Dancing through the Corona Pandemic

The world has slowed down perhaps for the first time in history due to the corona pandemic. Humanity is at high stress out of fear. Almost a large part of the world is a lockdown. At this critical stage, art comes out as a healer comforting our mind and soul, if not body.

French national Mahina Khanum made the most of the lockdown by shooting a film to create awareness about the corona. The uniqueness about the film is the use of Odissi dance form to convey the message. She employed her training as an Odissi dancer to communicate with the global audience. Arts speak a universal language and her mudras of Odissi, an ancient dance form sure speaks to many. Her abhinaya communicates at any level, the mudras, the hand gestures do the talking and the expressive eyes darting back and forth, emoting, appealing, beseeching, begging all to stay indoors win over the most reluctant and perhaps may also inspire a few to join her at her studio in Paris post-corona.


The young dancer has won the hearts of many with her dance film. The Indian Minister Dharmendra Pradhan Minister of Petroleum & Natural Gas and Steel has shared her video. Appreciations come manifold and she says it with great humility, “Humbled to receive so much appreciation from around the world! And I’m moved by the interest that our video triggers for Odissi dance. I’m finding hope in this feeling of deep worldwide connection, with all of us wishing together for a better tomorrow.”

Suitably intrigued I managed to speak with her. Mahina graciously spent time in answering questions about her dance journey, her passion for popularising Odissi in France, her partnering with her supportive husband and her film on the corona.

Her journey as a dancer.

I am an Odissi dancer based in Paris, France. I was first trained in Ballet from the age of 3 and later got the chance to meet an amazing dancer, the Odissi Guru, Shri Shankar Behera who used to tour Europe when I was a teenager. I was deeply touched by his performance and it changed my life. I started learning from him and took to performing and teaching in France on a regular basis. I am convinced that Odissi dance has a lot to offer to the international audience. And that is what I focus on with my husband, Avishai Leger-Tanger, a digital artist.

Why Odissi in particular?

I love all dance forms and I am fascinated by many kinds of body language. But some magic happened with Odissi! Odissi came to me through a performance for which my mother had offered me a ticket. And I was awestruck. I decided to learn this divine dance form. My training started and I was lucky to be exposed to other dance styles. I occasionally get the opportunity to learn or work with different dancers and teachers, be it in Indian dance forms or Western styles. All of them are amazingly interesting but I always come back to Odissi.

Odissi has a very ancient background but is still very relevant today. It is an artistic and spiritual practice. And I am very moved by its aesthetics.

Please tell us something about your guru.

I started learning from Guru Shankar Behera and later visited him regularly in Mumbai. It was his performance that had converted me to Odissi. When I turned 18, I was awarded an excellence scholarship from ICCR in India and the French government to pursue my training with Guru Madhavi Mudgal in GandharvaMahavidyalaya (Delhi).

How did people react to your dancing? Please tell us something about your dance school. Do students understand the connection with the sacred? How do you break it down for them?

Odissi dance was barely present in France when I started teaching and performing here. People here don’t have the cultural background to understand and appreciate it.

We are slowly working on creating an audience. I have about 80 students training on a weekly basis and I am getting demand for performances from big companies and luxury brands such as Guerlain.

Most of the students are adults who have never seen a live performance of Odissi and have no dance background. I have worked on a progressive method to allow everybody to gradually access Odissi as it is a very complex and demanding art form. Over the years, I have worked on methods to let everybody get a feel of this dance, whatever their background. With beginners, we would, for example, isolate one aspect of the body language, let’s say the hands, and practice simple exercises and rhythmic patterns, breathing, slowly becoming more conscious and aware. This is a wonderful way to learn to focus at a time where the global pace of working has become crazy.

Many of them slowly walk their way into its aesthetics and become real rasikas and lovers of the style. With time they get to enjoy its artistic and spiritual meaning. I think that this is what touches the heart of many here in France. Perhaps the appeal lies in the possibility that through dance one can know oneself better and can get connected to the sacred, whatever be its form.

What in Odissi resonates with you?

