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.

 

Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

Who does not like dosa, the signature south Indian breakfast! On 16th November 2014! History was made in Hyderabad with the making of world’s largest dosa measuring 54 feet 9 inches and weighing 13.69 kg at a restaurant called Daspalla.

Today Daspalla Hotels and Restaurants have created a big brand in Undivided Andhra Pradesh for their unique food innovations and hospitality, however, very little is known about the brand itself Daspalla, a tiny town in the frontiers of Odisha’s Nayagarh district surrounded by dense forest and hills of Mahanadi Division of Satkosia Gorge Sanctuary.

Nestled amidst the pristine beauty of nature, this sleepy little town has a rich legacy of past though its present maharaja, his highness Digvijay Deo Bhanja and the chairman of Daspalla Hotels Limited have settled in the port city of Vizag from the time of his late father Sri Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja’s move after his marriage to a Telugu Princes in 1949.

Silence in Kuanria Wetland

The princely state of Daspalla was founded in 1498 CE by Naran Bhanja, a younger son of Raja Narayan Bhanj Deo of Boudh during the reign of Siddya Bhanja. At that time the present Daspalla was a part of the Baudh Kingdom inhabited mainly by Kondh tribes in the inaccessible jungles of this frontier region. During the rule of Bira Bhanja, there was a rift for power between him and his younger cousin Sal Bhanja. The dissident Sal Bhanja left Baudh for Puri to meet the Gajapati King for assistance. While resting with his followers at a place called Padmatola Ghat on his way to Puri through Jagannath Sadak, the king of Nayagarh came to know about the troop and arrived here to help. Both made alliance and the King of Nayagarh declared him as the king of the area, the present Daspalla region. In no time the news of this development reached Baudh. Bira Bhanja got annoyed and declared a war against Sal Bhanja. But the troop of Bira Bhanja got defeated thanks to the alliance between Sal Bhanja and the king of Nayagarh.

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River Mahanadi near Daspalla

As Sal Bhanja got yasa (fame) after defeating the king of Baudh he named his kingdom Yaspalla which later came to be known as Daspalla. It is also believed that Daspalla got its name from 10 villages that were combined to form the gadajat.

Travel Tips

Daspalla is located on the highway that connects Bhubaneswar with Bolangir via Nayagarh and Baudh. The distance between Bhubaneswar and Daspalla is 125 KM and it takes about 3 hours. Keep a day for exploration in and around Daspalla. If you wish to stay overnight either you can stay at Barmul Nature camp on Satkosia Gorge (50 km) or at Nayagarh, the district headquarters. One can also travel by train up to Nayagarh from Bhubaneswar and then take a bus or public transport. But the vehicle of your own is advisable. While at Daspalla don’t forget to relish Odisha’s signature sweet chennapoda (it was originated here).

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Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

The earliest capital was at Badmul on the bank of Mahanadi. However, at the time of Padmanav Bhanja, the 9th king of Daspalla, the capital was shifted to the present location. A legend goes: during a hunting expedition the king was impressed with a heroic action at this place, a wild dove chasing a chhanchan (bird of prey) and decided to build his new capital here.

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

After independence when Daspalla was merged with the Democratic Republic of India, the former Raja of Daspalla Sri Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja, the 18th on the line shifted to Visakhapatnam and since then the Rajabati (the palace) has become obsolete.

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Picture Credit – Satyabrata Dash

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Daspalla Palace

Built-in the colonial style of architecture, in the days of the British Raj, small banquettes were regularly thrown here by the royal family for the benefits of the Governors of Odisha and these banquettes used to be catered by the Grand Hotels in Kolkata.  Purna Chandra Deo Bhanja Ji had widely travelled during his young days and he was a great philanthropist having specific interest in the spread of Jagannath Cult. Of late, the abandoned palace is getting a new breath of life as it is being made a heritage hotel.

