Dancing through the Corona Pandemic

The world has slowed down perhaps for the first time in history due to the corona pandemic. Humanity is at high stress out of fear. Almost a large part of the world is a lockdown. At this critical stage, art comes out as a healer comforting our mind and soul, if not body.

French national Mahina Khanum made the most of the lockdown by shooting a film to create awareness about the corona. The uniqueness about the film is the use of Odissi dance form to convey the message. She employed her training as an Odissi dancer to communicate with the global audience. Arts speak a universal language and her mudras of Odissi, an ancient dance form sure speaks to many. Her abhinaya communicates at any level, the mudras, the hand gestures do the talking and the expressive eyes darting back and forth, emoting, appealing, beseeching, begging all to stay indoors win over the most reluctant and perhaps may also inspire a few to join her at her studio in Paris post-corona.


The young dancer has won the hearts of many with her dance film. The Indian Minister Dharmendra Pradhan Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel has shared her video. Appreciations come manifold and she says it with great humility, “Humbled to receive so much appreciation from around the world! And I’m moved by the interest that our video triggers for Odissi dance. I’m finding hope in this feeling of deep worldwide connection, with all of us wishing together for a better tomorrow.”

Suitably intrigued I managed to speak with her. Mahina graciously spent time in answering questions about her dance journey, her passion for popularising Odissi in France, her partnering with her supportive husband and her film on the corona.

Her journey as a dancer.

I am an Odissi dancer based in Paris, France. I was first trained in Ballet from the age of 3 and later got the chance to meet an amazing dancer, the Odissi Guru, Shri Shankar Behera who used to tour Europe when I was a teenager. I was deeply touched by his performance and it changed my life. I started learning from him and took to performing and teaching in France on a regular basis. I am convinced that Odissi dance has a lot to offer to the international audience. And that is what I focus on with my husband, Avishai Leger-Tanger, a digital artist.

Why Odissi in particular?

I love all dance forms and I am fascinated by many kinds of body language. But some magic happened with Odissi! Odissi came to me through a performance for which my mother had offered me a ticket. And I was awestruck. I decided to learn this divine dance form. My training started and I was lucky to be exposed to other dance styles. I occasionally get the opportunity to learn or work with different dancers and teachers, be it in Indian dance forms or Western styles. All of them are amazingly interesting but I always come back to Odissi.

Odissi has a very ancient background but is still very relevant today. It is an artistic and spiritual practice. And I am very moved by its aesthetics.

Please tell us something about your guru.

I started learning from Guru Shankar Behera and later visited him regularly in Mumbai. It was his performance that had converted me to Odissi. When I turned 18, I was awarded an excellence scholarship from ICCR in India and the French government to pursue my training with Guru Madhavi Mudgal in GandharvaMahavidyalaya (Delhi).

How did people react to your dancing? Please tell us something about your dance school. Do students understand the connection with the sacred? How do you break it down for them?

Odissi dance was barely present in France when I started teaching and performing here. People here don’t have the cultural background to understand and appreciate it.

We are slowly working on creating an audience. I have about 80 students training on a weekly basis and I am getting demand for performances from big companies and luxury brands such as Guerlain.

Most of the students are adults who have never seen a live performance of Odissi and have no dance background. I have worked on a progressive method to allow everybody to gradually access Odissi as it is a very complex and demanding art form. Over the years, I have worked on methods to let everybody get a feel of this dance, whatever their background. With beginners, we would, for example, isolate one aspect of the body language, let’s say the hands, and practice simple exercises and rhythmic patterns, breathing, slowly becoming more conscious and aware. This is a wonderful way to learn to focus at a time where the global pace of working has become crazy.

Many of them slowly walk their way into its aesthetics and become real rasikas and lovers of the style. With time they get to enjoy its artistic and spiritual meaning. I think that this is what touches the heart of many here in France. Perhaps the appeal lies in the possibility that through dance one can know oneself better and can get connected to the sacred, whatever be its form.

What in Odissi resonates with you?

I am very moved by its lyrical grace. Odissi dance, through its history, resonates with many other art forms like painting, sculptures, poetry and music. While watching an Odissi performance, I get the feel of total art. Getting into this artistic world opens many possibilities. And I feel Odissi dance has a lot to offer to the global audience.

That is why, in collaboration with my husband Avishai Leger Tanger who is a digital artist, we have started working on different ways to present it to the unacquainted audience. We use new technologies but remain true to the traditional form. We’re very happy that our recent projects have been catching a lot of interest and attention, including:

– Odissi dance + computer-animated old painting:

– Odissi dance + virtual reality:

– Odissi + light-painting photography: https://www.facebook.com/pg/mahinakhanum/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2417653541586402

What does Jayadeva say to you?

Jayadeva tells me to be patient; the spiritual path is a long one and as Radha, everybody can misunderstand, lose temper, feel lost and hopeless.

He also tells me to be expansive, to be open to the beauty that surrounds me. I’m may not be living in Vrindavan but living close to nature is truly amazing, it transports me to Vrindavan.

And of course, he tells me about love, which is such a complex and powerful feeling, coloured with the navarasas.

What was your motivation behind employing Odissi to promote awareness about Corona?

The announcement of the lockdown had left us in shock. We had been applying barrier gestures for some time in France, and since the beginning, I was a little bit disturbed by this expression, “barrier gestures”. In dance, a gesture is meant to convey feelings (towards the audience), not to create distance. In fact, it is the very meaning of what we call, in Indian classical dance, “abhinaya”, “gesture toward [the audience]”. So this thought took root in my mind.

We didn’t really think twice about this short video. Being locked down, we had the urge to keep on dancing and at the same time wanted to say something positive. We adapted traditional hand gestures and used the tone of a traditional character, the Sakhi, the friend, who is always present in the Odissi repertoire based on Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda.

And the music for the video came from extremely talented Vijay Tambe ji, the composer and flutist, Ramprasad Gannavarapu (mardala) and Aparna Deodhar (sitar). This was composed a few weeks before in Mumbai and we felt that it was a strong coincidence. We had beautiful music which we decided to use as a score one of these it this video.

