Kuldhara in Jaiselmer – A Travel Shot

Today, a deserted land haunted by stories of akal, conflicts and migrations, Jaisalmer, India’s golden city and a major tourism hub was not always like what you hear. The region was located in the middle of flourishing trade routes connecting India with Persia and the Arabian Desert cities via land route as well as ports of Gujarat. Opulence wealth had made it a pearl in the Thar Desert. The region was largely inhabited by merchants and traders, especially by Paliwal Brahmins in mansions and houses that stand deserted today, appearing almost like freshly excavated cities of Indus Valley Civilization.

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We wanted a place of solace from the city’s hustle and bustle and what could have been a better place than Kuldhara, the erstwhile thoroughfare of Paliwal Brahmins, but now a haunted place. 20 km further drive takes you to yet another abandoned village and a fort called Khabba Fort, a sight appears as if straight from Arabian Night sets. Spend two days and hop around desert villages. You will discover many more such abandoned houses.

Travel Tips:

Kuldhara is only 20 km from Jaisalmer. Most tourists don’t prefer to stay here, however, we recommend to make Kuldhara your base at least for 2 days and 2 nights if you are a soul seeking traveller. You are at absolute peace in the rugged landscape with zero human interference, especially in starts studded nights. For a comfortable, yet budget accommodation check out Dreamline Cottages behind the heritage site. The rooms are clean, spacious with hot water facilities. Its owner is Mr Khan (+91 9929834687) who is a local man and knowledgeable. He also takes tourists on desert safari deep in Thar desert. Food is at extra cost and has to be told in advance.
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A Village near Kuldhara

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Kabba Fort and the Village

Paliwal Brahmins had established these villages in 13th century immediately after the Rajput Chieftain Jaisel Bhatti taking possession of Jaisalmer as the founder ruler. Trade was at its peak and the place had an advantage being far off from Agra-Delhi, the centre of political power in India. Gifted by its extreme landscape the locals had mastered the guerrilla warfare. The looted wealth gave rise to prosperity over time attracting merchants in large numbers to settle in the region.  Though nothing has remained as markers of their prosperity in the villages around Kuldhara, you see slices of their opulence at havelies of Jaisalmer.

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Havelies and Jain Temples at Jaiselmer

A popular story goes:

Some 200 years back the inhabitants of Jaisalmer were profusely rich and it was a seat of highly sophisticated culture.  In the desert trade caravan route, there were 84 villages of Paliwal Brahmins that came under Jaiselmer kingdom.

Everything was going peaceful. But the trouble started With Salim Singh becoming the new Diwan who introduced fresh taxes and started oppression against villagers. He crossed his limits when his lusty eyes were set on a beautiful 15-year-old girl in Kuldhara. He commanded the villagers to hand over her in 10 days time.

On the next day, 83 people from Kuldhara were sent in all directions to rest 83 Palliwal villages for hosting community meetings.  On 5th or 6th-day village representatives from all 84 villages assembled in Kuldhara and in a meeting it was decided that they had reached the limit of oppression. They also felt that the king of Jaisalmer had ditched them.  The only option was to pack up and move somewhere else.  On the 9th day, all 84 villages were deserted.  They fled in the dark night, leaving behind their homes and everything within them. Kuldhara was abandoned by its very own people. No one saw the thousand-odd members of the village leave. For generations now, no one knows where the Paliwals have resettled. All that is known is they cursed the town when they left that no one would ever be able to settle down in Kuldhara again.

Today the houses are almost in the same condition as they were left behind by their inhabitants. In the middle of the abandoned village is an abandoned Jain Temple. From the terrace of the temple, you can see the sprawling ruins of lanes and brick homes, equidistant from each other, are neatly laid out. There is also an abandoned boali, a traditional water harvesting structure built during the glorious days of Kuldhara.

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Kuldhara today is maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India as a heritage site.

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Kumbhars of Kumartuli (Kolkata) and the story of the creation of idols for Durga Puja

With the last spell of the monsoon rains having drained down the narrow lanes of Kumartuli, the season bids adieu to an important festival – Durgatsav. It has been a busy time for the kumbhars of the region, especially of Eastern India, who have been busy with the making of the clay idols of the deity for this festival of Goddess Durga. Amidst the many stories of the kumbhars of the region, those of the area of Kumartuli from Kolkata occupy an important space of historical significance. This is a story of the kumbhars of Kumartuli, who has been moulding the clay idols of Goddess Durga and other deities through generations. Today, their craftsmanship has reached even foreign shores as the idols find a way into several regions all around the globe.

Chokkhudaan- or 'imparting the eyes'- is considered to be very auspicious and is done at an auspicious time

cast being used to make fingers

Fingers made from the cast

The word kumbhar is used for potters in Sanskrit and several Indian languages, including Bengali. Though traditionally, the festival of Durga was celebrated during the Indian agricultural month of Chaitra (corresponding to the Roman calendar months of March-April), the kumbhars of Kumartuli witness a spurt of activities during the period of the Durga Puja festival in Ashwin (corresponding to the Roman calendar months of September-October). This puja of Ashwin reflects an important historical as well as mythological strain. According to popular lore, the first kumbhar was brought in Kumartuli area from the region of Krisnanagar (Nadia district in Bengal) by Raja Nabakrisna Deb to build a Durga idol for worship and to mainly celebrate the victory of the British at the Battle of Plassey (June 23- 1757) against the Islamic power of Siraj-Ud-Daullah (the last Nawab of Bengal). After the battle and in the following Ashwin month thus, Durga Puja was observed in Kolkata with aplomb. This worship followed the mythological story of the worship of Lord Rama from the Indian epic, The Ramayana. In due course of time, this puja also inspired several other rich families of the region to perform similar puja of the deity, giving rise to more number of Durga Pujas and a rise in popularity of the kumbhars. As demand increased with time, the kumbhars found it difficult to travel across the Ganges river to build the clay idol in Kolkata since they were travelling from Krishnanagar. On their request, this community was given a section of land to settle down and work. This was the beginning of the region of Kumartuli. Various lore describes the contribution of different rich families to help the settlement of Kumartuli. One popular one which still reverberates is:

Jagatseth’s money

Umichand’s beard

Banamali Sarkar’s house

Govinda Mitra’s walking stick

(“Jagat Seth – an influential banker” with “the road called Banamali Sarkar street [which] runs out of Kumartuli into the Chitpur Road on which is situated the temple of the Mitra family”- all being rich and influential families of the time).

