Misings of Majuli – An Anthropological Journey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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. 

 

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

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.

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

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

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.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle in Bhubaneswar’s Walls – A Visual Treat

Olive Ridley Sea Turtle is the smallest and most abundant among all sea turtles found in the tropical world. They are found mostly in warm and tropical water, primarily in the Pacific and the Indian Ocean.

Growing to about 2 feet in length and weighing around 35 kilos, Olive Ridley Turtle is best known for their behaviour of synchronized nesting in mass number, termed arribadas. Females return to the same beach from where they hatched to lay their eggs. They lay their eggs in conical nests about one and a half feet deep, which they laboriously dig with their hind flippers. Gahiramatha and Rusikulya Estuaries are the world’s largest mass nesting sites for olive turtles.

Mating often occurs in the vicinity of nesting beaches, but copulating pairs have been reported over 1000 km from the nesting beaches.

Olive Ridley Sea Turtles migrate in large numbers from the beginning of November every year for mating and nesting on the coast of Odisha. Within two months the nesting season starts.

However, though listed as vulnerable under IUCN and protected under the ‘Migratory Species Conservation’ there is a high rate of their mortality due to collision with boats, trawlers, gillnets ghost nets and longline fishing. In addition, coastal development, natural disasters, climate change and beach erosion have also become potential threats to nesting grounds.

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The carcass of an Olive Ridley Turtle found near Devi River Mouth

Also, Read Here: 

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

There is also a lack of public awareness about Olive Ridley Turtles in Odisha. Both as ideas of beautification and generating awareness recently part of Bhubaneswar’s public walls were illustrated with cycles of their migration and nesting on Odisha coast.

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The drive for beautification started in October 2018 with an eye on Odisha Hockey World Cup that was held in Bhubaneswar in the following months. The artwork was carried out by 15 groups of artists from Odisha Modern Art Gallery, Krutika, Konark Arts, Bakul Foundation and Sutra Advertising apart from several individual artists. Each of the groups had submitted proposals on themes focusing on wildlife, folk and urban lifestyles, hockey and tangible and intangible heritage of Odisha in general and Bhubaneswar in particular.

Travel Tips: 

Bhubaneswar’s AG Square where murals are drawn is located at the heart of the city, at a distance of 2 km from the Airport and the Railway Station. Go in the early morning to avoid traffic. For Olive Ridley Turtle sighting the best place is however Ruikulya Estuary, 150 km from Bhubaneswar towards south on Berhampur Highway. February and March are the nesting seasons.

The AG Square area, which forms the city’s most prime location, was chosen for Olive Ridley Turtle and the work was assigned to artist Satyabrata.

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Olive Ridley Turtle (Oly) was also the official mascot for Odisha Hockey World Cup 2018. One section of the walls focused on Oly as hockey players.

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Today any passerby on the roads around AG Square is drawn for a moment to these beautiful murals and for children no doubt these together have become an open-air picture book to explore the world of Olive Ridley Turtle.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Unfinished Monoliths of Mahabalipuam – An Architectural Journey

An obsolete touristy village today, on the shore of Bay of Bengal, 60 km south of Chennai, Mahabalipuram in 7th century CE, however, was a flourishing city bustling with activities of sailors who came from far and near to load and unload their cargoes. Today all that is lost except the drifting sands and the solitude after the sun goes down beyond the horizon of Bay of Bengal whispering its glorious past.

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On this puzzling landscape, there still stand 35 monuments, large and small of different types. But interestingly a majority of them are unfinished.  One of the types of monuments is the monoliths, small shrines cut out of a single boulder of rock. Best known of the series is the Pancha Pandava Rathas that attract visitors in large numbers throughout the day.

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These monuments, the first of its kind in South India had been erected under the patronage of Pallava rulers between 580 CE and 720 CE.

Travel Tips:

Mahabalipuram is located on picturesque Beach Road that connects Chennai with Puducherry on the Bay of Bengal. A popular tourist destination in Tamil Nadu, Mahabalipuram is well connected by Bus service from Chennai, Kanchipuram and Puducherry. The destination offers a large number of stay options including high-end resorts. It takes about 2 hours to reach Mahabalipuram either from Chennai or Kanchipuram. While at Mahabalipuram also explore the stone craft in the village. It requires a minimum of 6 hours to appreciate the archaeological ruins of the place. December and January are the best months. From February onward it becomes very hot and humid.

