Bliss in the Wilderness – Lulung Aranya Nivas

2 million years ago! Our species Homo sapiens did not exist then. The earth’s climate and the terrain looked very different from now what you see. In Odisha, which today is the most populated region, the coastal plain was all under seawater. Around that time, however, in the eastern part of Similipal, close to the present Budhabalanga River and its tributaries, had witnessed a spurt of activities by a band of Homo erectus, a species of ape in human evolution that had evolved in Africa and had spread in parts of Asia and Europe, in search of food. Homo erectus used sharp stone tools and lived on hunting and gathering. Kuliana, a modern village near Baripada was one of their earliest homes in Indian Subcontinent.

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The periphery of Similipal, Odisha’s Earliest Human Settlement

In the high-tech 21st century it is difficult to imagine how would be the landscape in the remote Stone Age and what other animals coexisted with them. The entire area must be a thick jungle and a major watershed in North Odisha Highland.

Today, one does not get disappointed, thanks to the existence of a large forested region, called Similipal, one of the 11 UNESCO declared biospheres in India and a major tiger reserve.

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Lulung forms of Similipal’s eastern border and entrance to its core area. Surrounded by lush green forest, sky touching mountains, sprawling meadows, gushing rivers and streams and tiny hamlets of local Adivasis, Lulung is Similipal’s best-kept secret. Here bliss meets wilderness in perfect harmony.

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Travel Tips

Lulung is the entry point of Eastern Similipal near Pithabata Gate at a distance of 22 km from Baripada Town and 273 km from Bhubaneswar. There are regular buses from Bhubaneswar to Baripada throughout the day and night (6 hours). One can also take a train from Bhubaneswar to Balasore and then a bus for Baripada. From Baripada one can reach Lulung hiring an auto-rickshaw.  For Aranya Nivas, one needs to book through online (https://simlipalforestresort.com/)

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The pride of Lulung is, however, its star attraction Aranya Nivas, a luxury resort in the lap of nature. Spread over an area of 18 acres, the resort is an ultimate home in luxury for the soul seeking travellers.

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Similipal once used to be the hunting ground for the Maharajas of Mayurbhanj was declared as one of the first tiger reserves in India in 1956 and project tiger in 1973. Spread over an area of 2700 square km, Similipal is one of India’s densest Sal forest. The tribal communities of Ho, Munda, Bhumija, Santhal and Mankadia live in the buffer area. The forest of Similipal falls under Eastern Highlands Moist Deciduous Forests Ecoregion with tropical moist broadleaf forest and tropical moist deciduous forests.

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ATHMALLIK – IN THE HEARTLAND OF MAHANADI WILDERNESS

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The indigenous people living inside Similipal and its periphery live harmoniously with jungle. They don’t allow anybody to damage the forest resources that they have been depending upon for ages.

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According to their belief, Ban (Forest) Devta (God) guards their forest and protect them from diseases and natural calamities. A bunch of terracotta horses and elephants guard Ban Devta, who has shrines under large Karma trees.

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Karma dance and songs are performed in honour of Karma Devta. Both men and women go to the jungle accompanied by groups of drummers and cut one or more branches of the Karma tree after worshipping it.

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MYSTIC NILAGIRI – THE ABORIGINAL HEARTLAND OF BALASORE WITH A ROYAL PAST

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A legend goes: seven brothers were living together. The six elders would work in the field and the youngest would stay at home. He would entertain in dance and songs around a karma tree in the courtyard with his six sisters-in-law. One day, they were so engaged in dance and song that the brothers’ lunch was not carried to the field by the wives. When the brother arrived at the home they became agitated and threw the karma tree into a river. The youngest brother left home in anger. The evil days fell on the remaining brothers. Their house was damaged, the crops failed and they virtually starved. While wandering the youngest brother found the karma tree floating in the river. Then he invoked the god who returned everything. Thereafter he returned home and called his brothers and told them that because they insulted Karma Devta, they fell on evil days. From then on Karma Devta is worshipped with full devotion.