Also, Read Here:

Glimpses of Calcutta (Kolkata) heritage

The fact that Bengal already had Durga Puja, even before the Battle of Plassey, can be ascertained through various lore, e.g. the Maharashtra Purana of the Marathi poet Gangaram. The story also ascertains the significance of the worship of Goddess Durga in the region. A piece of important evidence is reflected in the story of Maharashtra Purana. According to Gangaram, Bengal faced serious threats from Marathas of Western India, known as Bargees between 1740-1750. The poem of Gangaram also describes a battle between the forces of Bengal under Nawab Alivardi Khan and the Maratha general- Bhaskara. According to the poem, as Bhaskara desired to win the battle, he wished to perform a puja of Goddess Durga and summoned the local zamindars or landlords to help him. The zamindars invited several kumbhars to make an idol of the deity for Bhaskara. However, Bhaskara had to flee before the puja could be completed being beaten at the hands of the Nawabi forces. Bhaskara managed to only complete till the seventh and eighth day of the puja- Saptami (seventh) and Ashtami (eighth) and fled. This happened in the month of Ashwina. A few months later and in the month of Chaitra, Bhaskara returned once again. Nevertheless, the deity is mentioned to have been displeased with Bhaskara at the very first time, since he could not complete her puja and fled. Thus, though Bhaskara fought valiantly, yet he was defeated and killed after a fierce battle at the hands of the Nawabi forces. Through much other local lore as well as literary sources, the popularity of the deity is seen and by the time of the 19th century, many British officials also used to attend pujas in many rich households. The worship also started to come out of family circles as a community effort (Baroyari Puja). This was first performed by twelve Brahmin friends of Guptipara region in Hooghly district of West Bengal in 1790. Finally, this community puja in Kolkata was introduced in 1832 by Raja Harinath of Cossimbazar (from Murshidabad district).

Deities stands at various stages of completion

Awaiting the mounting of the weapons across the ten hands of the deity

Artists At work within the narrow lanes of Kumartuli

A workshop of a kumbhar at Kumartuli

Ganesha and Lakshmi

The deity is often decked in a red saree

Making the idols

The process of the making of the clay idols has traditionally followed the following steps:

  • Making the framework out of bamboo and dried straw, entwining them to
    render the basic shape of the structure.
  • Coating with well-kneaded and manually prepared soft clay to render the entire shape of the idol.
  • Drying them in the sun
  • Applying the basic and the primary and secondary layers of paints.
  • Finally decorating the idol with other embellishments.

The fine clay is prepared through various layers of straining (refining the texture) and mixing with water and hand-made glue which is made from the power of seeds of the local Siris tree (Albizzia lebbeck)– mixed with water and boiled to get a certain thick consistency. This hand-made glue is also mixed with the colours before they are applied to the idols. Finally, this glue is also used to attach the many embellishments onto the idol for decoration. The cloth/sari and dhoti are adorned variously- keeping in touch with changing times and demands. Of the popular types of decorations are- “Daaker saaj”, ‘Rangta saaj’ and ‘Sholar saaj’. Daaker Saaj or postal decorations came from the beaten and thin sheets of silver which were traditionally delivered from Germany through post or daak. Rangtasaaj traditionally came from the beaten and thin sheets of gold which were used for decoration. At present though- neither gold or silver are used- but the name remained. Sholar saaj (decoration made from shola) remains a popular decoration due to its pristine white touch. Shola is obtained from the fleshy, white interiors of the bark of pith plants which are found in marshy areas of West Bengal and Bangladesh.

The puja in the month of Ashwin- Akal Bodhon- and the lore associated with it

Interesting lore is associated with the festival of Durga Puja in the month of Ashwin. This story from Indian mythology also explains the reason for this puja. According to the version of The Ramayana, written by poet Kirtibas during the battle between Rama and Ravana, the latter began to sing praises of Rama. Thus, Rama found it difficult to slay him as he had turned into a devotee. Seeing this tricky situation, all the Gods and Goddesses assembled in heaven to find a solution and finally decided to send Goddess Saraswati to reside on the tongue of Ravana to make him utter foul words against Rama. As soon as this happened- an enraged Rama cut Ravana into two halves, however, he came back to life as he had a special boon of life bestowed by Lord Brahma. Ravana also prayed to Devi Ambika to assist him in the battle and the appeased Devi sat with him in his chariot. Seeing an impossible situation to defeat Ravana now- Rama was finally advised by the Gods and Lord Vishnu to pray to the Devi. However, she was not appeased and did not appear before Rama. Finally- Bibhishan suggested that she be worshipped with 108 neel kamal or blue lotuses. On the request of Rama- Hanuman flew to Debidaha- the only place where one could find blue lotuses and Hanuman brought back the lotuses. Halfway through the puja- Rama discovered that there are only 107 neel kamal. It was too late to stop the puja and Rama finally decided to offer one of his eyes as the last lotus with his arrow. At this moment- the Devi appeared before Rama and blessed him and also mentioned that she would leave the side of Ravana. Rama had started the puja on the sixth day (Sashti) of the month of Ashwin and the Goddess appeared before him on the eighth day (Ashtami). At the meeting point or sandhikkhan between the eighth and ninth days- the Devi entered into Rama’s weapons and gave them required strength to fight against Ravana and the latter was killed a day after- on the tenth day (Dashami). Thus, this day is also referred to as Vijaya Dashami (the victorious tenth day). Following this story- on the day of Dashami- many effigies of Ravana are burned across many celebrations in India. The idols of Kumartuli also reflect this image of the victory of good over evil. Traditionally, Bengal worships the Mahishashurmardini (slayer of the demon- Mahish) form of Devi Durga as a warrior goddess. However, she is worshipped along with her family and this is represented by two daughters Saraswati (Goddess of knowledge and learning), Lakshmi (Goddess of prosperity and wealth) and two sons- Kartikeya (Warrior God) and Ganesha (God of good wealth and fortune).