The first Pallava ruler was Mahendra who ruled until 630 CE from his capital Kanchipuram. Under his leadership, the Pallava kingdom had extended as far south as modern-day Trichy. He was succeeded by his son Narasimha I Mammala.

Also, read Here: 

Dravida Temple Architecture – Origin and Development : A Visual Journey

Mammala had fought several wars with the Chalukya rulers of Badami (today’s north-central Karnataka) and had defeated many kings of South India. Mahabalipuram, earlier known as Mammalapuram was named after Mammala, who had also developed the site into a major port.

Paramesvara was the next ruler who too had fought several wars with the Chalukyas. Paramesvara was succeeded by the great ruler Narasimha II Rajasimha during whose reign Pallava territory had remained in peace. Rajasimha was also a great builder. Notable structural temples at Mahabalipuram and his capital at Kanchipuram were built during his reign.

According to a recent trend of research, most of Mahabalipuram’s unfinished monoliths were erected during Rajasimha’s time. Because all his predecessors were too busy in wars with Chalukyas and there was little time to focus on building or carving temples. After Rajasimha’s death, there was anarchy like the situation with political instability and that may explain why most of Mahabalipuram’s monoliths are unfinished.

Also, Read Here:

Kanchipuram Murals – An Artistic Sojourn

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Among the best known of Mahabalipuram’s monoliths are a group known as Pancha Pandava Rathas. Four of the five rathas have been cut from a single whale-back boulder. The fifth is excavated from an isolated boulder. The rathas are named after the five Pandavas and their common wife Draupadi. However, the monuments have no connection to Pandavas.

These monoliths exhibit four completely different styles of architecture. Except for the Draupadi Ratha, none of them is complete, which depicts a common man’s hut. The Arjuna and Dharmaraja Rathas depict the early stage of South Indian temples. The Bhima Ratha is an example of a structure with a cylindrical form of roof that later became the basis of the typical South Indian gopurams.

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The Nakula – Sahadeva Ratha is an example of Gaja Pristha or elephant backed architecture. An elephant shaped monoliths stand nearby suggesting that the apprentices were first made to carve out the elephant and the curvature of its back was set out as the model for the shape of the shrine.

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These shrines were never completed and hence never in use. Perhaps space was used as an experimental ground to create different forms of architecture at the formative phase of South Indian temples. Some of them were later formalized and evolved into mature forms of Dravidian temples.

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There are a few other rathas, one in the middle of the village, the Ganesh Ratha, which is in a relatively complete state and three on the other side of the village close to the Highway, which is abandoned and in a fairly preliminary state of excavation. But a close observation of their unfinished state gives an idea of how the rathas were carved from isolated boulders of rock.

 

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

Plough and Other Agricultural Implements

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Storage Facilities for Rice

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Tenda – Water Lifting Device for Rice irrigation

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

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

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

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

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Charu Maa – The Face of Durga Maa

Our story starts in the 7th century CE Bhubaneswar! It was the time in Indian history when the personification of ideas came to be institutionalized.  One such idea was Nataraj, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, which you find profusely in temple walls of Bhubaneswar. Why Nataraj – for me the answer could be the metaphoric representation of destruction that depicts the other side of the sea which is otherwise gentle and calm through most of the year.  The other idea was Maa Durga – the metaphoric representation of women power, for which Eastern India is widely celebrated.


Goddess Durga in Parasurameswara Temple – 7th Century CE

Lord Nataraj in Parasumeswara Temple 7th Century CE

Maa Durga in Cuttack 

1999 super cyclone that had devastated millions of lives, both humans and domestic animals in coastal Odisha. Lord Shiva had shown his extreme form, tandav leela. It was one of the darkest moments in Odisha’s modern history. It took years to recover what Odisha had lost. But the lesson learnt not only made Odias cautious but Odisha became a successful model for disaster management worldwide.  Much has been written and filmed about Odisha’s adorable initiatives in cyclone management, but very little about Charu Maa, a woman in her 50s from Gudalaba Village near Astarang on the coast of Bay of Bengal. You see the face of Durga Maa in her, who has been leading a group of 90 women from her village consisting of both Hindus and Muslims for the protection of forest and wildlife from the time their village was devastated in the wrath of 1999 cyclone.

