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.

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The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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At Raghurajpur

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Paralakhemundi – From Royal Grandeur to Splendours of Folk Art

Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati, the erstwhile ruler of Paralakhemundi State near Andhra – Odisha border was among of the greatest luminaries of Odisha throughout her history.   A visionary and passionate soul for art and heritage, Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati was one of the first Odias to initiate the movement for separate statehood for the Odia speaking people. The seeds for such a noble initiative were germinated in the Gajapati Palace of Paralakhemundi. Today, the palace though degraded with the ravage of time still stands as an architectural splendour of the colonial past.

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When we talk about palaces, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu amuse our mind. However, Odisha was no less splendid when compared to its counterparts. Lack of information and not given due importance, Odisha’s palace heritage is hardly divulged.

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DATIA PALACE – OF FRIENDSHIP, MYSTERY AND INSPIRATION

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The Gajapati Palace in Paralakhemundi is one such architectural wonder, however, sadly its story has not gone beyond its precincts. Designed by British architect Robert Fellows Chisholm, the palace and the fort are influenced by Indo-Sarcanic style combined with Byzantine and European architectural features. A three-storied structure, the palace includes an underground floor connecting it with the main palace of the Maharaja.

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DHENKANAL – WARS, WILDERNESS AND ROYAL HOSPITALITY

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The palace was built in the early part of the 19th century and can be compared with the best of the royal palaces built across India in the colonial setting. Its patron was Maharaja Jagannath Gajapati Narayan Dev III. An amount of 24 lakh and 20 thousand had been spent for its construction. Granite pillars, Burma teak beams, Belgian stained glass windows, artistic grills are the key attractions in the palace.

Travel Tips

Paralakhemundi is located on Odisha – Andhra border at a distance of 280 km from Bhubaneswar. The town is both connected by train and bus from all major cities of Odisha and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. If you are travelling from Bhubaneswar the best option is to travel by Rajyarani Express which leaves Bhubaneswar Station at 6.20 AM in the morning and arrive at 12.15 PM in Paralakhemundi.  Likewise, it leaves Paralakhemundi at 4.30 PM and arrives at Bhubaneswar by 10.30 PM. Paralakhemudi has a few budget hotels for accommodation.

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The palace was built in a silver background. All the stairs are provided with long and wide verandahs or corridors. Thick walls made of well-polished red bricks with white lime mortar reveal its marvellous construction skill. At the east-facing entrance of the main gate, two sleeping lions are placed on either side over two raised platform.

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Paralakhemundi was the cultural nerve centre of South Odisha. Being close to Andhra Pradesh here one notices heavy Telugu influence in language, dress-code and food habit. Plentiful festivals are celebrated in the daily life of Paralakhemundi throughout the year.

Patronized by the royal family, the Chitrakara Street in Paralakhemundi is celebrated as South Odisha’s finest folk art corridor. Experts in oil painting and woodcraft the maharana chitrakaras of Chitrakara Street make wooden idols of folk gods and goddesses apart from mainstream deities to be used in various festivals. Made in distinctive styles the woodcraft of Paralakhemundi is known for its vibrant colours and folk elements.

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The most significant among the paintings are the ganjapa dasavatara sara, the Odia version of round shaped ganjifa playing cards. On the backside of the cards, one finds the depiction of 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu.

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Chitrakaras also make attractive Janukhanda Parasurama Handi. According to the Purana, in Tretaya Yuga, Ramachandra and Parasurama had once met during the exile years. To test the ability of Ramachandra, Parasurama had asked him to hold and break his bow. Ramachandra could qualify easily the test which Parasurama had not expected. Ramachandra asked him to tie an illustrated pot with paintings of dasavatara in his leg and wander to beg. Parasurama had come wandering to the abode of Mahendragiri Mountain, not far from Paralakhemundi. From then on it has become a part of Paralakhemundi tradition to create such beautiful illustrated pots and sold to those desiring spiritual begging.

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The hornwork of Paralakhemundi is globally known which are made chiefly out of the horns of cattle and buffalo. The art was originally well-known to the tribal communities of the region. They used to make blowing instruments from the horns. In the later part of the 19th century, this craft was given a big boost by the Gajapati kings of Paralakhemundi. They had engaged skilled maharanas of village Pitala near Aska in Ganjam District. Gradually they started making combs, elephants, horses, prawn, idols of Lord Jagannath and son on.

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Paralakhemundi is truly South Odisha’s heritage capital and for me, it has got special attraction as it is my birthplace.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Duba Valley – Ganjam’s Offbeat Sojourn

Ganjam, Odisha’s southern corridor is an exceptionally fabulous land for its enchanting rural life, forests and mountain valleys, exotic beaches and lakeside at Chilika, art and craft, music, fares and colourful festivals and many more.

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Yet amidst all these charming characters that attract tourists and travellers around the year there sets a hidden gem, the Duba Valley Retreat, a sprawling farm and fish ponds in the north-eastern part of the district. 

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Established in a tranquil setting surrounded by a large number of fish ponds, sal forest, mango orchards, lemon garden, herbal estates and many more, the Duba Valley Retreat (previously known as Sherton Ecoresort) is a destination by itself for the soul seeking travellers. 

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The nearby villages of Duba Valley are known for blackbuck, an antelope species, which is popularly known in Odia ‘Krusnasara Mruga’. The male blackbucks are especially attractive for their long ringed horns ranging between 35 and 75 cm and two-tone colouration, while the upper parts and the outsides of the legs are dark brown to black, the underparts and inside of the legs are all white. 

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ATHMALLIK – IN THE HEARTLAND OF MAHANADI WILDERNESS

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Blackbucks graze on low grasses in groups. They are active mostly during the day time. Due to their regular need for water, they prefer areas where water is permanently available. 