The history of the clay idol-making profession of the kumbhars of the region also got moulded according to the stories of Indian mythology and local history. It is also interesting to note the representation of the warrior deity in Bengal which follows a complacent expression and never displays anger- as should befit a warrior goddess. The goddess is also worshipped in Bengal (including by the Bengali community worldwide) along with her ‘offsprings’ Kartikeya, Ganesha, Saraswati and Lakshmi and the image portrayed across popular belief is that of a married woman visiting her father’s abode, along with her children for a few days every year. Through time various changes have taken place to include these representational transformations, as well as the changes within the sculptural expressions, adornments and embellishments.

Author – Dr Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai

Born and brought up in Kolkata, Lopamudra Maitra Bajpai now lives in Pune. A specialist in Ancient Indian History, Culture and Archaeology and cultural journalism, Lopamudra has a PhD in Ethnoarchaeology (a branch of archaeology that deals with living cultural practises as an enquiry tool to draw parallel with past human behaviour). Over the years Lopamudra has also specialised in Visual Anthropology and has worked extensively in the genre of intangible cultural heritage of India and South Asia and their reflections in visual- including media, art, architecture and folk culture and has authored 40 international publications on the subject- including her edited volumes at SAARC, Sri Lanka recently._DSC0263

At present Lopamudra teaches at MIT World Peace University, Pune and a Research Grant Fellow of the Indian High Commission, Colombo (Sri Lanka). Until recently Lopamudra had been deputed as the Culture Specialist (Research) at the SAARC Cultural Centre- Colombo in Sri Lanka (2017) – where she edited publications- covering intangible cultural heritage of all the 8 SAARC Member States. You may access these issues- edited by herself at http://saarcculture.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/issue3.pdf (Issue 3- March, 2017- focus being- Theatre)

and http://saarcculture.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/issue4.pdf (Issue-4- September, 2017- focus being- Storytelling and Folklore)

Lopamudra has also recently been invited by Aleph publications to edit a book for them about the folktales of India. This will be a collection of folktales from all over India- including firsthand accounts as well.

Gifts of Mother Earth– The Story of a Kosali Potter

Clay, Māti or Mitti – while rolling on its rustic surface, when you widen your ears, what you hear are stories of your ancestors of generations that you can’t count. In fact, clay has been the greatest gift of nature. It is mother earth. It gives you food, provides shelter and what not. Clay is also synonym with the fertility cult, the worship of Maa Durga in every Ashwina. And what can be a better gift for mother earth than a splendid image of Maa Durga created out of her own body itself.

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When you are at ODIART Purvasha Museum, spend some time at its gallery dedicated to terracotta sculptures with its splendid display of images of Maa Durga, Varaha Avatar of Lord Vishnu, Lanka Podi Hanuman, a Sadhava boat depicting Tapoi story and many more. They are perhaps among the best creations in terracotta you would have ever seen.  Their creator is Mukund Rana, a gifted potter who lives and work at distance Kuibahal Village in Sonepur District of Western Odisha.

Also, Read Here:

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

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Maa Durga Display at ODIART Museum

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Display of other Creations of Mukund Rana at ODIART Museum

Mukund Ji, now 58 belongs to Rana potter community. He started his career in the early 1990s with motivation and mentoring received from his uncle, the nationally awarded potter Shri Manabodha Rana of Barpali. But from then on he has never looked back. Mukund Ji and his son Debananda Rana now work day and night to meet the demand for terracotta objects in Urban Odisha, especially Bhubaneswar.

Also, Read Here:

Terracotta Artist Manbodh Rana – An Inspiring Story

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While I met him recently and spent two days at his workplace I discovered not only his insights and creativity but also the process in the terracotta making, a cottage industry that has continued from the Neolithic-Chalcolithic time in the region.

Chalcolithic – Iron Age Pottery from the Region (Courtesy: Prof Pradip Behra, Archaeologist, Sambalpur University)

Little wonders the region is blessed with the availability of the best clay for terracotta. Another fascinating draw of his studio is his manually drawn wheel which he has retained for fitness.

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Travel Tips:

Kuibahal or Kuhibahal Village is located amidst paddy fields surrounded by Hirakud canals at a distance of 38 km from Sonpur on the bank of River Mahanadi. The village is small and does not have staying options. However, nearest Sonpur, Bargarh, Bolangir and Barpali have basic stay facilities. Carry also your own food or contact in advance Mukund Rana for food arrangement. His phone no is +91 9938505146. While at Kuibahal also visit Barpali and Sonpur, two major handloom clusters. For a spiritual sojourn visit the samadhi sthal of Santha Kabi Bhima Bhoi at Khaliapalli Village.  

