The Utkala Sammilanni played the key role for the Odia movement as well as the formation of separate province of Odisha. In 1902 the Odias of Ganjam sent a memorial, signed by a large number of people, to the Viceroy Lord Curzon, suggesting the unification of Ganjam, Sambalpur and the Odisha Division of the Bengal presidency under one government and one university. Towards the end of the year, Raja Baikuntha Nath De, the zamindar of Balasore submitted a memorial to Viceroy Lord Curzon, suggesting the unification of all Odia-speaking territories under the provincial governments of Bengal, Madras or the Central provinces. Early in 1903, atRambha, on the shore of Chilka, some people met under the chairmanship of the raja of Khalikote, and formed the Ganjam Jatiya Samiti (Ganjam National Association).
Under the auspices of this association in April 1903, a conference was held at Berhampur under the chairmanship of Shyam Sundar Rajguru. This conference which was attended by delegates from all parts of Odisha – Cuttack, Puri, Balasore and Sambalpur resolved that the proceedings of the Odia national conferences should be recorded and that the national conferences should be held annually. In the meantime, Lord Curzon’s Government drew up a plan for the addition of Sambalpur and its adjoining feudatory states, Ganjam district and the Ganjam and Vizagpatnam Agencies to the Odisha Division. Early in December, 1903, the plan was circulated among the governments of Central Provinces, Madras and Bengal for eliciting their opinions. This plan is known as Risley Circular, being circulated by Henry Risley, the Secretary to the Government of India.
In pursuance of the Berhampur resolution, the first Odia national conference was held at Cuttack on 30-31 December, 1903 through the efforts of Madhusudan Das, Rajendranarayan Bhanja Deo (the zamindar of Kanika) and Shriram Chandra Bhanjadeo (the Maharaja of Mayurbhanja). The conference met under the chairmanship of the Maharaja of Mayurbhanja and was attended by delegates from all parts of Odisha, some Europeans lawyers, zamindars, government officials and students. The conference accepted the scheme of the unification of Odia tracts as suggested in the Risley Circular. The conference laid down the foundation of a truly Odia national organisation, called Utkal Sammilani (Utkal Union Conference). Hereafter, under the leadership of Madhusudan Das, the Utkal Sammilani continued to meet year after year in different places in Odisha. The primary objective of Utkal Sammiiani was the merger of Odiaspeaking tracts. But the Sammilani also concerned itself with the all round development of Odias and took up such issues as industrial development, spread of education, revival of cottage industries, social reforms, establishment of separate university for Odisha, development of agriculture and development of Odia language and literature.
Loyalist nature of Utkal Sammilani
The Utkal Sammilani was loyalist in nature. It always began its session by paying tributes to the British Crown and Viceroy. It aimed at achieving its goal by appeal to colonial government’s justice and fairness and not through active popular agitation. It was dominated by feudal elements like rajas and zamindars who, generally speaking, had denied their subjects basicrights and benefits of an enlightened administration. Though the Utkal Sammilani was predominantly an elitist organisation, comprising the rajas, zamindars and gentry, yet its claim to represent Odias as a nation can not be denied. It is because it aimed at unifying Odia tracts and promoting the all round development of Odisha. The princes and zamindars who dominated the Sammilani were bound up with the common masses by the ties of language, religion and social custom. Some efforts were also made to give a mass base to the Utkal Sarnmllan]. Initially 381 branches were organised by 15 paid missionaries not only in Orlssa Division but also in Midnapore, Calcutta, Ganjam, Sambalpur and princely states. In certain areas of Ganjam and Koraput districts (undivided) public involvement and participation could be roused for the Sammilani. But such public enthusiasm was temporary. On the whole the Utkal Sammilanl failed to be a mass organisation; it remained confined to the elite and Madhusudan Das remained its guiding spirit from 1903 to 1920 A.D..