Travel Tips

Gundalba Village is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Gundalaba Village, 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. Gundalba is 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. 


Charu Maa in the left at Gundalba Village

 

 

 

 

Gudalaba is a small village of farmers and fisherfolk near the Sufi shrine of Pir Jahania at a stone throw distance from the sea. A thick forest of Casuarinas separates the sea from the village. To the north of the village is a network of creeks of Devi River which meets the Bay of Bengal at Sahana. Nature’s paradise, the beach is also part of the rookery of Olive Ridley Turtles.  The casuarinas trees, a native of Australia had been introduced more than a century ago by the British to prevent sea erosion. However, ecologists have a different viewpoint. According to whom, the alien trees have been least protectors from sea erosion. These have only become a good source of fuel. On the other hand once dominated by hundreds of species of native mangroves, now most of it lost, thanks to intensive shrimp farming and agriculture. The loss of mangroves is taking toll of destruction year after year.  

Also, Read Here:

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


Pir Jahanaia Sufi Shrine


Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned boat at Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned house at Pir Jahania Beach – Behind it the thick Casuarina Forest


Casuarina Forest


Depleting Mangrove Forests and Estuaries 

 


Near Devi Mouth


Commercial Fishing in Devi Mouth


Subsistence Fishing in Devi Mouth 


Intensive Rice Farming – The Harvesting Season


Harvest of Gold

Gudalaba has also been a nurturing ground for ideas related to wildlife conservation and sustainable living. Here you meet Bichhi, the turtle man, who has dedicated his life for the conservation of Ridley Olive Turtles. You also meet a group of youngsters led by Soumya Ranjan Biswal, who are continuously engaged in generating awareness on beach cleaning and environmental protection.


Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtle – a severe environmental issue – This one is one of the first deaths sighted this season due to trawlers movement

 

It was on 4th November night I was first introduced to Charu Maa at her residence and while talking to her I felt the best geography teacher I have ever met in my life. There is so much of understanding about sustainable living that we have taken for granted as dwellers of large cities. I heard the first-hand experience coping the most severe disaster in the living memory of Odisha. I saw the face of Durga Maa in Charu Maa. It was decided to film her interview on the daylight the next day along with her other women companions.


An early morning scene at Devi Mouth 

Here is what she narrates:

Charu Maa has turned crises into opportunities and it is an eye-opener for each of us. Truly she celebrates the idea of Durga Maa.      

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Terracotta Artist Manbodh Rana – An Inspiring Story

A long time ago! The art of cooking had not been invented. Everyone was surviving on raw food. There used to be a problem with digestion. Many fell sick. Once everyone assembled at a central place and decided to have an audience with Lord Vishnu, the protector of the universe.  

At Vaikuntha Puri, the abode of Lord Vishnu!

‘Oh Lord, we are not able to digest the raw food. Each of us is falling sick. A genuine request from all of us – please save us!

While listening to the grievance of people Lord Vishnu started sweating.  From his sweat was born the first potter Rudrapal on earth.

Vishnu ordered Rudrapal – ‘make pots and pans for people to cook’. Rudrapal followed the divine order and became the founding father of the potter community.

First, he created a wheel and using it made a plethora of earthen objects including pots and pans of various sizes and forms. People were so happy – now they could cook and eat digestible food. Nobody fell sick.

One year there was no rain. Everywhere there was drought. Again everyone assembled at a place and decided to meet Lord Vishnu.

At Vaikuntha Puri!

Lord Vishnu asked: ‘Now what is the problem? People answered in the chorus – ‘we are suffering from a severe drought – there is nothing to eat. Please save us again.’

Vishnu remembered Adimata, the creation mother. Adimata rushed to Vaikunta Puri and asked Vishnu the reason for remembering her. Vishnu replied ‘after listening to the grievance of my people I remembered you. Perhaps you could help to lift them from the misery of drought.’

Adimata replied: ‘After started eating cooked food the people on earth have become very selfish. They have forgotten me and my other children, which includes bulls, cows, and other animals. Hence I am very sad. On the occasion of Saptapuri Amavasya, if people worship their farmlands offering terracotta animals and sweet meat, I would be pleased and free them from the suffering of drought.’