Clay is collected in summer months from the floors of dried up ponds and stored for the rest of the year.  At the first step, the desired objects are created in the wheel. But before the clay is thrown into wheel, the clay is converted into a fine dough. Before converting into the dough, the clay is kept outside for sun drying for a day; then it is mixed with water and finally, the water is removed through the filtering process. Depending upon the desired object’s shape and dimension the dough is shaped in the wheel. If it is a complex object, such as an animal on a roof tile, it is made in parts. Sometimes, if it is a too delicate object, moulding in hands is preferred.  Once the object is made it is left for drying in shade and two hours before, shifted to outdoor for sun drying.

In the next step, a thin polish is applied to mud paste called mazni over the surface of dried objects for lustre. Now the objects are ready for an open fire in the kiln.

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In the firing process, first, the objects are arranged over a shallow pit and then covered with straw. Once thoroughly covered ash is spread and finally allowed for slow open firing. The process lasts for 7 to 8 hours, before, the objects are finally removed.

In June this year, I had got a chance to visit the workshop of Mukund Rana at his village and had covered a story. However, that time I had not got the chance to interact with him as he was touring in distant Koraput. This time I was fortunate to be with him for nearly two days to understand his work and creativity more closely. One of his specialities is making of sculptures of Lanka Podi Hanuman, which are made in large scale during Saptapuri Amas, 40 days before Dussehra, the day Rama defeated Ravana. On this day Lanka Podi is performed in Sonepur during which Monkey God’s terracotta images are burnt, crushed and thrown into the river as a mock of Ravana’s antipathy.

Also, Read Here:

Life in Terracotta – Tile Craft of Barpali

During this time of the year, Mukund Ji’s workshop is largely occupied with making of different forms of diyas (earthen lamps) for Diwali festival. Among these the most popular ones appear as terracotta lanterns.

Also, Read Here:

Lanka Dahana Festival of Sonepur – A Photo Story 

Mukund Ji and his son Debanand are also expert in making of murals and three-dimensional objects. Yet another speciality of his creation is Tulasi Chaura, quite distinctive from the ones you see in Coastal Odisha. In Mukund Ji’s creation, you see miniature women standing in two rows all holding a diya and are in namaskar mudra. Overall all Munkundi’s Tulasi Chaura appears as Kosali style temple with an amalaka at the top and above it is placed a diya.

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Mukund Ji also makes terracotta animals, small and large for decorative as well as bin purpose. Another speciality is handi which is mainly supplied to Bhubaneswar for cooking mati hand mansa (terracotta vessel cooking mutton). According to him and also based on well-tested experiment, the food cooked on terracotta vessels are much more nutritious and healthier than cooking in a pressure cooker. Perhaps this was the best learning for me from the visit.

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Mukund Ji one of the finest terracotta artisans I have met so far. He is also humble warm and welcoming.  However, unfortunately, his talent is yet to be recognized by the Government of India for a national award.

 

Travel through Digapahandi – Ganjifa’s Last Bastion

In some corner of my heart, I have developed a special weakness for Khemundi, an erstwhile historic territory in South Odisha’s Ganjam and Gajapati Districts with Paralakhemundi as the capital. Here I was born close to 5 decades before in Chitrakara (Artisan) Street. Though I did not live here for longer stretch of times, I used to spend my childhood vacations twice a year spanning one and half months put together.  As I recall my childhood days, Kumara Purnima or Sarad Purnima used to be a festival immediately after Dusshera when elderly folks of the town would play day and night a kind of circular pictorial card game, called sāra locally. Later, I came to know it is called Ganjifa or Ganjapā, a game introduced from Persia through Mughals in the 16th century, but now lost everywhere except Paralakhmundi’s cousin town Badakhmundi or Digapahandi in South Odisha’s Ganjam District (25 km away) from Berhampur, the largest city of the region.

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Asta Rangi Ganjapā Cards being played at Digapahandi 

In the last 500 years of Digapahandi’s history, the region was blessed with diverse cultural influences. The influence of the Jagannath Cult of Puri had been its founding stone in the 16th century when a branch of Gajapati clan started ruling the Khemundi territory from Paralakhemundi.

Also, Read Here:

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

Travel tips:

Digapahandi is a small town/large village located at a distance of 25 km from Berhampur, also the nearest Rail Station. The town is well connected from Berhampur by a motor road (the national highway that connects Gopalpur Port with Raipur, the capital of Chhatisgarh). A drive through the highway and the surrounding countryside is very scenic with hills, paddy fields, water bodies and colourful villages. Beyond Digapahandi starts the Ghat Road of Eastern Ghats. Another 25 km drive from Digapahandi is Taptapani, a natural hot spring surrounded by dense forests, hills and Saora tribal villages. 

While at Digapahandi your resource person for Ganjifa cards is Shri Lakshmidhar Mahapatra (+91 9439135827).

Digapahandi does not have staying options. But if you are interested in forest and tribes, try for Panthanivas (Odisha Tourism) http://www.panthanivas.com/ at Taptapani. Otherwise, you can find plenty of options at Berhampur or Gopalpur-on-Sea. 

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Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra in the Sanctum Sanctorium of the Jagannath Temple within the premise of the ruined palace

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Lord Gopala and Goddess Radha

The last independent king of Odisha was Telenga Mukunda Deva (1559 – 68 CE). During his reign, Paralakhemundi was separated from the Old Khemundi state. Due to the fact that the Old Khemundi state was divided into three parts between the two sons of Swarnalinga Bhanu, the elder brother Ramachandra became the king of Badakhemundi and Sanakhemundi, while the younger son Subhalinga Bhanu became the king of Paralakhemundi State. So Badakhemundi and Sanakhemundi have always had a relationship with the Parala State, the place of my birth.   After the death of Mukunda Deva, the region was briefly occupied by the Qutbshahis of Golkonda who were defeated by Mughals subsequently. The region was also under the Maratha domain for sometime before it was subjugated to the rule of East India Company in the early 19th century.

