Sitabinji – A Mystical Journey through Time and Space

Goddess Sita left the kingdom of Ajodhya in revolt when her husband Lord Rama asked her to prove her purity to the citizens of the kingdom to prove wrong the charge about her by a citizen of his kingdom.

Sita was pregnant by the time she left her husband. Wandering in the forest after forest, she finally took refuge in the ashram of Sage Valmiki. Finally, the goddess gave birth to twin sons, Lava and Kusha at the ashram. As they grew into young boys they were educated and trained in military skills under the guardianship of Sage Valmiki.

Unquestionably this is a story from Indian mythology, but historians have their own ideas for establishing the historical truth in the episode. According to them, it was on the banks of Tamsa River, a tributary of Ganga flowing through the borders of Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh, where the ashram of Valmiki flourished and Sita had sheltered after she left Ajodhya forever.

In contrary to scholarly speculations, the aboriginal tribes of Keonjhar in North Odisha have their version of the episode. Sitabinji located in the heart of this forested region according to local belief and folklore was the place where the ashram of Valmiki was located.

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Sitabinji, a small tribal village is located beside river Sita amidst dense forest and hills. The entire region is shrouded in mysteries from time immemorial.

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Sitabinji Village

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Sita River

Consisting of huge granite monoliths and half-opened umbrella-shaped rock formations Sitabinji is the place where Mesolithic (Late Stone Age communities) tribes roamed more than 10,000 years ago in search of food and shelter. The land filled with forest and hills was the perfect refuge for hunting wild games and gathering wild fruits. Millennia after millennia passed. In the process, the Mesolithic tribe evolved into farming communities. Migration of communities happened between lands and eventually, the primitive tribes came under the influence of Hindu mythology and started weaving stories for each of the rock boulders and hills that dot the landscape.

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

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The Stunning Landscape of Sitabinji

Today, Sitabinji according to local belief is the land where the episode of Goddess Sita’s detachment happened from her consort Lord Rama in the mystical past. The rock boulders are named after various events and character of the episode, such as bhandara ghara (the granary), the school for Lava and Kusha, the ashram of Valmiki and the cave where Sita had delivered her twins.

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Sitabinji continued to be inhabited by tribes and Shaiva upasakas (Shavite Monks) in the Early Historic Period. The finding of a Chaturmukha Lingam and sculpture of a moving elephant testify the presence of Shaivism in the early Gupta Era of Indian History (3rd Century CE).

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Ranigumpha – Rock-cut Romance

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Among archaeological relics, the most prominent is the shelter of Ravanachhaya, an half-opened umbrella-shaped rock formation. On the ceiling of this shelter, there are remains of tempera paintings, dated from the 5th century CE, the only of its kind in the entire Eastern and North-eastern India.

Travel Tips

Sitabinji is located at a distance of 35 km from Keonjhar, the nearest city. To reach Sitabinji one has to make a detour for about 9 km from village Khatrabeda on Keonjhar – Ghatagaon and Panikoili Highway. There is no public transport available for Sitabinji. One has to arrange own vehicle or cab either from Keonjhar or Bhubaneswar (200 km). From Bhubaneswar, it takes about 4 hours to reach Sitabinji. Though it can be covered in a day, we recommend for a two days trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Keonjhar you can also explore its spectacular waterfalls and Ghatgaon Tarni Temple.

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The paintings are mostly eroded. However, from its present state of preservation, it is presumed to be depictions of a royal procession. The key attraction is a royal figure sitting on an elephant. A band of footmen lead the procession followed by a horseman and a dancing woman. An inscription found below the character tells the name of the royal figure, Maharaja Shri Disabhanja.

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Though the painting is contemporary of Ajanta murals, there are significant differences in colour schemes and compositions.

There is no other information on Disabhanja from any other sources. However, according to historians, he was one of the members of Bhanja rulers in Early Historic Odisha, who had their capital at Khiching, further north of Sitabinji.

Yet another attraction of Sitabinji is a shrine in a cave formed by two huge boulders. Legend has it that Maa Sita used this place as a shelter when she was deserted by her husband Lord Rama. It is believed that she gave birth to Lava and Kusha at this very place. The present shrine is made out of mud and bricks containing the carved stone idols of Sita and her twin sons. Besides the shrine, there are a large number of terracotta horses of varying sizes and colours piled by the devotees seeking the blessing of the Goddess for their good fortune.

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At the entrance of Sitabinji archaeological complex, you are drawn to a huge boulder, which is believed to be the bhandaraghara (warehouse) and the hiding place of looted treasures by the famous dacoit ‘Ratnakara’ who later turned into Valmiki, and the writer of the epic Ramayana.

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The archaeological treasures of Sitabinji uniquely blend with its rustic landscape. Its rock shelters and boulders appeared to be the miniature version of Australia’s aboriginal site Uluru, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

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Millions of years old rock boulders of Sitabinji are also amongst earth’s earliest rock formations.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Kumbakonam – The Celebration of Hindu Legends

Anya-kshetrE-krtam Papam-punya-kshetrE vinasyati

Punya-kshetrE krtam Papam VaranAsyam vinasyati

VAranAsyaAm krtam pApam KumbakOnE vinasyati

KumakOne krtam pApam KumbakOnE vinasyati

 

You can sin anywhere and wash it away in a holy spot

You can sin in a holy spot and wash it away in Varanasi

You can sin in Varanasi and wash it away in Kumbakonam

But if you sin in Kumbakonam,

You can wash only in Kumbakonam

Located in the heart of Cauvery Delta, Kumbakonam is stepped in mysteries of time, dating as far as the Sangam Age and was ruled by every Hindu dynasty in South India, from the early Cholas to Vijayanagara kings, the Nayakayas, the Marathas and the British. Kumbakonam’s streets are studded with majestic and small temples and the air often resounds with the sound of Vedic chants.

