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Fakir Mohan Senapati Biography, Education, Religion, Death

Fakir Mohan Senapati, known as the father of modern Odia literature, is an important figure in the history and culture of Odisha. He is also referred to as Utkala Vyasa Kabi. A master in the art of writing short stories, Fakir Mohan Senapati injected a new life into Odia literature in an environment of gloom and despair. The sense of humour in his writing remains unsurpassed in Odia literature.

Discarding romantic themes, he wrote about the common man and his problems and social causes, which are relevant to this day. Fakir Mohan could rightly be compared with the great Indian novelists of the 20th century like Munshi Premchand and Bibhutibhusan Banerjee. Fakir Mohan Senapati was said to be an enlightened teacher, painter, and great administrator. In his writings, Odia Nationalism was the dominant theme.

Fakir Mohan Senapati Education

Fakir Mohan Senapati was born on 13 January 1843, Makar Sankranti, at Mallikashpur in Balasore. He was born in a Khandayat family to Lakshmana Charan Senapati and Tulasi Devi Senapati. When he was one and a half years old his father died. Soon after, his mother also died 14 months after her husband left Fakir under the watchful care of his grandmother, Kuchila Devi. As a child, he remained very sick, and often his grandmother took him to the fakirs for treatment.

It was his grandmother who changed his original name from Brajamohan to Fakir Mohan as a sign of gratitude to the Fakirs. Fakir Mohan married Leelavati Devi in 1856 when he was 13 years old. She died when he was 29 leaving behind a daughter. In 1871, he married for a second time to Krushna Kumari Dei. But fate did not favour him even this time, as he lost his second wife in 1894, leaving behind a son and a daughter. Fakir Mohan began his education very late, somewhere around the age of 9.

Fakir Mohan Senapati And John Beames Relation

He even worked at his teacher’s house in order to pay his fees. In order to fulfil his hunger for knowledge, he was admitted to the Mission School at Barabati, Balasore, where he had the opportunity to learn subjects like history, geography, and mathematics. Later he taught there as a teacher till 1871. He then went on to become the Headmaster of the Christian Mission School, Balasore.

It was during this period that he became acquainted with a person named John Beames, the Collector of Balasore during that time. John was also a skilled master and wrote a comparative grammar of different Indian languages. Fakir Mohan taught Odia toBeames, who considered Odia an important language of India.

Fakir Mohan soon mastered himself in English with the help of a dictionary. He also wrote textbooks in Odia on different subjects. Encouraged by John Beames, Fakir Mohan thereafter served as the ‘diwan’ at Nilagiri from 1871 to 1875. After that, he served as ‘diwan’ at several places.

Fakir Mohan served at Damapada, Dhenkanal, Daspalla, Pallahada and at Keonjhar. He served in the collectorate of Balasore as a clerk for some period of time. In 1868, Fakir Mohan set up a printing press at Balasore named Utkal Press. It was the second printing press in Orissa. Two newspapers were published from this press – ‘Bodhadayini’ and ‘Balasore Sambad Vaahika’; however, they could not be published regularly owing to lack of writers.

His contemporaries include the romantic-patriotic poet Radhanath Ray (1848–1908) and the Bhakti poet and educationist Madhusudan Rao (1853–1912). Fakir Mohan Senapati the father of modern Odia literature, was his perspective towards things. Fakir Mohan’s writings put a new light on women’s portrayal in literature. He portrayed them as courageous, spoke of women’s education, and expressed the problems they faced. He was also a social reformer and educationist, apart from being a novelist and writer of short stories. He addressed and tried to reform societal issues by means of his writings. Fakir Mohan contributed to Odia literature in several ways. He wrote novels, short stories, poems, essays, and school textbooks.

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He is also known to have translated several Sanskrit classics into the Odia language. He believed writing is a corollary to the development of language and the development of language is a corollary to the nation. Fakir Mohan Senapati played a major role in reviving the Odia language.