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The Ruined Palace and the Tank

Ganjifā cards game was perhaps introduced here through the Mughals as there is no tradition of playing Dasavatara here, which is popular in Puri. Here 8 colours (Atha Rangi) or 8 suits cards is traditionally played.

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8 suits cards had been initiated by Emperor Akbar. These were Ghulam (servant), Taj (crown), Shamsher (sword), Asharfi (Gold Coin), Chang (harp), Barat (Document), Tanka (Silver Coin) and Gimah (merchandise). In Digapahandi packs, one finds close resemble with the Mughal names, such as Gulama (Mughal: Ghulam). Chenga (Mughal: Chang), Someswara (Mughal: Shamsher) and Barata (Mughal: Barat). The other four colours are Surjya (Sun), Chandra (moon), Phula (flower) and Kumancha. Besides Ganjapā, there are three other games played traditionally at Digapahandi, which are explained by the players in the film here.

Digapahandi was also a thriving centre of art and culture during its heydays. However, most of its tangible heritage is lost with the ravage of time.

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In Ganjam, a type of murals incorporating ideas from South and Puri had developed known by Dakshini style of murals. In one of the recent stories, we had highlighted the murals of Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda. The erstwhile kings of Digapahandi also had commissioned similar work in the 19th century at its mutts and temples. One can still find their traces adorning the walls of its crumbling temples.

Also, Read Here:

Illustrating Ramayana Katha – Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda

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The ruined Jagannath Temple and traces of murals that once covered its walls profusely

Another interesting aspect of Digapahandi’s cultural heritage is Osakothi murals that one finds on walls of temples and sacred spaces, freshly painted during Navaratra every year.  Osa meaning penance and kothi meaning sacred space, Osakothi represents the shrine where Osakothi rituals take place. The Osa fasting is carried out by women for the welfare and longevity of their husbands and families. The paintings are solely done by men. A folktale goes, a beautiful woman Shriya whose seven sons were killed by a jealous queen. However, she was blessed by goddess Mangala upon observing Osa for 12 years with seven more sons and everything that she desired. Since then it became a custom to observe Osa for prosperity and well being of a woman’s family.

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In an Osakothi shrine what draws your attention is more than life-size images of Goddess Durga, Kali, Shiva, Chhinnamasta, Parvati, Saraswati, Ganga, Yamuna and a number of folk deities. One also finds scenes from Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as warriors, birds, animals and other floral designs. Be there between Dussehara and Kartik Purnima to witness Osakothi rituals, where you can find elements of tribal, folk and Hindu beliefs and practices.

Also, Read Here:

Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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Digapahandi and its rural heartland are frozen in time. Little wonders it is also the gateway to South Odisha’s tribal territory, especially of Saoras and Kondhs. You discover miles and miles of paddy fields that appear in monsoon and during Durga Puja as fields of emerald. At distance, there are hills of Eastern Ghats.

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Though its immediate surroundings do not have a significant tribal population, there are a few hamlets here and there of Sabara tribe, once hunter gathers into subsistence farmers. They also entertain you through their soulful devotional music using an ethnic musical instrument called kenadarā.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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

Sirpur in Chhattisgarh (also known as Mahakosala) was the seat of power for Panduvamsa at a time when political turmoil was at its peak in East-Central India. During the reign of Mahasivagupta Balarjuna at the beginning of the 9th century CE, Mahakosala had been invaded by Rastrakutas from Deccan. With little hope for revival, a branch of the family left Sirpur for Suvarnapur (or Sonepur) in search of fresh fortune in Western Odisha. Here they thrived and established a kingdom known by Somavamshi, which later penetrated into Coastal Odisha and became the creator of some of India’s finest temple jewels in Bhubaneswar.

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Suvaranapur from then on became a flourishing centre of art and religion. However, its link with Ramayana’s Lanka by Late Prof H.D Sankalia, the Father of Indian Archaeology traces its roots to much earlier time. The archaeological expedition at Kahambeswarapalli and Manmunda Asurgarh (the settlement of Asura Tribe) on the southern bank of River Tel also pushes back its antiquity to Prehistoric time.

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Sunset over River Tel

For everyone in India, a familiar story goes: Thousands of years ago, Lord Vishnu took birth as Rama, to kill the demon king of Lanka. Ravana carried off Sita, Rama’s beautiful wife, to his kingdom, and in course of the search, Lord Hanuman made a great leap across the seas. His superhuman bound carried him from the southernmost tip of India into the land of Lanka, now known as Sri Lanka. Rama stormed the country, and after a long battle, rescued his wife.

However, archaeological finds revealing sacrificial alters, skeletons of horses, prehistoric tools, plenty of Iron Age war tools, the remnants of a large fortified city dated from 6th century BCE, all suggesting to one point – Sonepur was a cradle of early civilization inhabited by Asura tribes.

Travel Tips:

Sonepur is located in Western Odisha at a distance of 278 km from Bhubaneswar by road. It is a medium-sized town and the district headquarter of Subarnapur District. While in the town a traveller can also explore its other heritage temples, such as Budhi Samalai Temple, Bhagavati Temple, Dadhibabana Temple, Dasamati Temple and Jagannath Temple. Sonepur is also a major handloom cluster. Bomkai or Sonepuri Saris are woven by Bhullia community in villages around Sonepur. 

Sonepur does not have many staying options. However, nearby towns of Balangir and Bargarh, both connected by rail have a number of budget hotels at affordable prices.

