In 1949 the Orissa Olymping Association and all state level games and sports got reorganization at the national level, anda ll this was largely due to the relentless effort of Bhairab Babu who brought about a new dimension and challenge in the sports arena of Orissa. Undoubtedly,his perseverance revolutionized the very concept of sports and with the frequents change in colour in the political scenario of Orissa from time to time, sports polities in Orissa also had to change and adjust itself to such changes.Despite many obstacles and hurdles, the Barabati stadium, a huge collseum for sports became a reality and as Bhairab Babu used to say Barabati stadium is not merely a structure of brick, mortar, timber and metal, but in it were ingrained the sweat and toil dedication and penance of a group of successful workers, whose mission in life was awakening sports consciousness in Orissa.
Just as Rome was not built in a day, the Barabati Stadium and all the mini stadium in different parts of the state raised head only through the perseverance of a few dedicated sports lovers who inculcated the idea of youth development and nation building through the medium of sports.Every sports centre in Orissa has a history of its own and many historical facts about these sports temples are yet to be unearthed. In fact of the historic city of katak is witnessed has many upheavals and changes that have left deep scars on the body politic and social cultural life of the city. Many such changes are yet to be recorded and the history of Orissan sports comes under that category. Bhairab Babu once remarked that in Orissa, a sports Revolution had taken firm roots and it was because of this Revolution that Orissa, unknown and neglected, got recognition on the sports map of India. Barabati stadium was the first of its kind, which became an eye-opener for other sports lovers indifferent parts of the country. The wankhede stadium in Mumbai, the Chidambaram stadium in Chennai and even the green park in kanpur are but later constructions. Very often a question was asked to Bhairab Babu as to way he did not name the stadium after him as his colleagues had done in Mumbai, in Chennai? His answer was simple and straight- every Oriya shall proudly claim that individual Oriya has contributed to the making of the stadium and being situated within the precincts of the historic Barabati Fort, the stadium should fittingly be named Barabati to perpetuate the legacy and the ancient glory of the Oriyas. Time and again he had refuted the idea of installing his statue posthumously, saying, I do not want it to became a convenient resting place for crows and pigeons where they can safely defecate. Ironically enough. Long after his death a mini bust was installed in an obscure corner which though is spared by the birds, is but infested with snakes and reptiles.
This, however, does not imply that there were no sports activities in Orissa prior to the construction of the Barabati stadium or even there were no sportsmen in Orissa. On the contrary by1947, cricket and football had become very popular even in comparison to what these games are today. But these games were only confined to certain section of the population and to a few places in Orissa. There was no regular district of state level sports organization that could give a boost to sports activities. The making of Barabati stadium induced a new awakening in the minds of sports lovers, which resulted in the growh of sports organizations at the district and state levels.
It was 1949 an exhibition Football match between Calcutta’s Bhawanipore club and katak combined was held in the police Ground. Thousands had gathered as spectators. Also present was the then prime minister of Orissa Dr Hare krushna Mahatab. He was surprised and amused to see such a hung crowd standing patiently for such a long while to enjoy the match. He commented that some solution had to be found for the people’s recreation and it was here,during this game that Bhairab Babu gave the proposal that unless katak had a stadium, it would be virtually impossible in future to control the enthusiasm of sports lovers in the city that very day, at the end of the game. Dr. Mahatab assured that very soon a stadium would be constructed in katak. The very next day another Football match between the Bhawanipore club and the Mohammedan sporting club was held at the same place and at the end of the game the then governor Mr. M. Asaf Ali also made a similar commitment. In 1949 when no one in India had conceived of such a composite stadium, Orissa was the first to be the path finder for the encouragement and enhancement of sports activities. The killa field, where the Barabati stadium has raised its head, was then a sprawling area where several football fields could be accommodated. In one of its portions the Government had alredy decided to construct Government Quarters. Bhairab Babu convinced the chief Secretary Mr. Nilamani Senapati that unless construction of Govt. Quarters in