This is the story behind the video that has struck a chord with many because of its aesthetics and visual appeal but more profoundly because Odissi the dance form has a sacred connection with the temple – the abode of gods, a sacredness that appeals to all in the times when no light seems to be visible at the end of the tunnel. The worldwide acceptance of Indian greeting of Namaskar (bowing before the light within you), Yoga (means of uniting the individual spirit with the Universal Spirit), Ayurveda (rightful living through aahaar), Pranayama (mindful breathing) and PM Modi’s initiative to thank the health workers by clapping has become a Global rallying point. To this list, we can add the power of dance, the ancient Indian dance form that reminds that us of our deep connections. It resonates with all because it is rooted in Vasudhaiva Kutumabakam, we are all one and we have to look after everyone, like a family!

Picture and video courtesy Ms Mahina Khanum

Author – Aparna Pande Mishra

She can be contacted at aparna.anusha.28@gmail.com

Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

Odisha located on the eastern seaboard of India has long been known for its rich culture and heritage. Celebrated as Kalinga kingdom in the historical time, Odisha was once an important maritime nation. Odisha’s Sadhavas (merchants) often would make sea voyages to carry out trade with the merchants of Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Siam, Cambodia and Sri Lanka and bring enough wealth. Through these mercantile communities, Odisha also had made profound cultural expansion in Southeast Asia, which is evident among numerous Hindu and Buddhist art of the region. A comparison of Odisha’s historic art with Southeast Asia’s Hindu and Buddhist sculptures show strong cultural ties between the two regions.


The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise


Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

For an appreciation of Odisha’s heritage and to narrate the stories of Odisha recently Virasat E Hind Foundation had conducted its first curated trip for four guests from the National Museum of Thailand at Bangkok. It was the brainchild of our esteemed friend Ms Anita Bose who also worked as a volunteer in the museum until recently.  Though the guests are based in Bangkok at the moment they represent diverse nationality, Beverly from the United States, Cathy from the UK, Nathalie from France and Tasnee from Thailand.

The trip was for 5 days, part of an 11 day East India Tour, which also included West Bengal, Anita’s home state, apart from Odisha. In Odisha, the trip was conducted in the golden triangle (Bhubaneswar, Puri and Konark), Buddhist excavated sites at Ratnagiri and Udayagiri, the royal heritage of Dhenkanal, Joranda, the global headquarter of Mahima Cult, Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga, Ragurajpur, Odisha’s craft village, Nuapatna textile cluster and Dokra craft of Saptasajya. The logistic support for the trip was provided by Discovery Tours and Travel, Bhubaneswar.

The trip had been designed to showcase Odisha’s diverse heritage in a capsule, from culture to heritage, forest and mountains, art and craft and food.

Visitors arrived from Kolkata in an early morning flight and they were received with a hearty welcome.


Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

Our first destination was Dhauli, the battle site of Kalinga. Dhauli is also where the story of Odisha begins. At the break of the dawn, the site of Dhauli is transformed into a mystical aura overlooking the Daya River, which was the stage of Kalinga battle. You become a time flyer visualizing how the site would have looked 2,300 years before at the time of the battle and Emperor Ashoka gave up his arms while surrendering to the eight noble paths of Buddhism.





At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

Our next stop was the Yogini Temple at Hirapur, one of the four open-air circular shrines dedicated to Tantric Yogini worship in the whole of India. Some of the Yoginis at Hirapur look terrific with their Tantric gesture and attire. Our guests also offered puja at the shrine and were narrated about the Tantric practice in Odisha in the historical era. The temple is dated to 9th century.

After visiting the Yogini temple, we headed for Ranch Restaurant to relish an Indian breakfast. It was also the occasion for a chit chat and to know the interest of the guests better.


The next stop was at Raghurajpur, Odisha’s craft village. Sri Gangadhar Maharana, Odisha’s finest patachitra artist had been intimated before. Our guests strolled through the open-air art corridor of Raghurajpur and interacted with several artisans and finally spent considerable time at Gangadhar Ji’s house to see his innovations for the art. We also narrated the origin and evolution of patachitra art and what makes it unique among all Odia crafts. Anita also has written a book on Patachitra and Jagannath cult. The next surprise was the Gotipua dance. The young boys had dressed up like girls and performed stunning dance sequences before us for about 30 mins. It was the highlight of the day. Our guests were simply astounded.







At Raghurajpur

We headed for Puri for the check-in at Cocopalm Resort, which is sea facing on the Beach Road.



On day 2 the early morning was spent at the golden beach of Puri experiencing various morning activities in the beach and fishermen delving into the deep sea.




At Golden Beach in Puri

After a lavish breakfast in the hotel, we headed for Konark, Odisha’s only world heritage monument and an epic in stone. Our guests were taken on a journey through its art corridors. It was magnificent glowing under the morning sun. After spending an hour we visited the recently built Konark Interpretation Centre and explored Konark’s history, legend, art, architecture and also about history and monuments associated with Sun worship of India. Watching a documentary film on Konark in a cosy theatre was an experience by itself.





At Konark

After relishing a delicious meal at the seaside Lotus Resort we returned to Puri for a brief nap. In the evening we again travelled to Konark to witness Odissi Dance at Konark Kala Mandap. Thanks to the gesture of Anita, Abhada, the mahaprasad of Lord Jagannath had been arranged in the hotel.


On Day 3 we explored the temples of Bhubaneswar in the morning. Our guests were narrated about the idea behind Hindu temples, their meaning and in particular about Kalinga temples, their architectural styles, legends, history and cultural significance. We saw Brahmeswar, Parasurameswar and Mukteswar temples.



In Bhubaneswar Temples

After visiting the temples we headed for Odisha Hotel in Lewis Road to relish a sumptuous Odia thali. It was grand with all ingredients of an Odia meal, badi chura, chenna tarkari, kakharu phula bhaja, tomato khata, patra poda machha, and rasagola. All our guests enjoyed the food very much.




