Dancing through the Corona Pandemic

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

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


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

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

Her journey as a dancer.

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

Why Odissi in particular?

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

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

Please tell us something about your guru.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What in Odissi resonates with you?

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

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

– Odissi dance + computer-animated old painting:

– Odissi dance + virtual reality:

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

What does Jayadeva say to you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Picture and video courtesy Ms Mahina Khanum

Author – Aparna Pande Mishra

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

Magical Odisha – An Architectural and Cultural Odyssey

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


The Golden Sea beach of Puri at the time of Sunrise


Odisha’s Wall Murals at Nuapatna Village

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

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

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

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


Receiving the guests at Bhubaneswar Airport

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





At Dhauli Battle Site in the Early Morning

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

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


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







At Raghurajpur

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



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




At Golden Beach in Puri

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





At Konark

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


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



In Bhubaneswar Temples

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




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

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

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






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






At Udayagiri, Ratnagiri and Joranda

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

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







At Dokra Village and Nuapatna with Sri Sarat Patra

In the words of Beverly Frankel

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

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

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


Mundigada – Your Wanderlust in Kandhamal (Part 2)

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


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






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

There are three causes of Kondh uprising.

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

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





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

Travel Tips

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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.



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. 




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. 





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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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. 


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. 


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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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. 


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. 








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.



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. 








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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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. 



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. 






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. 




Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Bliss in the Wilderness – Lulung Aranya Nivas

2 million years ago! Our species Homo sapiens did not exist then. The earth’s climate and the terrain looked very different from now what you see. In Odisha, which today is the most populated region, the coastal plain was all under seawater. Around that time, however, in the eastern part of Similipal, close to the present Budhabalanga River and its tributaries, had witnessed a spurt of activities by a band of Homo erectus, a species of ape in human evolution that had evolved in Africa and had spread in parts of Asia and Europe, in search of food. Homo erectus used sharp stone tools and lived on hunting and gathering. Kuliana, a modern village near Baripada was one of their earliest homes in Indian Subcontinent.






The periphery of Similipal, Odisha’s Earliest Human Settlement

In the high-tech 21st century it is difficult to imagine how would be the landscape in the remote Stone Age and what other animals coexisted with them. The entire area must be a thick jungle and a major watershed in North Odisha Highland.

Today, one does not get disappointed, thanks to the existence of a large forested region, called Similipal, one of the 11 UNESCO declared biospheres in India and a major tiger reserve.




Lulung forms of Similipal’s eastern border and entrance to its core area. Surrounded by lush green forest, sky touching mountains, sprawling meadows, gushing rivers and streams and tiny hamlets of local Adivasis, Lulung is Similipal’s best-kept secret. Here bliss meets wilderness in perfect harmony.


Travel Tips

Lulung is the entry point of Eastern Similipal near Pithabata Gate at a distance of 22 km from Baripada Town and 273 km from Bhubaneswar. There are regular buses from Bhubaneswar to Baripada throughout the day and night (6 hours). One can also take a train from Bhubaneswar to Balasore and then a bus for Baripada. From Baripada one can reach Lulung hiring an auto-rickshaw.  For Aranya Nivas, one needs to book through online (https://simlipalforestresort.com/)



The pride of Lulung is, however, its star attraction Aranya Nivas, a luxury resort in the lap of nature. Spread over an area of 18 acres, the resort is an ultimate home in luxury for the soul seeking travellers.


Similipal once used to be the hunting ground for the Maharajas of Mayurbhanj was declared as one of the first tiger reserves in India in 1956 and project tiger in 1973. Spread over an area of 2700 square km, Similipal is one of India’s densest Sal forest. The tribal communities of Ho, Munda, Bhumija, Santhal and Mankadia live in the buffer area. The forest of Similipal falls under Eastern Highlands Moist Deciduous Forests Ecoregion with tropical moist broadleaf forest and tropical moist deciduous forests.

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The indigenous people living inside Similipal and its periphery live harmoniously with jungle. They don’t allow anybody to damage the forest resources that they have been depending upon for ages.