From then on the potters of Western Odisha (also known as Kosali Potters) have been making terracotta objects of Adimata and her children to facilitate the occasion of Saptapuri Amavasya.

Also, Read Here: 

Lanka Dahana Festival of Sonepur – A Photo Story

 

 

 

 

 

After thousands of generations from the birth of Rudrapal comes Manbodha Rana, a Koshali potter known for his creative excellence in terracotta art, especially terracotta roof tiles that have figures of animals, such as frolicking monkeys, lizards, turtles, tiger,  chirping birds, and many more. Such tiles are believed to ward off evil eyes. He also specializes in fashioning icons for worship, functional, ritualistic, decorative and tribal folk terracotta figures.  Manbodha Ji is using techniques such as clay throwing on the wheel, moulding over an old pot or modelling by hands that have not changed from the time of Indus Valley Civilization.

Travel Tips:

Barpali is a small town in Bargarh District of Western Odisha at a distance of 335 km from Bhubaneswar and 226 km from Raipur (both have airports). The nearest cities are however Bargarh (the district headquarter, 20 km away) and Sambalpur, the largest city in Western Odisha, 73 km away. 

Apart from terracotta, Barpali and its surrounding villages are also known for well known Sambalpuri Ikat fabric. You will be warmly greeted by a number of national awardee weavers and their looms here. Bidayabati Meher, a young entrepreneur can guide you to explore the weavers’ homes and their workshops with prior appointments (Her number +91 9937779519). 

For terracotta, meet the national awardee potter Shri Manabodha Rana at his home cum workshop with a prior appointment (+91 7381284727). 

Barpali has very few staying options near the Railway Station. However one can find decent options at nearby Bargarh, 30 min away in a cab. While at Bargarh try the local delicacies hendua khata and baunsa karida bhaja (made from bamboo shoots).  

Also, Read Here:

Life in Terracotta – Tile Craft of Barpali

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A Frog Couple in Action
Some of Manbodh Ji’s Creations 
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Children Celebrating Saptapuri Amabasya in Western Odisha

Manbodha Ji was born in 1959 in a traditional Kumbhar family. His father Parameswara Ram Rana was a renowned terracotta artist of his time under who he had received his early training.   

In the film below, Manbodh Ji explains the significance of Saptapuri Amabasya for terracotta artists like him in Western Odisha.

Manbodh ji’s life had not been an easy one. But his out of box thinking, leadership and risk-taking attitude have made him what he is today. In the film below he explains his life’s journey.

Young Manbodh Ji 

Today Manbodh ji is a celebrated artisan and a source of aspiration for many young potters and terracotta artists of Odisha. However, the core of his life’s journey has been the tradition of our strong association with nature and the ideals of Indian wisdom, where every form of life is treated with respect and equality as children of Mother Nature, in this case, Adimata.

Also, Read Here:

Gifts of Mother Earth– The Story of a Kosali Potter

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

Kanchipuram Murals – An Artistic Sojourn

Every year millions of tourists, art connoisseurs and heritage enthusiasts visit Ajanta, the mural capital of India located in Sahyadri Hills of Maharashtra. The mural heritage of Ajanta was however short-lived, thanks to the fall of Vakatakas and their patronage.

The features that were laid in Ajanta was however found in full bloom in the Pallava Court at Kanchipuram, 1000 km away from the Vakataka capital. Unfortunately very little of Pallava murals have survived today. Following the Pallavas, it was the Vijayanagar and then Nayaka rulers who also made Kanchi as a canvas for their mural sojourn.

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Pallava – Image Courtesy: Vijay Sundararaman Iyer

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Vijayanagar – Image Courtesy: Vijay Sundararaman Iyer

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Pallavas who made Kanchipuram as their capital were great patrons of art. Mahendra Verman I, the founder of the dynasty was credited for the introduction of rock-cut architecture in Tamil Nadu in 7th Century CE. Because of his artistic talent, he was titled variously as Vichitra Chitta, Mattavilasa, Chaitrahari or Chitrakarapuli. However, none of Mahendra’s murals has survived at Kanchi today. What has remained are from the period of Rajasimha, who ruled towards the end of the 7th century CE.