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Like every holy Tirtha in Hinduism, Kumbakonam’s physical and spiritual nucleus is its holy tank, Mahamaham. According to a legend, when Brahma’s pot (Kumbha), containing the seeds of life, was destroyed at the end of an epoch, its nectar flowed into this tank giving the town its name Kumbakonam (the corner where the Kumbha fell). Once in every 12 years, millions of devotees assemble here for a holy bath.

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If you stroll around the tank, preferably in the early morning, what draws your attention is its 16 mandapas (shrines) around the corners and sides of the tank and devotees taking holy bath surrounding these shrines. These towers are considered to be forms of Lord Shiva.

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Close to Mahamanam Tank stands Kashi Viswanathar temple, where Shiva is worshipped as Kashi Viswanathar and his consort Parvati as Visalakshi. The deity is revered in the 7th-century Classics, the Tevaram written by Tamil Bhakti poets known as Nayanars.

Travel Tips

Kumbakonam is located at the heart of Cauvery Delta in Thanjavur District. A medium-sized town, Kumbakonam is a bustling business centre and well connected by road and rail network. It takes about 6 hours from Chennai to reach Kumbakonam by road. The town has plenty of choices for accommodation and food. Just outside the town is Darasuram Village where is located the UNESCO monument, the famous Airavateswara Temple. The other major landmark is the Brihedeswara Temple at Gangaikondacholapuram.

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Unfinished Monoliths of Mahabalipuam – An Architectural Journey

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Kashi Viswanathar Temple has two gopurams, the tallest being the western tower with 7 stories and 72 feet height. The present masonry structure built in the 16th century during the rule of Nayakas.

According to local mythology, Lord Rama and his brother Lakshman are said to have worshipped here during their search for Sita and acquired Rudrasen to enable them to fight Ravana. Later works suggested that Viswanathar of Kashi is believed to have manifested himself here at Kumbakonam.

The next important Shiva Temple is Nageswarswami Temple, where Lord Shiva is worshipped in the guise of Nagaraja.

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Kanchipuram Murals – An Artistic Sojourn

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The temple, a masterpiece of Chola architecture was originally built in the 9th century. The orientation of the temple is structured in such a way that it allows sunlight inside the temple right on the sanctum sanctorum during the Tamil month of Chithirai (March-April). The temple is made in the form of a chariot.

According to legend, during the time when Adishesha was feeling under the weight of the earth, he did penance here. Parvati appeared and blessed him at this place to get strength. The water body in the temple is called Naga Theertam.

Adi Kumbeswara Temple is yet another majestic Shiva Temple at Kumbhakonam dedicated to Lord Shiva. Here Goddess Parvati is depicted as Mangalambigai Ammam. The temple is surrounded by 4 gopurams at 4 cardinal points, the tallest being the eastern tower, with 11 stories high.

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Dravida Temple Architecture – Origin and Development : A Visual Journey

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The temple was built in the 9th century by the Cholas and was later expanded in the 16th century by the rulers of Thanjavur Nayakas. It is believed that the temple has a legendary association with the town of Kumbakonam. Here the Kumbha (the mythical pot containing the seed of all living beings) is kept.

Adi Kumbheswara is the presiding deity of the temple and the shrine is located in the centre. The lingam is said to have been made by Shiva himself when he mixed nectar of immortality and sand.

Kumbakonam is also a Vishnu Kshetra. Two of its majestic Vishnu Temples are Chakrapani and Sarangapani, both Diyadesams.

At Chakrapani Temple, Vishnu appears in the form of charka to put down the pride of Surya (Sun), who subsequently became his devotees. Lord Chakrapani has a 3rd eye on his forehead.

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According to a legend, once Vishnu sent his chakra to nether world to kill Jalandhara. The weapon is believed to have come out of the nether world through river Cauvery. God Brahma, who was taking bath in the river, got impressed and installed the image of Sudarshana in the place where the temple is located now. Surya, the Sun God, who was glowing in brilliance, had his brightness diminished by effulgent Sudarsana. Surya, the Sun God, who was glowing in brilliance, had his brightness diminished by effulgent Sudarshana. Surya worshipped Sudarsna and pleased by his devotion, Sudarsana restored all the power of Surya.

Sarangapani is the largest temple complex at Kumbakonam dedicated to Lord Vishnu. It is one of Divyadeasam, 108 Vishnu Temple revered by 12 Alwar poets. Its Rajagopuram is the tallest tower in the town consisting of 11 tiers and 53 m.

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Sarangapani is an incarnation of Lord Vishnu who appeared for a sage Hema Rishi and performed penance on the bank of Potramarai Tank.

Once sage Bhrigu wanted to meet Vishnu at his residence in the Ocean of Milk. However, Vishnu did not give attention which made Bhrigu angry. In his anger, he kicked Vishnu on his chest. Mahalakshmi who resides in Vishnu’s chest became angry as her husband did not show his anger towards the sage. She left Vaikunta and reached earth and took the form of Padmavathy. Vishnu followed her and got married to her. Padmavathy had not forgotten the incident and was still angry with Vishnu. To avoid her anger, Vishnu resided in the underground chamber in the temple as Pathala Srinivasa. In the meanwhile, the sage Bhrigu sought his apology and requested Mahalakshmi to be born to him as Komalavalli in his next birth. The sage was born as Hema Rishi and performed penance to attain Mahalakshmi as his daughter. Vishnu was pleased by the penance and he wished the sage to get Lakshmi as his daughter. Lakshmi emerged from the Potramarai tank among thousand lotuses and was thus named Komalavalli (the one who emerged from lotus). Vishnu descended to earth as Aravamudhan in a chariot drawn by horses and elephants from his abode Vaikuntam. He stayed in the nearby Someswaran Temple to convince Lakshmi to marry him and the couple eventually got married. The name Sarangapani (“one who has the bow in his hand”) derives from the Sanskrit word Sarangam meaning bow of Vishnu and pani meaning hand.