According to their belief, Ban (Forest) Devta (God) guards their forest and protect them from diseases and natural calamities. A bunch of terracotta horses and elephants guard Ban Devta, who has shrines under large Karma trees.


Karma dance and songs are performed in honour of Karma Devta. Both men and women go to the jungle accompanied by groups of drummers and cut one or more branches of the Karma tree after worshipping it.

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A legend goes: seven brothers were living together. The six elders would work in the field and the youngest would stay at home. He would entertain in dance and songs around a karma tree in the courtyard with his six sisters-in-law. One day, they were so engaged in dance and song that the brothers’ lunch was not carried to the field by the wives. When the brother arrived at the home they became agitated and threw the karma tree into a river. The youngest brother left home in anger. The evil days fell on the remaining brothers. Their house was damaged, the crops failed and they virtually starved. While wandering the youngest brother found the karma tree floating in the river. Then he invoked the god who returned everything. Thereafter he returned home and called his brothers and told them that because they insulted Karma Devta, they fell on evil days. From then on Karma Devta is worshipped with full devotion.

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The worship of Karma Devta shows the deep respect for forest among the local Adivasis. At Aranya Nivas, the tribal faith is truly appreciated. The shrine of Ban Devta which fell inside the resorts before its construction is not only restored but is allowed for regular worship by the locals.


Everyday evening a special programme karma dance is arranged for resident guests. As the dark shrouds after sunset, the swing of women dancers accompanied by soulful Karma songs with the beating of dhols by their male companions around sacred fire drive everyone liberating themselves into uniquely crafted human stories with worshipping nature forming the centre stage.



The luxurious resort of Aranya Nivas is a plant lover’s paradise. From Spider Lilly to Lemongrass and from Fern to Temple Grass and Japan Lilly, the surrounding of walking paths of the resort’s sprawling meadow area is a treat to eyes.











Similipal is notoriously known for malaria though it is reduced now drastically. However, Lemongrass plants are tastefully planted as screen guards before each suit of the property to ensure protection from mosquito bites.



The poolside of the resort is a place to rejuvenate with.


But what you cherish most is the gushing sound of the river throughout the night and the morning transforming your suit’s neighbourhood into a musical aura.




The gastronomic experience at the resort is the icing on the cake. On regular intervals, you are served the best of herbal tea.




Truly Lulung Aranya Nivas is bliss in the wilderness.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Dhenkanal – Wars, Wilderness and Royal Hospitality

Year 1781! While most of Western Europe was at the forefront of the industrial revolution, a part of Odisha was passing through a political turmoil.  Odisha would witness intense rivalry between princely states and with the Maratha Force.


Dhenkanal, one of the flourishing princely states in Odisha located amidst the dense jungle of Gadajat Mountains was a key witness to the political unrest happening in the 18th century. An 18-day Maratha seize had been the highlight which is narrated distinctly in ‘Samar Tarang’, a war poem written by the contemporary writer Brajanath Badajena.

Travel Tips

Dhenkanal is a medium-sized city located at a distance of 80 km from Bhubaneswar. Both Dhenkanal (http://www.dhenkanalpalace.com/) and Gajalaxmi Palaces (http://gajlaxmipalace.com/) facilitate as heritage homestays and have become favourite destinations among overseas travellers. While there are 13 rooms available at Dhenkanal Palace, the Gajalaxmi Palace has six rooms for guests. While at Dhenkanal do visit the Dokra village at Sadeiberani and the seat of Mahima Cult at Joranda. Both the properties can arrange your exploration into the enchanting countryside.







Today, the vast sprawl of Dhenkanal Fort is no more, but what attracts you is the splendid Dhenkanal Palace which came up a century after the Maratha seize.

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The Maratha army under the leadership of young Chimanji had started an expedition towards Bengal to collect the payment of chauth from the British. The route they followed was through Odisha. Historical records reveal that a large number of princely states in Odisha had supplied the Marathas with men and material with hope to receive help to bring down the power of their political rivalries.