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Though once widely distributed in India today there are small pockets where blackbucks are found in small herds. Their population has gone down mainly because of hunting. However, in Duba Valley blackbucks are protected by villagers because of their significance in Hinduism and due to a local belief. 

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A popular legend goes: many years ago due to a perennial drought condition, the farmers of this part of Ganjam were going through farming stress. One day some of the farmers while wandering in a pretty grassland area saw blackbuck herds grazing undisturbed. It was a coincidence, immediately after this sighting the mother earth rejuvenated receiving adequate rainfall. The village folks started believing that the blackbucks are rain messengers. A symbiotic relationship developed between the farmers and the blackbucks and from then on they are not being harmed. 

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BLISS IN THE WILDERNESS – LULUNG ARANYA NIVAS

At Duba Valley, it is a delight to watch these innocent creatures under the protection of villagers. Incidentally, they are the second high-speed runners after the cheetah on earth. 

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At Duba Valley, you start your day listening to the musical chirping of countless water and tree birds. A short walk in the valley will lift your soul to nirvana enjoying the innocence of nature and the simplicity of rural life. There are 40 ponds, big and small developed for fishing. The biggest is of 17 acres facing the rowhouse cottages. If you are passionate for angling in a rustic setting, it is Duba Valley for you where you can spend a couple of days detoxifying all your mundane stress of city life. You watch fishermen in actions and part of the fresh catch become key menu for lunch or dinner or both. 

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Another key attraction of Duba Valley is relishing khani paka rice (mined rice), which is unpolished having high nutritional value. In Ganjam, a particular variety of rice is stored in underground pits. The rice matures in the heat of the earth. The rice takes very little time to cook, just as raw rice, but tastes like boiled rice. 

Travel Tips

Duba Valley Retreat is located in Jagannath Prasad Block of Ganjam District at a distance of 180 km from Bhubaneswar via Daspalla. Surrounded by pristine forest and villages, it is strategically located to access the other important travel destinations, such as Daringibadi and Satkosia on Mahanadi River. The retreat has 12 cottages and other recreational facilities.

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In the forested valleys near Duba lives Sudha Kondh, a branch of Kondh tribe who speak in Kui language. Having deep faith in nature, the Sudha Kondh communities are known for the simple lifestyle and warm hospitality. 

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Once used to be practitioners of animistic religions, the Sudha Kondhs, are now Hindus. However, until now, they have retained some of their traditions, such as tree worship, the performance of dance and music and living in mud houses having wooden posts fences.   

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KANDHAMAL – HERITAGE IN WOOD

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The nearby town of Bellaguntha is universally known for its unique flexible brass fish craft. Originated in the 9th century CE under the patronage of Bhanja rulers, the craft of flexible brass fish however received due recognition in the 17th century CE. In the past, it was considered as the symbol of Lord Vishnu’s Matsya (Fish) incarnation and was also considered as the symbol of peace. During marriages, traditionally the girl would be sent with a wooden box, which would include sindoor, kajal, money and a piece of brass fish as it is treated as a symbol of peace. Today, however, it is used as decorative items. The main attraction of this craft is the smooth movement. A flexible fish is split into 3 parts, head, torso and tail. 

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Today the idea of travel has travelled from the mainstream to offbeat. Hectic city life, detachment from one’s roots, the flow of information and growing sensitivity towards mother nature, sustainability and crave for fresh organic farm food are being most sought after travel experiences among new age travellers. 

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Truly Duba Valley Retreat spread over hundreds of acres of pristine farmlands and fish ponds in the heartland of rural Ganjam is a travel experience to desire for. 

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Talasari Beach – Beyond the Rhythmic Sea

As you approach the Bhogamandapa of Lord Jagannath Temple at Puri, and if you are an ardent lover of art, you are drawn to unique art panels depicting royal processions, scenes of royal assemblies and many more. When you move your eyes to extreme right a panel depicting a royal pleasure boat would draw your attention. The boat is carved along with a crew of rowers and the helm man on the high stern section. The royal figure is seated on a swing and holds a cloth tassel to steady him as the boat progresses. The pavilion has caryatid type pillars and figures cling to the royal umbrella at the prow.

The type of boat shown in the panel is built in clinker technology, a method of boat building that was developed in Northern Europe and was successfully used by the Anglo-Saxons, Frisians, Scandinavians and Hanseatic Cog.

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In clinker technique boats the edges of hull planks overlap each other. Clinker built ships were a trademark of Nordic navigation throughout the middle ages.

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Today sailing of clinker technique boats has become history in most part of the world. However, in Talasari Beach of North Balasore bordering West Bengal, the millennia-old clinker technique boat tradition has survived along with Sweden, Digha in West Bengal and parts of Bangladesh. Locally known as Patia, these are reverse clinker sailing boats made entirely out of Sal (Shorea robusta) and are heavily coated inbound and outbound with tar. Apart from modifications made to accommodate the engine, all sizes of boats are evidently built in the same manner. The strakes of patia boats are fastened together by nails, which are driven through the overlap and clenched by hooking the emergent point back into planking.

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CHANDIPUR – BEYOND THE VANISHING SEA

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At Talasari, you are drawn to a romantic flat beach with small and playful waves, a few patia boats, scenes of fishermen repairing nets, red ghost crabs crawling on the golden sand and dense tree foliage.

Travel Tips

Talasari is located near West Bengal Border closer to Digha Beach. The distance between Balasore and Talsari is about 90 km via Jaleswar Town. It is a quaint beach surrounded by small rivers, casuarina forest and charming villages. The Odisha Tourism Panthanivas is the best-staying option at Talasari. The property is located near the river with the best view of the river and beach. The seafood preparation here is simply delicious. Though Talasari can be covered in a day trip however we recommend for a night stay to have the best of experience.

