The Maratha administration of Orissa effectively began from the year 1751. Raghuji Bhonsle-I became the new master of the territory and a new system of government was put into operation. The Marathas divided Orissa into two broad political divisions passing under the more familiar terms as the Mughalbandi and the Garhjat. The Mughallbandi, comprising the coastal districts was divided into 150 Parganas and placed under 32 Revenue Commissioners or Amils. Each Pargana was divided into several Mahalas. For a systematic and better collection of revenue, hereditary revenue collectors titled as Talukdars, Kanungos and Chaudhuris were appointed. Attempts were also made to collect the revenue directly from the raiyats or through the village headmen. The administration paid attention to the welfare of the peasants in particular. While embankments were constructed to protect extensive cultivable lands against flood, the peasants were given at times remission from payment of land revenue when there was crop failure due to flood or drought.
The Maratha rule lasted in Orissa for a brief period of half a century only. This period coincided with the rise of the British power in Bengtal. It was in the nature of historical developments that the foundation of the British Empire should not be followed by its expansion and the British were acutely conscious of that historical role for which they were destined. And, the British were thoroughly aware of the stragtegic position of Orissa, situated as the land between their emerging power in Bengal and Madras. They had come to Orissa as traders during the first half of the 17 th century A.D. and had established their factories, and had acquainted themselves with the land and its people, while simultaneously making assessment of the strength and weakness of the ruling powers.
As early as 1633, the British established a trade centre at Hariharpur, one of the first of their settlements in India. Their subsequent establishment at Baleshwar on river Burhabalanga and at Pipili on river Subarnarekha developed into flourishing centres of trade as well as of power. According to William Wilson Hunter, the English historian, it was those two Orissa harbours which became the basis of the future greatness of the British in Bengal.
After the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and Buxar in 1764 the ambition of the British empire-builders reached its logical height to acquire as much of Indian territories as possible, and Orissa being so near to Bengal automatically came under the orbit of that design. Clive’s successor in Bengal, Warren Hastings tried to persuade Janoji’s successor Madhoji Bhonsla to reconsider the issue. The negotiation failed again, though the Maratha ruler permitted the movement of the British troops through Orissa towards the south, under the command of Colonel Pearse. Lord Cornwallis adopted the same policy of persuasion, but achieved no result. Madhoji’s successor, Raghuji Bhonsla II, however, was made to agree to permit the British troops to pass through Orissa once again during the Third Mysore War. The British failed to get Orissa through diplomacy, but their soldiers could see and know Orissa during their movements for future need.
Lord Wellesley, the aggressive Governor-General who came to convert the British Empire in India into the British Empire of India, decided to acquire Orissa by war. The second Maratha War gave him that opportunity. The conquest of Orissa was achieved in 1803 without any difficulty. The treaty of Deogarh, signed on 17 December 1803, ended the Maratha rule and inaugurated the British Rule in Orissa. It contained only the three coastal districts of Baleshwar, Cuttack and Puri, and the sixteen Tributary Mahals (the number increased to 18 in 1837) in the hill tracts.
Though the British conquest of Orissa proved to be an easy affair, the consolidation of the territory proved itself much more difficult because of the defective land revenue and administration systems which the new rulers initiated. Within a few years, therefore, there broke out a rebellion against the British, famous as the Paik Rebellion of 1817.
The rebellion broke out in Khordha, and spread to surrounding areas. The cause of this insurrection was the defective administration with which the new rulers began their regime. The traditional warrior class of the area, known as the Paiks, were in possession of their hereditary lands by virtue of their earlier role in the services of the former Hindu rulers. The new administration, under Major Fletcher, forfeited those lands and thereby ruined the economic life of a martial people. The leader of the rising was Bakshi Jagabandhu, a former General of the armed force of the Khordha Raja. Deprived of his own landed estate and reduced to the condition of a pauper, he took advantage of the general discontent among the Paik population and with the support of a large number of distressed Khonds from Ghumusar, he raised the standard of a serious revolt. The Government establishments, police-stations, and treasuries were attacked, plundered and destroyed. The British troops suffered initial reverses with one of their Commanders, Lieutenant Faris, killed. The rebel forces reached Puri on 12 th April, 1817 and caused considerable destruction to official property, and drove out the Government troops and officers. The success of the rebellion inspired confidence in the discontented elements at other places. The Rajas of Kujang and Kanika, too, came under the suspicion of the British for rebelious activities. In September, British troops were dispatched to Kujang where, after an encounter, the Raja surrendered himself to Captain Kennet in October.
Vigorous military measures were taken by the British to reconquer the lost places and restore order. The rebellion ended by the end of October 1817 though its leader evaded the British for long till at last he surrendered himself in 1825 and became a prisoner at Cuttack. The Bakshi died in 1829.