The Raja of Keonjhar was one such opportunistic who could not withstand the progress of Dhenkanal. He had supplied the largest contingent of 20,000 men to the Maratha Force.

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The Marathas had an unsuccessful attempt to seize Dhenkanal before a couple of years. This time well prepared, they started from Cuttack to Dhenkanal. However, it was the peak of summer. The intense heat and the lack of basic provision forced them to return to Cuttack. Soon after the monsoon, Chimanji assisted by Bhavani Pundit marched towards Dhenkanal with a huge army and provisions.




The Raja of Dhenkanal at that time was Sri Trilochan Dev, a respectful self-esteemed man who had denied giving the peskash to the Marathas. The angry Marathas wanted to give a lesson to the raja of Dhenkanal with the monetary help received from Manju Chaudhary, a banker from Cuttack.

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The Maratha army came as far as Motari, a place 8 miles before Dhenkanal. This was the gateway to the territory and was well guarded by several soldiers. Sri Trilochan Dev lost no time in preparing to deal with the situation. He had created a strong fort on one side by a hill range and deep moat full of water, the fort could successfully hold at by an invading army.



The Marathas marched towards the fort from Motari even though they had received a warning to return from Sri Trilochan Dev. But the Maratha Governor refused to listen unless the pride of the king was crushed.

Thereafter Sri Trilochan Dev ordered his soldiers to chase the Marathas and the Odia Paikas furiously attacked the enemy. The Marathas were put to utter confusion and were forced to retreat to Cuttack with a good number of soldiers either killed or wounded.

But things did not move always in favour of Dhenkanal.

Around that time, again Chimanji had planned an invasion of Bengal for collection of chauths and hence was on his way from Nagpur. When he entered Cuttack, Manju Chaudhary went to remind him about the defeat of Martha army in the hands of the Raja of Dhenkanal. He also provoked that if this trend continues Marathas would not get their peskash even from other feudal states and that would paralyse their Odisha administration. Chimanji was convinced and immediately decided for the second attack against the Raja of Dhenkanal.



It was the rainy season and the terrain to Dhenkanal had become inaccessible. As the winter arrived considering that Dhenkanal was situated in the middle of thick jungle and access to it was very difficult, the Marathas procured the services of two local persons, Kistenraja and Chaitan Das.

‘Samar Tarang’ vividly describes – the Raja of Dhenkanal, Sri Trilochan Dev was confident of defending himself and his people inside to the fort against any attack from the enemy. Understanding the march of the Maratha army towards the fort, he at once ordered the garrison to take adequate defence measures to protect the fort from the outside. The fort wall had a good number of hidden holes which were now filled with cannons, guns and even arrows. Some raised platforms close to the fort were erected to serve the purpose of watchtowers to observe the movement of the enemy from the distance.

But the army of Maratha was huge. Upon approaching them, the Odia Paikas were frightened. The Marathas could easily enter the fort and seized it.

But it was not a smooth affair for the Marathas. During the seize of Dhenkanal Fort, there were frequent raids by the hilly tribe called Charas. They plundered or seized the belongings of the Maratha soldiers and put them into trouble.

To overcome this, the Marathas sought help from neighbouring kingdoms. The king of Keonjhar came forward immediately with 20,000 soldiers.

After most heroically defending the fort for 18 days, Sri Trillochan Dev abandoned it to the possession of the Marathas. But Marathas lost interest in Dhenkanal as it was not a priority for them. After the departure of Chimanji, Sri Trilochan Dev raged a war against the king of Keonjhar. In this battle, the chief commander of soldiers was beheaded by the soldiers of Dhenkanal.