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Lankeshwari Temple in the Middle of River Mahanadi

In the living tradition of Sonepur, Hanuman is disrespected and his effigy is burnt as a mock of counterpart on the day of Purna Amas, 40 days before Dussehra, the day Rama defeated Ravana.  On this day Lanka Podi is performed in Sonepur during which monkey god’s terracotta image is burnt, crushed and thrown into the river as a mock of Ravana’s antipathy.

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Also, Read Here:

Lanka Dahana Festival of Sonepur – A Photo Story

Much later in history, Sonepur was also a princely state of India during the rule of the British Raj. Its ruler was entitled to 9 gun salute. The state was founded in 1556 CE by the rulers of the Chauhan Dynasty. During Sambalpur Uprising the Chauhans of Sonepur had extended support to the British.

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The Remains of Ruined Palace in Sonepur

The Chauhans were great patrons of art. Under their patronage, artisans were invited from other parts of Odisha and elsewhere. Applique or chandua kam, pattachitra, wood carvings, ganjapa, terracotta and many more thrived on its historic corridors on the banks of River Mahanadi and Tel.

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Ganjapa Cards of Sonepur

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Applique Work

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Several temples also dot its landscape representing the combination of Tantra, Shaiva and Vaishnava faiths. Among the temples, the most noteworthy are the Gundicha Temple, Sureswari Temple, Budhi Samalai Temple, Rameswara Temple, Lankeswari Temple and Pancharatha Temple.

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Gundicha Temple

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Budhi Samalai Temple

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Pancharatha Temple

Sureswari is the presiding deity of Suvarnapur and is an ancient seat of Tantra Sadhana. Although it is not possible to trace when the worship of Sureswari began, the legend goes, Sri Parasurama worshipped his mother Renuka in the name of Sureswari. He killed Kshatriyas and offered their blood to the holy fire of the yajna he conducted.

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Sureswari Temple

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The Sacrificial Wooden Post used for Animal Sacrifice

A stroll through the lanes of Sonepur would take you to different artisan streets. Beyond the Gundicha Temple on your way to Rameswara Temple at the confluence of Mahanadi and Tel, there is Kumbhara (Potters) Pada (Street). Here one discovers the oldest surviving craft in human civilization untouched by time. The speciality here is the making of terracotta images of Lankapodi Hanuman (described earlier).

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At Maharana Pada, there are wooden crafts and paintings in patachitra style. On your way to Manmunda before the bridge on River Tel you meet chandua artists and what they show is very different from Pipli chandua. Across the River, Tel is the settlement of Manmunda Asurgarh where one can explore the process of Bomkai Pata Silk Saree making in a large workshop established by Chaturbhuja Meher.

Also, Read Here:

Appliqué – Celebrating Colours of Odisha

Sonepur and its surrounding villages are home to nearly 50,000 weavers belonging to Bhulia community. Originally belonged to Rajasthan, the Bhulias came to the region during the mid 14th century through Chhattisgarh. The weavers were later titled as Mehers.

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From then on they have been traditionally weaving the tie and dye fabrics.  In the earlier time in the absence of chemical colours, the vegetable dye was mainly used, which had a limited colour range.

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However, during the 1960s a lot of fresh ideas were introduced with the initiative of visionary Padmashree Krutartha Acharya. Chemical dye was also introduced in the process, which led to increasing in the range of colour sheds and design variations. Bomkhai designs were introduced from Ganjam in the late 1980s and early 1990s. One speciality of Sonepuri tradition is intricate of motifs and designs unlike the tie and dye tradition of other parts of India.

Sonepur is mystic, where time moves at a slow pace. You can simply relax here leisurely for a couple of days strolling through its rural heartland among farmers, potters and fishermen all engaged in rustic folk settings and relishing delicious fresh organic food and lobsters fresh catch from rivers.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

The Heritage of Mahula Drink in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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

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

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

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

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The View of Khalikote Hills from the Highway and Lake Chilika

Travel Tips 

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

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

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

Contact Details

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

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

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

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

Also, Read Here:

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

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

Also, Read Here:

Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

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Offering of Alcohol to the Forest Deity by Sabara People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Illustrating Ramayana Katha – Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda

Raja Srikar Bhanja of Ghumsar! History might have forgotten him, but his contribution to art and culture even today stuns visitors and art scholars alike.

A distant relative of Kabi Samrat Upendra Bhanja, Srikar came to rule in 1790. However, after ruling 9 years in 1799 he renounced to lead the life of an ascetic devotee of Lord Sri Rama in South India. In 1819, the British unseated his son and successor Sri Dhanajaya Bhanja and reinstalled him again as the king of Ghumsar (today’s Bhanjanagar). While being in the heartlands of Southern India Srikar had got exposed to a diverse range of mural heritage in different courts including the Maratha wooden buildings.

Once started a fresh reign, Srikara took initiatives to experiment with his yearning for his beloved Ghumsar. A major project was the construction of a wooden and stone temple for Lord Biranchi Narayan taken from his capital to Buguda, 25 km away and the project site. The building was painted by murals said to be so fine that they looked as if the divine artisan Viswakarma himself has made them. The year of its construction was 1820.

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Travel Tips

Biranchi Narayan Temple is widely celebrated as the Wooden Konark of Odisha. A legend goes: Once a cowherd boy while tending cattle stuck his feet against a metal plate at the foothill. Consequently, the villagers dug up the portion and unearthed the life-size image of Biranchi Narayan.

The temple is built in the form of a chariot driven by seven horses. Apart from murals, the temple is noted for its remarkable wood carvings on the ceilings of the mandapa and the jambs of the entrance door.