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Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

Travelling around Daspalla is like back in time. Laidback villages, farmlands, warm-hearted people, scenic wetlands, relishing mouth-watering chennapoda, fish and prawns from Mahanadi and trekking through its enchanting hills and forests make Daspalla a perfect weekend retreat.

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There are two ways to reach Daspalla from Bhubaneswar, one via Nayagarh, the shorter route, but with less interesting characters and the other via Kontilo on the bank of Mahanadi, the original abode of Lord Jagannath and then Gania, famous as the gateway to the Mahanadi Gorge Sanctuary.  We took the second route.

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Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

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At Gania, you relish the most authentic version of chennapoda and if you are on time, in the early morning hour you can experience its method of preparation. Try out the sweet at Jagannath Sweet Stall, where you get the best of the sweet anywhere in Odisha made out of freshly backed chenna, the country cheese.

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From Gania take the winding highway through countless farmlands, forested mountains on both your sides. The landscape is untouched by time. On your way, you meet warm-hearted Odia souls at villages surrounding the highway.

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At a distance of 7 km from Daspalla, there lies yet another hidden secret, the Kuanria Wetland, an irrigation dam project developed also to help local fishermen. Treks and resting places have been created surrounding the wetland by the forest department. A large number of migratory birds also flock to this reservoir during winters.

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You can sit here in silence for hours watching fishermen in actions. Even you can buy from the fresh catch and take home or arrange a barbeque meal onsite.

Daspalla is also a culture hub of Odisha. Thanks to the patronage and initiatives taken by its erstwhile rajas, here Ramnavmi is a big draw with carnivals telling the stories of the Ramayana through street theatres, lights and actions.

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Undoubtedly Daspalla is a great weekend retreat from the hustle and bustle of Bhubaneswar. Come and discover the magical charm of this frontier land wrapped in mysteries of history, culture and nature.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Misings of Majuli – An Anthropological Journey

Year 2017! Bipin Sivaji Dhane, a young alumnus of IIT Kharagpur visits Majuli and it was love at first sight. Bipin left his lucrative job in cosmopolitan Singapore to start a school in a remote village for the children of Mising Tribe. A new journey was embarked upon through partnering with local Mising community leaders to bring in qualitative changes in the area of school education in a land that is gifted and cursed at the same time. Today Bipin’s school ‘The Hummingbird’ has become a ray of hope for the Mising children and is thriving as a model for the rest of India on community-driven education. In December 2018 I was fortunate to be here spending 3 days with the Mising tribe, about whom I had heard a lot but not experienced life with them.

The meaning of the word Mising – Mi (Men), Yashing (Bright or God), which means – ‘We are bright or Good People’.

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According to Mising folklore on their origin myth, there is a common origin of the three groups – Mising, Padam and Minyong from the creator of the universe itself.

The myth goes: Sedi Babu (father Sedi), the Supreme Being is the creator of all the living and non-living beings in the universe. Sedi Babu first created Melo Nane, the creator mother and they together created Dietem (the earth), Rukji Meran (the ants and insects) and Peyi-Peltang (the birds and animals). At the same time, they created Sun (Donyi) and Moon (Polo), and wind (echar), water (asi), fire (enic) and other objects of the universe. Sedi then created Diling who was survived by Litung. Litung was survived by Tuye, Tuye by Yepe and Yepe by Pedong. Pedong gave birth to Dopang, Domi and Doshing. The son of Dopang was Padam and his offspring are the Padams of today. The son of Domi was Minyong whose descendants are known as Misings.

Sedi created the sun and the moon, which act as the two eyes of the Supreme Being through which he watches the people of the earth and no man can hide or escape from them. Both the Misings and the Adis share the common belief and regard the Sun and the Moon as the manifestation of Supreme Being. The cult of Donyi Polo has a great influence on the Mising as well as the Padam and the Minyong tribes. No ceremony, either secular or ritual ever begin without invoking Donyi Polo for their blessings.