Also, Read here:

Ajanta – India’s First Renaissance

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Mahendra Verman I at Mahabalipuram

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Kailashnath Temple Kanchipuram

Rajasimha’s murals have also mostly gone; however, a close observation helps us to find traces of lines and colours on small cells in the pradakshina path.

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In cell 9 there are remains of fragments of upper and lower arms of Shiva and in cell 11, one finds the beautiful face of Shiva depicted in Pallava style with only a part of the nose, cheek, kandala and yognopavita. In cell 23, there are remnants of a painting of Shiva and cell no 34 there remain traces of a mahapurusha (kirata, shoulder and thigh are left). However, the most striking remains are that of a Samakanda mural in red on the back wall of cell 41. The colours are gone, but the line of composition of the seated Shiva and Parvati and a lovely attendant of Parvati are an indication of the excellence of the artist’s ability. Depicting Samakanda was a favourite Pallava theme for murals as well as sculptures. The curve of the arms and legs, the excellent proportion of the limbs, details such as tussle, the folds of the garments and the ornamentation are surpassed only by the very adorable baby Skanda. Parvati’s figure is full of feminine grace.

Kanchipuram is located at a distance of 72 km from Chennai off Bangalore Highway. The city is also well connected by rail. Located on the banks of Vegavathi River, Kanchipuram has a rich history and heritage. It was the administrative capital of Pallavas in the 7th century. It was later ruled by Cholas and Vijayanagar rulers. Kanchipuram was a great centre of education in historical time. Of the 108 holy temples, the best -known are  Varadharaja Perumal Temple, Ekambareswarar Temple, Kamakshi Amman Temple, and Kumarakottam Temple. The city is well-known for its hand-woven saree industry known as Kanchipuram Silk. While at Ekambaeswarar Temple relish Kanchipuram Idli which is offered to temple as prasadam every morning. 

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Images Courtesy: Vijay Sundararaman Iyer

One other painting which is in a fair state of preservation is that of Kinnara and Kinnari, a half human and a half bird couple who are celestial musicians.

The tradition of Pallava murals had carried forward the Ajanta tradition. They display the same grace of line and movement. The artists were masters of brushwork and figure drawings. The paintings were executed on a smoothly prepared surface in the fresco style. The colours used are black, red, white, yell, blue and green.

The Pallava murals of Kanchipuram are known for their fully open and wide eyes in accordance with South Indian ideals which demands wide, beautiful eyes as they are most striking features in the face. Faces are round and fuller.

The Pallava tradition of murals was revived much later in the 16th century during the Vijayanagar Period at the time of Achyutadevaraya who had commissioned murals on the walls and ceilings of Vardarajaperumal temple at Kanchipuram.

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Vardarajaperumal Temple

In Andal Unjal Mandapa, the ceiling is carved with stories of Krishna from the Bhagavata Purana and Harivamsa, stories of Kaliyamardana, Vishnu with his consorts and so on.

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Other common themes include the Vijayanagar crest of the boar and dagger, vidyadhara ridden of palanquins composed of feminine figures of Rati and Manmatha.

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Vijayanagar Murals – Images Courtesy: Vijay Sundararaman Iyer

Sadly the Vijayanagar murals are also badly survived. The only prominent colours left are red, yellow, green and black. Yet the leftover outlines depicts prominent figures, strong undulated lines and animated movement.

Vijayanagar rulers were succeeded by Nayakas in the 17th century, who had commissioned Jain themes of various bala lilas of Rishabadeva, the first Tirthankara, of Vardaman, of Krishna, of Neminatha and so on. These paintings are illustrated as long elaborate panels in the ceiling of the Jain Temple at Kanchi. The panels are supplemented with the depiction of purnakumbha, flowers along with dancers and musicians.

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The mural heritage of Kanchi may not be the richest in India but what makes it interesting is the evolution of styles and multiplicity of forms and themes that developed at different periods of history under the patronage of different dynasties. But sadly most of it gone with ravage of time.