Buguda is surrounded by a number of other interesting spots of tourist interest, the most noted being Buddhakhol, 3 km away. Amidst forests and streams, there is a cluster of 5 Hindu temples at the top of the hill, dedicated to Lord Shiva. In the past, the area was part of a major Buddhist civilisation which can be testified with the findings of a number of Buddhist images and caves where Buddhist monks once lived to meditate during rainy seasons.

Buguda can be approached from Berhampur (70 km), South Odisha’s largest city, Gopalpur – on –Sea (75 km) and NH-16 at Khalikote (70 km). A ride to Buguda from these cities/towns is going to be an experience of a lifetime, especially if you are travelling in monsoon and winter. On your way, you would discover rich ethnic life of Southern Odisha along with lush green paddy fields, hills and unspoiled forest.

Buguda does not have staying options. However, in Berhampur and Gopalpur one may find a number of hotels/resorts of various ranges. We recommend avoiding Berhampur which is highly chaotic and messy. Gopalpur – on – Sea is a better option where one can easily spend two days relaxing in one of the finest beaches on the Bay of Bengal.

Ganjam

In Odisha, Puri was the major centre for Odishan chitrakaras, whose work was connected with the Jagannath Temple.

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Depiction of Schematic Map of Puri Srikshetra in Biranchi Narayan Temple

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Also, Read Here:

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

Some of them moved to various sassana (Brahmin villages) villages around Puri to work for their Brahmin patrons. The widely celebrated Raghurajpur and Dandashahi villages are attached to two sassanas near Puri.

Also, Read Here:

Raghurajpur – An Open Air Museum

During the 18th century, secondary Jagannath temples were built in feudatory (gadajat) states of Odisha. Chitrakaras were sent out to provide replacement images and perform other services to temples. As a result of these migrations, several distinctive styles of paintings evolved, including Dakshini style of Ganjam.

Also, Read Here:

Travel through Digapahandi – Ganjifa’s Last Bastion

Some of these chitrakaras had settled at nearby villages, such as Mathura and Balipadara. Today both villages are active centres of art and craft. According to local people, chitrakaras from either of these two villages had painted the murals of Biranchi Narayan Temple where more than half of the repertoire represents Ramayana Katha. Today their conditions have deteriorated to a large extent. However, the remnants still shine thanks to the burnished surface of the wall over which the murals are drawn.

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Painted according to classical canons, the Buguda murals have an exceptional aspect, the subdued earthy palate. In addition to yellow and russet ochre (appear in older pattachitras of Puri) a greyish green is prominent. Blue occurs very rarely and in a duller form then the pattachitras. Another unusual feature is the unusual amount of white background in the narrative panels. This was perhaps to make simply the story clear. Another feature of the panel is that they are not executed in sequential order and appear like a jigsaw puzzle.   The first three sections of wall organized in neat registers and balanced as a whole with repeated elements of design, but all later panels move in haphazard manners, at times from right to left, at times from left to right and at times from top to bottom.  It is believed that the irregularity meant for depicting varieties and for not making the overall organizations too predictable and monotonous.

 

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Four major images of the rear of the temple abandon the sequence of each episode. Each panel presents a single event drawn from the Vana Parva (forest section) of the Ramayana, following Rama’s exile. In each, the principals are seated on top of a hill, which is filled with rural details. Most heads are tilted upward, providing a deliberate and heroic cast to their actions. The occasionally drawn down turned positions suggest pensiveness, modesty or subservience. Characters are further simplified with a single curve defining the leg muscle and knee joint, or the leonine male torsos, their shoulders turned almost frontally.

Depicting landscape is a major feature of Buguda paintings. Hills in the four iconic panels are defined by overlapping lobes, their edges outlined in contrasting hue and edges with curved cross-hatching primarily to suggest volume. These multi-coloured lobes are cunningly populated with varied plants and creatures including monkeys and bears.

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The pattern used for landscape depiction is also carried by noted pattachitra artist Bijay Parida about whom we have done two stories earlier. One of his creations depicting the Vana Parba episode is highly influenced by Buguda murals. It is exhibited at ODIART Purvasha Museum.Untitled-2

Also, Read Here:

Celebrating Seasons in Patachitra – a Tribute to an Artist’s Dream and Passion

The murals of Buguda is the first major attempt of professional paintings in Odisha’s pictorial tradition and till today play as a role model for a host of pattachitra artists including Bijaya Parida. The Buguda artists had devised their own forms with a sense of innovation and experiment in which narrative concerns were part of the picture.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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

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

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

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Folk performance in Rural Odisha

Also, Read Here:

Dola Jatra – The other Rath Yatra

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

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

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

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

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Also, Read Here:

Raghurajpur – An Open Air Museum

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

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

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Travel Tips

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

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

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

Contact Details

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

Purushottam Mahapatra lives in the address below at Bhubaneswar. 

Purushottam Mahapatra

Sassana Padia, Kapileswara

Old Town, Bhubaneswar 751002

Phone: +91 9937881342, +91 7008039025

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Five forgotten forts of Telangana – A Travel Shot

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

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Badshahi Ashurkhana – A Qutb Shahi Salute to Imam Hussain

From Golkonda to Hyderabad – An Architectural Journey

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

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The View of Ranchakonda Fort

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Chandragiri Fort Museum – A Photo Story

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

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The majestic view of Kolikonda Fort

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

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The view of Khammam Fort

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Kakatiya Dynasty – An Architectural Sojourn

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

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The view of Elgandal Fort

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

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Bhongir Fort

Author – Mangalika Ghosh

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

Celebrating Seasons through Pattachitra

From the dawn of civilization, our artists have drawn inspiration from changing seasons to paint, sculpt and write their dreams. Here is the story of Bijay Parida, a celebrated Pattachitra artist from Bhubaneswar and his visualisation depicting seasons of Odisha.