A large complex of apartments, courts and gardens nestled against the gradual slope of Gadajat Hills of the Eastern Ghats is today’s Dhenkanal Palace, built in the 19th century and converted into a heritage hotel. A fusion of Odia, Rajput and European architecture, Dhenkanal Palace shines like a pearl in the heart of Dhenkanal City. A legend goes: in the 16th century, there was a Savara Chief called Dhenka who ruled the present Dhenkanal region. However, he was defeated in a war by Sridhar Bhanja, a chieftain from the neighbouring kingdom Gada Besalia. The dying wish of Dhenka was to preserve the name of the clan. The victor king agreed to the wish, and thus he renamed the newly acquired kingdom as Dhenkanal, Nala here means hilly terrain slope.





Dhenkanal is a major elephant corridor and even today there are reports of human-elephant conflicts from time to time. As you enter the lounge, you are invited by the display of a large stuffed elephant head. It is told that in 1835 the elephant had gone made destroying human settlements and even killing people. The king for the safety of his subjects had killed the elephant whose head now is displayed as a matter of pride.


Dhenkanal is truly the capital of royal heritage in central-costal Odisha. Gajalaxmi Palace at Borpoda amidst the dense forest and the foothills of Megha is Odisha’s only homestay overlooking a jungle kingdom.



Built-in the first half of the 20th century, the view from the palace is incredible. The forest surrounding it is infested with wild beasts of all kinds, such as elephants, leopards, wild boars, and civets.









However, the key attraction here is the display of Naryanpatna (in Koraput District), man-eating tiger. Its piercing eyes and sharp rows of teeth was the stare of death to 83 people it had killed and eaten before being put down by Late Kumar Saheb in 1986.


Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Athmallik – In the Heartland of Mahanadi Wilderness

Imagine 19th century Mahanadi, a river that formed the lifeline of Odisha and the only passage to commute between Sambalpur and Cuttack and further Puri for Jagannath darshan. Mahanadi looks pristine but at times could turn hostile for sailors, thanks to its floor filled with large and small rocks that could cause accidents if you are not a skilled and vigilant captain.


Flat bottomed boats that float even today are well suited for Mahanadi navigation. The boatmen would carry racks and hoes with which they would clear a narrow passage just sufficient to let their craft pass, where there were chances of rocks impeding navigation.

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The people living on the banks of Mahanadi subsisted by river trading. They would carry salt, spices, coconut and brass utensils from Cuttack to Sambalpur in exchange of cotton, wheat, oilseeds, clarified butter, oil, molasses, iron, turmeric and ikat cloths.

Everything would go fine till they reach near Athmallik where Mahanadi would become a gorge, now flowing like a snake amidst densely forested hills of the Eastern Ghats in the south and Gadajat in the north. The river here is also infested with gharials, the Indian counterpart of American alligators. To gain courage and for safe passage in the gorge, the boatman would seek the blessing of Maa Binkai and Maa Konkai, two sister goddesses, whose abodes are separated by the river.

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Dramatic Setting at Binkhai

Today this may sound like a fairytale, but when you are at Binkai your soul is simply transported to yet another era of mysteries and courage of river people amidst the breathtaking collage of mountains and river.

Travel Tips

Athmallik is located at a distance of 192 km from Bhubaneswar and it takes about 5 hours of drive on a scenic highway. However, one can also take a train up to Boinda from Bhubaneswar (the best option could be Bhubaneswar – Bolangir Intercity, which leaves Bhubaneswar at 6 AM and arrives at Boinda at 9.30 AM). From Boinda if informed priorly, Anupam Dash can arrange a vehicle for pick up. His phone no is +91 9937412336.

Deep Forest Farmstay is about 40 km from Boinda Station. The drive is scenic, especially on the Ghat Road. On your both sides there are majestic Gadajat Hills and mountain streams in the western periphery of Satkosia Wildlife Park.




Athmallik located in the geographical centre of Odisha is the closet town from Binkai. Steeped in history, Athmallik was a princely state at the time of British Raj. Nestled on the foothills of Panchdhara Mountains and surrounded by the dense jungle of Hatidhara, the buffer area of Satkosia Tiger Reserve, the origin of Athmallik State is obscure.