the said sport was not stopped the proposed massive stadium could not be built. The chief secretary overruled the construction of Govt. Quarters and the Orissa Olympic Association was granted twenty acres of land with a salami of one rupee only. It would be worthwhile to observe here that in 1979 ,when Mrs.Nandini Satpathy, the then congress Chief Minister, wanted to oust Bhairab Babu from the sport arena of Orissa, she propped up a dummy candidate to context Bhairab Babu for the post of Secretary,Orissa Olympic Association. Though in the Congress and a member of parliament,the entire state machinery was galvanized fulls swing to vote against Bhairab Babu. There were serious differences between Bhairab Babu and Nandini Satpathy over the congress leadership in Orissa and he was leading the dissident camp in Orissa. Mr. J.B Patnaik,a Deputy Minister at the centre was a member of this dissident group Mrs. Indira Gandhi was convinced about the dissidents claim. Two successive Governors of Orissa, Sardar Jogendar Singh and B.D. Jatti were aware of the differences, and had given reports sports accordingly. In a one to one meeting with Mrs. Gandhi ,Bhairab Babu laid bare the facts, but Mrs Gandhi advised restraint. In her discussion with the governor, however, she is reported to have said, I feel he(Mr. Mahanta) was not convinced. Despite the Govt. whip Shri Rashbehari Behera,a member of Mrs. Satpathys cabinet but the sports Secretary of Bhawanipatna defied her saying. In politics Madam, you are my leader but where sports is concerned, there can be no one else other than Bhairab Babu whom I accept as the unchallenged leader. But the most interesting feature in this election was the arrival of Shri Nilamani Senapati,old and infirm but steadfast in his determination to vote for Bhairab Babu,when Mr. George Patnaik a contender for the post of vice president requested Shri Senapati to vote for him, Shri Senapati politely declined saying, I have only come to vote for Bhairab : Needless to say Bhairab Babu won the election by a huge margin with the Govt. nominee being reduced to a pigmy. But the strain and exertion of dissident activities and the tension over the sports election had its toll on Bhairab Babu’s health and he suffered a heart attack in December 1976.
In the year 1949 during the Annual sports Meet, Mr. Asaf Ali announced grant of Rupees one lakh for the construction of the stadium. But due to severe financial constrains Govt. could not provide the money and this brought all hopes and aspirations to a virtual dead end. One the one hand there was no money worth the name to start this gigantic project and on the other, people’s demand for a stadium was making Bhairab Babu all the more determined to realize his dream. But how? once, during sunset sitting in the killa field, with his friends, Sailen kumar Roy, Mr. Jee Hyde and Mr. Mihir kumar Rao. Bhairab Babu was probing several automotives, when suddenly Mr. Sailen Roy suggested that through a lottery enough funds could be generated to start the constructing of the stadium. Though the proposal sounded optimistic, yet how thing could be worked out worried everyone. Primarily, permission of the start the Govt. was most essential, without which a lottery to generate funds, was not possible. Next ,if they incurred a loss, who would bear it and from where would all the prize money and other expenditures be borne? However, the Orissa Olympic Association,in a momentous meeting of 05.03.1950 took the unusual step of working on the principal of no risk no gain. Hence somehow or the other a lottery had to be started to generate funds. Initially the state Govt. was reluctant to allow a lottery but with the intervention of the president of OOA and the then Minister of Commerce at the centre Dr. H.K.Mahtab, the State Govt. finaly acquiesced. Permission being granted by the Govt. another problem however cropped up. Where was the basic working capital to start the initial process? The solution to this problem was brought about by the then I.G police Mr. C.M Wright Neville, whose contribution to Orissa sports has been stupendous and everlasting. As a true sportsman he organized Boxing,wrestling and Cultural programme by the Police Department and the funds collected was given to the OOA for starting the initial process of the lottery.Thus the initial funds for starting the Barabati Raffle/Lottery, came through the help of the Police Dept. the contribution of Orissa state police for the development of sports and Games in Orissa is beyond all comparison. The OOA owes so much to the Orissa state Police that is a tradition that for all Sports activities of the state police the OOA shall render all possible assistance. Shri Subodh kumar Biswas and Mr.J.F. Hyde conducted the first phase of the Barabati Raffel and their hard work sustained the lottery till 1958. But the Govt. in 1958 refused permission for further continuation of the lottery and for this many of Bhairab Babu’s friends are partly responsible.
