Prof L K Mahapatra: An Anthropologist Extraordinaire

Tribute to Lakshman Mahapatra on his first death anniversary


It is difficult to believe that it’s a year since Prof Dr Lakshman Mahapatra passed away. In his passing away, the country lost a distinguished anthropologist and personally I lost a very dear friend.  Deep in his scholarship by his study in India and Germany, he gave succeeding generations of students the best anthropological insights and some of them have matured into brilliant academics following his footsteps.

In Utkal University, he made his department a centre of excellence and a bee-hive of activity where all the distinguished scholars of the country came for seminars, discussions and exchange of ideas. He was deeply aware of the growing horizons of new anthropological disciplines such as political anthropology, economic anthropology and even the anthropology of performing arts. There were several occasions when both of us and Dr B K Roy Burman would sit together and scan the new developments in anthropology.

The writer Sitakanta Mahapatra (3rd from left) with Prof L K Mahapatra (first from left) and others. File photograph
The writer Sitakanta Mahapatra (3rd from left) with Prof L K Mahapatra (first from left) and others. File photograph

As a scholar, he had few equals in the country and I was asked to speak about him by distinguished anthropologists like F G Bailey, Christof Haimendorf and Edmund Leach when I spent sometime in Cambridge University. He sharpened his skill also as an administrator and was for some time a Vice-Chancellor of a University in Odisha and was much respected.

What is more important to me was that he was so simple as a person and never had any desire to exhibit his vast knowledge. Both of us were active members of the Anthropological Society of India and participated in its various activities spread all over the country. He always felt that over the years, anthropological studies tended to become library oriented and did not contribute much to the studies of actual realities on the ground, be it in the village, the family or the country. He was aware of the various new dimensions of anthropological studies and research and his last mature years, he found time to keep in touch with these new developments.

Prof L K Mahapatra being feted by Dr Manmohan Singh
Prof L K Mahapatra being feted by Dr Manmohan Singh. File Photograph

Luckily, we became neighbours in this city and had more occasions to meet and chat. His passing away has left a vacuum, which perhaps will never be filled.

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