After lunch, we went to visit the towering Lingaraj Temple, the highest achievement of Kalinga temples. The next surprise was a visit to the Odisha Craft Museum, one of the finest museums in the country showcasing the region’s finest art and craft heritage.  Our visitors were thrilled while taken through a journey of Odisha’s timeless craft culture.

After a coffee break in the museum, we travelled to Dhenkanal for the night stay.

Everyone was surprised when we entered through the ramp and the majestic gate of the royal palace. No one had ever thought that they would get a chance to stay in a royal palace. It turned out to be a wonderful experience for all our guests.






Next day was the longest journey to the Buddhist corridor. After breakfast, we headed for Udayagiri and then Ratnagiri, both excavated Buddhist sites having much artistic splendour of Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism. It was almost an emotional journey for all our guests specialising in Buddhism and its art.






At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

In the evening while returning back we spent an hour at Joranda’s Sunya Temple, the seat of Mahima Cult, a 19th-century religious movement which rejected the Hindu orthodox practises and emphasized on the nirakara (god without form) philosophy. Our guests got a chance to interact with resident monks who are known for their simplicity having matted hair and wearing the bark of trees.

Our last day of the trip was spent at Dhenkanal’s Dokra village and at Nuapatna textile cluster. The highlight of the day was having interaction with Sri Sarat Patra, Nuapatna’s most respectful and talented weaver. The trip ended with the shopping of stoles and saree at his shop.







At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

I want to tell you how much I appreciated your knowledge, guidance and friendship throughout our February trip in Odisha’s many architectural and cultural sites. As “Culture Vultures” from the National Museum Volunteers in Bangkok, we adored being able to experience the beautiful villages you showed us for the Patachitra paintings, Odisha dancers, batik and ikat weavers and bronze cast makers.  The religious contrast between the majestic temples of Konark and Bhubeneshwar’s Lingaraj, etc and the Aleka Mahini settlement was amazing to see the range of devotional activities.

Ashok’s conversion to Buddhism retold by murals, stone engravings, and the Buddhist sites of Udaigiri and Ratnagiri were unforgettable. Appreciated especially was our arrangement to spend the night in the old Palace in Dhenkanal.  It was magical –  dining in the garden and living in the spacial splendour of the old rooms. The seaside of Puri and life in the markets and streets of our journey were added delights.

Thank you for making it all possible and guiding us with your vast range of knowledge.


Romance in Murals – Expression of Love at Chitrasala in Bundi

‘That slender one should send a letter

Couched in artistic language

Written on a Kettaki leaf, scratched by Kasturi and wrapped by a silken thread

Having a symbol of her breasts smeared with sandal paste

With her name inscribed on upper portion’



‘Forgetful of worldly attachments

Lost in his thoughts

Suffering from fever caused by his memory

She heaves deep sighs, neglects her food, walks or rest

Without bothering to listen to her friends’



‘High palaces and blossoming lotuses

Do not give the pleasure any more

She throws the ornaments being placed on her body by her friends

Nor is she delighted by acts of entertainment

Having achieved an objective she is restless

Is desirous of engaging in such pursuits

Which she could not in the presence of her lover’


The 18th-century Chitrasala of Bundi palace in Southeastern Rajasthan is a chock-a-block of romantic depictions of Shringar Rasa in the form of large murals. Most of Chitrasala murals are inspired by Rasikapriya, a love poem written by Keshavdash of the 16th century.


Bundi takes its name from a narrow valley Bandu – Ka – Nal (Bandu was a chieftain of the Meena Tribe and Nal means the narrow ways). Rao Deva conquered this terrain in 1342 CE and renamed as Hadoti. The Aravali Mountains surrounding Bundi present the most picturesque view with its flowing rivers and lush green forest, in the whole of Rajasthan.

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Rasikapriya is portrayed as the vehicle of emotion. The description of the countryside, cities, forests, hermitages, rivers, gardens, tanks, sunrise, moonrise and the seasons are beautifully illustrated by the artists of Chitrasala. There are seven colours, namely, white, black, yellow, red, grey, blue and mixed tones that have been primarily used in Chitrasala murals.

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Keshavadeva defines a nayaka or hero as a man who is young, expert in the art of love, emotional, proud, selfless, generous, handsome, rich and reframed in taste and culture. A nayika is a heroine whose very sight fills a male’s heart with shringar rasa. There are four categories of naikyas according to Rasikapriya.





Padmini – Padmini is a beautiful nayika, soft as lotus, intelligent, cheerful, clean and soft-skinned, free from anger and has a golden complexion. She loves clean and beautiful cloths.

Travel Tips

Bundi is located in southeastern Rajasthan at a distance of 50 km from Kota, the largest city of the region. Bundi can be reached from Kota by regular bus services and shared vehicles. While at Bundi one can also explore the surrounding hill terrains rich in prehistoric rock art. There are many stay options in Bundi ranging from budget homestays to high end. Keep three days for your Bundi trip if you love a more relaxed slow trip.




Chitrani – Chitrani is adorned with diverse beauties. She is fond of dancing and singing. She is fond of perfumes and her lover’s portraits.

Sankini – Sankini means short-tempered and clever. She is a luxuriant growth of hair, likes red garments and pinches hard when excited. She is shameless and unhesitant.

Hastini – She has a thick figure, a fat face and large feet. Her lower lip and eyebrows are thick and her voice is rough.

Another draw of Chitrasala is the Ragini murals. Ragas are primary sources of all musical renderings in India. Each Raga or Ragini has an emotional situation based on different facets of love, either in union or separation. Ragas are ascribed to Shiva and his consort Parvati and Raginis are ascribed to Brahma and his consort Saraswati.











The important features of Ragini murals at Chitrasala are strong eyes, pointed chin, projected nose, round face, Jahangir style turban, narrow patka with geometrical designs, transparent chakadar jama, attractive black pompoms and shading under the armpits. Ragini Todi, Ragini Megha Mallar, and Ragini Asvari are important examples of this sect.

