Guru Gomke Pandit Raghunath Murmu is a legendary Santal literateur who spent much of his life inventing and promoting the Ol Chiki script. Punam Murmu spoke to his disciple, Ram Chandra Baskey, to learn more about how the script came to be made and how it gained popularity through songs, drama, and poetry
Among the Santalis of India, December 22 is a memorable day. It is celebrated as Parsi Jitkar Maha to commemorate the day when the Lok Sabha passed a resolution to include Santali language in the Eighth Schedule. On this day in 2003, the Indian parliament included Bodo, Dogri, Maithili and Santali languages, thereby raising the total number of languages listed in the schedule to 22. The Eighth Schedule lists languages that the Government of India has to promote and safeguard.
The development and inclusion of Santali language is a culmination of the conservation efforts started by Guru Gomke Pandit Raghunath Murmu before Independence. Born in 1905 during Vaishakh Purnima, he was not only the creator of the Ol Chiki script used in the Santali language, but also a literateur, dramatist, philosopher, philanthropist, spiritual guide, and a brilliant human being — as described by one of his disciples, Ram Chandra Baskey. During a recent conversation, Baskey offered us some insights into the life and times of Pandit Raghunath Murmu.
Ram Chandra Baskey’s journey with Guru Gomke began when the latter visited Rairangpur High School in 1955 at the time of Baskey’s matriculation. He recalls that he had been hearing about Raghunath Murmu’s project since childhood. According to Baskey, Guru Gomke invented Ol Chiki at the age of 20, in 1925. Around that time, Guru Gomke along with his friends attended a Conference at Chemenjuri village in Bihar (now Jharkhand), where several delegates from surrounding states were present. This is where Pandit Raghunath Murmu first declared the creation of the Ol Chiki script. The audience did not respond with enthusiasm to his speech, leaving him utterly demoralized. But his friends supported his initiative. Soon after, Raghunath Murmu joined Purnachandra ITI, Baripada, Odisha (then Orissa) in 1932.
Later he transferred to Badamtaria Model UP School, where he returned to deliberate on the script and how he could propagate it. This is when he was struck with the idea of creating wooden stamps with the Ol Chiki alphabets on them. One of Raghunath Murmu’s close friends and a teacher at the same school took the wooden stamps to display at a state exhibition at Baripada, Odisha. This new item was showcased, for the first time ever, and was appreciated by many who visited the exhibition. On getting to know about this from his friend, Raghunath Murmu felt a new ray of hope. More of his friends joined to support Guru Raghunath Murmu’s initiative. A meeting was called at Dandbus, Raghunath Murmu’s village, to form the Adibasi Lakchar Semled for disseminating knowledge about the script. They decided on having an association for works related to the script so they established one at Rairangpur, Odisha in 1963–64 of which the name was later changed to Adibasi Socio-Educational Cultural Association (ASECA). Around the same time, Ram Chandra Baskey and his friend Mansingh Murmu were working at SDO Court, Rairangpur, but they left due to their fervent desire to support Raghunath Murmu’s cause. Guru Raghunath Murmu was glad to see such energetic individuals share his vision and zeal.
Later, Guru Raghunath Murmu visited Baskey’s village in Bijatala, Mayurbhanj, Odisha, and continued to propagate the script in the village and those surrounding it. Songs, poetry, and drama were employed as a means of transferring the message to the crowd. The people began to understand the importance of the script and also the customs and rituals associated with the community. They moved from village to village across erstwhile Bihar, Assam, West Bengal, and Odisha. They were treated well at some places and at others, with suspicion. Baskey highlights that they were engaged in the project between the years of 1965–1979.
Raghunath Murmu died on 1st February 1982. Before passing away, he gave words of spiritual wisdom to Ram Chandra Baskey and others, which are still being carried forward diligently. Today, Baskey is exhilarated to see the development that has happened with the script. Santali is now one of the prominent tribal languages, which has received national recognition and is now among the 22 official languages included in the Eighth Schedule of the Indian Constitution.
I thank Ram Chandra Baskey for taking out time to speak with me.
About the Author: Punam Murmu is a Research Assistant at The Indian Social Institute, New Delhi. She has done her Bachelor’s and Master’s in Sociology from Miranda House, University of Delhi and Ambedkar University, Delhi respectively. She is currently situated in Delhi. Her interests are writing, research and karaoke.