Ramadevi Choudhuri: The legendary freedom fighter and a social reformer who actively participated in the freedom struggle and inspired the women in Odisha to step into the public sphere. She occupied a unique and unparallel position playing an outstanding role in the freedom movement of the state. Rama Devi dedicated herself to the cause of Bhoodan and Gramdan movement of Acharya Vinoba Bhave. Along with her husband she traveled on foot about 4000 kilometres across the state to propagate the message of gifting land and wealth to the landless and poor. In recognition of her services to the nation, Ramadevi was honoured with the Jamnalal Bajaj Award on the 4th November, 1981 and the Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris causa) by Utkal University on the 16th April, 1984.
Sarala Devi: Sarala Devi was the first Oriya freedom fighter who would be remembered as the most outstanding literary feminist who contributed to the making of modern Orissa. The achievements of Sarala Devi are amazing considering her modest educational background. Few women in modern Orissa can rival her as a writer, feminist and social activist. Sarala had humble schooling in a village pathasala and made her mark in public life against great odds.
Sarala travelled extensively, collecting contributions for the Tilak Swaraj Fund. In this mission, she found worthy companions in several Oriya women writer-activists such as Sailabala Das, Kuntala Kumari Sabat and Rama Devi.
When the separate province of Orissa was formed on April 1, 1936, Sarala Devi was elected to the Assembly as the first woman member from Orissa. As a member of the legislature, she took an active part in piloting bills related to women’s education and welfare.
In all her varied writings, Sarala displayed a maturity of vision, a sharp perception and an extraordinary range of interests. A constantly questioning mind led to a defiance of the accepted forms of received wisdom, especially with regard to the position of women in society.
Despite the relative lack of public recognition for her many accomplishments, Sarala Devi remains one of the most inspiring examples of early literary feminism in Orissa. In her strength of character, her understanding of women’s position in a patriarchal order, and her deployment of literature as the primary means to female emancipation and social change, she stands next to Kuntala Kumari Sabat. Though Kuntala excelled over her in creative literature, Sarala had a more active involvement in the society and polity of contemporary Orissa and remained committed till the end to both literature and women’s emancipation. She has been bestowed with Odisha Sahitya Accademi Award for her contribution to Odia Literature.
Sanjukta Panigrahi: Sanjukta Panigrahi was a dancer of India, who was the foremost exponent of Indian classical dance Odissi. Sanjukta was the first Oriya girl to embrace this ancient classical dance at an early age and ensure its grand revival.
In recognition of her contribution to dancing and associated activities, she was honoured with one of India’s highest civilian awards the, Padma Shri (1975). She is also recipient of the Sangeet Natak Akademi Award in 1976.
Apart from presenting Odissi performances in different parts of India, Sanjukta Panigrahi has been a part of Government’s cultural delegation to different countries, including to the USA and the Philippines (1969), United Kingdom (1983), Israel, Delphi International Festival in Greece (1989). She has also performed in France for eleven weeks, and participated there in the International Music Festival at Paris.
Parbati Ghosh: Parbati Ghosh is the epitome of Odia Cinema. She is a tough, dedicated and highly-creative filmmaker of the State. When Aparna Sen was making 36 Chowringhee Lane, Parbati Ghosh had already won three national awards in the best Oriya film category and was” an established name in Eastern India film scenario. In fact long before Sai Paranjpe, Kalpana Lajml and Aparna Sen, Parbati Ghosh had started her own film concern, acted and produced her own films, establishing herself as a pioneer woman director in the country.
Ghosh, born on March 28. 1933, made her debut as a child artist in, Sri Jagannath in 1950. In 1953, she came to mainstream Oriya filmdom as an actress essaying the lead role opposite Gour Ghosh in Amari Gaan Jhua followed by Bhiai Bhai (1956), Maa (1959). Laxmi (1962). Kaa (1965), Stree (1968) and Sansara (1971). Laxmi, Kaa and Stree won national awards as a best regional category.
Parbati made her debut as a director in Chha mana aatha guntha (1986). It was a good rendering of the famous novel of the same name by Fakir Mohan Senapati but faced a lot of criticism from film critics. But her films on various social themes with , sensitive treatment and brilliant narrative touched the hearts of the masses. Moreover, her films were deeply rooted in the socio-cultural ethos of the then Oriya society. Her last film as a producer-director is Salabega (1998) which she gave to the Films Division.
Dr. Pratibha Ray: A professor by profession and a writer by choice, Pratibha Ray undoubtedly is a household name in Odisha and in most parts of India through her translated works. She is one of the leading fiction writers in India today. It has been a long journey for Pratibha from the obscure lanes of her village to the secure place she enjoys in the hearts of her avid readers.
Her first novel Barsha Basanta Baishakha (1974) proved itself as a best seller for its readability among rural female half literate readers. She attributed the boldness, the revolt and humanism in her literature, to the impact of Vaishnavism, her family religion, which preaches no caste or class. Her search for a “social order based on equality, love, peace and integration”, continues, since she first penned at the age of nine. When she wrote for a social order, based on equality without class, caste, religion or sex discriminations, some of her critics branded her as a communist, and some as feminist[verification needed]. But she says “I am a humanist. Men and women have been created differently for the healthy functioning of society. The specialities women have been endowed with should be nurtured further. As a human being however, woman is equal to man”.
She is the first woman to receive the coveted National Moorti Devi Award by Bharatiya Jnanpith for the year 1991 for her widely acclaimed novel Jajnaseni. In December, 2012, Padmashri Pratibha Ray was selected for the country’s most coveted literary honour, the Jnanpith Award, for the year 2011 for her excellent contributions to the field of Indian literature.
Padma Shri Tulasi Munda: Tulasi Munda is a noted social activist who has done a lot of work to spread literacy among the tribal people and released hundreds of tribal children from a future as exploited daily labourers by setting up a school in mining area.
She has triggered a silent revolution in Serendra – a village about 30 km from the mines city of Joda in Orissa and its vicinity. The mission started by her in 1964 has borne fruit. The village once under the grip of illiteracy and poverty now boasts of a model school which has served as a catalyst for the over-all development of the area.
What makes Padma Shri Tulasi Munda’s achievement in this sphere all the more extraordinary is that she herself had never gone to a school in childhood. But it did not prevent her from dreaming to sow the seed of education in the village which would someday grow into a huge tree to provide shades of relief to the ill fated populace of the area that suffered from abject negligence and underdevelopment.
Today Tulasi commands an iconic recognition not only in the area that she once chose to be the beneficiary of her social mission but also in the entire state of Orissa. Her dedication to the cause has aptly been recognised by the Govt. of India which conferred the prestigious Padma Shri award on her in the year 2001.