After a night journey from Chennai, I arrived at Kumbakonam for a day and after visiting the above-mentioned temples of the town I realized the justification of Kumbakonam where Hindu epics and legends are celebrated with full pomp. It is also a great centre of Sanskrit learning and tolerance.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

 

 

Bondas – The Lonely Survivors amongst Earliest Indians

This is the story of the land where Odisha meets Andhra and where the Machkund River has been rippling away for millions of years. Four thousand feet above sea levels, the Konda – Kamberu range, an arm of the Eastern Ghats surrounds this land. Locked on either side by mountains and interspersed valleys, here has survived an aboriginal tribe for thousands of years. Its children call themselves Remos, which means brave men. However, for people living in plains, they are known as Bonda, which means naked or savage.

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This is a magical land with waves of mountains leaning against each other. Clouds kiss their peaks. Singi Arko (the sun and the moon) disseminate their light below through the clouds, mists and sky-touching trees. There are plentiful streams dancing down from the mountains all around the year. Hidden among these creations of God are the settlements of Remos. Here they have roamed for ages, far away from civilisations, cradling their deadly weapons from one forest to another and one mountain to the next. Within this time frozen land Singi Arko plays their favourite game, creating day and night year after year.

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A story goes: it was time when there lived no humans. Dhartin was the first man on earth. Wherever he walked there was tubuk, the soil. Overhead, there was Singi Mahapuru, the Sun God, and on the ground, Tubu Jang, the Earth Mother.

Travel Tips

Bonda Ghati is located in the southern part of Koraput in Malkangiri District. However, tourists are prohibited in Bonda Ghati. To meet Bondas the only possibilities are various weekly haats or markets in different places around Bonda Ghati. Aunkadelli near Machkund on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh is the best option, which is held on every Thursday. Surrounded by hills and forest, the area is a traveller’s paradise. The nearest towns are Jeypur (60 km) and Similguda (80 km). Both have decent staying options. However, we recommend Desia Koraput, an award-winning ethnic resort (http://www.desiakoraput.com) located near Lamtaput. It is designed in traditional architecture.  The nearest airport is Visakhapatnam (180 km). Bhubaneswar, the state capital is 570 Km.

However, when the earth was born there was no soil, no rocks, only the waves rolled across the dark water. The world was a vast pond. And in it lived an enormous wild boar. With his tusks and snout, he raised the tubuk from the bottom of the pond and scattered it on the surface. Wherever the soil dropped down, the earth appeared and wherever it did not fall there developed rivers, streams and waterfalls. The boar stepped onto earth and jumped into the sky. Singi Arko did not exist then. Everything was lost in darkness. The wild boar turned to face the earth and made another huge leap, landing on the top of a young salap palm. He cut two tender branches of the tree and tossed them into the sky. They became Singi Arko. Then the boar took an armful of salap flowers and scattered them in the sky. The stars appeared and eventually the world was created. But there were still no men.

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From nowhere appeared the first man Soma and the first woman Sanki. Each roamed alone through the jungles. Then one day, Soma and Sanki met. They wore no clothes or ornaments. They did not ask each other from where they came, because at that time the earth was one. The Earth Mother Tubu Jung had not been split into different countries, different villages. Hand in hand they wandered away through the jungle. Loves grew between them and from their union were born the first remos.

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Their land came to be known as Bonda Ghati which consists of 32 villages. Mudulipada is their capital.

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Deomali – Offbeat Wonderland

There is an exciting story of how Mudulipada became their capital.

After the earth was created, both men and women wandered freely in jungles feeding on fruits and roots. But there was a problem. The women had to find a private place for delivering babies.  Once, a pregnant woman saw a green salap tree on the gentle slope of a mountain. The tree was covered with thick branches.  Under her cool shade, she delivered a son and a daughter. A deer arrived around that time nearby. The hungry Remo ran after it with his bows and arrows and did not return for a long time. The woman waited patiently and finally doubted on her husband’s selfishness. She thought, her husband might have killed the deer and eaten its flesh without remembering her. She too was hungry. Without bothering about her two newborn babies she went in search of her husband and finally met him.

The babies cried aloud out of hunger. The salap tree under which they had sheltered had a soul. In those days the salap trees did not produce any juice. It had nothing to feed babies with. However, under cover of the earth, its roots had reached the ocean. The tree prayed with great devotion to the Ocean God for help. The Ocean God was pleased and gave the tree a little of its bounty of the water. The water spread through the roots, the trunk and branches of the tree and dripped into the open mouths of the crying babies. It was the juice of the salap that kept the babies alive. They grew old and strong. They became husband and wife and gave birth to 12 son ad 12 daughters. The 12 brothers built their huts in 12 villages and it was these 12 villages that made up the Bonda country. The eldest brother was Nangli Bonda. He established his home in Mudulipara, which became the capital of Bonda country. Some of their descendants became the Gadaba branch of the Bondas and spread into the foothills.

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South of Mudulipara is Pinajangar, a lofty mountain range hanging precariously above the Duduma Falls, near the weekly haat or market at Ankadelli.  On every Thursday both Bondas and Gadabas descend here in groups to buy and sell their daily needs along with selling the salap drink. Here the travellers meet Bondas who are distinguished for their colourful costumes and shaven heads.

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When a Bonda boy becomes 5 years old, he puts on a ghusi, a loincloth. At 5, a girl begins to wrap a short ringa around her waist, like a skirt. Her neck and chest are almost hidden under massive strings of beads. She wears beads around her head as well, and on her hands, up to the elbow, she has heavy metal bracelets. Long heavy metal earrings dangle from her ears.

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A legend goes: On those days the perennial Kingubodak Stream gushed down the hillside in the village of Mahulipara. The mango trees along its banks drifted in the cool shade. Sita Thakurani took out her clothes and ornaments and plunged stark naked into the stream’s flowing water. Just then a group of Bonda women descended from the nearby mountain. They did not walk naked then. They had worn clothes and their long hair were oiled and combed into sleek buns.