Author – Jitu Mishra. He is grateful to archaeologists Vijay Sundararaman Iyer and Aarti Iyer for their knowledge sharing and accompanies at Kanchi in February 2018. Jitu can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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

The Balighai beach is a beautiful pristine place to be. Located 8 kilometres away, on the northeastern side of Puri, it is on the mouth of the Nuanai River. The confluence can be seen on the Konark-Puri Marine Drive and I stopped there on my way back from Konark. The long, smooth stretch of golden sands was too tempting to pass by on the river and in the sea at an alluring embrace. Not a single soul could be seen on the beach, and it’s a pleasant break after the crowd at Konark temples.

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But as they say, because of the first impression, because the Balighai beach upon my reaching there, turned out to be a graveyard for turtles. The carcasses lay as far as eyes could see and the pathetic bodies were mostly beheaded. It was a shocking sight, one made in my track and made a hasty exit from there. The shocking sight haunted me for many days, and I decided to do some research to find out the reason. The truth turned out to be a horrible tale of human greed, misinformed bureaucrats, and twisted government policies.

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The Balighai beach is a nesting site for the endangered Olive Ridley sea turtles. Pairs of mating sea turtles arriving on sea waters, mark the start of the breeding and nesting season of these endangered marine creatures. The mating season ends with most of the male turtles returning, leaving behind the female turtles to lay their eggs. The female turtles on the beach at night.

After the mass egg laying, the turtles return to the sea, leaving the hatchlings to emerge after 45-60 days, sans mother. An Olive Ridley usually lays about 120 to 150 eggs at a time, but not all become hatchlings. The mortality rate of these endangered species is quite high and the eggs have many predators. High tides so wash away many eggs in the sea and the alarming plight do not end there.

During the mating season, when the turtles come close to the beach, most of them get entangled in the gills and the asphyxiation. 20 minutes from the beach.

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Olive Ridley’s the biggest killer of the Odisha is a silent one and most of these endangered marine creatures are from ghost nets. A huge threat, which is creating a massacre in the marine world everywhere, ghost nets are fishing lost or discarded at sea. Every year, these animals are responsible for trapping and killing millions of marine animals, including sharks, rays, bony fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, crustaceans, and birds.

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Since ghost nets drift with ocean currents for years, travelling huge distances, their deadly effects can be felt from the point of origin. Ghost fishing for killing marine animals in a process called “ghost fishing”. The entanglement in ghost nets often results in suffocation, starvation, amputations of limbs, and, eventually, the death of a marine animal.

A drifting ghost net entangled with a carcass sinks to the bottom of the ocean. On the sea floor, other marine animals and natural decomposition get rid of the carcass, after which the ghost net floats back to repeat the deadly cycle. The durability of modern fishing nets enhances the longevity of this circle of destruction and Indian coastline, especially in the east is strewn with these remnants.

Ironically, Oliver Ridley sea turtles have a peculiar nesting habit. The females Olive Ridley turtles return in large numbers to the same beaches from which they first hatched. Odisha unbroken coastline is the largest nesting site for Oliver Ridley turtles in the world and here is hoping that someone out there pays attention before the state loses its important marine heritage.

Author – Svetlana Baghwan

svetlana Svetlana is a mother, writer, entrepreneur, traveler, foodie and an animal lover. An ex-flight attendant living in Cairo, Egypt, she has explored more than 35 countries as a solo woman traveler. Experiencing and exploring are her passion and she loves to tell stories. More about Svetlana here: http://www.maverickbird.com/

Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

A story goes – On the way to heaven, the five Pandava brothers had rested on the veranda of a Brahmin’s house, where no woman was ever blessed with the birth of a child. Arjuna came forward to intervene. He erected a Kothi and a Chammundia (a temporary shelter) with the help of arrows. Through this act, Yama, the God of Death was barricaded out.  At night a messenger of Yama appeared but had to leave unsuccessful. Consequently, an agreement was made with Yama – whoever observes Osa will bear sons, and all children will remain alive.

The news spread in no time throughout Avanti. Shriya Chandaluni (a woman sweeper named Shriya) heard it while she was sweeping the street near the palace. One of the queens expressed her displeasure because Shriya to whom she saw first in the morning was untouchable.  Equally, Shriya also thought it was inauspicious to have seen the face of the queen because she was antakudi, a barren woman.