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Today the Misings (earlier known as Mirs) are one of the largest tribal groups in Assam. There are a small number of Mising villages also found in the lower hills of Arunachal Pradesh. Capt Nuefille was the first British officer who reported about the Misings of the Assam Valley in 1825. At that time the Misings inhabited the north bank of Brahmaputra River. Now they are settled in a much wider region of Upper Assam. However, their maximum concentration is in Majuli and North Laxmipur Districts on the banks of various rivers and streams.

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Melancholia in Majuli

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. 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 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. 

 

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The Mising migration to the plains of Assam was spread over a long period of time, commencing approximately in the 16th century and ending only in the early decades of the 20th century. According to their folklore, the community had originally occupied the area upstream of the Dihong River, while the Minyong inhabited the area north of Dihong up to the eastern bank of Dikhari River. The Padams lived between the Dibong River in the east and the Dihong River in the west.  Despite their common origin and the common cult of Donyi Polo, the relationship between the three communities could not remain brotherly and peaceful. Although they occupied independent through contiguous mountainous terrains, they were engaged in regular conflicts over the possession of the valleys and hill slopes for carrying on shifting cultivation which was a major subsistence activity of the hill tribes. Thus for the increasing need of cultivable land, the days’ internecine feuds began which finally took the shape of regular wars among the communities living in the Dihong Valley. Some of the folktales also describe the important socio-political events that took place in the past which finally forced the Misings to migrate from the hills in search of new homes where they could live in a better peace.

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Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

As you enter into Majuli what draw your immediate attention is their vernacular houses on raised stilts, locally called Chang Ghar.

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The house on stilts is a large hall with a central kitchen for a large joint family. The lower part of the house is used to provide to shelter animals that every household rears. Apart from the main house, there is a traditional granary over a raised platform. According to the elders of the Mising tribes, once upon a time, the banks of Brahmaputra used to be tall grasslands and also had thick vegetation of reeds leading to the favourite game area for wild elephants. According to them, elephants do not attack houses on stilts and therefore not destroy even the granaries. The grains are also protected from moisture, rodents and floods.

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The major components of these houses are bamboo, cane and palm leaves for roofing. Bamboo is a raw material of great flexibility and forms an integral part of the lifestyle and economy of the Mising community. Their stilted houses have thatched tops and are patterned simply like the letter ‘I’. Mostly they face rivers. Sometimes boats are left underneath the dwelling in case of a flood.

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Bhils of Aravali – A Socio-Anthropological Journey

Another draw in a Mising village is women engaged in weaving. The Mising women of Majuli are specifically renowned for their exquisite hand-looms, especially their mirizen shawls and blankets and they keep reinventing their traditional diamond pattern in countless weaves using their favourite colour palate, yellow, green, black and red.

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Their traditional throw shuttle loom is built under their stilt houses. Though a tedious process, the weavers produce wraps like mekhela chador and gero, stoles like gamosa and some other utilitarian items. Traditionally, weaving in the Mising community was for their own use. But these days, Mising handloom products are much in demand in cities.

The Mising women are generally known to be laborious with extensive participation in agricultural work. Traditional methods of farming techniques are used for agricultural productions. They generally cultivate rice, mustard seeds, black pulse, Jute, potatoes and other vegetables. Besides agriculture, they are also engaged in livestock rearings such as cattle, pigs and poultry.

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Misings also depend upon fishing. They use small plank built wooden boats to perform the operation in the marginal areas of Brahmaputra River and its tributaries and beels (swamps). The fishing activity is started in early morning hours and continues throughout the day until sunset. During the start of the operation, the fishermen select a shallow area with mild water current near the river bank. They take a small piece of duck meat and squeeze it with fingers at a depth of about one foot below the water surface for 10-15 minutes. After ensuring that a good number of fishes have gathered in the area, the fishermen scrap only a part of bottom soil from the river bank to dig a small semi-circular pit of about 30 cm diameter using a small spade. The fishermen with the meat piece in hand then shift the location of squeezing the meat to inside the pit. Fishes attracted by the meat ultimately enter the pit, after which the fishermen block the narrow entrance to the pit with the help of a steel plate. Thereafter fishes trapped in the pit are handpicked and kept in harvesting pots made of bamboo.