The depiction of zenana or women’s harem is yet the attraction of Chitrasala murals. Zenanas are large palaces built for women. These palaces are divided into different apartments allotted to the royal women or queens, less important ladies who hold various managerial positions and attendants. In these wings, only the kings and princes are allowed. Some common zenana scenes that appear in Chitarasala are princes playing chaupar, palace gardens, palace ponds, palace terraces, the celebration of Teez festival and women listening to music, feeding the fish and enjoying wine and smoking huqqua.






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The love murals of Chitrasala are a treat to eyes. They follow shringar at all its spell and intensity – when the passion strikes a woman after seeing her lover she sweats and is thrilled with romance and such is the intensity of her involvement she does not see even her friend standing nearby.  They integrate with the landscape of Bundi and the cycle of seasons. There are joy and delight everywhere.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Mahima Cult – Celebration of One God Part – 1

2500 years back, a prince from a royal palace of Ancient India left all his luxuries and pleasure of aristocratic life and renounced to seek nirvana. From Prince Siddhartha Goutma he transformed into the Buddha. A new religion was founded by him which had inquiries on the rejection and the exploitation of the lower caste Hindus by the Brahmins and the upper castes. Soon after its establishment, Buddhism became a profound crowd puller. Thousands and thousands of country people adopted Buddhism and contributed to its growth.


In the mid 19th century, yet another renouncer Mahima Gosain appeared in the Grand Road of Puri, the holy dham of Lord Jagannath with similar ideas. Before arriving in Puri he had lived in the Himalayas for years. There is no evidence of what he did in the Himalayas, but in Puri, he propagated the theory of Advaita – Bada which means God is One, there is no more than one God. He founded a new religion, called the Mahima Dharma or Alekha Dharma based on the principles of universal brotherhood, rejection of Hindu rituals and ceremonies and casteless of society.






Joranda on the foothills of Kapilash Mountains became the centre of all mahima activities. From here the religion was preached in the regions of Cuttack, Puri, Ganjam, Dhenkanal, Athagarh, Hindol, Sonepur, Boudh, Angul and Sambalpur. He established several centres of Mahima cult known as Mahima Ashram or Alekha Tungi.

Also, Read Here:











The devotees of Mahima Dharma follow a strict code of conduct. During Brahma Sarana, the devotees dedicate their body and soul to Alekha Param Brahma in body, mind and word. They derive all action from him and remain ever devoted to him. Daily saran and darshan are practised in a pure state of mind during the Brahma Muhurta (the time roughly an hour before sunrise and soon after sunset) after taking bath and making oneself pure in all possible ways. They should shun sex, greed, alcohol and other passions. They should not thieves, should not indulge in sexual intercourse with others’ wives, should not use violence towards animals and they should live in a non-violent way.

Also, Read Here:









Mahima philosophy is based on the worship of the supreme Brahma who is regarded as Sachitanand, Nirguna, Nirahankara and Niranjana. Brahma is described as invisible, indestructible, eternal and the supreme guardian of their universe. He is known as the Alekha (which cannot be written), Anadi (no beginning), Ananta (no end) and Anakara (no shape). The supreme Brahma of Mahima Cult is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. He cannot be realized by the acts of ordinary souls.

Travel Tips

Joranda is located at a distance of 30 km from Dhenkanal City and 90 km from Bhubaneswar, the nearest airport. Though you can meet the monks of Mahima cult throughout the day in their monasteries, however the time best time would be before the Sunset at Dhuni Temple where they perform the evening ahuti. The other nearby attraction from Joranda is Kapilash Hill and the Kapilash Forest, well-known for the elephants. The Chandrasekhar Temple at Kapilash is a well-known Shiva Temple in Odisha. There are no stay options at Joranda, however, one can stay at Hotel Surya (https://www.facebook.com/suryahoteldkl) in Dhenkanal for the Joranda and Kapilash experiences.






Mahima Cult has its own theory on the creation of the universe. According to Mahima Cult, Alekha Param Brahma emanates in everything of the universe without form. Alekha is himself Vishnu and from him moved Nirakara. When the later begins to appear the former disappears in emptiness.  This philosophy further states: ‘Once the universe was residing in the womb of Alekha, who was incomprehensible. Nirakara, after springing from Alekha, created seven oceans and remained in the state of deep sleep. Jyoti (light) originated from the state of sleep of Nirakara. The seven oceans got agitated with the wind raised by Nirakara in his state of sleep. It produced tides and from the tides emerged Kala (time) which was often identified with Kamala (lotus). Greed, attachment, anger, lust and illusion were attributed to this Kala.








Brahma, springing from the lotus set on its thread. He was getting frustrated while attempting to trace his origin at the bottom of the stalk of the lotus. Then he heard a voice from emptiness. The voice ordered him to create the world. Thereafter Brahma created this universe in collaboration with Kala.

To be continued

Author – Jitu Mishra

   He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com


Mundigada – Your Wanderlust in Kandhamal (Part 2)

When you are at Mundigada you don’t see any glamorous monuments around you. But you hear stories of its hoary past. You are bound to contemplate, is the history of Odisha or India just restricted to the glory of Mughals or Gajapatis…why we don’t hear the stories of unknown India. Here is an attempt!


The Kondhs are a militant tribe and don’t want to interfere in their territory. In the past, they were virtually independent in their mountainous kingdom but also connected by alliances with the ruling chiefs from the plain, especially Ghumsar. But when the chiefs tried to exert their political influence over them, the Kondhs resisted violation which in course of time led to Kondh uprising against the rulers of the plain and the British Raj in the 19th century.






A forgotten chapter in history, the Kondh uprising predated even the much-talked mutiny of 1857.

There are three causes of Kondh uprising.

The first is the tradition of human sacrifices, called Meriah. The Kondhs were first brought to the notice of the British during 1835-37 through the Bhanjas of Ghumsar. In February 1836 the British force for the first time, while ascending the ghats, came to know about the existence of human sacrifice among the Kondhs of the hill tracts of the present-day Kandhamal including Mundigada. The British did not like the barbaric practice and wanted to abolish. But the practice of human sacrifice was the foundation of their socio-religious life. Therefore the British authorities took many cautious steps in dealing with the problems. Interestingly, the officers exerted their influence in making the Kondhs understand the norms of civilised life. They would come in elephants through the dense jungles and crossing several mountains and mountain rivers and assemble in a field at Mundigada to interact with Kondhs.