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DAGARA – ODISHA’S RED CARPET BEACH

The patia boats used by the fishermen are operated in estuaries, beach seining and the open sea. The builders of patia boats are simple folk with no formal background in boat designs. Hence, no drawing, models or moulds (templates) are used when building a patia – measurements are used mainly to ensure symmetry. The boats are largely built ‘by eye’ and much depends upon the experience of the builder.

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Patias are used in specific seasons of the year. The main season begins from September/October to March/April. The sailing of patia works within about 5 km of the shore, while the motorised may go up to 20 km.

There is no historical record of patia boats, when it came into use in Talasari water, who were its first users, and so on. However, the region around Talasari was a maritime hub from the 16th centuries having active trade contact with European countries, ranging from Danish to British nation. Perhaps it was introduced through contact with Europe.

The only evidence was provided by Thomas Bowrey, a British traveller of the 17th century in Odisha coast. Thomas described the boats as patella – flat bottomed, barge-like clinker-built boats with protruding crossbeams, used to transport salt. They had a single mast and were steered by large median radar.

Talasari is a beach that can refresh your five senses like an instant coffee and heal your body, mind and soul at the first go. Talasari gets its name from Tala (rhythm) and Sari (row) – the rhythm formed by the swing of the lush green foliage and the moving golden sands, both uniting with the calm melodious sea. When it is the low tide you can simply walk across the dry river bed to reach the beach and when it is high tide use the ferry to cross the river.

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At Talasari you relish the best of seafood at your own pace.

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The nearby Chandaneswar is an important business hub in rural Balasore. Bordering Digha Beach in Bengal and Udayapur Beach in Odisha, Chandaneswar is famous for a Shiva temple built in the architectural style of Bengal.

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Every year, during the Hindu month of Chaitra (April) a 13-day festival called Chadaka Mela takes place in Chandaneswar. Legend has it that Lord Chandaneswar secretly married Kamini in the absence of his wife Parvati during the month of Chaitra. At the time of Chadaka Mela, devotees in large number get their skin, tongue and body pierced with nails and move around in the procession.

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Chandaneswar also has several women self-help groups engaged in the making of plates and bowls using the local resources, leaves of beetle nut palm trees. You can meet them and by as gift items to spread happiness and sustainable living with nature.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Jau Kandehi of Balasore – Excellence in Lacquer

As I grow old, I become more nostalgic about my childhood days in the 1980s. It was an era without Internet and Smart Phones, no pizza or any food of foreign origin. Our favourite pastime was ‘playing’, enacting Odisha’s folk stories and colourful legends.

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Though I was a boy and the kandhei bahaghara (marriage of dolls) used to be a pastime activity for girls, but we all celebrated our childhood to the tune of the ditty –

Aa Baula Bohu Bohuka Khela Kheliba,

Come, friends – let’s play doll marriage having fun and joy

Jhia bahakari pua bahakari

By letting marriage between our daughter and son

Jani – jautuka deba”

And giving away dowry and gifts

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PAPIER MACHE – THE STORY OF ODIA MUKHA AND ITS MASTER ARTISAN

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Toys have been integral to India’s 5000 years of civilization. From the dawn of Indus Valley until the time computer games and cheap Chinese toys started making inroads to India’s interiors, playing with traditional toys dominated the length and breadth of the country. In past, India had a rich tradition of making toys using a variety of material. However, unfortunately very few have survived.

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LIFE IN TERRACOTTA – TILE CRAFT OF BARPALI

One of these is Jau Kandhei, or Lacquered Toys, which since the 17th century is being made as part of Balasore’s folk tradition. Today, dolls made of fired clay, painted with colourful lacquerer and artistically designed with lacquered threads are an integral part of Balasore’s folk culture.

Travel Tips

Silpi Kesu Das lives in Balasore, the largest city in North Odisha and located midway between Bhubaneswar and Kolkata. Connected by both excellent road and rail Balasore is also a major tourist destination especially for its Chandipur Beach. There are excellent stay options in and around Balasore for all kinds of travellers. The founder of Balleswari Kala Kendra Silpi Kesu Das’s workshop is located near Remuna Golei in Balasore City.

Dublagada, Koshamba Nagar, Near Remuna Golei, Po – Bhimapura, Dist – Balasore, Pin-756003, Odisha, India Website: http://www.jaukandhei.com Mob: 9861104590

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In the 17th Century, Balasore was at the centre of Odisha’s seafaring culture. Surrounded by the estuary of Budhabalaga River, which meets the Bay of Bengal near the famous beach of Chandipur on one side and the dense forest of Nilagiri and Kuldiha on the other side, Balasore had a strategic position in the maritime map of India. The city was positioned at the crossroad of ideas. It was Balasore where the Dutch followed by the Portuguese, French and the British first arrived in the north-east coast of India to establish factories and trade. The forest of Nilagiri and Kuldiha had an abundance of lacquer which was used for making toys.

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Balaram Gadi near Balasore – a major harbour in the 16th century

In the words of Silpi Kesu Das, an internationally acclaimed lacquered toy artist, ‘keeping a pair of dolls in the bedroom is considered auspicious in our tradition. This is why the bride’s family used to gift lacquer dolls to the couple in earlier days. It glorifies the celestial relationship’.

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Kesu’s Miniature Paintings – Horseshoe Crab, a rare marine species from Balasore finds depiction in each of his painting.

Watch here his interview.