Also, Read Here:

DHENKANAL – WARS, WILDERNESS AND ROYAL HOSPITALITY

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The worship of Karma Devta shows the deep respect for forest among the local Adivasis. At Aranya Nivas, the tribal faith is truly appreciated. The shrine of Ban Devta which fell inside the resorts before its construction is not only restored but is allowed for regular worship by the locals.

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Everyday evening a special programme karma dance is arranged for resident guests. As the dark shrouds after sunset, the swing of women dancers accompanied by soulful Karma songs with the beating of dhols by their male companions around sacred fire drive everyone liberating themselves into uniquely crafted human stories with worshipping nature forming the centre stage.

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The luxurious resort of Aranya Nivas is a plant lover’s paradise. From Spider Lilly to Lemongrass and from Fern to Temple Grass and Japan Lilly, the surrounding of walking paths of the resort’s sprawling meadow area is a treat to eyes.

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Similipal is notoriously known for malaria though it is reduced now drastically. However, Lemongrass plants are tastefully planted as screen guards before each suit of the property to ensure protection from mosquito bites.

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The poolside of the resort is a place to rejuvenate with.

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But what you cherish most is the gushing sound of the river throughout the night and the morning transforming your suit’s neighbourhood into a musical aura.

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The gastronomic experience at the resort is the icing on the cake. On regular intervals, you are served the best of herbal tea.

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Truly Lulung Aranya Nivas is bliss in the wilderness.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Chhau: A Folk Performance of Eastern India

Indian theatrical tradition goes back to antiquity and is deeply rooted within local culture and consciousness. Therefore, it has its own uniqueness and structure that is truly eastern in its orientation.  The theatrical traditions of India are divided into  Loka dharmi (the popular), the folk, which includes Nautanki of Punjab and Swang of Himachal Pradesh and the Natyadharmi (the traditional), the classical, based on ancient texts on drama, like the Bharatanatyam. Several characteristics delineate the classical and the folk.  The classical performances of India are based on a set of codified laws, such as those of the Natyashastra, but at the same time are “open” to interpretation.  The Natyashastra (800 A.D.) is an ancient Indian treatise on drama, written in Sanskrit that is the foundation for not just the classical dances but also most of the theatrical dance forms prevalent in the country such as Kuttiyatam of Kerala, Ankiya Nat, Ramlila and Raslila of Uttar Pradesh and Terukootu, of Tamil Nadu and Chhau of Eastern India.

Chhau is a fine example of a semi-classical form, since it keeps the basic elements of acting styles, costumes, instructions for directors, stage craft and design and plot structure as based on the Natyasastra, and yet it does not follow the same “strictness” and “purity” of the classical form.  Chhau involves basic martial art techniques and is performed traditionally by males belonging to the three contiguous States of Jharkhand (Seraikela), Odisha (Mayurbhanj/Baripada) and West Bengal (Purulia).  While these three forms have the same basic stances, modes of expression and expressive symbols, there are some differences between the three forms.  Chhau of Seraikella utilizes graceful masks of soft tonal qualities lending the dance form a “feminine” quality.  At the same time, since these masks make facial gestures impossible, it therefore involves elaborate footwork.  The Mayurbanj Chhau (cover picture) on the other hand, does not use masks at all and lays more emphasis on facial expressions.  The Chhau dance at Purulia does not have many female characters, since its themes are from episodes of the epics of Mahabharata that do not have such characters. Women as performers have not yet been introduced to Chhau at Purulia, while Chhau at Seraikela and Mayurbhanj have an array of female characters and women as participants.

 

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Seraikela Chhau

 

 

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Purulia Chhau

 

 

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Mayurbhanj Chhau.  Picture courtesy : Dancer Ms. Carolina Prada

 

The reason why Chhau is predominantly male can be attributed to its history. Gajapati rulers of Kalinga desa (present day Odisha), on their mission of expansion annexed parts of many present day states such as Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and West Bengal. Their territory extended from Ganga to Kaveri and they were able to do this with the help of infantry troops called Paikas. The word Paika is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Padatika’ meaning infantry. These valiant Paikas were not on the regular payroll of the militia but farmers who became soldiers part-time. These groups rendered their services in return for huge land grants. In order to stay fit and battle ready, these farmers would gather every evening at the local paika akhadas to exercise and practice. This gave rise to a martial form called Parikhanda Khela, practiced with swords and shields, which later metamorphosised with time into the magnificent dance form Chhau.

