Contribution of Dr. Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra To the Study of Orissan History and Culture
Dr. Bijay Kumar Rath
(M.A., Dip-in-Archaeology, Ph. D)
(Author is now working as Superintendent, Orissa State Archaeology, Bhubaneswar)
Just Click on above image,it will take you to an excellent web site on Dr. Ramesh Prasad Mohapatra (Dr. R.P. Mohapatra) and his unstinting dedication for enriching and popularising Orissan Art, Archaeology, History, Culture, and Religion. His Collection of Antiquities and rare archaeological artefacts proudly displayed in Orissa State Museum is an eye opener for outsiders as well as insiders. His Magnificent volumes, rather better be acknowledged as magnum opus, on Orissan Art, Archaeology, Cultural History, Military History, History and religion based on creative and pain staking research regarded as pioneering effort in poularising true Orissan grandeour.....
It is a sad and sudden thing for all of us to hear about the passing away of Dr. R. P. Mohapatra on 14th January 1989.
To those who knew Dr. Mohapatra intimately and who worked with him as colleagues, he will be always remembered as a very good scholar in the field of Orissan Studies, in addition to his being a rare combination of good Museologist and Archaeologist.
I came to know Dr. Mohapatra in 1969, when I was a still a student, through our common teacher late Prof. K. C. Panigrahi. He had been working as Curator of the Archaeology section of the Orissa State Museum since 1964. He became a senior colleague to me when I joined as Curator in Orissa State Archaeology in 1974. From this time I have been knowing him as a serious Scholar and read with interest his writings on different aspects of Orissan Studies.
He completed his Ph. D degree under late Prof. K.C. Panigrahi, who also guided me later, for my research work. Dr. Mohapatra’s first book "Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves" in Orissa was based on his research for Ph. D degree. Since the publication of this book he never looked behind and continued to produce some of the best research works ever done in Orissa, which were done for the first time on completely new topics.
During his eventful and simple career of Museum service, he could distinguish himself as an erudite scholar of ancient Orissan Studies. He has left behind him a number of exemplary works and large number of articles in English and Oriya, all bearing on Orissan Studies. He had these following works to his credit.
Out of the above the first five works have been already published. The 6th work he had prepared for the Orissa Sahitya Academy, which is perhaps being printed. The 7th title has been prepared by him and awaits publication by Orissa State Museum authorities (It’s now published). The last work, which can be considered as his most exhaustive study, divided into three volumes, is incomplete. He could only finish two volumes out of his planned three volumes when the untimely death took him away from us and his work (Now all except Musical Instruments of Orissa been published). We would now never have the benefit of his erudition on this unchartered field of Orissan studies.
It would be a tribute to Dr. Mohapatra to dwell briefly on each of his work and its significance on the study of Orissan History and Culture.
His first work UDAYAGIRI AND KHANDAGIRI CAVES was the first of its kind by any Oriya scholar on the early cave architecture of Orissa. Before him other scholars has written on different aspects of Udayagiri and Khandagiri Caves. Dr. Debala Mitra had a small monograph on these early caves near Bhubaneswar. But Dr. Mohapatra’s work, for the first time, included an exhaustive study on the cave architecture, sculptural art, iconography of Jain images and above all detail documentation of each cave in these two hills. His second work the JAINA MONUMENTS OF ORISSA also bears testimony to his professionalism as a Museologist as well as his training as an Archaeologist. For the first time, it again deals deals with a new chapter in the history of Orissa, i.e. the development and growth of Jainism in Orissa and detailed study of the Jain antiquarian remains of Orissa. For the first time again he had the distinction of being the first scholar to write on the Jaina Monuments of the State which was never attempted in detail by any earlier scholar. In this work he deals with the origin, growth and development of Jainism in Orissa, detailed documentation of Jaina Monuments and sculptures, study of Jain iconography in Orissa and an evolution of Jaina Art from an all India perspective.