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It is said that through direct inducements, such as gifts of land, money and cattle, titles and employment in the company service, the Kondhs were influenced. Even they tried to influence the priests of the Kondhs. But all such attempts were miserably failed to produce a due effect on the Kondh tribes. The practice of Meriah was so deep-rooted in Kondh society that any attempt by the British to suppress it created a sharp reaction among the Kondhs.





Kondhs have 84 deities of whom ‘Thadi’ or ‘Teri Penu’ is the supreme. The Kondhs would be united in a ceremony in the worship of this deity. There would be sometime a child with a belief that the earth would become stable and fit for ploughing. Their prosperity would be ensured.

Travel Tips

Mundigada is a small village located in Tumudiband Block of Kandhamal District at a distance of 5 km from Tumidibanda and 50 km from the Subdivisional town of Baliguda. Connected by excellent road and bus service, the state capital of Bhubaneswar is 350 km away from Mundigada. At Mundigada, you can stay at Sathi Ghara Mountain Home, a homestay specially designed for knowledge seeking travellers.

When the British authority failed to persuade the Kondhs to give up Meriah sacrifice, they decided to use force against them. But due to high altitude difficult terrain, it was not feasible. The British interference in their socio-religious rites led to prolonged states of warfare.



The second cause was the forced taxation. Ghumsar was in a state of political turmoil from the time the British captured it in 1767 till the end of Ghumsar rising in 1837. During those 75 years, Ghumsar faced desolation, devastation and ruin. There was the failure of crops in 1836 and consequently scarcity throughout the state. The following three years were of bad harvest for the whole of Ghumsar Kingdom. It crippled the backbone of people. On top of it, the British authority levied heavy taxes on rajas of Ghumsar and Baud. The government demanded arrears and revenue from the rajas, who in turn tried to realize the amounts from the Kondh inhabitants. But the Kondhs considered themselves the owner of the soil and they would not part with their lands on any ground whatsoever.

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The Kondhs apprehended that their land would be grabbed by the British. They were against the imposition of any land revenue or taxes when they and their ancestors have not been in the habit of paying.

The British officers and the local agents with the instruction of the Government imposed illegal taxes on the Kondhs. To extract the money from them, even their cooking utensils were carried away forcibly.

The condition of Kondhs gradually worsened. Consequently, the oppressive rule was no longer tolerable, the Kondhs violently revolted against the British authority.

The third cause was to maintain political autonomy of Kondhs. The Kondhs carried on prolonged warfare against the British for upholding the prestige of the native people. Chakra Bisoi, a Kondh rebel took the leadership of the Kondhs. He established Lakshmi Narayan Bhanj, a scion of the royal family as the new ruler of Ghumsar against the wishes of the British Government. Such a move immediately attracted the attention of Kondhs, who eventually fought for the re-establishment of the native rule, in which it was believed their privilege could be safeguarded and grievances removed.

Today Mundigada is transformed, its native, especially the new generation has forgotten its pride history. Thanks to Sri Suresh Patra, who in this film narrates an incident of Kandh rising near Munigada in the 1850s.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Mundigada – Your Wanderlust in Kandhamal (Part 1)

Mundigada, no tourism brochure will ever let you find this. Hidden far from any big town or city, Mundigada is an obscured tribal village at the foothills of Belghar in Odisha’s Kandhamal Highlands. At Mundigada you turn into wanderlust, a seeker of knowledge and listener of intense human stories.







Rustic Panorama in and around Mundigada

As the name suggests, Mundigada’s history is steeped in mysteries. It was once at the heartland of barbaric human sacrifices.







Sacrificial Posts, Grafitti and Other Remains of Mundigada’s Barbaric Past

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A story goes:

‘Once upon a time, the ground was all wet, and there was only earth, and there were only two females on the earth, named Karaboodi and Thartaboodi, each of whom was blessed with a single male child. The names of the children were Kasarodi and Singarodi. All these individuals sprang from the interior of the earth, together with two small plants called Nangakoocha and Badokoocha, on which they depended for subsistence. One day, when Karaboodi was cutting these plants for cooking, she accidentally cut the little finger of her left hand, and the blood dropped on the ground. Instantly the wet soft earth on which it fell became dry and hard. The women then cooked the food and gave some of it to her son, who asked her why it tasted so much sweeter than usual. She replied that she might have a dream that night, and, it, so, would let him know. Next morning, the women told him that, if he would act on her advice, he would prosper in this world that he was not to think of her as his mother, and was to cut away the flesh of her back, dig several holes in the ground, bury her flesh, and cover the holes with stones. This her son did, and the rest of the body was cremated. The wet soil dried up and became hard, and all kinds of animals and trees came into existence.




A partridge scratched the ground with its feet, and ragi (millet), maize, dhal (pea) and rice sprang from it. The two brothers argued that as the sacrifice of their mother produced food in such abundance, they must sacrifice their brothers, sisters and others, once a year in future.

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A god, by name Boora Panoo, came, with his wife and children, to Thartaboodi and her two young men, to whom Boora Panoo’s daughter was married. They begat children, who were divided equally between Boora Panoo, the grandfather and their fathers. Thartaboodi objected to this division on the grounds that Boora Panoo’s son stand in the relation of Mamoo to the children of Kasarodi and Singarodi, that if the child was a female when she got married, she would give a rupee to the Mamoo, and that, if it is a male that Boora Panoo’s daughter brought forth, the boy when he grew up would have to give the head of any animal he shot to Mamoo (Boora Panoo’s son).

Travel Tips

Mundigada is a small village located in Tumudiband Block of Kandhamal District at a distance of 5 km from Tumidibanda and 50 km from the Subdivisional town of Baliguda. Connected by excellent road and bus service, the state capital of Bhubaneswar is 350 km away from Mundigada. At Mundigada, you can stay at Sathi Ghara Mountain Home, a homestay specially designed for knowledge seeking travellers.





Then Boora Panoo built a house, and Kasarodi and Singarodi built two houses. All lived happily for two years.