‘Once upon a time…an exiled Yaksha in a distant land

Pinning for his beloved…urges to carry a message to her’

A yaksha could change its form at will, take to the sky and fly where his fancy takes him, become invisible and indulge in a variety of supernatural capers. But the yaksha of Kalidasa’s Meghadootam had temporarily lost all these power. He had been banished for a year from Alkapuri, his divine abode beyond the sky touching peaks of the Himalayas by Kubera, the god of wealth.

Wandering southwards the yaksha had reached Ramagiri, south of Vindhyan-Satpura Hills. He was remembering of his young wife whom he had left behind in Alkapuri. They had been married just a few months. Standing on the top of Ramgiri, he looked up the overcast sky and envied the heavy, moisture-laden clouds that were slowly making their way northwards. He imagined they were going to his home in Alka, as they were moving in that direction. He wished he could join them, indeed race them, and fly home.

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A Yaksha Couple Illustrated in Cave 17 at Ajanta

More than 1500 years later the vivid imagination of poet Kalidasa on the celebration of love with monsoon has found a fresh perspective through the fancy of Chitrakara Shri Bijaya Parida, an internationally acclaimed patachitra and pothi chitra artist from Bhubaneswar.

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National Awardee Artist Bijaya Parida

Travel Tips

Bijaya Parida

Chhabighar

31//1936, Road No 2, Gangotree Nagar, Sisupalgarh

Bhubaneswar 751 002

Ph +91-9437132688 

Bhubaneswar is well connected by air, train and road. The city has a large number of hotels of various categories and restaurants. Widely celebrated as the temple city of India there are a number of options for a heritage enthusiast in Bhubaneswar, such as Ekamra Walks in the temple corridor, Monks, Caves Kings Walks at Khandagiri and Udayagiri Hills and Museum Walks at Kala Bhoomi on every weekend. Bijay Babu’s residence cum workshop is situated in the close vicinity of the temple corridors and near the ancient capital of Kalinga during Ashokan Era in 3rd century BCE, Sisupalgarh.

In 2015 when I visited Raghurajpur a few of the striking murals that fascinated me most was a large collage depicting 6 seasons (Greeshma, Varsha, Sharada, Hemanta, Sita, and Vasanta) and the divine Odia life that revolve around them in the land of Lord Jagannath.

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Greesma

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Varsha

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Sharada

The murals appeared stunning with minute perfection and detailing in a riot of colours. And what could have been the best central theme than illustrating Radha and Krishna’s epic love story that has been always eternal for billions of Hindus across the world?

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I did not know at that time about its creator and came to know recently when I met Bijaya Babu at his residence in Gangotri Nagar in Ekamra Kshetra, Bhubaneswar. Bijaya Babu is an artist par excellence. He has also been a great innovator of ideas both in patachitra and pothi chitra (palm leaf). In one of my recent posts, I had highlighted one of his unique creations, a talapatra pothi pankha (fan) exhibited at ODIART Purvasha Museum in Chilika.

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Etching Krishna and his Childhood

In the early 2000s, INTACH had assigned Shri Anupam Saha to illustrate the walls of all the traditional houses at Raghurajpur in patachitra style. Bijaya Babu’s help was sought as Saha also had wanted social themes which he found difficult among the local artists to visualize. Most of the murals illustrated were conventional religious themes of Odisha. Bijaya Babu earlier had seen Bundi paintings in Rajasthan and had appreciated the depiction of rain and monsoon in the backdrop while projecting Krishna and his leela in the front.  That triggered his mind to conceptualize six seasons in patachitra style using Radha and Krishna as the central characters.

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A Bundi Mural from Rajasthan

Once the idea got established Bijaya Babu started replicating it in tassar silk for his patrons.  I was fortunate to see and touch one. However, the colour scheme used here is a mix of black and faded brown –red distinctive from the conventional colours used in patachitra painting.  The painting had six equally divided units arranged in two rows, each unit depicting a season.

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The first unit is the summer season. Gopis are seen making turmeric and sandal paste which would be applied to Radha and Krishna to relive them from the scorching heat.  At the lower frame sakhies are seen bathing Krishna and also merrymaking in the cool water of Yamuna.

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The next frame depicts monsoon, the season of restlessness both for humans, and trees and animals. But monsoon is also the season of romance when couples often find excuses to ease off under floating dark sky and against trembling trees and gushing water.  Radha and Krishna are delighted to be in rain experiencing all the ongoing events silently surrounding them. There is yet another couple too, equally indulged seeking divine union.

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Sharada is the next season which has a clear sky. Sharad Purnima, the full moon night of Ashwina is celebrated as Kumar Purnima in Odisha. It is also the brightest full moon night of the year. While everyone seems to be in the celebration mood, Radha and Krishna are indulged in their private space under the moonlit sky.

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Hemanta follows Sharada, the season before winter. With pleasant weather and abundance of life, the coast of Odisha goes festive celebrating boita bandana as the reminder of past maritime heritage in the dawn of Kartik Purnima day. Krishna and Radha are depicted in a romantic mood, while Krishna offering a pan to his beloved.

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Winter follows the Hemanta season. With long nights and short days, while the folks are seen warming their bodies around a bonfire, Radha and Krishna are seen in their private space comforting each other in a cosy chamber against the intense cold outside.

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The last frame is the depiction of Vasanta, the king of all seasons. Here we see the celebration of Holi with colours and water. Krishna is seen playing Holi with his gopis and the target is his beloved Radha.

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The conceptualization of the theme is epic reflecting the true spirit of India where the life is being celebrated with great pomp and festivity in a divine spirit for thousands of years. Change in seasons brings us new meanings to life and fresh purposes to live with celebration.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com