 

 

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Salmora Potters of Majuli – A Journey through Time and Space

From the beginning of human civilisation, our ancestors had mostly preferred river banks to settle. Rivers are dual in nature. On the one hand, their fertile plains are extensively exploited for farming and their courses are used for mobility and trade. On the other hand, rivers periodically bring catastrophes through floods damaging livelihood in no time.

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It was through river-based trade India witnessed the second urbanisation around the middle of 1st millennium BCE in the region of the Ganges in North India. Buddhism was also spread through merchants and traders along the major river basins. Through river trade Srenis or Sresthis (trade guilds) had carried out the business of trade commodities, the major item being ceramics or pottery.

Also, Read Here:

Betwa – Flowing in the Heart of India

There were different kinds of luxury and everyday use of pottery traded in Ancient India. Among the luxurious pottery, Northern Black Polished Wares (dish and bowl) were in high demand. It had reached to a large part of the Subcontinent through river trade. These were used among emerging aristocrats and elites as symbols of status in Ancient India.

Two millennia have passed. It is difficult to visualize with 100% accuracy the mechanism of Early Historic Pottery trade – how were the ceramics made, who made them, how were they bartered or sold through river trade, what kinds of watercraft were used and so on.

Travel Tips

Majuli is world’s second largest river island located in the newly created Majuli District in Upper Assam on the banks of Brahmaputra. To reach Majuli one has to take ferry service from Koklimukh Ghat at a distance of 15 km from Jorhat Town, which is connected by both rail, bus and air services. It takes about 1 hour 30 minutes to reach Majuli. Salmora Village is about 25 km from Gormur, the heart of Majuli Island. While at Majuli visit various Namghars, a Vaishnava institution established by 16th century Saint Sankardev. Bicycles are the best options to commute within Majuli in one’s own pace. Hummingbird School is located in remote Kulamuha Village. Pathorichuk is yet another Mishing Village which can be reached after crossing three wooden bridges over a river. You can also have a boat ride in beels and rivers at your own pace. While at Majuli visit Samagri Satra for the masks. Made of bamboo and dried cow dungs these masks depict special characters and used in various religious dramas called Bawna. For a gastronomic experience try patta dia mas (fish backed in banana leaf), chicken kharika (chicken roasted in sticks) and fish curry (Oo Tenga Mas Jul) along with fresh vegetables. 

Salmora village in the southeast corner of Majuli Island on the bank of mighty Brahmaputra has somehow kept the historic tradition alive. Close to Dakshinpath Satra, the Kumar potters of Salmora make handmade pottery and supply them to various villages inhabited by Mising community apart from Assamese villages through river trade. They also make watercraft for sailing in the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. Size and shape of boats vary depending upon its usage in various kinds of water bodies including ponds and swamps. The business of pottery is partly through the barter system and partly through direct selling.

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Misings use them to make and store apong (rice beer) and in return provide black grams and other food items to Kumar Potters.

Also, Read Here:

Misings of Majuli – An Anthropological Journey

The craft has survived among 600 families inhabiting the south-eastern fringe of Majuli in the villages of Salmora, Barboka and Besamara. Though there are no historical records of their origin, however many historians agree that the craft was introduced during the reign of Ahom kings.

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According to a legend, the Kumar potters came to Assam from Burma during 7th century BCE. According to yet another legend, during the 13th century CE, when Chalung Sukapha came to Assam crossing the River Irrawaddy he brought with him about 11 Bor (large) Kumar families from Hong Kong in China.

The Kumars settled first in Sadiya on the bank of River Brahmaputra in Upper Assam and then migrated to Majuli in search of suitable clay required for making pottery. It was during 13th to 16th centuries migrations to Salmora took place in phases.

Apart from making pottery, the Kumars also make boats. A legend goes: in the earlier time, the Kumars used to arrange their pots on the banks of rivers and would wait for customers to buy. These banks would be regularly visited by merchants and sailors of large ships during the heydays of Ahoms. Many of these merchants would be attracted to the beautiful pots displayed for sale by the Kumars. In the course of time, these sailors started influencing Kumars to make boats so that it would be easier for them to commute long distances through river courses. The Ahom King Joyadhaj Singha had brought a family from amongst the Kumars to Salmora Village. The family members were well-versed in the art of boat making. Through the members of this family, the art of boat making was established in Majuli.

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There are about 26 varieties of earthen pots produced by the Kumar potters of Salmora. Some of these are locally called mola, madia, choru, pati kalah, becha ikalah and chaki. The making of pots is primarily done by the womenfolk.

During the monsoon season, the earth is dug with shallow pits spread wide to store clay during floods. In this season, fresh alluvium is deposited in abundance on river banks, which is used for making pottery. The glutinous clay is extracted from 60-70 feet deep pits on the river banks. After extraction, the clay is then transported back to their homes where it is further mixed with water and left to stand for a day.

After the monsoon is over, the women potters prepare the puddle with clay, silt sandy mix for primary lump. Then they give shape by hands. Following this, they dry the pots under the sun and finally take them to a furnace. The furnace is prepared by men potters with bamboo, banana leaves and dry wood. Tools used by potters are made from locally available timber and bamboo.

