A Senior Citizen’s Account of Bhubaneswar

Bhubaneswar Old Town

The Old Town is in a desperate state, crying for survival. I still remember the time when Old Town, just a few kilometres across, was the hub of all activities.

The state’s capital was born 15 years after my birth. I was born three years before the formation of Odisha as a separate state.

I was a part of that history and saw the growth of Bhubaneswar as the capital city, along with the growth of the state.

Odisha was formed on April 1, 1936, with Cuttack as its capital. The capital shifted to Bhubaneswar on April 13, 1948, coinciding with the beginning of the Odia New Year.

The city that we now call the capital is the new city, which came up at the cost of old city better known as Old Town.

The Old Town is in a desperate state, crying for survival. I still remember the time when Old Town, just a few kilometers across, was the hub of all activities.

The other areas were dense forest and no one dared move out of Old Town after sunset. There was a lurking fear of being attacked by a leopard or tiger. Poisonous snakes abounded. The area beyond the confines of Old Town was part of the great Chandaka sanctuary, which has now shrunk to a few square kilometers.

Before the foundation stone for the state’s capital was laid, the place only had a small railway station (during the period of 1893 to 1896, 800 miles of East Coast State Railway was built and opened to traffic), a post office, a police station near Lingaraj Temple and a revenue collection office that existed since the British days.

There were also two dharmasalas, one established in 1920 and the other in 1929. We had gone on foot to see Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru lay the foundation for the capital city. The foundation stone was laid about eight months after India achieved Independence.

It was the radio that kept us updated about the flurry of activities that took place in Bhubaneswar.

The area on the fringe of Old Town was filled with dense kochila (strychnine) trees, the thicket growth of which could be noticed from Kedargouri to the railway station. Besides kochila, freshwater mangrove, neem, bamboo, bael and mango trees were also there.

People who arrived in Bhubaneswar by train used to visit Old Town on foot. Only the rich few could afford the luxury of bullock carts.

In those days, the Old Town had only two schools – Kapil Prasad Primary School and Pandit Raghunath Primary School. In 1940, Bhakta Kabi Madhu Sudan High School was set up. Most of us studied in the chatsalis (thatched houses where students were taught free of cost). After attending a chatsali, I joined the Sanskrit toll and later took up a job as a Sanskrit teacher. I retired in 1991 from Krushna Chandra Gurukula Mahavidalya in Old Town.

The area used to attract a lot of Bengalis. Many Bengali families settled down there. The reason they liked the place was the belief that water from the Kedar Gouri tank in Old Town could cure one of all stomach ailments and also filariasis. The water had medicinal properties that worked wonders. They also set up the Ramkrishna Mission here. A Bengali family with the surname Ray Choudhury constructed a double-storied building in Kapil Prasad. The Bengalis also played an instrumental role in establishing Tridandi Goudia Mutt, Kathia Baba Mutt and Sunar Gourang Mutt.

I still remember how four ponds were dug up on the periphery of Old Town at Rameswar, Punama Gate, state museum and Badagarh to prevent the entry of elephants into the area. The area used to draw a huge crowd during Shivratri and Ashokastami when the car festival of Lord Lingaraj was held. The growth in the Old Town was primarily centred around the 11th century Lingaraj Temple.

As time progressed, construction in other areas began with forests being cleared. Work on the secretariat and Assembly buildings, apart from the airport and the governor’s house, commenced one after another. The present Raj Bhavan is actually set up on a hillock that used to be known as Bhalumundia because bears roamed the area. Watching the construction activity was quite exciting.

The new Bhubaneswar has changed a lot and the master plan designed by town planning engineer Otto Koenigsberger has been distorted to a great extent.

The capital city, which then had only one police station headed by a daroga babu, now has 22 of them functioning under a commissionerate system.

I have been watching Bhubaneswar’s growth with awe and it has now spread beyond Patia. In the good old days, when transport was a big problem, Brahmins visiting their jajmans (clients) in Patia used to stay there for the night, returning only the next morning.

What hurts people like me is that the new generation is selling their ancestral land, which they won’t be able to recover. A new rich class has emerged, but these are people without roots. Sadly, the pristine beauty and tradition of old Bhubaneswar is being forgotten in the race for what this generation calls “progress” and the “forward march of civilisation”.

Courtesy: The Telegraph

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