As Sita Tkakurani emerged from the stream, a hornbill flew overhead screeching as though laughing at her nakedness. The Bonda women could not ignore its call. ‘Phish,’ they burst out laughs. Sita Thakurani cried out in rage. “Can you being women, laugh out at the sight of a woman’s body? The whole world shall laugh at you in Kali Yuga, the evil times to come. Naked you shall be to everyone! And not a hair shall cover your heads, you shall walk with your heads shaven, bare from head to foot. But beware! If you try to cover up your nakedness or grow hair on your scalps, not a blade of grass will grow on the mountains! Bonda people will be destroyed”.

The Bonda women screamed. Their tears softened the goddess’s heart. She pulled out a single thread out of the border of her sari. ‘Take this a weave a garment for yourself, to cover up your shame in the Kali age. But let it be no wider than the length of this thread, and wear it below your navel and above your thigh’.

(Extracts from ‘The Primal Land’ by Pratibha Ray)

The Bonda tribe of Odisha are believed to be part of the first wave of migration out of Africa about 60,000 years ago. They were the first forest settlers in India, who sometime in the ancient past migrated and settled in an area of about 130 sq km in the wild Jeypore hills, in the present Malkangiri District.  The Bondas continue to speak in their language, Remo, which comes under the Austroasiatic language belonging to the Mundari group. Their children are named after the day on which they were born.  The women prefer to marry men who are younger by at least 5-10 years so that the men can earn for them when they grow old. In the past, the Bondas used to hunt and forage for food in the wild. However, now Bondas practice shifting agriculture in the hills not only for consumption but also to sell the produce in the markets.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

 

Captivating Kanha – A Journey through Two Worlds

It was the peak of summer and the peak of the day around 12 noon. During my epic drive from Ahmedabad to Bhubaneswar for about 2400 km (including several detours), I arrived at Seoni, a dusty small town at the middle of Nagpur and Jabalpur Highway in south-eastern Madhya Pradesh. This was where the Jungle Book of the 19th century by Rudyard Kipling had been set.

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Landscape around Seoni

I and my companion, His Highness Sri Somraj Singh Jhala, were in a fix, whether to drive south from here to Pench National Park or northeast to Kanha National Park.  Both were alluring. After much deliberation, we decided to head northeast, to Kanha National Park.

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Delicious Breakfast and Sweet Meats in a Road Site Eatery Enroute Kanha

The terrain of Seoni is undulating with most of the area is covered by small hill ranges of eastern Satpura mountains, steeply sloping on the sides.  Once covered with dense forest today the landscape from Seoni to Kanha (120 km) looks mostly barren and deserted. But throughout the drive of nearly 4 hours what had captivated me were the scenic Gond houses in villages that dotted on both sides of the road. Neat and clean, the houses made of mud bricks and plastered with wattle and daub, are amongst the finest vernacular houses I had seen anywhere in Central India.

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Jawai – Where Leopards are Locals

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Enchanting Gond Houses and Villages around Kanha in Mandla District

Madhya Pradesh is predominantly a tribal state with Gonds forming one of the prominent tribes.  There are over 50 sub-tribes within Gond Tribe, which are also concentrated in the neighbouring states of Chhattisgarh, Maharashtra, Telangana, Odisha and Uttar Pradesh. In Madhya Pradesh alone they are spread in Betul, Hoshangabad, Chhindwara, Seoni, Balaghat, Mandla, Dindori, Sagar, Damoh, Rewa, Satna, Shahdol, Raisen, Burhanpur and Narsighpur Districts.

Travel Tips

Kanha National Park is spread over a vast stretch of forest over Mandla and Balaghat districts in Eastern Madhya Pradesh. The nearest town is Mandla and city is Jabalpur. The park is well-known for evergreen forest and animals like tiger, leopard, sloth bear, barasingha, gaur and Indian wild dog. It is also home to over 1000 species of flowering plants. While the lowland forest is a mixture of sal and other mixed-forest trees, interspersed with meadows, its highland forests are tropical moist and dry deciduous.

Kanha Tiger Reserve abounds in meadows or maidans which are basically open grasslands. 

The best season to visit Kanha is between Mid-October and March. The safari timings are between 6.30 to 11 AM in the morning and 3 to 6 PM in the afternoon. The park is closed between 1st July to 15th October.  The buffer zone of the park near Mukki and Khisli Gates are a number of jungle resorts and lodges for accommodation, which can be booked through online. For a Gond tribal experience visit Khatia and Narna villages on the fringe of Kanha. 

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Gond People in a Village near Muki Gate in Kanha

The Gonds are known for building their houses using locally available resources which I could see during my drive to Kanha. Unlike us, the city breeds, the Gonds do not harm their environment while constructing their shelters. No external agency is involved in construction. Their houses become one with the landscape where they live. Their womenfolk take charge of decorating the walls and floors of their mud houses using clay and organic colours, mostly blue, earthen red and white. The main entrance of the house is mostly east facing and on the left side is kept the cowshed, which is supposed to be the sacred place in the house where auspicious occasions are celebrated and important rituals are performed.

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Kaziranga – Hydra of Conservation

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A Gond House near Kanha

When you enter to a Gond house, you are welcomed in a large drawing room (palta bangle), and then an open verandah (parchhi), which is adjacent to the courtyard, where implements related to cattle are kept. The kitchen (muhrat ghar) having enough space for storing grains, pulses and oilseeds, is located in the backyard. Remaining rooms are called Kuria. The family god is enshrined in a small platform in the front of the wall where the chulah or the earthen hearth is built. Though there is no image or idol or god, it is represented by food grains and coins that are placed in a pit.