I am very moved by its lyrical grace. Odissi dance, through its history, resonates with many other art forms like painting, sculptures, poetry and music. While watching an Odissi performance, I get the feel of total art. Getting into this artistic world opens many possibilities. And I feel Odissi dance has a lot to offer to the global audience.

That is why, in collaboration with my husband Avishai Leger Tanger who is a digital artist, we have started working on different ways to present it to the unacquainted audience. We use new technologies but remain true to the traditional form. We’re very happy that our recent projects have been catching a lot of interest and attention, including:

– Odissi dance + computer-animated old painting:

– Odissi dance + virtual reality:

– Odissi + light-painting photography: https://www.facebook.com/pg/mahinakhanum/photos/?tab=album&album_id=2417653541586402

What does Jayadeva say to you?

Jayadeva tells me to be patient; the spiritual path is a long one and as Radha, everybody can misunderstand, lose temper, feel lost and hopeless.

He also tells me to be expansive, to be open to the beauty that surrounds me. I’m may not be living in Vrindavan but living close to nature is truly amazing, it transports me to Vrindavan.

And of course, he tells me about love, which is such a complex and powerful feeling, coloured with the navarasas.

What was your motivation behind employing Odissi to promote awareness about Corona?

The announcement of the lockdown had left us in shock. We had been applying barrier gestures for some time in France, and since the beginning, I was a little bit disturbed by this expression, “barrier gestures”. In dance, a gesture is meant to convey feelings (towards the audience), not to create distance. In fact, it is the very meaning of what we call, in Indian classical dance, “abhinaya”, “gesture toward [the audience]”. So this thought took root in my mind.

We didn’t really think twice about this short video. Being locked down, we had the urge to keep on dancing and at the same time wanted to say something positive. We adapted traditional hand gestures and used the tone of a traditional character, the Sakhi, the friend, who is always present in the Odissi repertoire based on Jayadeva’s Gita Govinda.

And the music for the video came from extremely talented Vijay Tambe ji, the composer and flutist, Ramprasad Gannavarapu (mardala) and Aparna Deodhar (sitar). This was composed a few weeks before in Mumbai and we felt that it was a strong coincidence. We had beautiful music which we decided to use as a score one of these it this video.

This is the story behind the video that has struck a chord with many because of its aesthetics and visual appeal but more profoundly because Odissi the dance form has a sacred connection with the temple – the abode of gods, a sacredness that appeals to all in the times when no light seems to be visible at the end of the tunnel. The worldwide acceptance of Indian greeting of Namaskar (bowing before the light within you), Yoga (means of uniting the individual spirit with the Universal Spirit), Ayurveda (rightful living through aahaar), Pranayama (mindful breathing) and PM Modi’s initiative to thank the health workers by clapping has become a Global rallying point. To this list, we can add the power of dance, the ancient Indian dance form that reminds that us of our deep connections. It resonates with all because it is rooted in Vasudhaiva Kutumabakam, we are all one and we have to look after everyone, like a family!

Picture and video courtesy Ms Mahina Khanum

Author – Aparna Pande Mishra

She can be contacted at aparna.anusha.28@gmail.com

Mahima Cult – Celebration of One God Part – 1

2500 years back, a prince from a royal palace of Ancient India left all his luxuries and pleasure of aristocratic life and renounced to seek nirvana. From Prince Siddhartha Goutma he transformed into the Buddha. A new religion was founded by him which had inquiries on the rejection and the exploitation of the lower caste Hindus by the Brahmins and the upper castes. Soon after its establishment, Buddhism became a profound crowd puller. Thousands and thousands of country people adopted Buddhism and contributed to its growth.


In the mid 19th century, yet another renouncer Mahima Gosain appeared in the Grand Road of Puri, the holy dham of Lord Jagannath with similar ideas. Before arriving in Puri he had lived in the Himalayas for years. There is no evidence of what he did in the Himalayas, but in Puri, he propagated the theory of Advaita – Bada which means God is One, there is no more than one God. He founded a new religion, called the Mahima Dharma or Alekha Dharma based on the principles of universal brotherhood, rejection of Hindu rituals and ceremonies and casteless of society.






