Breathtaking Duduma Falls in South Koraput – A Cultural Sojourn

Once upon a time! A Gadaba girl was bathing in the river. In the meantime, her younger brother was passing nearby. When he noticed his sister taking bath he threw an arrow to inform about his presence. The girl could not understand why the arrow was thrown at her. She did not care for it and continued to bath.

The brother felt insulted as his sister did not respond to his arrow. Shouting loudly he proceeded further. Looking at her brother approaching towards her the girl in her nude state jumped into the river out of shame. But to save his sister, the boy caught the hair portion of the girl as a result of which the hair portion remained in his hand and the body flown into the river.

On the other side of the river, the girl propagated her progeny who was named as Bonda.

Even today the Bonda women remain skin headed and consider Gadabas as their younger brothers and sisters.

IMG_0727

A Bonda Woman on the left and Gadaba Woman on the right

The river where the event happened according to local belief is today’s Machkund, a tributary of Godavari. The river separates Odisha from Andhra Pradesh in the highland plateau of South Koraput. One of the most scenic, the river today is tamed for hydroelectric projects, but what makes an out of world experience is its Duduma Falls, one of the deepest and ferocious landscapes in the whole of Peninsular India.

Travel Tips

Duduma Falls and Lamtaput are located in the southern part of Koraput Distance on the border of Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. Surrounded 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.

IMG_1020

IMG_0996

Machkund River and Duduma Falls

Our journey starts from Semiliguda an industrial township on the foothills of Deomali at a 1000 feet plateau to Duduma through an enchanting landscape of hills, mountains, valleys, waterfalls, farmlands, valleys and numerous tribal villages. It was a rainy day with floating clouds kissing the mountain peaks. As we moved further the land became more isolated and the population became sparse. Once the area used to be a part of the Red Corridor. But now the Maoists have almost lost their grip as there is no local support and also because of the continued intervention of state forces.

Also, Read Here:

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

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

IMG_0958

IMG_0731

IMG_0972

IMG_0975

IMG_1096

IMG_1109

After a sumptuous lunch in a roadside eatery run by two tribal women, we reached Jalaput Reservoir on Machkund River. Surrounded by hills and picturesque valleys, Jalaput wetland derives its name from Jala or Jal means water and Put means residence in Desia language. The bridge on the reservoir forms the border between Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. We crossed the bridge and entered Andhra Pradesh. The 20 km road in Andhra was a nightmare.

IMG_0962

IMG_0963

IMG_0969

Jalaput Reservoir on Odisha – Andhra Border

We reached Duduma around 4.30 PM and the view from the watch tower was spectacular. I was simply lost in its breathtaking views. Duduma is one of the highest waterfalls in India surrounded by towering mountains of the Eastern Ghats. To its west are Bonda Hills, the habitat of one of the most primitive tribes of the world, the Bondas and to its north and east are the villages of Gadaba tribe. The 175 m high fall tears through the rugged rocks of the Eastern Ghats and the evergreen-deciduous forest. From Duduma we headed east along Odisha – Andhra border to Lamtaput, the heartland of Gadaba Tribe following the scenic Machkund River. It seemed the wheel of time had stopped. Watching the people ferrying the river in country boats between two states was almost magical.

IMG_0978

IMG_0982

 

IMG_1023

IMG_1033

IMG_1047

IMG_1092

Gadabas have no written records of their history. However, according to their local mythology, their ancestors had migrated from the banks of river Godavari in the remote past. They first settled in Nandpur, the former capital of Jeypur Rajas.

Also, Read Here:

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

IMG_1284

IMG_1200

Two Old Gadaba Women

A major attraction of Gadaba people is their two pieces saree made out of the fibre of Kerenga Tree. Though now hardly anyone wearing kerenga, but when there are festivals and dance performance, the first preference of girls is kerenga. Earlier there used to be cottage looms in every Gadaba village, where the women would be seen engaged in weaving kerengas. Nowadays, the traditional knowledge of weaving is almost lost.

IMG_1293

IMG_1297

Revival of Kerenga

According to a legend, when Lord Rama during his exile was wandering in Dandakaranya Forest with his wife Sita, they met some Gadaba women who laughed at her as her dress was made of fibre. Whereupon, she cursed them and condemned them to wear no other dress but clothes made of fibre.

On the next day, we visited Kangrapada Village near Lamtaput to experience Gadaba life. Here we met Deepa Sisa, a young graduate in Odia from Jeypur’s Vikramdev College. A Gadaba, Deepa is very passionate to showcase her culture. She took us around the village and arranged Dhemsa Dance performance at a short notice.

IMG_1285

Deepa Sisa, a Young Dynamic Gadaba Girl

Dheemsa Dance is the traditional dance of Gadabas. The women perform wearing the Karenga saree. They dance in a semi-circle with steps three and four. The body is often bent forward showing skilful moves on the heels. The men only play the musical instrument like dhol, baja, madal, flute, tumak and mahuri.

IMG_1324

IMG_1328

IMG_1333

IMG_1343

IMG_1356

Dheemsa Dance Performance

Gadabas are agriculturalists and depend upon shifting cultivation. They also rear cattle, sheep and goats, pigs and chickens. They are also horticultural farmers growing banana, jackfruits, mangoes and tamarinds. Millets and rice are their staple food. Millet gruel is considered to be highly nutritious and helps in the production of more blood.   According to their belief, someone who is pale has too little blood and should consume more millet gruel.

