Remembering Chakhi Khuntia, Odisha’s Warrior Priest

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January 20, is the birth anniversary of Chakhi Khuntia, the Jagannath Temple priest, who later became a freedom fighter. He played a crucial role in Rani Laxmibai, or Jhansi Ki Rani’s fight against the British after her husband’s death. Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik also paid tribute to the freedom fighter on Twitter.  

Chakhi Khuntia was born in the Hajuri family of Puri Harachandi Sahi in 1827. His father, Raghunath Khuntia alias Bhimasen Hajuri, was a servant of Lord Jagannath and his mother was Kamalabati. Chakhi Khuntia was born while his father was dressing the Lord with sandal paste or chandan. That is how he was named “Chandan Hajuri” but he is better known as Chakhi Khuntia. 

He was taught Oriya language and literature in a Chatasali. He then learnt Hindi to be able to communicate with pilgrims who used to come to worship Lord Jagannath. However, Chakhi Khuntia was equally interested in the brave tales of Indian heroes. What is more, he even learnt wrestling and indigenous military feats and skills.

Chakhi Khuntia was the Panda of Meropanth, the father of Manubai who later became Laxmibai after her marriage to Gangadhar Rao, the King of Jhansi. Chakhi kept in touch with Laxmibai ever after her marriage and used to visit her. Gangadhar Rao, the King of Jhansi died an untimely death. Laxmibai had lost her only son before that. The British prohibited her from adopting a son to inherit the throne of Jhansi. She was wrested of her powers by the British

The valiant queen rose against the British  and sought the assistance of Chakhi Khuntia at this juncture. He played a very crucial role by fomenting resentment among the Indian “Sepoys” and organised a mutiny, which subsequently took a violent shape. Khuntia was well known as the Panda of the Sepoys or Hajuri Panda (religious guide of Indian soldiers). On account of his involvement in this first freedom struggle, Chakhi Khuntia was arrested many times and also imprisoned.

He spent his last days in Puri, devoting himself to literary pursuits and religious rites relating to Lord Jagannath. He composed a lot of poems, most of which are devotional songs. Some of his songs express his great displeasure and deep indignation at the inhuman and suppressive measures of the British Government. Many of his writings are still unknown and might have been lost or damaged. 

One of his palm-leaf manuscripts is said to be entitled “Manubai” the original name of Laxmibai, Queen of Jhansi. He breathed his last in 1870 in Puri. 

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