Gonds are beautiful souls known for warm hospitality and gesture. When we entered Mandla District, I was simply drawn to one of their shrines dedicated to Shri Shambhu Mahadeo under a huge Banyan Tree made out of the earth. According to their folklore, when Gods were born, their mother abandoned them. The goddess Parvati rescued them, but her concert Shri Sambhu Mahadeo kept them captive in a cave. Pahandi Kapar Lingal, a Gond hero, who received help from the Goddess Jangu Bai, rescued them from the cave. They came out of the cave in four groups, thus laying the foundations of basic fourfold divisions of Gond society. Lingal is also responsible for creating a Gond kingship system and establishing a group of great Gond gods.

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Shrine of Sri Sambhu Mahadeo

Sacrificing a life before a new event is a common aspect of Gond life. Certain Many of Gond Goddesses demand chickens, goats, and sometimes male buffaloes during major festivals. Every nine or twelve years, Gonds sacrifice a pig to the god Narayan Deo in an important ceremony known as the Laru Kaj (Pig’s Wedding).

Gonds believe that evil spirits and the gods’ displeasure cause most diseases and misfortunes. Their shamans intertwine when there are such crises. They fall into a trance and give voice to the demands of an offended God or spirit.

By the time we had reached Mukki Gate of Kanha National Park, we had travelled through a dozen of Gond villages in Mandla District. It was dusk. Sun was going down against the western horizon over the Kanha sky. Soon pitch dark night shrouded all around us. We retired for the day at MP Tourism Jungle Resort close to Mukki Gate.

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The Buffer Zone of Kanha

Next day morning! It was 5 AM, the outside was still hazy. The noise of the forest and the chirping of birds helped us waking up from the deep slumber of tiredness of the previous day’s long travel from Panchmari to Kanha. Over a cup of hot chai, we chalked out the day’s plan. The first job was to get ready at the gate for the safari before 6 AM. We hurried and booked our tickets. At 6.15 AM we entered to the core of Kanha.

Kanha National Park is one of India’s finest wildlife parks and is geographically blessed with meadows and valleys apart from the dense evergreen forest. Spread over a thousand square kilometres. Here wildlife sighting is almost guaranteed.

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Enchanting Kanha National Park

As our safari jeep started navigating through the forest the drama of nature started unfolding at every short interval. A huge meadow at the magical dawn set against evergreen Satpura Hill was the first where we sighted a large colony of antelopes gazing in the mist hours. Soon a wild boar crossed running behind our vehicle. I was disappointed. My mobile camera was inadequate to capture its force.

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Soon we sighted a herd of bison, the pride of Kanha before us. Also, called gaur the Indian bison is the largest extant bovine and the tallest wild cattle service. They are active mostly in the nights and disappear before 8 in the morning.

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Our guide Girani Maravi, a man from Baiga tribe was constantly alert for a tiger sighting. It was close to 8 he succeeded in his morning’s mission. It was an expert like him who could judge the commotion of the forest against the backdrop of a tiger’s roam as the king of the forest. Monkeys are the best indicators before a tiger’s arrival. With his guidance, the driver turned the vehicle and entered to yet another trek road. It was less than 2 min, I arrived at one of the finest wildlife moments of my life. Before us, less than 100 m, a full-grown Royal Bengal Tiger was walking majestically on the dusty trek. He saw us. We saw him. There was an exchange of anxiousness between us. He sat almost for 10 min without doing anything. We were the only safari jeep. My mobile camera went on clicking pictures and shooting small clips. There was deep silence all around, not a single other creature, except birds could be seen nearby. After giving a 10 min pose he finally got up and started walking into the jungle. At this moment another vehicle arrived but alas, for them the show had pulled its curtain.

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Once you have the best tiger sighting your enthusiasm is largely over. Now it was the time to return back to the gate and proceed to your next destination on this epic drive from the west coast to the east of India.

It was truly a magic moment in my entire drive from India’s west coast to the east coast in the land of Kipling’s Jungle Book. It is the land of countless stories of human-tiger conflicts and love. The Gonds and Baigas have a deep association with the forest of Kanha and their traditional knowledge system and spectrum of ethnic life are not be missed by any serious traveller to Kanha.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Sahi Jatra – Puri’s Holy Carnival

12th – 13th Centuries India! While on one end India was witnessing a renaissance through emerging traditions of classical art and culture on the other end there used to be constant threats from invading iconoclast sultans of Delhi in pursuit of their political ambitions.  We all know how Devagiri, the wealthiest capital of Yadavas became Daulatabad in Deccan and how the great Shiva Temple built by the Kakatiyas in Warangal Fort turned from its splendour into shattered ruins.

The holy city of Puri and its famed Jagannath Temple was also in the wish list for invasions. The protection of the city and the temple had become prime responsibility of Gajapati King Chodaganga Deva, who was also the builder of the present Jagannath Temple in the 12th century CE. For this, the king had established many Kotas (fortress) and Jaga Gharas (gymnasiums) to train youths as safeguarders of Puri and the Jagannath Temple. Jaga Gharas were established in 9 of its oldest sahis (neighbourhood streets) which are continued till present though through several alterations made from time to time. Most probably, Jaga is derived from the word jagarana (to keep awake).

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Some of these sahis having Jaga Gharas are Bali Sahi, Dola Mandapa Sahi, Hara Chandi Sahi, Kundei Benta Sahi, Mani Karnika Sahi, Mati Mandapa Sahi, and so on. While Lord Hanuman (Mahaveer) is commonly worshipped, each Jaga Ghara also has a presiding deity of its own.

Also, Read Here:

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

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The character of a Jaga Ghara is having a temple for its presiding deity, a gymnasium and a pond to perform various rituals. Men of all ages come here for bodybuilding, to bathe in the pond, gossip or playing a Ganjapa card game. In the temple, Lord Hanuman is worshipped along with the presiding deity of the respective Jaga Ghara.

