Badamba – Exploring the Middle Mahanadi Kingdom

In 14th Century CE, the Gajapati King of Puri had recruited hundreds of archers, wrestlers and military personals both from within Odisha and neighbouring regions for safeguarding Odisha from the invasion of Islamic rulers of North India. One of his favourite wrestlers was Shri Hattakeswar Raut who hailed from Singhbhum. Satisfied with his valour, Hattakeswar was offered to rule two villages on the bank of River Mahanadi, Sankha and Mahuri. Both these villages during that time were under the control of Kondhs, one of Odisha’s most aboriginal tribes. Hattakeswar defeated their chief and established a new kingdom and named it Badamba or Baramba after the goddess Biradamba, the other name of Bhattarika, and the presiding deity of the area.

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Over the centuries, the state of Badamba was extended from Sankh and Mahuri to a large area surrounded by states of Narsinghpur, Khandapada, Banki, Tigiria, Denkhanal, Hindol and Athagarh.

At the time of British Raj, the state of Badamba had expanded to an area of 142 square miles consisting of 181 villages.

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Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

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The present palace of Badamba spread over an area of 3 acres on the foothill was built in the 1920s during the reign of Narayan Chandra Birabar Mangaraj Mohapatra. Closed to the palace is situated yet another building in an abandoned state that was used as the state guesthouse. Within the complex is built a sprawling Jagannath Temple.

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Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

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Before the state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India, Badamba had been known for excellent administration, jail system, court, high-quality education, promotion of art and culture and better health services including the establishment of an Ayurvedic Hospital.

During the rule of Birabara Mangaraj in the early 20th century, the weavers of Maniabandh had received royal patronage. This had led to the worldwide recognization of Maniabandhi Saree. He was also a great lover of nature and the environment. A large quantity of forest produces were exported to foreign shores from his kingdom.

Travel Tips

Badamba is located at a distance of 85 km from Bhubaneswar via Athagarh and 96 km via Ansupa. It takes about 2 and half hours to reach Badamba. It can be covered in a day trip.  From Badamba, Bhattarika is about 10 km and Champannath Temple is 22 km. Nuapatna and Maniabandh are situated on the highway before Badamba from Bhubaneswar and Cuttack. For food, there are a few dhabas found on the highway and for washroom and snacks, you can avail the facility at Wayside Amenity Centre near Ansupa and Maniabandh.

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Badamba is situated by picturesque hills of the Eastern Ghats on its right and Mahanadi on the left. Maa Bhattarika is the tutelary deity of Badamba State. Located on the bank of River Mahanadi in a pictorial setting, the temple of Maa Bhattarika was built on the foot of a low hill, Ratnagiri, beside the river, is a major attraction.

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According to a legend, Parasurama, facing certain defeat at the hands of Saharasjuna, prayed to Maa Durga who appeared on this spot to impart her divine power to his aid. Parasurama established the peeth and also carved the image of the goddess in the tip of his arrow.

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According to yet another legend, Rama, Lakshman and Sita on their way to Panchavati had offered prayer to Maa Bhattarika.

One more legend goes: during the visit to Bhattarika by Krishna and Satyabhama, Arjuna came to know and reached here to meet them. However, before he reached Bhattarika Satyabhama was abducted by a demon called Gosimha. Arjuna fought bravely and killed the demon. After she was relived, Krishna, Satyabhama and Arjuna prayed Goddess Bhattarika, the presiding deity of Badamba Royal Family.

The temple of Maa Bhattarika also has a strong Buddhist connection, especially Tantric or Mahayana Buddhism. Cooked fish is offered as prasadam to the goddess. She is also considered as the deity of navigation and the fishermen community.

Further west of Bhattarika, is the temple of Lord Champannath, a Shiva Temple built in the time of Somavamsi rule. The major attraction here is turtles reared in the temple pond. When they are fed the leftover temple prasadam they come out of the water and offer a great sight for tourists.

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For those seeking a little adventure and have a fun bath under a splashing waterfall, they will have to drive from Champannath Temple in the right direction through the mystic mountains and the forested corridor of Baramba Hills. The splashing water of Deojhar Fall is hidden deep inside a forest.