Glimpses of Panchdhara Mountains and Forest around Athmalik

In the 11th century CE, a jagir was established by King Pratap Deo of the Kadamba Dynasty. Pratap Deo was said to have found a Honda metal vessel which was considered an auspicious sign, after which the territory was named as ‘Hondpa’. Centuries later one of the chiefs divided the state into eight divisions and placed one sub-chief called ‘Malla’ in each division to suppress the unruly tribes. After this event, the kingdom’s name was changed from ‘Hondpa’ to ‘Athmallik’.






Folklore goes: Pratap Deo was a royal scion of Amer (Jaipur) who had come to Puri as a pilgrim along with his six brothers and one sister. For some reason, he ran on trouble and lost four of his brothers in a battle against the king of Puri. As there was no chance for survival, he escaped to the jungle of Bonai. Here at Bonai after he settled down without any fear he arranged his sister’s marriage to a scion of Keonjhar royal family. But the marriage did not last long as his brother-in-law was murdered during a conspiracy.

Once again to overcome threats he had to look for a safe place. Fortunes brought him to Boudh on river Mahanadi and then to present Athmallik, further downstream of Mahanadi, which was ruled by 8 mallas or village chiefs during that time.

At the time of British Raj, Athmallik was one among the 26 feudatory states of Odisha. Today what is left of the erstwhile state are the Kishore Bhavan Palace and an older dilapidated palace on the periphery of the town.





Vestiges of Royal Heritage at Athmallik

The region around Athmallik also has the largest number of hot springs in Asia. There are 84 in Deulajhari, a holy shrine of Lord Shiva, out of which 24 are accessible.


Deulajhari Shiva Temple

According to local belief before Pratap Deo arrived and when the tribal chiefs still ruled, the Lord Jagannath lived in a cave by a wide-eyed, limbless wooden statue worshipped by the indigenous Sabara people. But one day, Hindu priests arrived along the river by boat and kidnapped Jagannath, installing him at the main temple of Puri, where he has remained ever since.



Jagannath Temple Complex in Athmallik

At Athmallik, Jagannath is believed to have once been adorned by what was the largest diamond in the world, before becoming known as the Koh – i – Noor.

The Panchadhara Mountain Range covers a vast area of dense forest and is a prominent elephant corridor. A major watershed, the hills run in parallel to Mahanadi. The mountain range is named after being the source of 5 perennial streams that flow in different directions before forming tributaries of Mahanadi. There are splashing waterfalls deep inside the forest.





Oriental Scops Owl


Deep Forest Farmstay

A major attraction of Panchdhara is Deep Forest Farm Stay, a destination itself for nature-loving travellers. Spread over a land of 4 acres the property has been crafted by Anupam Dash, an avid wildlife photographer and a passionate naturalist. The facility is located in the buffer area of Satkosia Wildlife Sanctuary in Hatidhara Forest. As you take the winding forest road with the mountain streams in the backdrops, the Deep Forest Farmstay welcomes you to its abode with open arms.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Mystic Nilagiri – The Aboriginal Heartland of Balasore with a Royal Past

A legend goes: About 1000 years back two Rajput brothers namely Nila and Shankar who belonged to the royal family of Chottanagpur had come to Puri to seek devotion of Lord Jagannath. They were handsome and brave but were suffering from the family dispute at home. The Gajapati King of Puri was highly impressed with their personality and asked them to stay back.


Both were offered the present Nilagri region in the western part of Balasore to rule. However, Nila stayed back and Shankar left for some other place. The kingdom was named after Nila as Gada Nilagiri.

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It is believed that the present-day village of Gadadih, some 15 km away from present Nilagiri Town was their capital. However, there is no archaeological evidence to support this.





Time moved on. Several of Nila’s heirs ruled Nilagiri than on. In the 16th century, one of his descendants who ruled Nilagiri was Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang Mandahta. He was a brave king and acted as a commander of Puri Gajapati King in his expedition against the Muslim invaders. Because of his skills and personality, he was offered to marry the daughter of Gajapati King, Princess Kalara Devi. From then on Nilagiri kingdom was influenced by the Jagannath Cult and culture of Puri. Because of his bravery, Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang was also awarded the title Harichandan by the Gajapati King.