The paik rebellion gave a rude shock to the British Government, but at the same time made it realize that its polices required thorough modifications. The responsibility of this reorientation fell upon the newly appointed Commissioner in Cuttack, Robert Ker. But, tragically enough, for various factors, Orissa’s economic vitality declined rapidly during the British rule and the Government paid scant attention to the condition of the people. In fact, the people of the princely states were left to themselves to suffer in their separated existence, and the coastal belt under the direct rule was regarded chiefly as a land route between the two presidencies of Bengal and Madras, as if without deserving any special consideration for developments.
Within eight years of the transfer of power from the East India Company to the British Crown, Orissa came under one of the worst calamities in her history. It was the infamous Na’anka Famine of 1866-67. The East India Company had done almost nothing to improve communication system in the territory during the 55 years of its indifferent administration. The only road which connected Orissa with Calcutta remained unmetalled and unbridged through several large rivers followed to the sea and kept the belt under inundation for months in every year. Whatever communication the people of Orissa maintained in earlier days by sea with the outer world had been totally destroyed by the British Orissa was, thus, an isolated patch of land from the rest of the country. Speaking about this feature, the Famine Commission reported: “The famine in Orissa stands almost alone in this, there was almost no importation, and the people shut up in a narrow province between pathless jungles and an impracticable sea, were in the condition of passengers in a ship without provision.’ A failure of rain in 1865 resulting in the loss of usual crops brought about a famine which could have been met with successfully had there been facilities for transportation.
The famine which began to show its symptoms from October, 1865 revealed in no time the total failure of the administration to realize the situation. Indifference of the officers, failure to import food, economic policy of laissez-faire and wrong conclusions regarding the nature of the impeding calamity led to disastrous consequences all too suddenly. The actual area of intense famine was not too large and the period of its intensity was limited to half a year of 1866 only. But failure to meet the emergency by the authorities led to a mortaility of one million. Nearly one man in every three in Orissa died in the famine.
Orissa took time to recover from the effects of the Great Famine. The British, too, were obliged to pay some attention atleast towards the development of the area. But, the real significance of the post-Na’anka era in 19 th century was that a new consciousness was beginning to take shape amonmg the thiking minds of the rising generation who thought it to be their imperative duty to work for a regeneration from within. The East India Company had neglected the education of the people to the worst extent. At the close of its rule, Orissa possessed only three Zilla Schools in the district headquarters of Baleshwar, Cuttack and Puri hjaving a total of 282 pupils only. A few schools run by the Christian missionaries and some of the vernacular schools were doing their little bit to meet the needs, by every effort in educational direction was at its lowest degree. It was just after the Famine, in 1867, that the Government raised the status of the Cuttack Zilla school to that of a High English school, affiliated to Calcutta University. It became a college in 1876/ It is from such narrow scopes fofr modern education that the pioneers of Oriya renaiscance of the late 29 th century came forward for their role. A notable product of the new education was Utkal Gourab Madhusudan Das, the first graduate of Orissa who took B.A. degree from Calcutta University in 1870, M.A. degree in 1873, and a degree in Law in subsequent years. His ideas about the regeneration of his country,em made him one of the foresmot leaders of moden Orissa.
The new consciousness found its expression in the literacyn activities of some of the eminent writers who herealded the growth of modern Oriya literature. Fakir Mohan Senapati (1843-1918) and Radhanath ray (1848-1908) gave a tremendous impetus to Oriya literature through their numerous works. An All-Orissa phenomenon of literacy resurgence became the new characteristic of the age through the writings of Madhusudan Das, Biswanath Kar, Ramasankar Roy, Gangadhar Meher and Nanda Kishore Bala.
By the time the Indian National Congress was born in 1885, the conscious minds of Orissa were ready for appropriate responsive role in the promotion of the Congress ideologies and programmes. Within a few weeks of the first Congress Session, the Oriya leaders met at Cuttack on 3 rd March 1886 to chalk out their future plans in support of the Congress resolutions. In December of the same year, the Utkal Sabha and the National Society sent their delegates numbering seven to attend the second session of the National Congress. Every year thereafter, representatives from Cuttack attended the Congress Sessions to uphold actively the cause of the National Movement. Leaders like Madhusudan Das and Gouri Sankar Ray popularized the Congress principles among the patriotic people of Orissa during the last decade of the 19 th century, Orissa, thus, joined the main stream of the national life right in time.
In 1874, in a large congregation of the native chiefs, landlords and the leading persons, the problem of Oriya-speaking people was discussed with the ulterior objective of union. In 1877, when the Utkal Sabha was formed by such leading minds as Madhusudan Das, Fakirmohan Senapati and Radhanath Ray, the idea of a greater Orissa began to take shape. By the time Utkal Gourab Madhusudan formed the famous Orissa Association in 1882, grounds were prepared for a move to draw the attention of the Government towards the problem of the Oriyas.