The queen wanted to take revenge and reported the matter to the king. The king took away the five sons of Shriya and had them killed in the forest. Shriya went to the forest in search of her sons. Seeing them dead, she cried aloud. At that time Shiva and Parvati were wandering in the wilderness. They heard Shriya’s cry. While comforting her they asked her to observe Osa by erecting a Chammundia, a temporary shelter. She replied that she could only do it when all her sons are alive. Shiva requested her to turn her head away. He sprinkled water on the dead bodies and her sons came back to life. They joined their mother and also started worshipping themselves. The king watched them performing the ritual and when performed Osakothi himself, each of his 99 queens bore sons.

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According to yet another story, Kalidasa, the poet had once lived in Bauri Sahi (street of untouchables). There he had started a Kothisala. First, he made the appearance of Shiva Tandav, after that the image of Parvati, then Mahisamardhini Durga and Kali. Mangala followed them, then Ganesha and Kartikeya, and finally Panchu Pandava.

 

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How did Kalidasa go to Bauri Sahi? There was a king, who had addicted to women. Because of this weakness, he could not give time to rule properly. Everyone suffered. Then all his subjects assembled together and proposed him to create a mural of his favourite queen and keep it near him. The king liked the idea and invited the court painter to draw the mural. He got it done. All appreciated the work but Kalidasa said ‘no’. The king sought the answer. In reply, Kalidasa said there was a kalajai, a black mole on the left thigh of the queen, which is not in the figure. The king got annoyed with the answer and started doubting about the secret relationship between Kalidasa and his wife. Immediately he removed the poet.  With no other choice, the poet took refuge at Bauri Sahi where he started the Kothisala.

Both stories confirm us that the Osakothi tradition in Ganjam stems from the untouchable groups, the upper caste joining later.

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For cultural anthropologists and archaeologists, Osakothi rituals are of great interest as one draws a series of parallels between the evolution of early belief systems against their social and cultural settings and their continuity till modern time.  Keeping this in mind recently I had ventured into the heartland of Ganjam around Digapahandi to experience and document the Osakothi rituals.

Also, Read Here:

Travel through Digapahandi – Ganjifa’s Last Bastion

Travel Tips:

Though Osakothi rituals are celebrated in most part of Ganjam we visited villages around Digapahandi and for this story, we had zeroed on Khallingi Village, about 15 km from Digapahandi via Patapur. The ritual is carried out during Durga Puja time every year. You can also visit villages around Dharkote, Purussotampur, Aska and Buguda towns to witness the festival. There is an excellent road network in the district and you will find villagers are very welcoming. However, for a comfortable stay, you can either chose Berhampur, the largest city in the region or Gopalpur-on-Sea. Taptapani Hotspring is the other nearby attraction which is also the gateway to the tribal heartland of Southern Odisha. For food, you have small restaurants on highways and towns. 

Osakothi shrines are temporary structures but now have been made permanent. But one should not confuse them with temples. They have strange characters showing a fusion of tribal and folk beliefs. In middle ages, local zamindars and feudal kings appropriated the land and villages of aboriginal chiefs of Kondh and Saura tribes. To hegemonize their subjects, goddesses from tribal realms were accepted as Esta Devis, family goddesses of the royal households. Some of the local Thakuranis acquired great prominence and their shrines were equated with ancient Shakta temples of Hind pantheons.

 

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Osakothi shrines are a link between the tribal deities and beliefs and mainstream Hinduism. The Thakurani (goddess) is represented as a ghata (pot) and depicted in the murals along with various other deities. The season mostly lasts for seven days around Dussehara (from Ashtami to Kumara Purnima). Traditionally an Osakothi shrine is a simple structure, but nowadays because of increased wealth, one finds permanent structures. The basic requirements are a wall for the murals with a vedi platform or a ledge for keeping the ritual objects, a canopy and an open space for the performances and gathering.

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The murals of the osakothi shrines are meant to house tetiskoti devatas (thirty-three times of ten million deities). At least 10 to 20 images and a maximum of hundred gods, goddesses, heroes of epics and legends are depicted on walls as attendants of the relatives of the divinities. The murals thus represent a microcosm in a reduced scale.  In an Osakothi mural, the entire family of the goddess does appear with sons, daughters and vehicles with a full entourage, regalia and pomp. The Thakurani is then considered to be Adimata, the creation mother. The wall on which murals are drawn is divided into components, symbolizing chambers and houses of various gods and goddesses forming the great family.