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Misings mostly depend on nature for their livelihood. Besides fishing and farming, they use plenty of wild plants and vegetables in their daily food items from time immemorial. Leaves of plants are especially used as wrappers for the preparation of different pithas (sweetmeats), smoked fish and pork.

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Pork and fish are the favourite food items for the Mising tribe in addition to the meat of domestic fowls. These are cooked with green leaves both on a daily basis and on festive occasions.

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Misings of Majuli coexist with Assamese Vaishnavites who are part of the classical Satara institution.

Though life is peaceful here, there is always a danger in monsoon, flooding and land erosion in Brahmaputra River. In the last few decades 60% of Majuli’s landmass has been shrunk and there lies an uncertain future for the Mising community. Migrating to cities and abandoning the traditional life especially among youth in a globalised economy add further misery to their unique indigenous life and living with nature.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

From ‘Muthi Anukula’ to ‘Kheta Badia’ – A Photo Journey through Odia Rice Culture

Akshaya Trutiya – when a large part of India celebrates this summer festival buying fresh gold, the farmers of Odisha begin their agriculture cycle of the year. On this auspicious day, the farmers of Coastal Odisha celebrate ‘Muthi Anukula’ starting the sowing work of fresh paddy crops at their village farms.

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Odisha is an agrarian state with a significant rural population. Rice is the mainstay of Odisha’s agrarian economy. In fact, rice is the lifeline of Odisha. Most of Odisha’s festivals revolve around agricultural cycles. They reflect a symbiotic relationship between her land and people, especially farmers who constitute a large chunk of Odisha’s population.

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If you are in Odisha during July and August, the peak of monsoon season what draws your attention is vast green rice fields as far as your eyes can stretch appearing as if you are stepped in fields of sapphire.  There are small elevated manchas (raised platforms) with thatched roofs at intervals. Farmers watch their growing crops during the night hours to prevent the invasion of wild animals from these platforms. Sowing is in full swing mostly by womenfolk. The fields also become their pastime place – gossip and sharing their mundane matters with peers. There is a playful atmosphere all around with water, mud and crops.

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The festival of Gamha Purnima, which is also celebrated as Rakshya Bandhan in most part of India, is the next important festival in the agricultural cycle. The rice saplings have now matured. It requires a break. Gamha Purnima is also the birthday of Balaram, the elder brother of Lord Krishna and the farming god. On this occasion, the agricultural implements such as ploughs are worshipped along with bulls and cows.

Plough and Other Agricultural Implements

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Storage Facilities for Rice

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Tenda – Water Lifting Device for Rice irrigation

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Time moves on. By October/November, the rice plants start ripping and turn gold and in some places ready for harvesting. Harvesting is an elaborate process involving several steps. While the harvesting is carried out, the women folk celebrate Manabasa ritual on every Thursday of the month Margasira. In Odisha rice is revered as Goddess Lakshmi. The women folk of Odisha illustrate their home floors, from the entrance to backyard with elaborate chitta depicting paada (feet) of goddess Lakshmi, apart from various floral motifs and geometrical symbols. The ingredient used for these floor murals is rice paste. The process of making murals starts on Wednesday evening and continued to the next day.  A story goes:  Once Lakshmi visited the home of Shriya Chandaluni, a scavenger low caste woman. Balabhadra got angry and did not let Lakshmi enter the Jagannath Temple at Puri. Lakshmi avenged the insult by cursing her husband Jagannath and brother-in-law Balabhadra to go through a prolonged ordeal without food and water.  At last both her husband and brother-in-law realized their mistake and invited Lakshmi with grace to live in the temple.

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The story emphasizes the importance of equality and feminism against the background of rice cultivation.

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In the end, an elaborate ritual ‘kheta badia’ terminates the rice cycle.