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Today, the eroding Brahmaputra is threatening to the extinction of this ancient craft. In the last couple of years, the river island has shrunk from 1250 square kilometre to 400 square kilometres. Flooding in Brahmaputra force people to shift their villages from one area to another within Majuli from time to time. Ironically, Salmora is also not spared. On top of this, according to experts of the Brahmaputra Board, the government organization which has been involved in anti-erosion projects on the island since 2004, the digging of pits for clay soil makes the river bank vulnerable to erosion by the river. Potters of Salmora blame the district administration for restricting them from digging on the banks since the last couple of years. This is affecting their livelihood and also the craft that has the link of India’s five thousand years of civilisation.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Gifts of Mother Earth– The Story of a Kosali Potter

Clay, Māti or Mitti – while rolling on its rustic surface, when you widen your ears, what you hear are stories of your ancestors of generations that you can’t count. In fact, clay has been the greatest gift of nature. It is mother earth. It gives you food, provides shelter and what not. Clay is also synonym with the fertility cult, the worship of Maa Durga in every Ashwina. And what can be a better gift for mother earth than a splendid image of Maa Durga created out of her own body itself.

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When you are at ODIART Purvasha Museum, spend some time at its gallery dedicated to terracotta sculptures with its splendid display of images of Maa Durga, Varaha Avatar of Lord Vishnu, Lanka Podi Hanuman, a Sadhava boat depicting Tapoi story and many more. They are perhaps among the best creations in terracotta you would have ever seen.  Their creator is Mukund Rana, a gifted potter who lives and work at distance Kuibahal Village in Sonepur District of Western Odisha.

Also, Read Here:

Splendours of Sonepur – In the land of Ramayana’s Lanka

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Maa Durga Display at ODIART Museum

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Display of other Creations of Mukund Rana at ODIART Museum

Mukund Ji, now 58 belongs to Rana potter community. He started his career in the early 1990s with motivation and mentoring received from his uncle, the nationally awarded potter Shri Manabodha Rana of Barpali. But from then on he has never looked back. Mukund Ji and his son Debananda Rana now work day and night to meet the demand for terracotta objects in Urban Odisha, especially Bhubaneswar.

Also, Read Here:

Terracotta Artist Manbodh Rana – An Inspiring Story

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While I met him recently and spent two days at his workplace I discovered not only his insights and creativity but also the process in the terracotta making, a cottage industry that has continued from the Neolithic-Chalcolithic time in the region.

Chalcolithic – Iron Age Pottery from the Region (Courtesy: Prof Pradip Behra, Archaeologist, Sambalpur University)

Little wonders the region is blessed with the availability of the best clay for terracotta. Another fascinating draw of his studio is his manually drawn wheel which he has retained for fitness.

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Travel Tips:

Kuibahal or Kuhibahal Village is located amidst paddy fields surrounded by Hirakud canals at a distance of 38 km from Sonpur on the bank of River Mahanadi. The village is small and does not have staying options. However, nearest Sonpur, Bargarh, Bolangir and Barpali have basic stay facilities. Carry also your own food or contact in advance Mukund Rana for food arrangement. His phone no is +91 9938505146. While at Kuibahal also visit Barpali and Sonpur, two major handloom clusters. For a spiritual sojourn visit the samadhi sthal of Santha Kabi Bhima Bhoi at Khaliapalli Village.  

Clay is collected in summer months from the floors of dried up ponds and stored for the rest of the year.  At the first step, the desired objects are created in the wheel. But before the clay is thrown into wheel, the clay is converted into a fine dough. Before converting into the dough, the clay is kept outside for sun drying for a day; then it is mixed with water and finally, the water is removed through the filtering process. Depending upon the desired object’s shape and dimension the dough is shaped in the wheel. If it is a complex object, such as an animal on a roof tile, it is made in parts. Sometimes, if it is a too delicate object, moulding in hands is preferred.  Once the object is made it is left for drying in shade and two hours before, shifted to outdoor for sun drying.

In the next step, a thin polish is applied to mud paste called mazni over the surface of dried objects for lustre. Now the objects are ready for an open fire in the kiln.

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In the firing process, first, the objects are arranged over a shallow pit and then covered with straw. Once thoroughly covered ash is spread and finally allowed for slow open firing. The process lasts for 7 to 8 hours, before, the objects are finally removed.

In June this year, I had got a chance to visit the workshop of Mukund Rana at his village and had covered a story. However, that time I had not got the chance to interact with him as he was touring in distant Koraput. This time I was fortunate to be with him for nearly two days to understand his work and creativity more closely. One of his specialities is making of sculptures of Lanka Podi Hanuman, which are made in large scale during Saptapuri Amas, 40 days before Dussehra, the day Rama defeated Ravana. On this day Lanka Podi is performed in Sonepur during which Monkey God’s terracotta images are burnt, crushed and thrown into the river as a mock of Ravana’s antipathy.

Also, Read Here:

Life in Terracotta – Tile Craft of Barpali

During this time of the year, Mukund Ji’s workshop is largely occupied with making of different forms of diyas (earthen lamps) for Diwali festival. Among these the most popular ones appear as terracotta lanterns.

Also, Read Here:

Lanka Dahana Festival of Sonepur – A Photo Story 

Mukund Ji and his son Debanand are also expert in making of murals and three-dimensional objects. Yet another speciality of his creation is Tulasi Chaura, quite distinctive from the ones you see in Coastal Odisha. In Mukund Ji’s creation, you see miniature women standing in two rows all holding a diya and are in namaskar mudra. Overall all Munkundi’s Tulasi Chaura appears as Kosali style temple with an amalaka at the top and above it is placed a diya.

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Mukund Ji also makes terracotta animals, small and large for decorative as well as bin purpose. Another speciality is handi which is mainly supplied to Bhubaneswar for cooking mati hand mansa (terracotta vessel cooking mutton). According to him and also based on well-tested experiment, the food cooked on terracotta vessels are much more nutritious and healthier than cooking in a pressure cooker. Perhaps this was the best learning for me from the visit.

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Mukund Ji one of the finest terracotta artisans I have met so far. He is also humble warm and welcoming.  However, unfortunately, his talent is yet to be recognized by the Government of India for a national award.