Mangala is often depicted in an Osakothi shrine as the dominating deity. She is seen sitting in cross-legged padmasana with four arms, her body is coloured yellow and she wears red or pink sari and a blouse. The goddess carries five pots, one on her head on top of her crown and four in her hands.

Shiva is the only male deity to appear in Osakothi paintings. He even occupies the central position. He is shown as Nataraj. However, Shiva is not invoked in osakothi ritual. There are stories that explain why Shiva is illustrated as a central figure in Osakothi murals. One such story is – there was a widow who would often get possessed by Thakurani. Once Shiva appeared in another form and beat the woman mercilessly saying that the goddess should return to her home and prepare dinner for her family instead of moving around. From then on Shiva is not invoked when the Thakurani appears.

In Osakothi paintings Durga appears with four or more arms, grasping a trident, sword and other weapons in her hands. She is generally represented as a beautiful and forceful woman. In osakothi, Kali is the central figure of the Shakti Cult. She is depicted as a black skinned naked goddess dancing violently on prostrate Shiva. Her powerful many armed images with swinging weapons of all shorts are the most prominent icon in Osakothi murals.

There are also icons of Chinnamasta, Parvati or Gauri, Saraswati, Ganga and Yamuna and a number of Thakurani goddesses such as Khambeswari, Manikeswari, Bankeswari, Tara Tarini, Budhi Thakurani, Bhagawati, Urandawati, Hingula, Chamundi, Maharikala, and so on. There are also minor legendary characters such as Hadi Hadiani, Dhoba Dhobini, Gauda Gaudani, Kandha Kandhuni, Keula Keaulani, Barahalila, Batapanthei, Chhoti Neli and Tapoi.

The Osakothi rituals consist of erecting and painting a shrine (now days erecting is not practised), performing puja, offering prayers, taking out processions, dancing and entertainment. The aim of the ritual is to obtain a boy child. The participants are lower caste inhabitants of a village or local group. Women act as observers. Paintings are drawn by Dandasi Harijan artists. There is a strong belief that if they don’t follow Osakothi rituals, Thakurani may interfere destroying the life and property of people. An interesting story goes: in one of the villages the tradition was stopped for three consecutive years. Thakurani became angry. She said: ‘I will make the village Kala Khamba, black poled (i.e. she will burn houses). I will bring smallpox and phatua, a cow disease’. The Thakurani came to a village and demanded that she performs Osakothi. First, the villagers said: ‘We have no money’. The Thakurani replied: ‘Money is my problem. I shall go with you from village to village to collect money’.

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For all 8 nights in a row, the participants in the ritual congregate at the shrine to invoke various gods and goddesses. The ritual begins after the sunset. The Jani (priest) worships the ghata pots representing the goddess Mangala and the image in the murals. He lights a lamp and burns incense after offering ukhuda bhoga (fried parched rice mixed with molasses) to the deities. The dhana koila instrument is then played by the Bayani musician or the singer. The Gayani singer begins the first avahani (invocation song), the audience joins the chorus, called pali. Slowly everyone gets involved. Some of the participants become active personifications of the divine and semi-divine characters and called Devata. One such male Devata may suddenly move forward and backwards and fall in trance called Devata Lagiva. Usually, four or five me men enter into this state simultaneously. The Jani and his companions try to calm the Devata if his movements become too frenzied. They pour water from a lota into his mouth and touch his head with a Mandara (China Rose) flower was taken from Mangala pot.

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The ritual ends with Koti Ujeiva on the evening of the Purnima (full moon) or the day following it. The pots are taken to the pond in a procession.

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Today, however, Osakothi is in the declining state through the rituals are still on. In our exploration, we were also surprised to see the replacement of murals with flex prints depicting mythological stories in southern style. The beliefs are no more intense as the lower castes are more empowered now. Because of technology and information flow the superstitious beliefs are also fading. It is a million dollar question – for an anthropologist like me it is a loss but one has to accept that we all need to progress and develop scientific tempers and get away from such archaic practices. However, rituals like Osakothi also play as symbols of identity and community bonding at the grassroots of Indian society in the era of market force and globalization.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com