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Odisha may not have impressive rice terraces as one sees them in China and Southeast Asia, but very few know that Odisha offers the widest range of domesticated and wild rice anywhere in the world. Some archaeologists even have speculated that parts of the Eastern Ghats in Odisha possibly yet region for the origin of rice.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

The Heritage of Mahula Drink in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

Imagine 8th Century Odisha and in particular Bhubaneswar! A major Peeth of Tantra Sadhana practised by a group of esoteric Shaivites, called Kapalikas, who worshipped Bhairava/Shiva and his consort Chamunda!! The central ritual of their tantric communion was to get indulged in alcohol and sexual intercourse.  Kapalaikas were masters in converting both ascetics and lay people of other sects towards their faith for which they had introduced Kapalini, a woman of passion.

‘Drink this pure nectar which is the medicine for worldly existence. Bhairava has said that this is the instrument to remove the bondage of the soul’ used to be the instruction in the process of conversion while offering a vessel full of alcohol to the targeted individuals and groups.

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Today all that Kapalika conventions that were once a common sight in Bhubaneswar may sound mysterious as the present Hinduism revolve around the idea of Sanatan philosophy.

However one wonders if in the surviving tradition such kinds of alcohol-based rituals ever exit. In the last couple of months, I have driven through three/four times on the National Highway 16 that connects Bhubaneswar with Berhampur and faraway Chennai. However, my destination is mostly Barkul, a small village on the shore of pristine Lake Chilika and the site of ODIART Purvasha Museum where Virasat E Hind works as a consultant.

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The View of Khalikote Hills from the Highway and Lake Chilika

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 

Each time I drove I was haunted by the beauty of the vast sprawl of Khalikote Hills to the west of the highway and they occupied largely my mind for a while. I was curious to know what lies surround those hills and beyond.  My curiosity finally brought me here to a couple of tiny villages beyond the Narayani Shakti Peeth, only 4 km from the National Highway.  A drive through the forest, hills and interspersed valleys of rice fields were magical at the time of retreating monsoon. Suddenly your car stops in a Sabara village with no vehicles around. For a moment you are drawn to a medieval world or perhaps to a much earlier time.

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The Scenic Jungle Road Interspersed with Rice Fields and the Sabara Village around Narayani Peeth

Savaras are Odisha’s most ancient tribe who speak Mundari language of the Mon-Khmer group (Mainland Southeast Asia). Once used to be hunter-gatherers, now they are mostly settled, subsistence farmers. In the absence of historical records, it is difficult to trace their early history in the region, however archaeological finds of Neolithic – Chalcolithic sites reveal aspects of Sabara way of life 4,000 years back in time. In the past, they perhaps also exploited marine resources at Lake Chilika, which was a bay then, but their arrival to Odisha was through the land route and can be linked with early migration of modern humans. Biologically speaking they share remarkable similarities with other Austro-Asiatic language speaking groups of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Myanmar and Vietnam.

Also, Read Here:

The Ancient Hill Tribe of Lanjia Saoras – Journey with a Shaman

Little wonders, the Sabaras were also the original worshipers of Lord Jagannath and like Kapalikas of Medieval Odisha, the offering of alcohol to their tribal deities, are part of their daily rituals. In the village I stepped into, the first sight that fascinated me was the cooking of mahula (mahua) alcohol all around.

Also, Read Here:

Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

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Offering of Alcohol to the Forest Deity by Sabara People

Indigenously fermented food and beverages have been used for centuries and are treated essentially for the well-being of many people across the world. These are prepared in the household or cottage industry using relatively simple techniques and types of equipment. According to scientists, fermentation improves the digestibility by detoxifying the toxic elements in the food and on the other hand it improves the flavour, aroma, nutritional values and texture in less cooking time.

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Mahula Flowers are Spread for Drying in a far flung Desia Kondh Village in Rayagada District

In mahula drink, the flowers are thoroughly washed in water and submerged in plastic drums for 4 days with the addition of ‘bakhar’ (syn. ‘ranu’). Fermented mahula flower mass is distilled in a metallic container by keeping another earthen pot on the top of the first container in a reverse manner. The joints of two vessels are sealed by using a sticky mud pond. A metallic pipe is connected to the upper earthen vessel, which passes through water and opens into a collecting vessel.