In my opinion his next best work was the book on the MILITARY HISTORY OF ORISSA. This again was a first attempt by any Oriya scholar to study this aspect of Orissan study. Everybody knows and talks about the martial achievements of the Oriya people from the earliest times. But nobody has documented single handedly the military history of Orissa in a single book earlier. I know of an Oriya work known as ORISSARA SAMARIKA PARAMPARA, which is a collection of essays on the topic, by different scholars in Oriya language. But Dr. mohapatra’s work is different from the above work in the sense that it not only gives us the history of wars and battles under different dynasties of Orissa, but also provides authentic information on the forts of Orisssa, arms and armoury of different periods, battle dresses used by Oriya soldiers and some of the literary sources dealing with the subject. This work of Dr. Mohapatra was definitely inspired by the work MILITARY HISTORY OF INDIA by G. N. Pant, but does not follow the same by way of subject treatment and preparation.
Another lasting contribution of Dr. R. P. Mohapatra to Orissan Studies is his ARCHAEOLOGY IN ORISSA made in two volumes. In these two volumes he had documented the sites and monuments of the all districts of Orissa. This was the result of his extensive tours to different places in course of his service career and information available to him from different publications. As an Archaeologist myself I feel that these two volumes are immensely valuable to scholars working on Orissan Studies, as in one place they have vivid documentation of each monument and its sculptures as well as the location and approach to the site. These two volumes are first of their kind in Orissa done by any Oriya Scholar. We get information on monuments in isolated manner from the publications of State Archaeology Department, Archaeological Survey of India and other publication but not like the above work of Dr. Mohapatra in a single place and in detail.
Another contribution of Dr. R. P. Mohapatra, which can be considered significant, was his compilation of the INDEX VOLUME TO THE ORISSAN HISTORICAL REASERCH JOURNAL, published by Orissa State Museum. In this work he had compiled bothe the subject Index and Author Index of all the articles published in back issues of the journal from 1952 to 1982. The want of an Index Volume to the above journal was felt by everybody but he took upon himself the work of compiling such a volume which is now very helpful to scholars who want to refer this journal.
I know of an assignment given to Dr. Mohapatra by Orissa Sahitya Academy for writing a book on legends and traditional accounts connected with temple of Orissa "TEMPLE LEGENDS OF ORISSA". To the best of my knowledge he had completed this and handed over the manuscript to the authorities of Academy for publication, which I hope, is in press at present. A similar work, which awaits publication by Orissa State Museum, is on the "DECORATIVE ART OF PARASURAMESVARA TEMPLE". This was a work sponsored by the Deptt. And completed by long back by Author. It is unfortunate that the author could not see the work in printed form.
Dr. Mohapatra’s most ambitious project before his demise was an exhaustive study of "Hair Style, Coiffure and Ornaments, Musical Instruments from Orissan Sculptures" which he envisaged in three big volumes. For this he had been working for last three years and I believe he had already completed the first two volumes of this project before his premature death. I also know that for the remaining two volumes he had all the required materials but he had probably not finished the text. He had been also working on Musical Instruments of as depicted on Orissan sculptures.
All the above publications and research work, which had enriched the study of Orissan history and culture, make him immortal in the scholarly world. It is pity that his contributions to the Orissan history and culture could not be recognized properly although he was working in the Deptt. Of Culture. He was a simple Museum Curator who worked relentlessly not for his benefits but for others. His books have been widely acclaimed in the scholarly world. He wrote both in Oriya and English while his English writings were eye opener for the outside scholars on the grandeur of Orissan History and Culture. His Oriya articles, published in leading Oriya journals, were thought provoking and authentic information for local scholars, dealing with the subjects. Throughout his career he had never sought any help from others but worked single-handedly, which produced these fine research works.
It is TIME only, which can recognize the merits of his writing and their real contributions to the study of Orissan Culture, which, unfortunately, went unnoticed during his lifetime by the authorities. He probably died as a happy scholar but he must have died as a sad curator of Orissa State Museum.
I express my deep sorrow over his untimely death since he was like an elder brother to me and I convey my condolence to his bereaved family and pray God that his soul may rest in peace.
Dr. B. K. Rath