Then Karaboodi appears in a dream and told Kasarodi and Singarodi that, if they offered another human victim, their lands would be very fertile, and their cattle would flourish. The two men with their eight children sought a victory for twelve years. At the end of that time, they found a poor man, who had a son four years old, and found him, his wife, and child good food, clothing and shelter for a year.  Then they asked permission to sacrifice the son in return for their kindness and the father gave his ascent. The boy was fettered and handcuffed to prevent his running away, and was taken good care of. Liquor was prepared from grains, and bamboo, with a flag, hoisted on it, planted in the ground.





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Next day, a pig was sacrificed near this post, and a feast was held. It was proclaimed that the boy would be tied to a post on the following day and sacrificed on the third day. On the night previous to the sacrifice, the Janni (priest) took a reed and poked it into the ground in several places. When it entered to a depth of about 8 inches, it was believed that the god and goddesses Tada Panoo and Dasa Panoo were there. Round this spot, seven pieces of wood were arranged lengthways and crossways and an egg were placed in the centre of the structure. The Kondhs arrived from the various villages and indulged in a drink. The boy was teased and told that he had been sold to them, that his sorrow would affect his parents only, and that he was to be sacrificed for the prosperity of the people. He was conducted to the spot where the god and goddess had been found, tied with ropes, and held fast by the Kondhs. He was made to lie on his stomach on the wooden structure and head there. Pieces of flesh were removed from the back, arms and legs, and portions thereof buried at the Kondha’s place of worship. Portions were also set up near a well of drinking water, and placed around the villages. The remaining of the sacrificed corpse was cremated on a pyre set alight with a fire produced by the friction of two pieces of wood. On the following day, a buffalo was sacrificed, and a feast partaken of.





Next day, the bamboo post was removed outside the village, and a fowl and eggs were offered to the deity.

The following stanza is still recited by the Janni at the buffalo sacrifices around Mundigada, which has been substituted for that of a human victim:

‘Oh! Come male slave; Come female slave. What do you say? What do you call out for? You have been brought, ensnared by the Haddi. You have been called, ensured by the Domba. What can I do, even if you are my child? You are sold for a pot of food.’


Mundigarh today is free from this barbaric culture. But a walk through its corridors will immerse you with countless such stories in the abode of nature.


To be continued.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Poda Poda Nrusingha Temple – A Wooden Heritage Treasure in Kandhamal

Odisha, unlike Gujarat, Kerala and Himachal, has not been known for wood carving heritage to the outside world.  However, it does not mean that the state has a shortage of wooden heritage. More than one-third of the state’s geography is densely covered with forest. Little wonder, Odisha’s state deity Lord Jagannath is made of wood.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Odisha had reached its climax in the construction of wooden temples. The Biranchi Narayan Temple in Buguda of Ganjam District testifies the culmination of the skill of Odia woodcarvers. Dedicated to Lord Surya, the temple is often regarded as the Wooden Konark of Odisha. The temple of Biranchi Narayan Temple was patronized by the Bhanja rulers of Ghumsar, the present Bhanjanagar region.

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Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda

Apart from Biranchi Narayan Temple, in a large part of south coastal Odisha and around the holy town of Puri, one of the finest wood carving heritages of South Asia flourished depicting the rasa of Lord Krishna and Radha and episodes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and Lord Jagannath. Some of these wooden wonders are now shown in various museums including the Odiarat Purvasa Museum at Chilika Lake.

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Wooden Carving of Lord Krishna and Gopis at Ganga Mata Matha in Puri



Exhibit at Odiart Museum

For more than 800 years the Bhanjas of Ghumsar had ruled over Kandhamal region in highland central Odisha. Kandhamal is inhabited by various branches of Kondh tribes who speak in Kui language, a branch of Indo Dravidian language family. The Kondhs are known for their aboriginal beliefs and lifestyle resembling prehistoric ways of life. In the past, they were notoriously known for human sacrifices under the guidance of their Jani (the tribal priest) with a belief that planting human flesh and sprinkling blood would yield a good harvest. Today the human sacrifice is mostly replaced with buffalo sacrifice.

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The Bhanja rulers of Ghumsar had largely patronized the Kandha beliefs and practices and incorporated many of their ritual elements in Hinduism to draw the hegemony of their tribal subjects. For instance, there are dedicated shrines of Kandhuni Devi and Maa Patakhanda in various villages in the erstwhile territory of Bhanjas. In these shrines, one finds an interesting blend of tribal beliefs and Hindu rituals.

Travel Tips

Poda Poda is located in between Baliguda and Phubani towns in Kandhamal District. Connected by excellent road, one can visit Poda Poda from Darigibadi and Mandasaru as well. For accommodation, the nearest town is Baliguda (30 km).




Shrines of Kandhuni Devi

The Bhanjas also had built temples in Kandhamal in the same fashion and artistic style which they had erected in and around their capital. Today, however, most of these temples are lost over time except Poda Poda, a small village located on Phulbani – Baliguda Highway in Phiringia Block. Surrounded by enchanting hills and valleys, Poda Poda has preserved the remains of a wooden temple dedicated to Lord Nrusingha, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.


Built as a rectangular structure the temple is a single building without having any porch. Its original roof is long gone and now replaced with asbestos sheets. The shrine of Nrusingha is shown as a bearded man sitting on a serpentine coil and protected by the cobra hood. Conventionally the display of the deity does not fit into the iconographic canons of mainstream Hinduism.


As you approach the temple what draws your immediate attention is the wooden door jamb depicting a tantric ritual tale. The panel has a display of various forms of sex perhaps associated with fertility cult. Women are shown having sexual intercourse with multiple men in various actions. Above the lintel, there is a mastika panel displaying the popular Gaja Sihmha character of Hindu temples in Odisha. On its top, there is a display of yet another woman showing her virginal.









The backside of the jamb has the depiction of beautiful geometrical patterns and a group of peacocks forming a circle.





On tops of wooden posts, there are depictions of animals, such as bear, elephant, lion and tiger in different cardinal directions. There is also a depiction of birds like parrot and swan. These panels were painted with various shades of colours as one finds at Biranchi Narayan Temple in Buguda. However, only traces are left.