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The lower metallic container containing fermented mahula flowers is heated at a lower temperature with wood fire. Finally, steam is condensed in a metallic pipe and collected in collecting vessel.

The preparation of mahula drink at the village has remained traditional and is part of the indigenous knowledge system.

As in the film, it began with a ritual offering to forest deities (a group of triangular slabs) in the remote past, a practice still followed among the tribes.

However, with the increasing demand among the people of the plains, today brewing mahula alcohol has become a cottage industry deep inside forest villages. People from the non-tribal villages around Chilika come here regularly for partying and buying the country liquor. Thanks to this new patronage the traditional know-how has survived in the otherwise fast-changing world dominated by fast food and foreign beverage in large quantity but expensive prices.

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I returned back after spending a couple of hours with a determination to explore more and bring untold stories of Sabaras in the next part.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Sketch of a Sleeping Beauty, Udvada

theunexploredworld

On my recent trip to Vapi, I decided to take a day’s tour to the nearby Parsi coastal village called Udvada. The most important Zoroastrian religious center with lot of heritage value to it, Udvada is frequented by Parsis and Iranis from all over the world. However, not many non-Parsis visit Udvada as the village has stayed away from branding itself as a heritage destination. Also non-Parsis are not allowed in the supreme Parsi Fire Temple (Agiyari), called Atash Behram located in Udvada. But in my case, the photographer in me gets awakened whenever I hear about a heritage destination. And that’s followed by the definite visit to that place.

Atash Behram Atash Behram, the holiest fire temple of Parsis all over the world

After doing some internet research and gathering information from some Parsi friends, I pushed off to Udvada.

Along with it being a religious center, Udvada is also a…

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Surat’s Dutch Legacy – Dotivala Bakery

On 2nd August 1616, a Dutch merchant named Pieter Venden Broecke arrived on the shore of Surat looking for prospects of trade. He was well received by the local Mughal governor but failed to make any business agreement as the governor did not have the power to give license for a factory establishment. Broecke sailed back to his country leaving four of his men to dispose of his goods. In 1617, two more Dutch ships arrived but both were wrecked near the port.  In 1620, Broecke took another chance. He arrived again at Surat with better planning this time. By this time, the Dutch had secured trade license and permission to establish a factory like that of the British in the city.

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Dutch Tombs at Surat

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Surat Fort on the Bank of Tapi

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The Remains of Dutch Factory on the Bank of Tapi

This was the era of prosperity for Surat. The port city was very populous with full of merchants. The Dutch had established a strong base in city’s international trade network. Goods were being brought up in the river Tapi by boats. Among the natives, besides Hindus and Muslims, the Parsis also constituted a considerable share.

For the Dutch East India Company, one of the major items of trade was indigo. Surat was their chief factory in the whole of Indian Subcontinent. Their position was next to English.

Also, Read Here:

The Dutch Connection – Katargam Cemetery and Hortus Malabaricus

In their factory, the Dutch had employed five Indian gentlemen including Mr Faramji Pestonji Dotivala, a Parsi gentleman, to work in their bakery. In 1759, the Dutch East India Company’s had fallen substantially. Trade had largely moved to British Bombay with Surat playing a subordinate role.

When the Dutch finally left Surat, they handed over their bakery to Mr Dotivala. And thus began a new chapter in the history of baking in India. Listen to the story of their struggle and prospect from the mouth of none other than Cyrus Dotivala, Pestonji’s 6th generation descendant.

Travel Tips

Dotivala Bakery is located at Nanpura Area in the bustling city of Surat. Do visit their website http://www.dotivala.com/ for more information. While at Surat also visit Katargam Dutch Tombs.

Also, Read Here:

The Port of Ghogha – Where India met Arabs

 

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com