The Utkala Sammilanni was instrumental in both the Odia movement and the establishment of Odisha as a separate province. In 1902, the Odias of Ganjam presented Viceroy Lord Curzon with a memorial signed by a large number of people proposing the unification of Ganjam, Sambalpur, and the Odisha Division of the Bengal presidency under a single government and university. By the end of the year, Raja Baikuntha Nath De, the zamindar of Balasore, had presented Viceroy Lord Curzon with a memorial proposing the unification of all Odia-speaking territories under the provincial governments of Bengal, Madras, or the Central provinces. In early 1903, at Rambha, on the shores of Chilka, a group of people met and formed the Ganjam Jatiya Samiti, chaired by the raja of Khalikote (Ganjam National Association).
In April 1903, under the chairmanship of Shyam Sundar Rajguru, a conference was held at Berhampur under the auspices of this association. This conference, which was attended by delegates from all over Odisha – Cuttack, Puri, Balasore, and Sambalpur – resolved to record the proceedings of Odia national conferences and to hold them annually. Meanwhile, Lord Curzon’s Government drafted a plan to incorporate Sambalpur and its neighbouring feudatory states, Ganjam district, and the Ganjam and Vizagpatnam Agencies into the Odisha Division. The plan was circulated among the governments of Central Provinces, Madras, and Bengal in early December 1903 to elicit their opinions. This plan is referred to as the Risley Circular, and it was circulated by Henry Risley, the Indian Government’s Secretary.
The first Odia national conference was held in Cuttack on 30-31 December 1903 in accordance with the Berhampur resolution, thanks to the efforts of Madhusudan Das, Rajendranarayan Bhanja Deo (the zamindar of Kanika), and Shriram Chandra Bhanjadeo (the Maharaja of Mayurbhanja). The conference, presided over by the Maharaja of Mayurbhanja, drew delegates from across Odisha, as well as some European lawyers, zamindars, government officials, and students. The conference endorsed the Risley Circular’s proposal for the unification of Odia tracts. The conference laid the groundwork for the establishment of a truly Odia national organisation, Utkal Sammilani (Utkal Union Conference). Following that, the Utkal Sammilani continued to meet annually in various locations throughout Odisha under the leadership of Madhusudan Das. Utkal Sammiiani’s primary objective was to unite Odiaspeaking tracts. However, the Sammilani was also concerned with the overall development of Odias and addressed issues such as industrial development, education expansion, revival of cottage industries, social reforms, the establishment of a separate university for Odisha, agriculture development, and Odia language and literature development.
Utkal Sammilani’s loyal nature
The Utkal Sammilani was a devoted ally. It began each session with a tribute to the British Crown and Viceroy. It sought to accomplish its objective through an appeal to the colonial government’s justice and fairness, rather than through active popular agitation. It was dominated by feudal elements such as rajas and zamindars who, in general, denied their subjects basic rights and the benefits of enlightened governance. While the Utkal Sammilani was primarily an elitist organisation composed of rajas, zamindars, and gentry, its claim to represent Odias as a nation cannot be disputed. This is because it was aimed at uniting Odia tracts and promoting Odisha’s overall development. The princes and zamindars who ruled the Sammilani were inextricably linked to the common masses through linguistic, religious, and social ties. Additionally, efforts were made to establish a mass base for the Utkal Sarnmllan]. Initially, 15 salaried missionaries established 381 branches throughout Orlssa Division, as well as in Midnapore, Calcutta, Ganjam, Sambalpur, and princely states. Public participation and involvement for the Sammilani may be sparked in certain areas of Ganjam and Koraput districts (undivided). However, such public enthusiasm was fleeting. On the whole, the Utkal Sammilanl was not a mass organisation; it remained an elite organisation, with Madhusudan Das serving as its spiritual leader from 1903 to 1920 A.D.