Travel Tips

Puri is a well-known pilgrimage site for Hindus and celebrated as one of the four supreme dhams. The holy city of Lord Jagannath is well connected by rail and road and forms part of the golden triangle in Odisha for tourists world over, the other two places in the triangle are Konark and Bhubaneswar. The nearest international airport is located in Bhubaneswar, 65 km away. Puri abounds in sites for both spiritual and adventure seeking souls. Every street of Puri and its surrounding villages has something to offer whether it is food, craft, ethnic life, devotion or spirituality. Its sea beach is one of the most celebrated beaches of India on the Bay of Bengal and a drive through the Puri – Konark marine drive is one of the most memorable experiences for a traveller. 

Puri is full of hotels and restaurants to suit all budgets. While at Puri don’t forget to eat mahaprasada, the food offering to Lord Jagannath on a daily basis. 

To experience Sahi Jatra in Puri, one has to visit here during Ram Navami in the month of March/April. Check out the calendar before you plan to visit.  

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Starting from the day of Ram Navami and continued for eleven days all these Jaga Gharas and the sahis celebrate a grand carnival every night, locally known as Sahi Jatra.

Also, Read Here:

Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

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The Sahi Jatra of a particular Sahi starts its procession to its competitor Sahi or Badi Sahi. For example, Bali Sahi is the Badi Sahi of Hara Chandi Sahi. Suppose today the procession of Bali Sahi goes to Hara Chandi Sahi and displays their performances on the next day the procession of Hara Chandi Sahi goes to Bali Sahi for the performance. In Sahi Jatra, all the members of Jaga Gharas take part.

Also, Read Here:

Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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Partly militant and partly religious, the themes of Sahi Jatra are the episodes of the Ramayana.  The non-winding procession of various mythological characters crawls through all major crossings, lanes and by-lanes of Puri’s major and oldest sahis throughout the 11 nights. The characters include Naga, Durga, Kali, Parasurama, Rama, and demons like Ravana, Navasira, Saptasira and Trisira, and various local deities.

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One of the main attractions of Sahi Jatras is the procession of Nagas and Medha dances. The performers go through rigorous training in their respective Jaga Ghahras for a couple of days before the commencement of the Jatra.

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Adorned with medhas, silver jewellery and masks of respective character and accompanied by acrobats, tumblers and drummers, each participant displays his valour and strength to fullest. Among these characters, the key attraction is, however, Naga.

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Naga is associated with the Nagarjuna Vesa of Lord Jagannath which is usually done in a leap year when the five days of Panchuka becomes six days during the holy Kartik month. In Nagarjuna Vesa, the lord is decorated like a warrior honouring Parasurama, the warrior incarnation of Lord Vishnu.  The Naga dance seems to have originated from this tradition. It showcases the martial or warrior dance of victory.

Usually young and energetic men are preferred for the Naga character. He wears a huge headgear profusely decorated with silver jewellery and false beard almost covering the face. Multi-coloured arrows attached in two bamboo sticks are tightly fitted to the arms. On his waist portion, several weapons like shield, dagger and knife are placed. He wears a rosary around the neck. On the back portion of the figure, a bamboo mat can be seen which is tied on his body. With the jerky movement of the shoulders, he dances in heroic steps. Sometimes he holds a gun. He moves at the front of the procession along with the drummers who provide rhythm to his movement.

People also encourage participants with clapping and cheering words. While the rehearsal is in full swing, some other community members, especially ones with artistic skills are engaged in decorating and painting fresh murals on street walls, community space and temples. Colourful and fancy street lighting is also arranged for the carnival.

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On the evening of Ram Navami, the procession of Rama and his three brothers along with their teacher Rishi Vishwamitra starts from Kalika Devi Sahi. In a decorated horse chariot the group first visit Lord Jagannath Temple for blessing and then proceed to Rajabati, the palace of Gajapati King located on the Grant Road (Bada Danda). Hundreds of people are gathered to witness and participate in the procession.

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On the 12th day, the Sahi Jatra ends with Ravana’s death. Even on that day Ravana visits Lord Jagannath Temple and offers red hibiscus flower to the Lord. Later that day after the Sandhya Dhoopa rituals, idols of Rama and Lakshman are kept on Ratnasingahsan and then carried to Jagannatha Ballav Math for Ravana Vadha Ritual.

Sahi Jatra of Puri is a unique cultural institution showcasing community participation. Apart from being fun and entertainment, it reminds us we are all equal before the Almighty and harmony should be the only motto for our living.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 2)

On our day 2 at Lanjia Saura Hills

After a sumptuous breakfast at Gunupur, we headed towards Lanjia Saura hills again through the mountain zigzag road. Our destination for the morning was Rebingtal, a large village of about 500 people in 8 lineages facing the broad expanse of paddy terraces stepping downwards from the village. Rebingtal was my second visit in a span of one year. In 2018 during March I had come here to meet Laksmi Sabara, a woman Shaman. Through her, I had learned about Sauras’ dialogues with the dead, the most unique aspect of Saura belief and culture.

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Only a couple of decades before the spread of modernization and the digital revolution it used to be a daily scene – living people conducting dialogues with dead, who would speak to them through the mouth of a Shaman in trance.

Also, Read Here:

Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 1)

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According to Saura belief, a person who dies becomes a Sonum. Various kinds of illness and even deaths are caused in some ways by Sonums. By attacking the living people the dead transfers some experiences to them which they themselves underwent at the time of deaths. They do this by ‘eating the soul’ of the living victim in order to absorb him/her thereby causing him/her a kind of illness or death. However, the dead do not only attack the living and harm them. They also nourish and protect them. It is the interplay of these two contradicts attitudes, respectively aggressive and nurturing which lie at the core of Sauras’ relationship with their deceased.