Although he translated from Sanskrit, wrote poetry, and attempted many forms of literature, he is now known primarily for his modern Odia fiction. His four novels, written between 1897 and 1915,  reflect the sociocultural conditions of Odisha during the 18th and 19th centuries. While the three novels – Chha Maana Atha Guntha, Mamu, and Prayaschita – explore the realities of social life in its multiple dimensions,   Lachhama is a historical romance dealing with the anarchical conditions of Odisha in the wake of Maratha invasions during the 18th century.

Chha  Maana Atha Guntha (Six Acres and a Third) is the first Indian novel to deal with the exploitations of landless peasants by feudal lords. It was written much before the October Revolution in Russia and the emergence of Marxist ideas in India. Fakir Mohan is also the writer of the first autobiography in Odia, Atma Jeebana Charita.  He wrote a long poem, Utkala Bhramanam,  which first appeared in 1892.

Literally translated as The Tour of Odisha, this poem, in reality, is not a travelogue but a commentary on the state of affairs in Odisha at that time, written in a satirical manner. During those times, Sanskrit was the main language in which books were written.   However, this was beyond the understanding of common people like the peasants and the artisans.  Fakir Mohan, however, wrote in the common every day speaking language (known as chalita bhasa [ଚଳିତ ଭାଷା  ]), which helped to bridge the gap that existed between the earlier writings and the common reader and also helped in preserving the Odia language as a separate and independent language.

Fakir  Mohan Senapati translated the Ramayana (1884–1895), the Mahabharat (1887–1905), and the Bhagavad Gita  (1887) from Sanskrit to the Odia language. Fakir Mohan entwined nationalism and language together as he believed that ‘nationalism was determined by language’. For this, he suggested four means that every educated person should do to promote the national literature – read and persuade others to read, write and persuade others to write. He said that a state cannot progress by losing its mother tongue, and believed that the development of language and literature is fundamental for the advancement of a country.

Father of Odia Literature

Fakir Mohan Senapati’s contribution to Odia literature remains unparalleled and has inspired many authors in modern times.  Mayadhar Mansingh had described Senapati as the Thomas Hardy of Odisha. Naveen Patnaik,   the Chief Minister of Odisha, once said that he loved his Rebati story the most. ‘Rebati’, a short story by Senapati is set against the backdrop of the cholera epidemic that devastated the family of the protagonist.  It has been translated into 36 languages.  He created a revolution in novel writing by departing from the romantic idiom and writing on social realism.

His portrayal of the common man and his concerns predated those of Munshi Prem Chand and Rabindranath Tagore, the other giants of Indian literature, as noted in Prof. Sisir Das’s work, The History of Indian Literature. His writings had elements, which, apart from promoting secular attitudes, helped bring about social changes. Odisha is the first state in India to be established on the basis of language, for which he had laid the groundstone. He, in fact, fought against various odds to save the language from extinction.

Fakir Mohan Senapati Death

Fakir Mohan Senapati died on 14 June 1918, which was the day of Raja Sankranti. He spent his last years in his hometown, Balasore.


The Government of Odisha Higher Education Department introduced a scholarship named after Fakir Mohan to promote Odia language for students securing more than 90% marks in Odia in the Higher Secondary (+2) examination. At his native place Balasore, Odisha, the government college is named Fakir Mohan College (established in 1944), and the government university Fakir Mohan University (Vyasa Vihar) (established in 1999). His ancestral house is now converted to a memorial and the District Art Gallery of Balasore Now, many scholars and researchers are working.

Now Fakir Mohan Senapati works to highlight them at national and international levels. A film (Anvesan) made by his great-granddaughter Dr. Monica Das, produced by Doordarshan  (Government of India), documents all this and more. DVDs of the film are available for purchase with Doordarshan (Prasar Bharti). Anindita Das, an eminent Odia singer has given her voice to many of Fakir Mohan’s poetry. To understand Fakir Mohan Senapati and his works better, it is necessary that we see him from in All India perspective.

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