Joranda on the foothills of Kapilash Mountains became the centre of all mahima activities. From here the religion was preached in the regions of Cuttack, Puri, Ganjam, Dhenkanal, Athagarh, Hindol, Sonepur, Boudh, Angul and Sambalpur. He established several centres of Mahima cult known as Mahima Ashram or Alekha Tungi.

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The devotees of Mahima Dharma follow a strict code of conduct. During Brahma Sarana, the devotees dedicate their body and soul to Alekha Param Brahma in body, mind and word. They derive all action from him and remain ever devoted to him. Daily saran and darshan are practised in a pure state of mind during the Brahma Muhurta (the time roughly an hour before sunrise and soon after sunset) after taking bath and making oneself pure in all possible ways. They should shun sex, greed, alcohol and other passions. They should not thieves, should not indulge in sexual intercourse with others’ wives, should not use violence towards animals and they should live in a non-violent way.

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Mahima philosophy is based on the worship of the supreme Brahma who is regarded as Sachitanand, Nirguna, Nirahankara and Niranjana. Brahma is described as invisible, indestructible, eternal and the supreme guardian of their universe. He is known as the Alekha (which cannot be written), Anadi (no beginning), Ananta (no end) and Anakara (no shape). The supreme Brahma of Mahima Cult is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. He cannot be realized by the acts of ordinary souls.

Travel Tips

Joranda is located at a distance of 30 km from Dhenkanal City and 90 km from Bhubaneswar, the nearest airport. Though you can meet the monks of Mahima cult throughout the day in their monasteries, however the time best time would be before the Sunset at Dhuni Temple where they perform the evening ahuti. The other nearby attraction from Joranda is Kapilash Hill and the Kapilash Forest, well-known for the elephants. The Chandrasekhar Temple at Kapilash is a well-known Shiva Temple in Odisha. There are no stay options at Joranda, however, one can stay at Hotel Surya (https://www.facebook.com/suryahoteldkl) in Dhenkanal for the Joranda and Kapilash experiences.






Mahima Cult has its own theory on the creation of the universe. According to Mahima Cult, Alekha Param Brahma emanates in everything of the universe without form. Alekha is himself Vishnu and from him moved Nirakara. When the later begins to appear the former disappears in emptiness.  This philosophy further states: ‘Once the universe was residing in the womb of Alekha, who was incomprehensible. Nirakara, after springing from Alekha, created seven oceans and remained in the state of deep sleep. Jyoti (light) originated from the state of sleep of Nirakara. The seven oceans got agitated with the wind raised by Nirakara in his state of sleep. It produced tides and from the tides emerged Kala (time) which was often identified with Kamala (lotus). Greed, attachment, anger, lust and illusion were attributed to this Kala.








Brahma, springing from the lotus set on its thread. He was getting frustrated while attempting to trace his origin at the bottom of the stalk of the lotus. Then he heard a voice from emptiness. The voice ordered him to create the world. Thereafter Brahma created this universe in collaboration with Kala.

To be continued

Author – Jitu Mishra

   He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com


Mundigada – Your Wanderlust in Kandhamal (Part 1)

Mundigada, no tourism brochure will ever let you find this. Hidden far from any big town or city, Mundigada is an obscured tribal village at the foothills of Belghar in Odisha’s Kandhamal Highlands. At Mundigada you turn into wanderlust, a seeker of knowledge and listener of intense human stories.







Rustic Panorama in and around Mundigada

As the name suggests, Mundigada’s history is steeped in mysteries. It was once at the heartland of barbaric human sacrifices.