 

Travel through Digapahandi – Ganjifa’s Last Bastion

In some corner of my heart, I have developed a special weakness for Khemundi, an erstwhile historic territory in South Odisha’s Ganjam and Gajapati Districts with Paralakhemundi as the capital. Here I was born close to 5 decades before in Chitrakara (Artisan) Street. Though I did not live here for longer stretch of times, I used to spend my childhood vacations twice a year spanning one and half months put together.  As I recall my childhood days, Kumara Purnima or Sarad Purnima used to be a festival immediately after Dusshera when elderly folks of the town would play day and night a kind of circular pictorial card game, called sāra locally. Later, I came to know it is called Ganjifa or Ganjapā, a game introduced from Persia through Mughals in the 16th century, but now lost everywhere except Paralakhmundi’s cousin town Badakhmundi or Digapahandi in South Odisha’s Ganjam District (25 km away) from Berhampur, the largest city of the region.

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Asta Rangi Ganjapā Cards being played at Digapahandi 

In the last 500 years of Digapahandi’s history, the region was blessed with diverse cultural influences. The influence of the Jagannath Cult of Puri had been its founding stone in the 16th century when a branch of Gajapati clan started ruling the Khemundi territory from Paralakhemundi.

Also, Read Here:

Monks, Monasteries and Murals – A Photo Story on Puri’s Two Legendary Mathas

Travel tips:

Digapahandi is a small town/large village located at a distance of 25 km from Berhampur, also the nearest Rail Station. The town is well connected from Berhampur by a motor road (the national highway that connects Gopalpur Port with Raipur, the capital of Chhatisgarh). A drive through the highway and the surrounding countryside is very scenic with hills, paddy fields, water bodies and colourful villages. Beyond Digapahandi starts the Ghat Road of Eastern Ghats. Another 25 km drive from Digapahandi is Taptapani, a natural hot spring surrounded by dense forests, hills and Saora tribal villages. 

While at Digapahandi your resource person for Ganjifa cards is Shri Lakshmidhar Mahapatra (+91 9439135827).

Digapahandi does not have staying options. But if you are interested in forest and tribes, try for Panthanivas (Odisha Tourism) http://www.panthanivas.com/ at Taptapani. Otherwise, you can find plenty of options at Berhampur or Gopalpur-on-Sea. 

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Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra in the Sanctum Sanctorium of the Jagannath Temple within the premise of the ruined palace

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Lord Gopala and Goddess Radha

The last independent king of Odisha was Telenga Mukunda Deva (1559 – 68 CE). During his reign, Paralakhemundi was separated from the Old Khemundi state. Due to the fact that the Old Khemundi state was divided into three parts between the two sons of Swarnalinga Bhanu, the elder brother Ramachandra became the king of Badakhemundi and Sanakhemundi, while the younger son Subhalinga Bhanu became the king of Paralakhemundi State. So Badakhemundi and Sanakhemundi have always had a relationship with the Parala State, the place of my birth.   After the death of Mukunda Deva, the region was briefly occupied by the Qutbshahis of Golkonda who were defeated by Mughals subsequently. The region was also under the Maratha domain for sometime before it was subjugated to the rule of East India Company in the early 19th century.

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The Ruined Palace and the Tank

Ganjifā cards game was perhaps introduced here through the Mughals as there is no tradition of playing Dasavatara here, which is popular in Puri. Here 8 colours (Atha Rangi) or 8 suits cards is traditionally played.

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8 suits cards had been initiated by Emperor Akbar. These were Ghulam (servant), Taj (crown), Shamsher (sword), Asharfi (Gold Coin), Chang (harp), Barat (Document), Tanka (Silver Coin) and Gimah (merchandise). In Digapahandi packs, one finds close resemble with the Mughal names, such as Gulama (Mughal: Ghulam). Chenga (Mughal: Chang), Someswara (Mughal: Shamsher) and Barata (Mughal: Barat). The other four colours are Surjya (Sun), Chandra (moon), Phula (flower) and Kumancha. Besides Ganjapā, there are three other games played traditionally at Digapahandi, which are explained by the players in the film here.

Digapahandi was also a thriving centre of art and culture during its heydays. However, most of its tangible heritage is lost with the ravage of time.

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In Ganjam, a type of murals incorporating ideas from South and Puri had developed known by Dakshini style of murals. In one of the recent stories, we had highlighted the murals of Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda. The erstwhile kings of Digapahandi also had commissioned similar work in the 19th century at its mutts and temples. One can still find their traces adorning the walls of its crumbling temples.

Also, Read Here:

Illustrating Ramayana Katha – Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda

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The ruined Jagannath Temple and traces of murals that once covered its walls profusely

Another interesting aspect of Digapahandi’s cultural heritage is Osakothi murals that one finds on walls of temples and sacred spaces, freshly painted during Navaratra every year.  Osa meaning penance and kothi meaning sacred space, Osakothi represents the shrine where Osakothi rituals take place. The Osa fasting is carried out by women for the welfare and longevity of their husbands and families. The paintings are solely done by men. A folktale goes, a beautiful woman Shriya whose seven sons were killed by a jealous queen. However, she was blessed by goddess Mangala upon observing Osa for 12 years with seven more sons and everything that she desired. Since then it became a custom to observe Osa for prosperity and well being of a woman’s family.

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In an Osakothi shrine what draws your attention is more than life-size images of Goddess Durga, Kali, Shiva, Chhinnamasta, Parvati, Saraswati, Ganga, Yamuna and a number of folk deities. One also finds scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as warriors, birds, animals and other floral designs. Be there between Dussehara and Kartik Purnima to witness Osakothi rituals, where you can find elements of tribal, folk and Hindu beliefs and practices.