During the summer of 1950 Dr.H.K Mahtab laid the foundation stone of the Barabati Stadium and even before the lottery could run with vigour, the stadium construction work made rapid strides. The construction work spanning two decades (1950-1970) finally gave shape to a composite structure that became nationally famous. Undoubtedly itwas the result of unlimited sacrifice, and undaunted by hurdles a group of selfless workers led by Bhairab Babu gave shape to an imperishable monument–the konark of modern times. Resembling Roman amphitheatric, it is an architectural marvel, built, as it was when there was an acute shortage of cement and iron. It is circular in shape, with four roofed galleries, a two storied Club House, a pavilion and a clock Tower enclosing on open, lush, greenfield. All sports persons who have played on this field have admired the cushioning effect of the greenery. The Club house of stadium was conceived as are pository of the traditional Oriya culture being synthesizes with modern sports technic use walls of this impressive structure are adorned with murals depicting the maritime glory of Orissa and the historic kalinga war. Besides there are paintings depicting major historical and social events of Orissa and India.The facade of this structure captivates the visitor with paintings depleting the life and works of Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi, which instill a sense of somber reflection it is tragic indeed, to see such invaluable works of art withering away due to lack of proper maintenance.
With funds collected from the common people of India through lottery the stadium was constructed with an estimated expenditure of one core of rupees. Many people named it the one crore stadium (Eka kotia stadium) while many other called it the stadium of the common people. From the humble contribution of one Rupee per lottery ticket, this eye catching and imposing structure reached fruition. Since the Barabati lottery acquired great popularity in all parts of India,its progenitors rightly considered the stadium to be a matter of national pride.
Situated within the precincts of the 13th century Barabati fort, constructed by Ananga Bhimadeva III, the stadium was fittingly christened as Barabati stadium by the founding fathers. Since the stadium was concept unlisted as a forte of sports, the name ‘Barabati’ was a fitting tribute to the ancient glory of Orissa. The stadium can accommodate 40,000 spectators.
The Barabati stadium has hosted two National games (1958, 1970) apart from National Hockey, football,Basketball and several other National and International competitions. The stadium has also evolved into a centre for various educational, cultural and recreational activities. The indo soviet cultural society set up its headquarters in this stadium and incidentally Bhairab Babu was the founder president of the ISCUS. Besides seminars on Buddhism and Jainism International seminar on Folk Culture and International Teachers Conference have been conducted here. Year after year, Independence Day, Republic Day, Children’s Dayand a host of other socio- cultural activities are celebrated in the Barabati Stadium.It is imperative to observe here that no other stadium in the country can boast of organizing such multi various activities as the Barabati stadium, thus testifying comprehensive character. In short the Barabati Stadium today stands as the cultural citadel of Orissa. This ‘Modern Konark’ which synthesizes Orissa’s sports and cultural traditions stands tall and dignified- and all due to the vision, dedication, leadership and dynamism of Bhairab Babu. Standing on the ruins of the Barabati fortress, which is a mute witness to the past glory of Orissa the Barabati stadium, is his immortal achievement. These nobel ideas of Bhairab Babu were reflected in an article in the times of India in 1975. it read, the Barabati stadium owes its existence to the drive and imagination of one man,Mr. Bhairab Chandra Mahanti who built it through the proceeds of a national lottery. He maintains it as spick and span as ever, through revenues derived from renting out to business and commercial firms the room that run round the outer rim of the stadium. And, as modest as ever, he has not cared to impose his name, as others have done on it” Barabati Stadium is the only one of its kind in the country, which has not perpetuated the name of any individual Shri Mahanti vehemently, opposed the idea of associating his name in any form of the other with the Barabati stadium. In fact he was averse to the idea of installing either the images or nameplates of any of the pioneers, who along with him had initiated the construction of the stadium. He never tired of saying that stadium was the creation of people of India,who in their magnanimity had transformed a possibility into a reality.
Between 1967-70, Bhairab Babu was not very actively associated with political development in the state since he was deeply involved in the affairs of the stadium. Despite heavy ods he organized the National Games in Barabati stadium in 1970. the comments made by various state team managers, athletes and coaches need to be read to realize what lavish praises they bestowed on the facilities in the stadium. The hospitality shown to them and above all the caliber and mental strength of one man deeply impressed them. However, when the India National Congress split in1969, Bhairab Babu joined the congress led by Smt. Indira Gandhi.
