The sky was impregnated with dark clouds. Heavy rain had unleashed a volley of water in the river Jeera near Bargarh town. Similarly, the psyche of youths was filled up with the indomitable spirit and patriotic feelings. The youths were restless under British rule.
The raging inferno of the Quit India movement of 1942 had spread like wildfire in various villages of the then Sambalpur and present Bargarh district.
The youths of Samleipadar and Panimora villages were completely taken over by the magical appeal of Mahatma Gandhi. Completely bowled over at the clarion call of Mahatma Gandhi, a lean girl aged seventeen from the small hamlet Samleipadar ran to the nearest town Bargarh without bothering about the flooded Jeera River.
She used to be called fondly ‘Baairee’ or semi-mad due to her bold attitude and stubbornness. Upon reaching Bargarh she, as a true disciple of Mahatma Gandhi, adopted non-violent and peaceful methods and ‘captured’ the court of the then SDO Sri B. Mukherjee. Not just that, the brave girl sat on the chair of the SDO and ordered for the SDO to be arrested and produced before her!!
The lesser-known event at Bargarh has remained one of the shining examples of episodes of temerity in the annals of the Indian freedom struggle.
The brave girl ‘Baairee’ from Samleipadar was Parvati Giri, nicknamed ‘Banhikanyaa’ meaning the daughter of fire.
Parvati Giri was incarcerated for two years in Sambalpur jail for ‘capturing’ the SDO Court of Bargarh. Subsequently, Parvati Giri became an inmate at the Sevagram Ashram near Wardha in Maharashtra and adopted Gandhian methods and principles during her stay.
She practiced selfless service, which happens to be one of the core principles of Gandhi. She happened to be the true embodiment of the ‘Vaishnava Jan’ as espoused in the favourite bhajan of Mahatma Gandhi, composed by revered Gujarati poet Narsee Mahta.
Empathy, compassion, and service to the destitute remained the guiding principles for Parvati Giri. Parvati established a Kasturba Matruniketan in Paikmal not just to provide food to the poor children but to take care of their proper and dignified upbringing. She ensured that education was imparted along with work experiences in the field of agriculture, horticulture, tailoring, dance, and music, etc. In 1992, Paravati Giri set up an Anganwadi Training Centre at Kasturba Matruniketan in Paikmal.
Various villages in western Odisha have been under the stressful impact of repeated droughts and chronic poverty. The twin problems have literally destroyed the financial backbone and precious health of many people.
These became the reason why she set up feeding centres for destitute children and women. She made Kasturba Matruniketan in Paikmal her home where she entertained none other than Acharya Vinoba Bhave.
Acharya Vinoba Bhave had reached Nrusinghnath on feet as part of his Bhudaan yatra. One day, the Acharya wanted to take an early morning bath at the nearby stream which is considered an auspicious one.
When the Acharya enquired about the exact location from Parvati, she replied that since it was very early in the morning, darkness may not have dissipated and it may be dangerous to roam outside at that time.
Vinoba had known her since her training as an inmate at the Sevagram Ashram near Wardha. He said, “Parvati, you yourself are a powerful tigress and who does not know what fear is. Hence, you lead me to the stream.”
Before the beginning of the Kasturba Matruniketan in Paikmal, Parvati Giri used to work with the Barpali Projects during 1954-55. One day she had to rush to a nearby village Bandhpali to help a pregnant woman perform a safe delivery. It was dark and raining incessantly. Being a true champion of humanity and service to the needy, Parvati managed to reach the mud-house of the pregnant woman.
Parvati looked for a piece of cloth to help deliver the baby and wrap the newly born baby. Parvati could not find a piece of cloth. Chronic poverty gripped the family of the pregnant woman. So, immediately Parvati Giri tore her own saree into two pieces and helped deliver the baby and covered the newly born baby with that torn saree. The new mother expressed her gratitude to Parvati Giri with teardrops rolling down her eyes.
After the safe delivery, Parvati managed to wear the remaining torn part of saree somehow and returned to her place in the darkness of the raining night.
While returning in the darkness, the face of Banhikanyaa Parvati Giri was glowing like a shining light.
Parvati remains a beacon of hope and a guiding spirit towards patriotism, upliftment of the destitute and the downtrodden, and selfless service to humanity.
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