Professor Lakshman Kumar Mahapatra (1929-2020) was born in Nilgiri, Balasore district and studied Anthropology at Calcutta and Hamburg Universities. He spent the longest period in his career of teaching and research at Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, where as the Head of the Department of Anthropology from 1967 to 1989, he shaped the course of anthropological study and research in the state leading to the Department becoming one of two Centres of Advanced Study as recognized by the UGC. He was also an academic administrator, and had been Vice-Chancellor of Utkal and Sambalpur Universities and Director and subsequently Chairman of the NKC Centre for Development Studies.
The pioneering research and teaching on South East Asia that he initiated at Utkal University and publication of an international journal with the most eminent scholars contributing (first such attempt in the country) was his attempt to demonstrate that Indian Anthropologists were no less than Western scholars in studying "other world cultures"". He also pioneered the study of Development Anthropology and Population Anthropology in his Department. One of his biggest academic contributions to Utkal University has been in promoting inter and multi-disciplinary studies and he set up 2 multi-disciplinary research centres, the Centre for Regional Studies and the Population Research Centre.
Professor Mahapatra strove to give shape to anthropology as a discipline in India as a comparative social science and not just as tribal studies, which he found as limiting its scope. Hence, he ensured that research in the Department happened on diverse areas such as temples and monasteries of Bhubaneswar and Puri, Hindu princes and princedoms, potters and brass workers, caste system and mobility in the caste system, ritual kinship and kinship systems, slums and urban neighbourhoods and rural areas on the outskirts of cities. He is considered, nonetheless, one of the most significant scholars in tribal studies in India. His scholarship combined with a genuine commitment to protect and promote the interests of tribals made him an activist for their cause. He, therefore, marshalled his intellectual work to become a pioneering advocate for tribals, whose loss was earlier considered an acceptable collateral damage in development projects.
Prof. L.K Mahapatra has been called by eminent intellectuals and policy makers variously as ‘a leading Indian militant Social Anthropologist and a vastly influential scholar, both in India and far beyond”, “world-renowned scholar with feet on the ground”, a “doyen of anthropology”, a “cult-figure”, a “Bhisma Pitamah”, “a father figure, who established teaching and research in anthropology, a newer subject in the world of higher education in Odisha” and “made his Department a centre of excellence and a bee-hive of activity”.
Professor Mahapatra has inspired generations of scholars, policymakers, activists and young people through his life and work. Those of us, who have been inspired by him hope that he will continue to inspire future generations through this modest attempt at documenting his life and work in this website.