IMG_1204

Millet Gruel

IMG_1249

IMG_1260

IMG_1213

IMG_1214

IMG_1251

IMG_1271

IMG_1266

For Gadaba food is not only a product of the efforts of particular individual or houses but also a consequence of the successful influencing of social relationships in ritual. The growth of grain (staple food) is based on the exchange and circulation of life and food among human beings, gods, demons and the dead. Once harvested both millet and rice make their ways from fields to the house and back through the house again before they pass through the body. From the big room of the house, they move to the inner house (gondi dien) and from here to the loft where the grain is stored. It could have been simpler to get the harvest directly into the loft by way of an opening from the big room, through which one enters the house. But the route that passes the house deity, located in the inner room, is obligatory and the loft itself is an extension of the inner area.

IMG_1265_1

IMG_1262

Sacred Chamber and Kitchen

Today cashew nut plantation has become alternative cash crops. You find women in every household engaged in the processing of cashew nuts. Mango and jackfruits are also processed traditionally and preserved for the offseason.

IMG_1206

IMG_1205

IMG_1229

IMG_1216

IMG_1217

IMG_1225

A fascinating aspect of Gadabas is their house plans and colour pallets used in the interiors. Their houses are triangular in shape in the roof. However, the ground is rectangular in plan. The rooms are not provided with windows. For ventilation, there is a gap placed between the roof and the sidewall. On the left or right side, the house is provided for the kitchen and the shrine of their household deity.

IMG_1277

IMG_1286

IMG_1276

IMG_1254

IMG_1240

IMG_1239

IMG_1291

My journey to Gadaba culture has just started. And I will continue to explore more in the near future.

Herewith I bring out an end to my story with the quote by Lao Tzu.

‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step’.

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).

IMG_9635

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

IMG_9561

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.  

IMG_9562

IMG_9569

IMG_9555

IMG_9554

IMG_9553

IMG_9550 (2)

IMG_9542

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

IMG_9951

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

IMG_9900

IMG_9954

IMG_9846

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.

IMG_9957

IMG_9936

IMG_9932

IMG_9907

IMG_9832

IMG_9806

IMG_9786

IMG_9780

IMG_9776

IMG_9772

IMG_9740

IMG_9716

IMG_9711 (2)

IMG_0054

IMG_0053

IMG_0052

IMG_0050

IMG_0047

IMG_0035 (2)

IMG_0032

IMG_0030

IMG_0028

IMG_0021

IMG_0016

IMG_0085

IMG_0091

IMG_0101

IMG_0103

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.

IMG_9650

IMG_9661

IMG_9680

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.

IMG_0002

IMG_0007

IMG_9878

IMG_9880

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.

IMG_9587

IMG_9581 (2)

IMG_9696

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.

IMG_9595

IMG_9630

IMG_9642 (2)

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.

IMG_0234

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)

IMG_0248

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

IMG_6118 IMG_5916

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.

IMG_5969

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.

IMG_6081

IMG_6083

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.

IMG_6080

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.

IMG_6098

IMG_6109

IMG_0212

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

IMG_0204

IMG_0205

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.

IMG_6066

IMG_6064

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.

IMG_6054

IMG_6060

IMG_6035

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.

IMG_5922

IMG_5913

IMG_5926

IMG_5941

IMG_5943

IMG_5954

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.

IMG_5966

IMG_5968

IMG_5985

IMG_6010

IMG_6013

IMG_6017

IMG_6026

We also participated in their dance from time to time.

IMG_6024

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

Misings of Majuli – An Anthropological Journey

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

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

img_1786

img_1782

img_1742

img_1842

img_1132

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

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

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

img_1068

img_1336

img_1340

img_1329

img_1327

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

Also, Read Here:

Melancholia in Majuli

Travel Tips

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

 

img_1481

img_1489

img_1491

img_1492

img_1501

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

Also, Read Here: 

Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

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

img_0995

img_1069

img_1070

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

img_0970

img_1121

img_1117

img_1111

img_1794

img_1803

img_1806

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

Also, Read Here:

Bhils of Aravali – A Socio-Anthropological Journey

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

img_0966

img_0968

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

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

img_1576

img_1551

img_1546

img_1516

img_0914

img_1095

img_1092

img_0958

img_0973

img_1384

img_1388

img_1395

img_1403

img_1405

img_1410

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

img_1719

img_1733

img_1713

img_1672

img_1663

img_1637

img_1643

img_1635

img_1632

img_1428

img_1420

img_0935

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

img_1274

img_1280

img_1282

img_1000

img_1001

img_1008

img_1012

img_1014

img_1020

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

img_1688

img_1892

img_1198

img_1190

img_1178

img_1286

img_1276

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

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

img_1649

img_1602

img_0848

img_0986

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.

IMG_9359

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

IMG_9054

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.

IMG_8843

IMG_8857

IMG_8872

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’.

IMG_8889

IMG_8892

IMG_8903

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). 

IMG_8924 (2)

IMG_8929

IMG_8933

IMG_8941

IMG_8951

IMG_8966

IMG_8973

IMG_8977

IMG_8983

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.

IMG_9014

IMG_9016

IMG_9017

IMG_9031

IMG_9038

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

IMG_9137

IMG_9138

IMG_9141

IMG_9143

IMG_9146

IMG_9149

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.

IMG_9102

IMG_9103

IMG_9107

IMG_9110

IMG_9121

IMG_9124

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.

IMG_9150

IMG_9155

IMG_9158

IMG_9166

IMG_9170

IMG_9172

IMG_9175

IMG_9187

IMG_9206

IMG_9211

IMG_9231

IMG_9268

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.

IMG_9279

IMG_9290

IMG_9297

IMG_9299

IMG_9304

IMG_9316

IMG_9317

IMG_9323

IMG_9335

IMG_9349

IMG_9356

IMG_9362

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