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Narayan Basant Bhujang was succeeded by Raja Uttareswar. According to sources, Uttareswar had assisted Raja Mansingh of Amer (the present-day Jaipur in Rajasthan) in his expedition against the Afghans in Bengal on the banks of Subarnarekha River. Like his father, he was also a great admirer of Gajapati King at Puri. His successor Raja Krushna Das was awarded the title of Mardaraj by the King of Puri and it is still continued.

Travel Tips

Nilagiri is located at a distance of 20 km from Balasore in the periphery of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary. Though it is a small town it does not have much-staying options. The nearby Panchalingeswra shrine located within Kuldiha has a number of staying options including the Panthanivas of Odisha Tourism. You can hire an auto or a cab from Balasore to travel around Nilagiri which can be covered in one day. Hotel Sagar and Hotel Tarini both located in the town serve decent local food in local style.

It is still not known what happened in the next two sanctuaries. In early 19th century, the capital was shifted to the present location under the foothill of majestic Swarnachuda Mountain and named it Nijagada.

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Today the star attraction of Gada Nilagiri is the 19th-century ruins and the added 20th-century palace built in the fusion of Rajput, Odia and Victorian styles. The main attraction of the palace is its high clock tower. Beside the clock tower is the beautiful chhau mandapa, an influence from Mayurbhanj introduced in the kingdom in the 19th century.











Nilagiri lost its power immediately after India got independence and merged with the Indian union.

Like all princely states of Odisha, Nilagiri is also modelled after Puri. Beside the palace is the temple of Jagannath facing the Grand Road (Bada Danda), a wide corridor through which the chariot festival of Lord Jagannath takes place in every Asadha Month. Like Puri, the trinity of Nilagiri also goes through the new embodiment of bodies (nabakalebara) during the same period. Towards the end of Bada Danda is situated the temple of Mausi Maa.





Nilagiri is surrounded by the wilderness of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, lush green forest and enchanting hills. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been inhabited from the time of Early Stone Age. At present, there are villages of Bhumija and Madia Tribes, both Austro-Asiatic speaking communities.




Bhumijas are an agricultural tribe and do occasional hunting. They are fun-loving and deep believers in nature. Salabani, a small village on the lap of nature is a major Bhumija settlement near Nilagiri. A visit to Salabani is like a journey back in time where you relive yourself in the old-world charm of Karma dance and music.






Babandha, a small village on the bank of Bugulibandha wetland in the periphery of Kuldiha Sanctuary is yet another hidden secret of Nilagiri. Inhabited by 350 Madia potters, Babandha is known for its unique earthen pot rafters. It is said that the community had migrated from Central India about 150 years back on the invitation of the royal family of Nilagiri.






Apart from the pot rafters, the surroundings of the village along the wetland area known for its tranquillity and age-old fishing practices.

Nilagiri is mysterious. It seems the time has stood here still for a soul searching traveller. It is tranquil and is the best-kept secret of Balasore in North Odisha.



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.


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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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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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






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.



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’.




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


Gonasika – Odisha’s Dreamtime Stories

The scenery is lush as far as your eyes can stretch! There are mountains of incredible beauty soaked with the floating clouds of the monsoon. You are reminded of Kalidas’s Meghadootam here, each rain-bearing cloud acting a messenger of love and passion. Numerous streams flow through them cascading the slopes and the valley floors. Mysterious forests of Sal trees once filled with tigers and leopards wrap this Dreamtime landscape. You hear countless elephant stories when you talk to country souls of this enchanting land.