In the interior part of the temple, there is yet another door jamb depicting the scene of Dasavatra (10 incarnations of Vishnu). On its mastika panel is a pair of fish displayed with intricate design as one sees in Ganjam. Fish symbolises peace in Odia culture.


The wooden temple of Nrusingha at Poda Poda is truly a remarkable example of Odisha’s splendid wooden heritage now lost in time. It is difficult to believe that a tribal-dominated region like Kandhamal could possess such intricate heritage. However, if no immediate attention is paid we may lose this wonderful wooden structure forever.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com


Murals of Bijapur – Splendours of Deccani Odyssey

Contemporary to Akbar, there lived a Sultan at Bijapur, in Deccan, who was a dreamer, with an almost maniacal sensitivity to art. He was Ibrahim Adil Shah II, the patron of the greatest artwork in Deccan. Just as Akbar transformed Mughal art, Ibrahim elevated Bijapur paintings to a level of dramatic power and technical sophistication that had no parallels in contemporary schools.

Ibrahim’s patronized miniatures are difficult to spot for a common traveller of art to Bijapur, but what amuse you is the traces of murals that adorn the interior walls of a few of Bijapur monuments. Even though mostly eroded, the remaining impressions still indulge their curious onlookers. 


The carved mihrab in Jama Masjid is the first one to be noticed and also best preserved. It has retained traces of fantastic paintwork on crisply modelled gesso.







The spandrels above the arch are filled with leafy tendrils exploding into fanciful blue and purple flowers against a rich golden background. The other attractions are Trompe-l’œil (the French term for ‘deceive the eye’– an art technique that uses realistic imagery to create the optical illusion that the depicted objects exist in three dimensions) depiction of books in low relief, painted in rich gold and brown to suggest embossed leather bindings. What further catches your eyes in the mihrab is the treatment of faceted part domes, where calligraphic alams, some on chains are surrounded by the elegant leafy tendrils. 

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These magnificent compositions combine the formal character of Central Asian pictorial tradition and abundant naturalism of Deccani tradition. 

The other building that has preserved Adil Shahi wall murals at Bijapur is Ashar Mahal, the grand courtly structure of the 17th century.

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In one of the upper chambers, there are traces of murals depicting courtly women, now badly damaged and difficult to photograph because of strict restriction and lack of natural light. The chamber next to it, however, appears magical with the depiction of Persian mystical pottery drawn by Chinese or Middle Eastern artists. Harmoniously proportioned these vases are composed of arabesque patterns similar to the 15th century Timurid designs. 

Travel Tips:

Bijapur is a medium-sized city located in North Karnataka near Maharashtra border in the heart of Deccan. The city is well connected both by road and railway. However, the nearest airport is either in Pune or Hyderabad (both 8 hours away). Hubbali is yet another nearby airport which is well connected by both rail and road service. The city has plenty of stay options starting from budget to luxury. Famous for Medieval architecture, especially Indo-Islamic including the second-highest dome and a triumph of Deccani architecture, Bijapur is an art lover’s paradise. While at Bijapur also visit Kumtagi waterworks (25 km from the city). One should keep a minimum of three days for a true appreciation of Bijapur’s water heritage.








Paintings are also seen in the walls and vaults of one of the pavilions at the pleasure resort in Kumtagi, 25 km away from Bijapur. Though badly damaged, the remaining traces show a depiction of courtly pastimes, such as Polo match complete with horses and players, wrestling, drinking and musical performance. One can also find Europeans appearing in formal dress.  










The wall murals of Bijapur are hardly talked about and perhaps it is the only Internet source documenting these valuable artistic assets of South Asia of yore. 

The Adil Shahis were Shia Muslims having a strong bond with their roots in Persia. Yet they had also inherited the local tradition. These paintings reflect in a sense a true amalgamation of ideas, the spirit of the idea of India, an essential subject to ponder at this juncture of the disturbance being faced in the country.   

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com    





5 Offbeat Travel Experiences in Kandhamal – Odisha’s Tribal Heartland

With no airport and railways, Kandhamal region can be viewed as Odisha’s untamed territory and a paradise for travellers of all kind. A highland mountainous region, 80% of Kandhamal is forested, perhaps the highest in India excluding Northeast. Home to Kondh tribes, this ancient aboriginal land has retained a beautiful mix of old-world charm and modern aspiration. For outsiders, Kandhamal is widely known for Daringibadi, an enchanting hill station nicknamed as ‘Kashmir of Odisha’. However, there are tons of surprises at every part this forested territory beyond the popular hangout points of Daringibadi.




These are 5 offbeat travel experiences that are guaranteed to charm any curious traveller to this emerging destination in Odisha’s rural heartland.


Kerala’s Silence Valley is well-known. However, very few know that Odisha has its own silence Valley in Kandhamal. The Mandasaru Silence Valley is an enchanting mountain gorge having splendid wildlife and dense forest. A destination for all seasons, the Mandasaru Silence Valley is also an eco-tourism hotspot. There are beautiful wooden cottages built by the forest department overlooking the mountain gorge. Surrounded by picturesque ethnic villages and rural charm Mandasaru also has one of Odisha’s oldest Catholic Churches built in the early part of the 19th century. There are also small waterfalls and trek options for adventure seekers.

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Ludo Waterfall

Located at the heart of Kotgadh Wildlife Sanctuary, Ludo Waterfall is Kandhamal’s best-kept secret. Surrounded by scenic forest villages of Desia Kondh Tribe and enchanting turmeric and mustard fields, the Ludo waterfall is 3 tired having splendid views of nature. One can relax here for hours enjoying the tranquilly of the forest and listening to the musical chores of the cascading fall. The waterfall is worshipped as Mother Goddess by local villagers.

