissi music have been demanding classical status for it for long saying that the music has all the elements at par with Hindustani and Carnatik music.

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