Cuttack’s tryst with freedom struggle

This Independence Day, take a walk through Cuttack’s winding lanes housing historical monuments and museums to learn how they influenced the country’s freedom struggle and great minds behind it.
Begin the journey at the 160-year-old Swaraj Ashram, located on Kathjodi river front in Sahebzada Bazaar, which was the hub of freedom struggle in Cuttack. It was the temporary home for several freedom fighters and witnessed many crucial meetings that shaped the freedom struggle. When Mahatma Gandhi visited Cuttack for the first time in March,1921, he stayed in Swaraj Ashram for two days and addressed a public meeting on the bank of Kathjodi on March 24. According to historians, on March 13, 1921, the first Pradesh Congress Committee of the Congress was formed in Swaraj Ashram with Pandit Gopabandhu Das as its president. The Congress used the ashram to train its workers and subsequently, it became the focal point for Indian Freedom Struggle.

Swaraj Ashram was also witness to a movement for women’s emancipation after Mahatma Gandhi withdrew the Non-cooperation movement. Educated Odia women leaders set up organisations that worked as platforms for their social and political empowerment. In 1924, All Orissa Women’s Federation was formed and two years later, it became a part of All India Women’s Federation. Swaraj Ashram hosted the first session of Utkal Mahila Sammelan on June 30, 1924 which was attended by women from all sections of the society, be it Hindus, Muslims or Christians. They stood united for their liberation.

It was at the Swaraj Ashram that the Salt Satyagraha Movement officially began in Odisha on April 30, 1930. This was the day when Mahatma Gandhi violated the Salt Law at Dandi and on the same day in Cuttack, freedom fighters Gopabandhu Choudhury and Acharya Harihar led a batch of 21 Satyagrahis and began marching from Swaraj Ashram to the seaside village of Inchudi in Balasore district. The monument has today been renovated by INTACH and photographs of freedom struggle displayed for public.

The fight against British monopoly on salt also resonated with the students of Ravenshaw College, now Ravenshaw University, in 1930. In fact, Ravenshaw College played a vital role in the fight against the British and was witness to formation of modern Odisha. During the Salt Satyagraha, students of the degree college skipped their examination and joined protestors in a march to Inchudi. On April 1, 1936, the college hall became the venue for declaration of Odisha as a separate province and it hosted the first meeting of Legislative Assembly of the State. Thereafter in 1942, students of the college participated in the Quit India Movement and on August 15 that year, they set the college office and Union Jack on fire in protest. Set up in 1868, the impressive university building is one of finest examples of colonial architecture.

Want to go through handwritten letters written by Netaji Subash Chandra Bose during his imprisonment in jails at Rangoon and Kolkata or his international visits? These rare letters are on display at the Janakinath Bhawan or the popular Netaji Museum in Odia Bazaar. This beautiful birth place of Netaji houses some of his rare photographs related to the freedom struggle, his autobiography and other books and household articles including a horse cart, among other things. It was in this house that Netaji spent the first 16 formative years of his life.
Visit Madhusudan Sanghralaya inside the Sailabala Women’s College at Mission Road to get a glimpse into the life and times of Utkal Gaurav Madhusudan Das. This is the place where the architect of modern Odisha stayed from 1889 till his death in 1934. His ancestral home has been converted into a small museum which houses objects of his personal use, rare photographs, books and articles written by him during formation of Utkal Sammilani in 1903 that fought for a separate Odisha province.

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