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A visit to Badamba is incomplete without experiencing the textile heritage of Nuapatna and Maniabandh. Over 5000 weavers of the area are engaged in ikat weaving, mostly sarees and dress material. A unique aspect of these weavers is that they are Buddhists, the only leftover traditional Buddhists from the historical time. They are vegetarians and also strong believers in Jagannath cult. You can meet them while they are at work, interact and learn the intricate methods of ikat weaving. You can also shop directly from the weavers.

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Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Badamba is undoubtedly coastal Odisha’s one of the best-kept mysteries wrapped in riddles of time, culture and heritage, both tangible and intangible.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Ansupa – Wetland Wonderland

Wetlands, small and huge, well-known and lesser-known are some of my favourite destinations for seeking bliss. What I enjoy in wetlands that I visit are the floating vegetation in tranquil water, watching fishermen for hours in actions and musical chirping of birds, both local and migratory. In addition to these, if there are archaeological treasures and intense local stories associated with lakes, they form icing on cakes.

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In Odisha, Chilika Lake often comes to our mind when we talk of wetlands. However, Ansupa, which I find more splendid and euphoric, is almost unknown to travellers except those living in Bhubaneswar or Cuttack.

Travel Tips

Ansupa Lake is located in Cuttack district at a distance 55 km from Bhubaneswar. It takes about 2 hours to reach Ansupa on scenic Banki Highway on the corridor of Mahanadi. While at Ansupa you can also visit Nuapatna and Maniabandh Textile cluster and Bhattarika Temple on the bank of Mahanadi. For accommodation, there are few bamboo cottages built on the hilltop. You can book through https://www.ansupalake.in/  

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Situated near the bank of River Mahanadi and surrounded by hills of the Eastern Ghats, namely Saranda Hill on the western side and Bishnupur Hill on the eastern side, Ansupa is a horse-shoe shaped water body and is the largest natural freshwater lake in Odisha. The lake was created by River Mahanadi and spread over an area of 140 hectors.

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

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After a drive of less than two hours from the heart of Bhubaneswar along the scenic Banki Highway what attracts you at Ansupa is its immense biodiversity. The wetland is home to 9 species of submerged plants, and 26 species of floating and emergent aquatic plants. It is also home to 33 species of fish, 3 species of prawns, 10 species of reptiles and 50 species of resident and migratory birds.

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Barbara Forest – A Blend of Nature, Indigenous Culture and Archaeology

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Ansupa is linked directly with river Mahanadi by a natural channel Kabula Nala, which acts both as inlet and outlet, through which flood water enters the lake and excess water goes out after the flood.

Ansupa looks heavenly in monsoon when the Saranda and Bishnupur Hills and the surrounding marshes and paddy fields erupt into various shades of green.

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Buddhist Weavers of Maniabandha – A Confluence of Ideas

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Saranda Hill also has a rich archaeological treasure. According to folklore, the area was ruled by kings and zamindars who had established their fort at the hilltop. A legend goes: during the rule of the Eastern Gangas, King Subranakeshari after being allured by the natural beauty of Ansupa had established a fort and village on the foothill of Saranda. Named after him is the present village of Subranapur. The legend further says: one of the brothers of Dhala Dynasty of Banki had established his kingdom on the top of Saranda Hill as Saranda Gada. The king of Saranda had married to one of the daughters of  king of Tigiria, which is located at a distance of 15 km from Ansupa. The armoury of the kingdom is located on the hilltop, which was built to store arms and ammunition and was known as Baruda Ghara.  At the foothill, the king had built a fort gateway made of bronze, which would make a loud cracking sound when it was opened and closed. According to local legends, the sound used to be heard for nearly 20 km.

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Besides the Baruda Ghara, there are remains of two stone wells, locally known as Bhai Bohu Kuan. There is existence of one more well, which is believed to be the remains of the king’s treasury.

The hills surrounding Ansupa on Banki Highway are also treasure houses for archaeologists and cave explorers. There are several natural and human-made caves found on the hills that surround the Chandaka Forest. Many of these natural caves were inhabited by Prehistoric communities, who have left their marks in the form of graffiti though most of these have disappeared now. The caves that were excavated during the historical era resemble single-chambered caved at Khandagiri and Udayagiri Hills. Though it is difficult to date them, it seems these were inhabited by Hindu monks for tantra Sadhana and mediation as late as 18th/19th centuries CE. In Pandava Bakahra caves, which can be accessed through steep climbing have remains of several red ochre paintings of Hindu Gods and Goddess including of Lord Jagannath. There are also tantric narratives in Odia script.