During his lifetime Shri Mahanti roes to the pinnacle of glory adorning several prestigious posts in the sports hierarchy, both in Orissa and at the national level. In India he was accepted as a great sports organizer. Besides being the secretary of the Orissa Olympic Association he was also the secretary of the Orissa Cricket Association and later became its president. He was president & Secretary of the Orissa Football Association and the president of Orissa Council of sports apart from being president of several state level sports association. At the national level he was the vice president of the India Olympic Association, amateur Athletic Federation of India and the senior most Vice president of the Board central for cricket in India.One day international cricket was first introduced in the year 1980. India got it in the year 1982 and was the first to get it due to Bhairab Babu . his contribution to India,cricket and the respect he commended at of the national level could be known from an extract from the Hindu dated 6th Feb. 1982. Robin Marion writes, “why, I asked the president of the Beel Mr. Wankhode was the third one day match being played at katak, far for from the normal cricketing centers? Because there was a great man of cricket there to whom it was promised and as he has died, there is even more reason to keep the promise, I was told. He was also a member of the All India council sports for a very long period.
He was the vice president of the indo soviet cultural society at the National level and at the state level he was its founder president Shri Mahanti was an active member of the Indian peace and friendship organization and dedicated more than twenty five years of his life to this cause. He not only championed the cause of world peace, he also exerted himself selflessly for the cause of communal harmony and was against any form of casteism. During the communal riots in katak in 1967, he worked tirelessly towards restoring communal harmony and the muslim community of katak remained ever indebted to him and saw in him a true secular minded man who was far above petty divisive communal politics. He rightly foresaw the soviet union to be a true friend of India and till his very end remained on ardent proponent of Indo soviet friendship.As a champion of world peace he was a member of the national delegation to the1958 stockholm world peace conference and ever since remained a bitter opponent of imperialism in any form. In 1964 he became the founder. President of the Indo soviet cultural society in Orissa. During his president ship a number of cultural agreement were signed between the soviet union and India and number of cultural delegations from the soviet union visited katak. Notable among the agreement signed were the cultural relationship and cooperation Treaty between the Indo Soviet Cultural Socity and Sovient Indian Cultural Society in 1966. The agreement was signed by K.P.S Menon and the noted Ideologist. Professor Cheliser in the presence of the Soviet Ambassador to India. Smirnor and air Marshall Jasjit Singh Arora. In 1970 the Lenin centenary was celebrated in katak at the Barabati stadium under the auspicious of the ISCUVS. Jagjivan Ram attended it K.P.S Menon, K.D Malaviya, Ramesh Chandra, Aruna Asaf Ali, the soviet Ambassador pe gov and the leader ofthe soviet cultural delegation Nina popova. Of the several cultural delegations that visited katak the one that was graced by Valentine Tereshkara was the most out standing. On july 17, 1980 Shri Mahanti embarked on his journey to Moscow to attend the Moscow Olympics. The same morning Mrs. Gandhi summoned him to her office and specifically asked him to take note of two important matters. The first pertained to a through observation of the management and conduct of the Olympics, which could be replicated in India for the conduct of Asiad 82,and the second point she highlighted was her utter disappointed with the CPI.Mrs Gandhi asked him to impress upon the Soviet leaders, whoever came his way,that the CPI had been playing a very dubious role in India.
Several dreams remained unfulfilled. Had he returned safely he would have become the Director of the Asiad 82 a rare honour for an Oriya. He would also have became the President of the Board of control for Cricket in India and there were several either areas, which needed his tender care. His legacy needs to be perpetuated but alas! Men with his kind of vision and insight are in a hopeless by short supply. He was truly a Saudagar, but a Saudagar trading not in merchandise and wealth, but with ideas and visions to see India among the top sports nations of the world.
N.B: Materials collected from Prof. Dr. Kharabela Mahanti, Head of P.G.Dept, History, S.B.W.College, Cuttack, Odisha
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At.- Hulipur, P.O- Kishor Nagar