Travel Tips 

Puttasing, the largest Saora village is located at a distance of 25 km from the nearest town Gunupur. The entire stretch is picturesque with rolling mountains of the Eastern Ghats, verdant valleys, paddy fields, dense forest and mountain streams. These are no bus services, however public jeep services available hopping between Saora villages and Gunupur. At Puttasing is located the head office of Lanjia Saora Development Agency, which has a small guesthouse which can be booked with prior information. Otherwise Gunupur, the nearest town or Rayagada, the district headquarter, 70 km away and Paralakhemindi, 60 km away are better options. Gunupur is connected by rail and road from Bhubaneswar, while Rayagada has better rail links with most parts of India. The nearest airport is at Visakhapatnam, 215 km away.  Bhubaneswar, the other nearest airport is 333 km away. 

According to their beliefs, the Shaman, mostly a woman, in this case, Lakshmi Sabara, who communicates with the dead. Her soul leaves her body and goes to separate domestic life, with husband and children in the underworld. While she is in a dissociated state of trance, the body is available for a succession of the dead who speak one at a time through her mouth. A sequence of dialogue can last up to several hours and range from causal gossip to extremes of emotions. They also include moments of good humor amidst hullabaloo laughter.

Also, Read Here:

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

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As soon as someone dies, whatever the hour of the day or night, the women of the family start preparation for the mourning. Guns are fired. An orchestra of drums and oboes is assembled to play the death beat. All the men of the lineage abandon their jobs and gather together to chop down a tree and build a pyre on the lineage’s cremation ground. Meanwhile, the Ancestor Woman strips the body of the dead, wash it in cooling turmeric powder and dress it in good, clean cloths. A man from the village’s pyre – lighter lineage lights and tends the pyre.

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The following morning, the Ancestor Woman pours water on the ashes ‘to cool the soul’. Then they bury the ashes on the cremation site while the funeral shaman leads the dead person’s soul into that person’s house. There she enters a trance and his soul passes into her body and is interrogated by bystanders about the circumstances and cause of his death. After some weeks or months of the death, his/her heir carryout the main step in the funeral sequence. They sacrifice buffaloes for the deceased to eat and plough with it in the underworld. They also plant an upright memorial stone at the lineage’s stone planting site, to join the many stones stacked up there, leaning against each other, from previous funerals. During the following three years the deceased is commemorated collectively at certain seasons along with other recently dead people.

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We did not get a chance to witness the death ritual but satisfied looking at the menhir cluster near Sagada Village. The site has been carefully restored by the local administration to upkeep the Saura heritage.

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The religious world view of Hill Saoras is strongly reflected in their mural heritage. The icon painted in walls of the dark interiors is called Idital or Itaalan, which means writing or painting. Until recently the wall facing the door in all most all the Lanjia Saora houses used to have a sacred and ritual icon. Today, only a few have survived.

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Idital is the home of the spirits and deities. The mural depicts images of ancestors and gods in different levels and according to the hierarchy of positions. The objects and images drawn in the Idital are Sonums in the form of humans, elephants, horses, dogs, snakes, trees, guns, archers, gunmen, even vehicles such as bicycles, cars, buses, and trains having the mythical and religious linkages with the tradition of Lanjia Saouras. Peacock (maaraa) is frequently seen in this ritual art. There is also a sacred pot called daanki hanging before the icon is used for keeping rice, pulses and other crops with the meaning to give food for the ancestors and gods.

Also, Read Here:

A Journey through Kondh Territory, a Tribe that Once Sacrificed Humans

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The pot is called Sonumdung which means food pot of the Sonums. Many in-house rituals are performed near the icon out of which first harvesting festivals of Raganabdar (red gram) and udaanabdar (mango) are compulsory to perform near the Idital. The art is regarded as sacred in Saora religion which represents the house of deities and spirits.

Saoras are fun loving people. Drinking tadi (a local wine) in groups is part of their life. The wine drips out overnight from toddy trees into suspended pots. The sap of the alin keeps flowing by incisions made at the inflorescences of the tree. It is fermented by airborne yeasts to produce foaming toddy which is rich in vitamins and mildly alcoholic.

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It is usually the evening after finishing the day’s chores, the Saura men and women get-together for the drinking party. They spend hours at leisure with friends and relatives to celebrate their evenings with tadi in hands. However it was morning hours, we were welcome to the drinking site on a hill slope surrounded by wooded forests. The drinking site was a circle of flat stones set up as seats around a hearth. The first man who arrived at the site lit the fire. In a few moments, space was filled by his companions, all in their traditional clothing. They poured their tadi into a large pot set over the fire. When the drink was at right lukewarm temperature, one of the men dipped in a gourd ladle and passed it to his neighbour on right, who drank it, refilled it and passed it on again. I also had my term.

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For recreations, Lanjia Saoras are always ready. All around the year as Saoras say, work keep continue and does not leave them completely free. They are always busy with some work. But whenever they get breaks while in the fields or in the forest, they enjoy the dance and singing. When you drive through their hills in dark night hours you would be enthralled listening to their enchanting music coming from the hilltops accompanied with songs and dances. Their musical instruments include drums, gagerai, tretepe, and jambugrai. During a performance, the surrounding environment of forest and fields get enthralled and romanticized. It is the women folk who sing and dance but the music is led by men only.

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But for us it was before the tadi party they performed their dance wearing their traditional costumes and attires, for women, a waistcloth with gray borders hardly touching up to their knees and blouse. A major draw of these women were their traditional pieces of jewelry, necklaces of beads, round wooden plugs pierced through their ears, spiral metal rings as ear lobes, hairpins of bell metal, brass rings around their necks and metal anklets and finger rings. The male dancers were marked with their long ended loincloths and had decorated their heads with white fowl feathers and peacock plumes. While dancing they carried swords, sticks, umbrellas and other implements and blew whistles and made peculiar sounds.

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We also participated in their dance from time to time.

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Our trip to Saura heartland came to an end after a traditional meal of country chicken curry, rice, and cabbage.

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

 

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

From time immemorial living on seacoast has been a major attraction for humans across cultures. It is true that sea with its pristine beauty can often turn ugly (tsunami and cyclone) and take the lives of both people and animals that have a deep attachment to it in no time.  But when it is calm it is a source of plenty, from fish to crab, which often forms as a buffer food base during the time of drought and other calamities.  For coastal people, the sea is Mother Nature.