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The warriors of the royal princely houses of Singhbhum and Manbhum dynasties (eighteenth century to early twentieth century) employed the techniques of the martial arts or Parikhanda khela, and used them to dramatize narratives.  These dramatized narratives became the genesis for Chhau and since this form involved these martial art techniques, it was taken to be a masculine form.  The word Chhau has its origins in Chauni (military camp) and Chhaya (Shadow or mask). The colloquial meaning of the word Chhau is dexterity, skill and technique.

The royal princes of the Manbhum and the Singhbhum dynasties remained the major patrons of this form before Independence.  They were not only instrumental in keeping the tradition alive by funding the form, but also by participanting as performers.  They often supported this art by giving generous donations and encouraged competitions among the individual performers or troupes.  The kings of the Singhbhum region (Baripada) organized the performers into two main competitive groups, the Dakshin Sahi, southern part and the Uttar Sahi, the northern part named after the regions of the town of Baripada and yearly competitions was held between them.

The dramatic form of Chhau parallels Kathakali, another all male martial art dance drama of Kerala.  Since the techniques that are involved are based on martial art techniques, men have traditionally performed both these forms.  These forms are semi classical and do not have any set codification. Chhau has elaborate masks but Kathakali has elaborate face make up that resemble masks.

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The basic steps of Chhau involve imitation of nature: the walk of a cow, stalking of a crane, fish jumping out of water, household duties performed by females like mixing of cow dung, grinding of spices, fetching water from the pond etc.  These movements, the Uflis (the basic stances), and the Chauk (elaborate footwork) are synchronized to form the pieces or the Topkas.  The basic plots of the dramatic form are taken from Hindu mythology, religion and history for example Chandrabhaga (depicting love of the moon), Ratri (a love story between the moon and night) and Meghdoot (based on a popular Sanskrit play written by the playwright Kalidasa).

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Most popular theaters, like Ramlila and Raslila of rural north India have deep ritualistic and mythological foundations that are performed during major festivals.  Like other religions these nativity plays depict the birth of gods and dramatize stories about them.  Chhau is also associated with a major ritual festival of Eastern India, the Chaitra Parva (spring festival), held in the month of Chaitra or April. It does not have a religious base but uses themes from mythology and is performed in the evenings to entertain the people of the regions of Sareikela, Mayurbanj and Purulia.  The parva has rituals that honor the Hindu god Shiva, the lord of destruction.  The festival is held over thirteen days involving the Chhau performances in the evenings of the days of the rituals, barring some specific days and thirteen men of some specific communities or the Bhaktas, the devotees, perform these rituals.     Many austere practices, ceremonies and ritual sacrifices mark the Chaitra Parva.  However, the performances of Chhau are not a part of the ritual and are performed in the evenings for the entertainment of the local people.

Some folk theatre forms of India like the Lavani and the Tamasha of Maharashtra are meant purely for the entertainment of people.  These use sex and strong sexual innuendos as a theme that makes it immensely popular.  Since, these performances are held in the night and employ the use of secular songs and dances, the women performers are not given high social value and esteem, and many women are discouraged to participate as performers.  Many of the performers also come from traditional low classes.  Traditionally, Chhau also had placed restrictions on women as performers. The origins of Chhau can best describe the lack of any female participants in the early years and their denial as performers.

 

 

To be continued….

The cover picture is courtesy Ms. Carolina Prada

Most of the other pictures used in the post are from the presentation on Chhau Masks and Footwork of Seraikela Chhau by National Folk Support Centre and can be accessed at the website http://www.slideshare.net

Author – Gouri Nilkantan

She can be reached at pact.delhi@gmail.com