The death of Mukundadeva, the last independent ruler of the Hindu Kingdom of Orissa was followed by a peirod of political confusion and territorial dismemberment in Orissa.
With the loss of independence the forces of political disintegration set in so fast that for the next two and half centuries Orissa was successively ruled by the southern portion of Orissa, Ganjam and adjacent tract, was occupied by the East India Company and formed a part of Madras Presidency till 1936. Sambalpur, annexed by the British in 1849, remained parts of Bengal till 1912 and thereafter became parts of the provinces of Bihar and Orissa.
The artificial administrative arrangements caused by the political dismemberment of Oriya speaking people had disastrous results apart from destroying their national unity. In all the three provinces (Bengal, Madras and Central Provinces) Oriya became the minority language and suffered for apathy and neglect.
The new elite the emerged in Orissa in the later half of the nineteenth century as a result of the spread of English education raised its voice for the unification of Oriya-speaking areas to safeguard the interests of the Oriyas and preserve and develop the Oriya language and culture. In 1868, Sir Stafford Northcote, the Secretary of State for India, held the view that for the purpose of better administration, the Oriya-speaking areas should be grouped into a single administrative unit.
The Oriya identity was expressed in the post “Na Anka” famine phase through such vernacular News papers and journals as Utkal Dipika, Smabad Bahika, Utkal Darpan, Utkal Putra and Sambalpur Hiteshini. The first remarkable manifestation of Oriya nationalism took place as a reaction to efforts made by some Bengalis to abolish Oriya language.
In 1869, Umacharan Haldar, a Bengali Deputy Inseptor of Schools advocated the replacement of Oriya by Bengali as the medium of instruction in the schools of Orissa. In 1870, Kantilal Bhatacharya, a teacher of Balasore Zilla School, published a book, called “Odiya Swatantra Bhasa Nahe”. Against this move to abolish Oriya language, the cause of Oriya language was taken up by the leading weekly of Orissa, Utkal Dipika, edited by Gauri Shankar Ray and the Balasore Sambad Bahika of Fakir Mohan Senapati.
When the Oriyas of Cuttack, Puri and Balasore felt harassed by the Bengalis, in Ganjam their counterparts felt in the similar way against the Telugus. In September 1870, the Oriyas of Ganjam held a meeting at Bhanjanagar and appealed to the Oriyas of Orissa Division to carry on movement for the unification of Oriya-speaking areas.
In 1875, Raja Shyamananda Development, a Zamindar of Balasore sent a petition to the Government for the amalgmation of all Oriya-speaking areas. In 1882, Utkal Sabha was organised at Cuttack and Madhusudan Das, the first lawyer of Orissa, associated himself with with association.
In November 1885, when Sir Richard Thomson, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal visited Orissa, the Utkal Sabha gave a memorandum to him demanding the merger of Sambalpur and Ganjam with the Orissa Division. In 1886, Madhusudan Das attended the second session of Indian national congress and raised the question of amalgamation of Oriya-speaking areas.
In November 1888, on the occasion of visit of Sir S.C. Bayley, the Lieutenant Governor of Bengal to Orissa, the Utakal Sabha presented a memorial, demanding the unification of Oriya-speaking territories. It is interesting to note that in 1895, H.G. Cooke, the Commissioner of Orissa Division gave a suggestion for the merger of Sambalpur district, the Tributary states of Patna, Sonepur, Rairakhol, Bamra and Kalahandi and the Ganjam district with the Orissa Division.
Amalgamation of Sambalpur:
In 1895, the Chief Commisioner of Central Provinces decided to introduce Hindi as the Official language in the Sambalpur district on the ground that it was not possible to post Hindi-speaking officials in that district if Oriya remained the official language. The people of Sambalpur vehemently protested against this decision.
The Sambalpur Hiteishini, edited by Nilamani Vidyaratna published series of several protest meetings. Dharanidhar Mishra, a leading public figure of Sambalpur submitted a memorandum on 5th July, 1895 to Lord Elgin, the Viceroy with the signature of several thousand people. He called the language policy of the Government as “impolitic, unjust and arbitrary”. Sambalpur became the focal point of language agitation.
The Orissa Association of Cuttack and Madhusudan Das, the leading Oriya Advocate took up the issue. Madhusudan Das impressed upon the Viceroy the desirability of retaining Oriya as official language.
In July 1901, the leading persons of Sambalpur met Andrew Fraser, the Chief Commisioner of Central Provinces and suggested either for early restoration of Oriya as official language or for the transfer of Sambalpur to Orissa Division.
The language problem of Sambalpur was brought to the notice of Lord Curzon, Viceroy, in 1900. At his behest Andrew Fraser made the spot study recommended that Oriya, not Hindi, ought to be the court language of Sambalpur.
Oriya was restored as the offical language of Sambalpur with effect from 1 January, 1902. But more significant was Lord Curzon’s desire to amalgamate Sambalpur and all the Oriya-speaking tracts under one administration which had its genesis in the language agitation of Sambalpur.
Lord Curzon was in favour of were-organisation of Bengal province. The Risley circular of 3 December 1903 proposed “territorial reorganisation on the basis of linguistic homogeneity.” The Risely circular, therefore, proposed the transfer of Sambalpur alongwith adjoining five feudatory states (Patna, Kalahandi, Sonepur, Rairkhol and Bamra) from the central provinces to Orissa Division. Its proposal to transfer Ganjam and Agency tracts was opened by the Government of Madras and had to be dropped. Finally on 16 October 1905, Sambalpur and adjoining five feudatory states of Central Provinces and Bonai and Gangpur of Chhotanagpur Division were transferred and amalganmated with Orissa Division. It marked the beginning of the successful Oriya movement and served as moral booster till the goal was achieved in 1936.