As I drive through this unexplored Shangri-La in Odisha’s Keonjhar, I am dragged to her myths – long ago, the land where I am now was floating for millions of years. However, with god’s grace, the hills of Gonasika and its neighbouring hillocks were stable. In good old days there lived a rishi in Gonasika. He was a bachelor. One day while he was resting he heard someone approaching him. There was a girl of Asur Tribe who had come in search of solitude. Both fell in love at first sight. In no time they got married and in course of time delivered seven sons and seven daughters. Now the problem was how to settle them. The hill of Gonasika was inadequate for their shelter and provides food. They required cultivable fields.






With no other options, the couple prayed to the Almighty.

Dharam Devata appeared and instructed the rishi to slaughter the Kapila cow and sprinkle her blood to make the earth steady. The rishi brought the cow to Gonasika and killed her. Then he sprinkled her blood on the earth. The earth thus became stable making it suitable for rishi’s children. They were first Juangs on earth.





After killing the cow, the first Juang family relished the meat and buried the head in the middle of the hill, but suddenly water sprang from the nostrils of the cow and gave birth to the sacred river Baitarani.

Travel Tips 

Gonasika is located at a height of 3000 feet from sea level in Keonjhar District of North Odisha. Surrounded by lush mountain valleys and majestic hills of Chotanagpur Plateau, Gonasika can be approached by road from Keonjhar (25 km) through the National Highway that connects Mumbai with Kolkata. It takes about 2 hours from Keonjhar through a leisure drive with a number of stopover in-between. There are no stay and food options at Gonasika. We recommend Nature Camp at Sana Ghagra near Keonjhar for accommodation, which can be booked through online.  While there are plenty of Juang Villages around Gonasika, we recommend the village of Kadali Badi which has retained some of the anarchic characters of Juang culture. It is situated at a distance of 7 km from Gonasika.







The Juang, an aboriginal tribe of Keonjhar revere Gonaskia as their original mother and the place of their origin. Their villages are around Gonasika and Kanjipani on hilltops or slopes or on valleys amidst hills and forests all around. The Juang villages are located near streams and River Baitarani. Mostly settled farmers now they were portrayed very differently by the 19th century British historians and anthropologists as the wearers of leaf dresses. They are medium in stature with a long head, prominent cheekbone and broad nose showing affinity with the tribes living in the Mon-Khmer region of Mainland Southeast Asia. Their language is Mundari belonging to Austro-Asiatic language group spoken in parts of Eastern India and Mainland Southeast Asia.

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During the time of Hunter’s visit in 1877, this account reveals – ‘the men wear a single cloth. The women had not even this, but simply strings around their waist, with a bunch of leaves before and behind. The life they live best is to wonder about the wood collecting wild products which they barter for food.’

Today, this may sound a fairytale as the Juangs have gone a long way of progress, thanks to various government initiatives.

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The central attraction of a Juang Village is the dormitory house, called Majanga or Manda Ghara, which also serve as a guesthouse and general assembly place. Their traditional musical instruments and weapons are also displayed here. In front of the Majanga, there is a spacious ground or plaza where the Juang boys and girls dance with their changu (circular drums).





Believers of animistic religion, Juang offers sacrifices of fowls to the Sun God when in trouble and to the earth for a beautiful harvest.

Houses of Juang are small which can accommodate a married couple and their one or two children. Goats are kept in separate sheds made of wooden plants.

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Close to a Juang village live two or three Gouda (cattle and sheep/goat herders) families. They heard the cattle of Juangs and supply milk to them.





A visit to their land will expose to the diversity of their agricultural practises. The valley floors and the mountain slopes are filled with varieties of crops like beans, millets and pulses. These add as supplements to their rice diet. They also are fond of eating the meat of all animals except sloth bear, snake, tiger and vulture. During Akhand Shikar or ceremonial hunting on Amba Nuakhai (new mango) eating ceremony they chase other animals in the forest. However, today most of the forest is gone, thanks to the population explosion, infrastructure creations and mining.




Gonasika is Odisha’s own Dreamtime stories with its myriad beliefs and tales. It is truly a traveller’s paradise interested in people and the deep-rooted beliefs in their landscape, forest, rivers and wildlife.


Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com