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Travelling to Ansupa can be made in a day trip, but it is highly recommended for the night stay in Ecotourism camp, built by the forest department on the hilltop and Saranda Gada for a memorable experience under the lap of nature.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Tarakasi Art – On The Brink of Survival

If Bhubaneswar is known as the City of Temples then its twin Cuttack, renowned for its varied cultural practices, historical aspects and craftsmanship is celebrated as the Silver City. Cuttack is the anglicized form of Katak that translates to ‘Fort’ which here is the Barabati Fort, the erstwhile capital of Odisha.

Cuttack city which is located on a spit of land between the Kathajodi and the Mahanadi Rivers was established as a military cantonment by King NrupaKeshari in 989 CE. During the Ganga Period (13th century CE), it became the capital city and continued to be so till India’s independence. After the death of Raja Mukund Dev, the last Hindu king of Odisha, Cuttack was brought under the Muslim rule in the 16th Century CE and later under the Mughals, Cuttack flourished as the seat of Odisha Subah. In 1750 CE, Cuttack came under the Maratha rule and grew as a vibrant business centre on the east coast of India. Its prosperity continued during the colonial era and Cuttack emerged as both a culturally and an economically prolific city.

Filigree or Tarakasi is Cuttack’s USP and this art was introduced to the city some 500 years ago. According to Wikipedia, filigree is a delicate kind of jewellery metal work of usually gold and silver made with tiny beads or twist thread or both in combination, soldered together on the surface of an object of the same metal and arranged in artistic motifs.

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Archaeological evidences suggest that filigree was incorporated into jewellery as early as 3500 BCE in Mesopotamia where it is practiced even today as Telkari work.   According to historians, there is every possibility that the tarakasi work reached Cuttack from Persia through Indonesia some 500 years ago by sea trade. The argument is based on similar workmanship seen in both Cuttack and Indonesia. It was during the Mughal Era, that the craft received royal patronage and today, Cuttack Tarakasi is world renowned for its delicate artistry and excellent craftsmanship.

The main attraction of Cuttack Tarakasi is its fine spider web work. Rose flower is one of the main elements in its repertoire of design motifs. One rose takes about 3 to four hours to make. Beside jewellery, works of creative art portraying iconic monuments of Odisha, replica of Lord Jagannath, other Hindu gods and goddesses, flora and fauna and in recent years a number of contemporary themes, such as currency notes, chariots, rickshaws, bicycles, and so on are also seen in the market.

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Tarakasi involves a number of steps. Artisans who are mostly goldsmiths work with 90% silver alloy. A lump of silver is placed on a small clay pot over a bucket full of charcoal. A hand operated bellow is used to regulate the temperature. It takes about 10 mins to melt the silver lump. The molten silver is then poured into a rod shaped mould which is further put in water for cooling. A machine is used to create thin silver wires from the rod. Wires are then carved into a number of intricate designs, which are first drawn on paper. On the other hand, thick silver wires are used as frames into which thin wires are embedded through the process of soldering.  There are about 90 types of wire designs of spirals and curls, creepers and jaalis, which the artisans use to create the outline.

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In the early 20th century, due to the lack of patronage, tarakasi work of Cuttack had almost vanished. Thanks to Madhusudan Das, the architect of modern Odisha and a resident of the city, a craft workshop named Utkal Arts Work Factory was set up to revive the centuries old craft. In 1962, former Chief Minister Biju Patnaik established the Kalinga Filigree Cooperative Society to help local tarakasi artisans.

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Today there are about 400 artisans in Cuttack working but the craft is in danger due to a number of factors, such as competition from Kolkata, which produces coarse but affordable silver filigree items, lack of interest among the new generation because of its labour intensive and time consuming nature, increase in the cost of raw material, poor returns to the artisans and absence of a strong community based leadership.

The situation looks bleak but there is hope. As I talked to Mr. Ashok Vora, a leading merchant of Cuttack dealing with tarakasi craft, I discovered that there is a revival of interest among art connoisseurs and general public alike owing to its exquisite and intricate filigree work. Only time will tell whether the art survives or not though I remain hopeful.

 

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com