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Desia Kond Villages around Baliguda

Baliguda is your entry point to the tribal kingdom of Odisha. Located at a distance of 300 km from Bhubaneswar, Baliguda is surrounded by villages inhabited by Desia Kondh tribe, whose women have a unique tradition of tattooing their face. A visit to their villages will drive to a mysterious wonderland where you hear tons of stories of their hoary past when human sacrifices were a common sight. Isolated from the norms of civilisations there used to a strong belief that sacrificing a human life would yield a good harvest. Today the human sacrificed is replaced with buffalo sacrifice. In every village, you will discover the remnants of sacrificial posts depicting buffalo icons in wood.




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Belghar located at a height of 1000 m is the territory of Kutia Kondh Tribe, one of the most primitive in Odisha. Inhabiting around thickly forested hills, the Kutia Kondhs have unique customs and beliefs. Until recently Belghar remained fairly isolated. Like Desia Kondhs the Kutias also sacrificed humans until the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A visit to their villages will drag you into a prehistoric setting. To bring into control and expose them into the norms of civilisation the British also had made attempts. A beautiful wooden lodge from the British Era carries the colonial legacy. The elderly local will tell you how the British officials would reach Belghar sitting on elephant back through the dense jungle paths.

Travel Tips

Kandhamal is largely rural and one of Odisha’s largest districts. Phubani, the district headquarter and the largest town is located at a distance of 200 km from Bhubaneswar. Baliguda is the second largest town having staying options. However, for a unique Kandhamal experience try out the Nature Camps at Mandasaru and Belghar, both can be booked online. Keep a minimum of 3 nights and 4 days for your Kandhamal trip.







Podapada is a small village on Phulbani – Baliguda Highway. The village is known for preserving one of Odisha’s unique wooden temples, the Nrusingha Temple. The temple was built in the 18th century by a Bhanja King from Ghumsar. The most eye-catchy part of the temple is the wooden beams and the parapet where along with conventional Odia icons there is the depiction of mysterious tribal and tantric rituals. The wooden sculptures and geometric motifs are intricately carved.







Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com



Satpada – Chilika’s finest Magnum Opus

A legend goes: In the distant past, Raktabahu was a pirate king, who had a plan to rob the Jagannath Temple at Puri. He arrived at the coast of Odisha with a huge fleet of ships. Assessing his wicked intention, the seawater moved backwards, making anchoring impossible for the pirate army. Out of anger, Raktabahu attacked the sea, which in turn washed him away with a part of it. That detached part of the sea according to local belief is the Chilika Lake of today.



Satpada in the northern part of Chilika is believed to be the place where Raktabahu had arrived. A meeting point of rivers, rivulets, fishing villages and Irrawaddy dolphins at Satpada, nature has created one of its best magnum opuses. Shredded in mysteries, the land has a deep connection with Jagannath Cult.

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According to a legend, the daughter of the king of Kanchi was engaged to the Gajapati King of Puri. When the king of Kanchi met the Gajapati, the later was in the act of sweeping in front of chariots of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. Considering the act of sweeping offensive of a king the king of Kanchi declined the marriage proposal refusing to marry his daughter to a sweeper.

Gajapati Purusattama Dev felt deeply insulted and decided to rage a war against the Kanchi King. However, he was unsuccessful.

Travel Tips

Satpada is located at a distance of 45 km from Puri in the southern direction and 100 km from Bhubaneswar. There are a few budget staying options at Satpada including the OTDC Yatri Nivas. However for a unique experience tryout Nature Camp at Rajhans Beach. The package includes overnight stay, food, boat pick up and drop from Satpada, nature trek and dolphin sightings. If you don’t want stay, you can hire a 3-hour boat ride from OTDC counter at Satpada for dolphin sightings and a brief halt at Rajhans. While at Satpada, try out the local seafood delicacies, which includes crabs and prawns.


Upon his defeat, the Gajapati King returned to Puri and prayed Lord Jagannath. Moved by his prayer, Jagannath and Balabhadra left their temple at Puri and started an expedition to Kanchi on horseback. Near Satpada, they felt thirsty and chanced upon the milkmaid Manika, who gave them yoghurt to quench their thirst. Instead of paying her dues, Balabhadra gave her a ring telling her to claim her dues from king Purusattama Dev. At Adipur, near Satpada, Manika stopped the king pleading for the unpaid cost of yoghurt. She produced the gold ring as evidence. Considering this a sign of divine support of his campaign, the king enthusiastically led the expedition and defeated the Kanchi King. After the victory, the Gajapati King brought back the princess Padmavati to Puri and married her during next Rath Yatra before the idol of Lord Jagannath.

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Satpada today is a traveller’s paradise mainly for the 100 odd endangered Irrawaddy dolphins that are sighted in the tranquil blue water here. Irrawaddy dolphins are a critically endangered species having a bulging forehead and 12 to 19 teeth on each side of both jaws. They are also found in Mekong River and Borneo. In Mekong River, they are regarded as sacred animals by both Khmer and Lao people.








Dolphins at Satpada are best sighted in the morning before its placid water bed gets crowded by tourists.





Satpada has plenty of charms for a curious traveller. It is a wonderland for those interested in fishing and discovering the life of fishermen.








Asia’s largest brackish water lake Chilika has an abundance of crabs, prawns and a variety of fish. Nets and traps are the common gears used for fishing in the brackish lake. While nets are used to harvest fish, traps are used for prawns and crabs. The fishing boats are plank-built flat bottomed ones known as naha.




Among the traps, bamboo traps are most common. An essential accessory to these traps is thette, which is a bamboo screen measuring 40 ft x 4 feet and serves as a pathway for prawns to move in the directions of traps. They are generally set in the lake in the evening and removed in the morning when the catch is taken out. Traps are completely dried before resetting in the evening.



Satpada is a timeless romance. A one and half hour boat ride transport you into a noman’s beach amidst the wilderness of the coastal forest and miles and miles of sandy beach. The beach is Rajhans, where time seems to have taken a halt.




The one and half hour boat journey one way is filled with excitement at every turn. You pass by many scenic villages and fishermen engaged in various stages of fishing. Cormorants and Brahminy Kites eyeing for fish sitting on bamboo posts add icing on the cake to your journey. For a moment you become the king of an untamed water territory and your subjects are not humans, but elements of nature, birds and fish.






Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com