Also, Read Here:

Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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Digapahandi and its rural heartland are frozen in time. Little wonders it is also the gateway to South Odisha’s tribal territory, especially of Saoras and Kondhs. You discover miles and miles of paddy fields that appear in monsoon and during Durga Puja as fields of emerald. At distance, there are hills of Eastern Ghats.

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Though its immediate surroundings do not have a significant tribal population, there are a few hamlets here and there of Sabara tribe, once hunter gathers into subsistence farmers. They also entertain you through their soulful devotional music using an ethnic musical instrument called kenadarā.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Splendours of Sonepur – In the land of Ramayana’s Lanka

Sirpur in Chhattisgarh (also known as Mahakosala) was the seat of power for Panduvamsa at a time when political turmoil was at its peak in East-Central India. During the reign of Mahasivagupta Balarjuna at the beginning of the 9th century CE, Mahakosala had been invaded by Rastrakutas from Deccan. With little hope for revival, a branch of the family left Sirpur for Suvarnapur (or Sonepur) in search of fresh fortune in Western Odisha. Here they thrived and established a kingdom known by Somavamshi, which later penetrated into Coastal Odisha and became the creator of some of India’s finest temple jewels in Bhubaneswar.

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Suvaranapur from then on became a flourishing centre of art and religion. However, its link with Ramayana’s Lanka by Late Prof H.D Sankalia, the Father of Indian Archaeology traces its roots to much earlier time. The archaeological expedition at Kahambeswarapalli and Manmunda Asurgarh (the settlement of Asura Tribe) on the southern bank of River Tel also pushes back its antiquity to Prehistoric time.

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Sunset over River Tel

For everyone in India, a familiar story goes: Thousands of years ago, Lord Vishnu took birth as Rama, to kill the demon king of Lanka. Ravana carried off Sita, Rama’s beautiful wife, to his kingdom, and in course of the search, Lord Hanuman made a great leap across the seas. His superhuman bound carried him from the southernmost tip of India into the land of Lanka, now known as Sri Lanka. Rama stormed the country, and after a long battle, rescued his wife.

However, archaeological finds revealing sacrificial alters, skeletons of horses, prehistoric tools, plenty of Iron Age war tools, the remnants of a large fortified city dated from 6th century BCE, all suggesting to one point – Sonepur was a cradle of early civilization inhabited by Asura tribes.

Travel Tips:

Sonepur is located in Western Odisha at a distance of 278 km from Bhubaneswar by road. It is a medium-sized town and the district headquarter of Subarnapur District. While in the town a traveller can also explore its other heritage temples, such as Budhi Samalai Temple, Bhagavati Temple, Dadhibabana Temple, Dasamati Temple and Jagannath Temple. Sonepur is also a major handloom cluster. Bomkai or Sonepuri Saris are woven by Bhullia community in villages around Sonepur. 

Sonepur does not have many staying options. However, nearby towns of Balangir and Bargarh, both connected by rail have a number of budget hotels at affordable prices.

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Lankeshwari Temple in the Middle of River Mahanadi

In the living tradition of Sonepur, Hanuman is disrespected and his effigy is burnt as a mock of counterpart on the day of Purna Amas, 40 days before Dussehra, the day Rama defeated Ravana.  On this day Lanka Podi is performed in Sonepur during which monkey god’s terracotta image is burnt, crushed and thrown into the river as a mock of Ravana’s antipathy.

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Also, Read Here:

Lanka Dahana Festival of Sonepur – A Photo Story

Much later in history, Sonepur was also a princely state of India during the rule of the British Raj. Its ruler was entitled to 9 gun salute. The state was founded in 1556 CE by the rulers of the Chauhan Dynasty. During Sambalpur Uprising the Chauhans of Sonepur had extended support to the British.

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The Remains of Ruined Palace in Sonepur

The Chauhans were great patrons of art. Under their patronage, artisans were invited from other parts of Odisha and elsewhere. Applique or chandua kam, pattachitra, wood carvings, ganjapa, terracotta and many more thrived on its historic corridors on the banks of River Mahanadi and Tel.

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Ganjapa Cards of Sonepur

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Applique Work

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Several temples also dot its landscape representing the combination of Tantra, Shaiva and Vaishnava faiths. Among the temples, the most noteworthy are the Gundicha Temple, Sureswari Temple, Budhi Samalai Temple, Rameswara Temple, Lankeswari Temple and Pancharatha Temple.

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Gundicha Temple

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Budhi Samalai Temple

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Pancharatha Temple

Sureswari is the presiding deity of Suvarnapur and is an ancient seat of Tantra Sadhana. Although it is not possible to trace when the worship of Sureswari began, the legend goes, Sri Parasurama worshipped his mother Renuka in the name of Sureswari. He killed Kshatriyas and offered their blood to the holy fire of the yajna he conducted.

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Sureswari Temple

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The Sacrificial Wooden Post used for Animal Sacrifice

A stroll through the lanes of Sonepur would take you to different artisan streets. Beyond the Gundicha Temple on your way to Rameswara Temple at the confluence of Mahanadi and Tel, there is Kumbhara (Potters) Pada (Street). Here one discovers the oldest surviving craft in human civilization untouched by time. The speciality here is the making of terracotta images of Lankapodi Hanuman (described earlier).

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At Maharana Pada, there are wooden crafts and paintings in patachitra style. On your way to Manmunda before the bridge on River Tel you meet chandua artists and what they show is very different from Pipli chandua. Across the River, Tel is the settlement of Manmunda Asurgarh where one can explore the process of Bomkai Pata Silk Saree making in a large workshop established by Chaturbhuja Meher.