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Odisha is one of India’s best-kept secrets for any nature and culture-sensitive traveller to explore her timeless charm, especially her unexplored sea coast (500 km of Odisha is her coastline), is a major attraction.

Also, Read Here: 

Mangalajodi– Where Ashoka is Born and Dies Every Other Day

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My journey to one of such hidden secrets of Mother Nature begins at 4.30 AM through a branch of Devi estuary at Sahana Village. Everywhere is eerie silence. I get into a fibre boat with Babu Behra, Odisha’s most skilled lifeguard as the boatman to delve into the ghostly darkness of the estuary water. Slowly the sky opens up in the eastern horizon and you see clouds forming various patterns with the dimming crescent-shaped moon in the backdrop.

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The sail through the estuary turns noisy with the chirping of birds nesting atop branches of mangrove trees on both sides. Your camera shutter goes ‘click-click’.

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Now the morning drama reaches to its climax as the narrow estuary opens up to a wide expanse of blue water – you are at close proximity to Devi’s mouth. The country boats are in their best of actions, each forming a picture postcard setting.

Travel Tips:

Sahana Beach is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Sahana Beach, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Sahana Beach has located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood.  Your local contact is Soumya Ranjan Biswal (+91 7327963897). 

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Now your boat is anchored on the beach. You stroll down to witness a spectacular sunrise with no human souls around. The only sound is the sea’s gusting waves. For a moment you are lost and the child in you demands for time to pause. The sea, sky and the sands turn into a golden carpet with patterns that appear as Lila of Almighty.

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You are in a dreamscape and the only friends of yours are the innocent white crabs that play hide and seek around you.

Also, Read Here:

The Slow Death of Odisha’s Living Marine Heritage; the Olive Ridley Turtles

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A little walk along the beach takes you to the mouth proper, the meeting place of two worlds, river and sea. Here ends the journey of the River Devi that starts 80 km offshore near Cuttack. And this is the place of plenty, a fisherman’s paradise. Here you see them in actions, all breaching the gusty sea waves.

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Then you get into a no man’s island to witness red crabs. Also known as ghost crabs they prefer silence and live in colonies.

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Now it is the time to return to village Sahana – the time is 8 AM. On your sail back under the well-lit sky the eeriness is gone and you are navigating through mangrove creeks with birds nesting on both sides. The scene is a miniature version of the land of Amazonia. Your soul is lifted.

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So what makes you wait! Come and lose yourself in the lap of Mother Nature at Odisha’s best-kept secret!!

Author – Jitu Mishra. He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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

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

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

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Folk performance in Rural Odisha

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

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

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

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

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Raghurajpur – An Open Air Museum

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

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

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Travel Tips

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

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

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

Contact Details

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

Purushottam Mahapatra lives in the address below at Bhubaneswar. 

Purushottam Mahapatra

Sassana Padia, Kapileswara

Old Town, Bhubaneswar 751002

Phone: +91 9937881342, +91 7008039025

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Five forgotten forts of Telangana – A Travel Shot

Many travellers from the far-flung lands visit Telangana mostly for Hyderabad, a city full of historic sites like Golkonda Fort, Charminar, Qutb Sahi tombs etc. But if you are a history buff then Telangana has more to offer you and some places get hardly any mention in the guidebooks or history books.

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From Golkonda to Hyderabad – An Architectural Journey

Rachakonda is a huge fort, positioned in the magnificent hilly landscape near Nalgonda. Built by the Racherla royals around 14th century CE, this fort was later ruled under Qtub Shahi dynasty along with other forts like Golkonda and Koilkonda. One has to climb many steps through the jungle to reach the top. In between the arched boulders, there are still few stone gateways left with unique ancient designs. Its wilderness and the breathtaking views from every twist and turn will truly fascinate the visitors.

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The View of Ranchakonda Fort

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Koilkonda is another forgotten fort on a hilltop and was renowned as the outpost for the Qutb Sahis. Surrounded by jungles this fort has many intact structures to give it a castle-like formation. An easy 125 km drive from Hyderabad towards Madhuban Nagar can take you to this fort. Though not yet maintained you can hike till different levels and explore the essence of erstwhile Deccan Plateau.

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The majestic view of Kolikonda Fort

A three and half hours’ drive from Hyderabad will take you to thousand years old Khammam Fort which is situated in the middle of a city. It is believed that gold coins were used as the fund to make this fort.

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The view of Khammam Fort

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Kakatiya Dynasty – An Architectural Sojourn

Located in a very scenic hilltop of Karimnagar, Elgandal fort was controlled by five major dynasties – the Kakatiyas, Bahmanis, Qutub Shahis, Mughals and the Nizams. It still has huge walls, twisted steps and geometric gates but yet hardly known to broader communities of travellers. At the highest point, one can find “Dho Minar” or the two tall pillars. From a certain angle, they look almost like the ‘Charminar’ of Hyderabad. The 180 Km drive from Hyderabad to Karimnagar is simply incredible due to the well-maintained roads and picturesque countrysides.

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The view of Elgandal Fort

The last one is our favourite Bhongir, mostly known as ‘Bhuvanagiri fort’ to locals. Formed by a gigantic monolithic rock, this fort is an epitome of the Chalukyan rulers since the 10th century. However, later it was taken under the Bahmani kings and renovated in Islamic style. The 180-degree view from the top proves its strategic location as a defence base. We visited Bhongir a number of times but it still attracts us to explore some of the other corners. The serenity of Bhongir can be best enjoyed from the top, especially when the sun rolls down and the city lights pop up one by one.

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Bhongir Fort

Author – Mangalika Ghosh

MangalikaA travel photographer and a travel blogger by passion, Mangalika is currently working on various personal photography projects. You can always find her at Happyfeet
https://mangalika.com/happyfeet/