Preserving Paika Memories

HIS century-old house at Khurda town is a link between the past and the present as far as freedom struggle in Odisha is concerned. The precariously placed artefacts in the house are windows to 200 years of history when Paikas from Khurda fought the ‘First War of Independence’.

Gopal Krushna Das, an Odia lecturer of Prananath Autonomous College at Khurda, has been documenting Paika Rebellion for over two decades and in the process, he has collected 40 ancient arms and weapons that were used by the warriors during Paika Rebellion (Paika Bidroha) in March, 1817. Mounted within glass cases on walls of his house are swords, bows and arrows, spears, knives among other things that he has collected from 70 villages under Khurda district, where a valiant uprising of soldiers led by Buxi Jagabandhu had taken place against the British East India Company.

“My interest in collecting artefacts started during childhood. Both my father Radha Govind Das and grandfather Chakradhar Das collected artefacts from different parts of the State and country. I was hugely inspired by them and started collecting artefacts related to Paika Bidroha almost over a decade back,” he says, while proudly showing his collection. The weapons include 14 pieces of large swords, six ‘Khandas’, two Dhala (shields), one Kathi Dhala, five bows, 22 arrows, one Batuli, two pieces of Pata Badi, seven Pharshas, three pieces of Gupti, seven Banka Churis, nine large knives, two pieces of Bentha Churi made of brass, one Singha Bentha, two arrow heads, four spear heads, two Kataris, two Katha Khandas, one Katuri made of ivory, two Bhujalis, one Sanju (body shield made of metal rings), four Khurpis and four pieces of Ankusha.

Some of the swords have been collected from Jankia and Chanagiri villages in the district. He draws attention to a ‘Banka Churi’, entirely made of ivory, which is the oldest and the most prized piece in his collection. “I bought many of these artefacts from family members of Paikas, who continue to reside in Khurda villages and some were donated to me,” says the Odia lecturer, who has been documenting the Paika Rebellion for several years now. Apart from weapons, he has writing materials and other items used by the Paikas during the war. These were displayed at the Odisha State Museum in Bhubaneswar during inauguration of a special gallery on Paika Rebellion last year.

Das says the Paika warriors were of three categories – Prahari, Banua and Bhenkias. Praharies were the initial defendants whose job was to watch with swords in their hands. Banuas were adept archers and shooters with country guns. Dhenkias were the swordsmen. “Paikas were essentially the peasant militias of the Gajapati rulers of Odisha who rendered military service to the king during times of war while taking up cultivation during times of peace.  Not every youth could qualify as a Paika then. Only unmarried youths in the age group of 15-25, who were trained in martial arts at Paika Akahadas, could become warriors. There were other criterion like the youth should not have been handicapped in any way; he should not be the eldest son in a family,” informs Das.

Paika Bidroha, he says, has always been a special subject for him. Das has been speaking about it in every History Congress that is being organised in the State and outside from 2003. “Khurda and Paika Bidroha unfortunately had received less attention at the national level till the Centre decided to consider it as the First War of Independence last year. I have tried to create awareness about it among historians and people at large through events like History Congress,” he says.

Apart from documenting Paika Rebellion, Das has been training the Rovers and Rangers wing of his college for the last 15 years in 16 types of martial art techniques that were used by Paikas. The team has not just presented the skills in front of the Prime Minister and President of India at Republic Day and Independence Day parades, but also took part in reality TV shows on national television. He, however, laments that government has done precious little to regain the lost glory of Paika Akhadas that exist in every village of Khurda district even today. “These Akahadas are also a part of the 200 years of Paika Bidroha history. Government should revive them and train youths, who can later be provided appointment in the Police Department like it used to happen in earlier times,” he suggest.

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