Also, Read Here:

Appliqué – Celebrating Colours of Odisha

Sonepur and its surrounding villages are home to nearly 50,000 weavers belonging to Bhulia community. Originally belonged to Rajasthan, the Bhulias came to the region during the mid 14th century through Chhattisgarh. The weavers were later titled as Mehers.

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From then on they have been traditionally weaving the tie and dye fabrics.  In the earlier time in the absence of chemical colours, the vegetable dye was mainly used, which had a limited colour range.

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However, during the 1960s a lot of fresh ideas were introduced with the initiative of visionary Padmashree Krutartha Acharya. Chemical dye was also introduced in the process, which led to increasing in the range of colour sheds and design variations. Bomkhai designs were introduced from Ganjam in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One speciality of Sonepuri tradition is intricate of motifs and designs unlike the tie and dye tradition of other parts of India.

Sonepur is mystic, where time moves at a slow pace. You can simply relax here leisurely for a couple of days strolling through its rural heartland among farmers, potters and fishermen all engaged in rustic folk settings and relishing delicious fresh organic food and lobsters fresh catch from rivers.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Papier Mache – The Story of Odia Mukha and its Master Artisan

Imagine Odisha or in that matter, rural India before the economy was made open in the 1990s and penetration of cheap Chinese goods in the rural market. Imagine rural Odisha before the flooding of television channels’ cheap entertainment shows such as Sas Bahu and the spread of much-hyped social media and free mobile phone entertainment.

Festivals and rituals thrived in Odisha’s rural landscape. Janmashtami, Dussehara, Ramleela and a score of other festivals were celebrated with great pomp and festivity along with folk operas and dramas illustrating mythological stories of Hinduism in general and of Odisha in particular.

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Folk performance in Rural Odisha

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A major attraction of these folk mythological dramas were the characters wearing papier-mache masks, Hanuman, Hiryana Kashyapa, Narasimha, Vishnu, Devi, Shiva and so on. Patronized by the feudal kings of Gadajat Odisha, papier mache artisans thrived in several rural pockets. But sadly as the globalization has taken a stroll the tradition has dwindled to a large extent. These days the folk drams are still a big hit among local communities, but the mukhas have been replaced by bright fluorescent coloured silk cloths and body painting.

No one knows when papier-mache made its way to Odisha, but for generations, the craft has been thriving as mukha chitra in the rural heartland.  Now the mukhas that have survived from past have made their ways to museums, both in India and overseas.

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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar
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Kalabhoomi Odisha Craft Museum, Bhubaneswar

And their miniature versions have found new patrons at Raghurajpur and Puri for home decorations.

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Papier mache according to Wikipedia is a composite material consisting of paper pieces of pulp, sometimes reinforced with textiles, bound with an adhesive, such as glue, starch or wallpaper paste. Literally, it is also referred to as craft of ‘chewed paper’, ‘pulped paper’ or ‘mashed paper’.

Though I have been acquainted and bought a few miniature mukhas from Raghurajpur in the past my understanding was limited until when I came across a splendid papier mache chariot depicting Lord Krishna as the charioteer carrying Arjuna to the battlefield of Kurukshetra at ODIART Museum in Lake Chilika. It was one of the highest standards of any craft I have come across. The chariot is designed in the Odia Ratha style and influenced by traditional patachitra art. I was simply floored and could sense a strong connection between the object and its creator through divinity and passion.  Later I came to know about Sri Purushottam Mahapatra, its creator who lives in Kapiliswara area of Old Bhubaneswar.

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Travel Tips

ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and closes to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2-hour drive from the museum. 

The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation. 

Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisherfolk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation, the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.

Contact Details

Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Khordha, Odisha-752030
Contact No-9439869009,  9853242244
Email : odiartchilika@gmail.com 

Purushottam Mahapatra lives in the address below at Bhubaneswar. 

Purushottam Mahapatra

Sassana Padia, Kapileswara

Old Town, Bhubaneswar 751002

Phone: +91 9937881342, +91 7008039025

Purushottam Ji is Odisha’s no one papier mache artist. But his journey has never been simple. In the film below he shares his journey during the formative period of his career.

Even though he is in the 60s he is strong and promising. With a simple phone call, he gave me time and introduced the process which is carried out by him; his wife and son, however, offer helping hands.

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What keeps him busy on a daily basis is creating a range of colourful birds, which are in high market demand and each sold for 250/300 INR. When you see them together you are almost drawn to a bird sanctuary where the chorus of birds has come to a sudden pause.

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Then he showed me an unfinished peacock of life-size. What a stunning beauty even though the painting was yet to be done.

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The next was an unfinished bowl depicting Krishna’s themes.

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His creations, however, had many more surprises; one such was a puppet, entirely his own visualization.

While being drawn time and again to his unique creations I also witnessed the process.

First, the desired object is created in clay, which is then kept for drying for a couple of days. Once dried thoroughly it becomes a solid core. The core is then wrapped and glued with a number of paper strips.  Then the core is removed. The glued paper pieces are now ready for the desired alternation. In cases of birds, wings and tails are added. Following it, the object in making is coated with a paste of chalk powder. The last step is painting and then your papier mache craft is ready.

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Apart from the Mahabharata chariot, Purushottam Ji has also created recently a life-size sculpture of Krishna’s Giri Govardhana lifting. Some of his masks are also displayed in Bhubaneswar’s International Airport.

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I spent nearly three hours at his studio. But one thing that disturbed me was the lack of zeal and passion among young generation artisans, who want quick monetary success with little effort. So it is difficult to predict about the future of papier-mache craft after Purushottam Ji. The production will be there but not sure about the standard and creativity.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com