Damayanti Beshra was born on 18th February in 1962 at Boberjoda in the Mayurbhanj district of Odisha. This village is 90 kms away from district headquarter Baripada. She is the eldest daughter of Late Rajmal Majhi and Late Pungi Majhi. The condition of education was detrimental those days, especially in the villages.
There were no schools in Boberjoda. But some kind-hearted, rational and educated natives gave education in a small shed. Damayanti also joined the other children. At first, she began to write letters on the ground with chalk. Her paternal uncle was delighted when he came to know that she was interested in studies. Her uncle was settled in a village named Deuli and didn’t have any children. So he adopted Damayanti and got her admitted to a government school.
Damayanti’s Early Education
Damayanti’s nickname was Dhigij during her childhood. According to Santal tradition the name was given after her grandmother. But instead of her parents’ name, her uncle and aunt’s name was written in school. Her uncle was late Budhan Majhi and aunt was late Mani Majhi. These two-people played a vital role in providing proper schooling to Damayanti.
At the Deuli school, she read up to class-III, as there was no further schooling available. Then she moved to Chandida School, which was located 2 kms away from the village. At Chandida School, she completed her 4th and 5th standard. Then she was admitted in T&RW Girls High School, Rairangpur. This was the beginning of her hostel life.
From class 6th to 11th she stayed at Rairangpur Kanyashram. During this time, she began to write poems. In the year 1977, she passed matriculation.
After passing matriculation from Rairangpur Girls High School, Damayanti’s family members were concerned regarding her further studies because there was no women’s college in Rairangpur. So, her uncle Faguram Majhi got her admitted in Ramdevi Women’s College, Bhubaneswar. At Bhubaneswar, she stayed at Post Matric Hostel.
During those days, hostel fees were Rs.60/- but due to financial problems, she was not able to pay the hostel dues in time. She only got Rs.40/- or Rs.50/- from her family. Financially Damayanti faced a lot of problems. She had only two pair of clothes to wear. But despite all these difficulties Damayanti was doing very well and always secured highest marks among her hostel mates.
This impressed her hostel matron Braja Didi (Brajeswari Mishra). She was pleased by her performance and devotion to studies. Braja Didi loved Damayanti like her own sister. She let her stay in the hostel despite over dues to financial tribulations.
She managed to pay the hostel dues by the post-matric scholarship which she was getting at the year-end. In 1979 she passed Intermediate Arts, and in 1981 she passed B.A. with Odia Honours.
Damayanti As A Lecturer
In the year 1983, she passed M.A. from Utkal University, Bhubaneswar with Linguistic as her special paper. During her M.A. programme due to financial problems, she was not able to afford the University Hostel; thus, she stayed at Post Matric Hostel. During her college days, she began to write both in Odia and Santali language.
In 1985 she got her first job as Junior Employment Officer at Sambalpur. During this job, she qualified Staff Selection Commission and preferred Clerk-cum-typist to avail grounding atmosphere for her desired service. While working at A.G.Odisha, Bhubaneswar, she allowed OPSC (Odisha Public Service Commission). So, she left her second job and joined Maharaja Pratap Chandra College, as a Lecturer in the year 1987. This was the job she was made for and it provided her with the break to serve literature. Along with poems, she now began to write essays too.
Rise Of The Literary Genius
In the year 1988, Damayanti Beshra married Gangadhar Hansda. He was a Bank Officer and also a writer and lover of literature. So, their marriage was not only the marriage of hearts but also of two literature lovers. After marrying Hansda, her fortune changed. In 1990, her first poem “Onoliya“(Writer) was published in Fagun Koyel magazine, an essay on Pandit Raghunath Murmu was also published.
Damayanti did not stop there and continued to write poems and essays in both Odia and Santali language. Following the encouragement from her husband, Damayanti completed her M.Phil in Odia in the year 1993. Damayanti’s husband is also a writer; he wrote plays. After marriage, the writer duo wrote a play named Vig Sar.
Gangadhar came to know about the poems Damayanti was writing; he encouraged her to publish it. So, in 1994 Damayanti’s first anthology Jiwi Jharna was published. Jiwi Jharna is the first-ever anthology written and published by a female Santali writer. For this anthology, she received “Poet of the Year” award from All India Santali Writers Association.
After Jiwi Jharna she wrote another anthology of prose named Sagen Saonhed and O Ot Og Ol aar juri jita, a poetry book in 1995. In the same year, she was transferred from Baripada to Government College Phulbani. This was the turning point of her life.
In 1996, she wrote a book on Pandit Raghunath Murmu in Odia. When she was working at Phulbani, she wrote many striking and moral poems and essays. She also undertook some translation works. She was transferred back to Baripada in the year 2001. Immediately, she registered for PhD at North Odisha University, Mayurbhanj. Her PhD topic was “Mayurbhanjara Santala Eko Samajika Sanskritika Adhyayana“. In 2005 she was awarded her PhD degree.
Accolades And Recognitions
Since the year 2004 onwards, she has written many poems, essays, criticisms, grammar, history of Santhali literature, Santhali History etc. Her work in these different genres has got her the love and admiration of readers.
Damayanti is not only an exceptional writer but also a prodigious speaker. Different educational institutes and literacy organisations invite her as the guest of honour, chief guest and chief speaker. As a lecturer, she has presented many papers on national, international meets and UGC sponsored seminars.
She got the privilege of becoming the first convener in Santhali language when the Sahitya Akademi recognised it. She was honoured by Sahitya Akademi award for her extraordinary anthology Sai Saonhed in the year 2009. From the year 2011 onwards, she has been publishing the first Santali women’s magazine named Karam Dar.
Among the Odia and the Adivasis, she is well known as an Adivasi researcher, and people respect her for her calm, confident and humble attitude. In 2020 she was honoured by Padmashri for her remarkable contribution to Santhali literature.