Out of such sporadic attempts finally there emerged a political movement to units all the Oriya-speaking areas under one administration. In the capital of Orissa, Cuttack, the representatives of the Oriya-speaking territories that lay outside such as Ganjam, Sambalpur and Midnapore, gathered on the closing days of December 1903 and doing with the leading Oriyas of Orissa proper formed an organization that became famous as the Utkal Sammilani on the Utkal Union Conference. The native chiefs, prominent landlords, lawyers, government servants and students took a prominent part in forming this organization to campaign the cause of a united Orissa under the able leadership of Madhusudan Das. A memorandum was submitted to the Government to transfer all the Oriya-speaking tracts as situated in other provinces to the Orissa Division. The movement continued till the goal was reached. On the April, 1936, the new province of Orissa came into being.
Simultaneous with the movement for its territorial unity, Orissa marched o the path of freedom struggle with the rest of India for national independence. Right from the Swadeshi Movement of 1905-1910 the practice of the land felt inspired for the cause of the country and developed anti-British feelings rapidly. By the side of the first World War, anarchical philosophies had taken root in Orissa. In the town of Baleshwar and in the Kaptipada forest areas in Mayurbhanj district, the Bengal territories with the active assistance of Oriya inhabitants worked for anti-Government activities in a daring spirit.
By the end of the War, Utkalmani Pandit Gopabandhu Das emerged for a remarkable role in promoting the Congress Movement in Orissa. A generation of youthful patriots soon arose to champion the national movement and to carry the spirit of the struggle to the people at large. Among them were men like Harekrushna Mahtab, Gopabandhu Choudhury, Nabakrushna Choudhury, Bagirathi Mahapatra, Jagabandhu Singh, Mukunda Prasad Das, Nityananda Kanungo, Jadumani Mangaraj, Niranjan Patnaik, Dibakar Patnaik, Chandra Sekhar Behera, Nanda Kishore Das, Raj Krushna Bose and others. Pandit Gopahandhu Das became the President of the Utkal Provincial Congress Committee.
The tide of the Non-Co-operation Movement swept over Orissa. In March 1921 when Gandhi toured Orissa, there was a unique response to his call from all sections of the people. Though the Mahatma visited a few places only, the message touched the hearts of the rural mass as well as the elite of Orissa. Many Youngman left schools and colleges, some of the eminent lawyers gave up their legal profession, men like Gopabandhu Choudhury, Lingaraj Misra, Surendra Nath Das and Muhammed Hanif resigned from government jobs, and Pandit Nilakantha Das gave up his teaching assignment of Calcutta University to serve in a national school.
In the meantime, Utkal Gourab Madhusudan Das working on lines of liberal statesmanship, entered the Bihar and Orissa Legislative Council and became a Minister in January 1921. As an idealist in politics, and a reformer by temperament he quickly showed his inviduality, not as a subservient Minister to the ruling power, but as a real servant of the people, with dedication to the cause of their uplift. As a Minister of Local Self-Government, he suggested to the Government that “To ensure the success of the reforms it is necessary that the Minister of Local Self-Government should not draw any salary, but should be an honorary worker’. The Governor would not entertain such ideas in view of the administrative prestige of the Ministers and consequently, Mr. Das tendered his regisnation in March 1923. The resignation of a Minister on grounds of principles became a rare example in British-Indian constitutional history and the action of Madhusudan Das drew admiration from Mahatma Gandhi and many others.
When Gandhi gave his call for the Civil Disobedience Movement in 1930, Orissa came forward for a most vigorous struggle as one of the most politically progressive regions of India. The breaking of Salt Law which became the symbolic feature of the disobedience, proved to Oriya leaders as the most effective weapon to fight the British. All over the long coastal belt of Orissa, and with a special attraction for the people’s age-old engagement in salt manufacture which the British had destroyed, there was an unprecedented popular enthusiasm to break the Salt Law and prepare salt in their own hand. At Inchudi in Baleshwar district, Salt Satyagraha under Surendra Natha Das became only second to Gandhi’s Satyagraha in Gujarat in importance and impact. At other places, such as Kujang in Cuttack district, Kuhudi, Singeshwar and Latra in Puri district; and Huma in Ganjam district (at that time in Madras Presidency) the Salt Satyagraha in thousands broke the law and suffered the consequences. Smt. Rama Devi, Smt. Malati Choudhury, Acharya Harihar Das, Gopabandhu Choudhury, Atal Bihari Acharya, Govind Misra, Raj Krushna Bose, Smt. Sarala Devi, Smt. Annapurna Devi, Narayan Birabar Samanta, Birakishore Das, Lakshmi Narayan Misra, Smt. Binapani Devi, and Surendra Nath Patnaik, among many others, became the leading spirits of the Civil Disoebedience Movement and many of them suffered imprisonment with their followers from among the common people.