Sacrificial Posts, Grafitti and Other Remains of Mundigada’s Barbaric Past

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A story goes:

‘Once upon a time, the ground was all wet, and there was only earth, and there were only two females on the earth, named Karaboodi and Thartaboodi, each of whom was blessed with a single male child. The names of the children were Kasarodi and Singarodi. All these individuals sprang from the interior of the earth, together with two small plants called Nangakoocha and Badokoocha, on which they depended for subsistence. One day, when Karaboodi was cutting these plants for cooking, she accidentally cut the little finger of her left hand, and the blood dropped on the ground. Instantly the wet soft earth on which it fell became dry and hard. The women then cooked the food and gave some of it to her son, who asked her why it tasted so much sweeter than usual. She replied that she might have a dream that night, and, it, so, would let him know. Next morning, the women told him that, if he would act on her advice, he would prosper in this world that he was not to think of her as his mother, and was to cut away the flesh of her back, dig several holes in the ground, bury her flesh, and cover the holes with stones. This her son did, and the rest of the body was cremated. The wet soil dried up and became hard, and all kinds of animals and trees came into existence.




A partridge scratched the ground with its feet, and ragi (millet), maize, dhal (pea) and rice sprang from it. The two brothers argued that as the sacrifice of their mother produced food in such abundance, they must sacrifice their brothers, sisters and others, once a year in future.

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A god, by name Boora Panoo, came, with his wife and children, to Thartaboodi and her two young men, to whom Boora Panoo’s daughter was married. They begat children, who were divided equally between Boora Panoo, the grandfather and their fathers. Thartaboodi objected to this division on the grounds that Boora Panoo’s son stand in the relation of Mamoo to the children of Kasarodi and Singarodi, that if the child was a female when she got married, she would give a rupee to the Mamoo, and that, if it is a male that Boora Panoo’s daughter brought forth, the boy when he grew up would have to give the head of any animal he shot to Mamoo (Boora Panoo’s son).

Travel Tips

Mundigada is a small village located in Tumudiband Block of Kandhamal District at a distance of 5 km from Tumidibanda and 50 km from the Subdivisional town of Baliguda. Connected by excellent road and bus service, the state capital of Bhubaneswar is 350 km away from Mundigada. At Mundigada, you can stay at Sathi Ghara Mountain Home, a homestay specially designed for knowledge seeking travellers.





Then Boora Panoo built a house, and Kasarodi and Singarodi built two houses. All lived happily for two years.

Then Karaboodi appears in a dream and told Kasarodi and Singarodi that, if they offered another human victim, their lands would be very fertile, and their cattle would flourish. The two men with their eight children sought a victory for twelve years. At the end of that time, they found a poor man, who had a son four years old, and found him, his wife, and child good food, clothing and shelter for a year.  Then they asked permission to sacrifice the son in return for their kindness and the father gave his ascent. The boy was fettered and handcuffed to prevent his running away, and was taken good care of. Liquor was prepared from grains, and bamboo, with a flag, hoisted on it, planted in the ground.





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Next day, a pig was sacrificed near this post, and a feast was held. It was proclaimed that the boy would be tied to a post on the following day and sacrificed on the third day. On the night previous to the sacrifice, the Janni (priest) took a reed and poked it into the ground in several places. When it entered to a depth of about 8 inches, it was believed that the god and goddesses Tada Panoo and Dasa Panoo were there. Round this spot, seven pieces of wood were arranged lengthways and crossways and an egg were placed in the centre of the structure. The Kondhs arrived from the various villages and indulged in a drink. The boy was teased and told that he had been sold to them, that his sorrow would affect his parents only, and that he was to be sacrificed for the prosperity of the people. He was conducted to the spot where the god and goddess had been found, tied with ropes, and held fast by the Kondhs. He was made to lie on his stomach on the wooden structure and head there. Pieces of flesh were removed from the back, arms and legs, and portions thereof buried at the Kondha’s place of worship. Portions were also set up near a well of drinking water, and placed around the villages. The remaining of the sacrificed corpse was cremated on a pyre set alight with a fire produced by the friction of two pieces of wood. On the following day, a buffalo was sacrificed, and a feast partaken of.





Next day, the bamboo post was removed outside the village, and a fowl and eggs were offered to the deity.

The following stanza is still recited by the Janni at the buffalo sacrifices around Mundigada, which has been substituted for that of a human victim:

‘Oh! Come male slave; Come female slave. What do you say? What do you call out for? You have been brought, ensnared by the Haddi. You have been called, ensured by the Domba. What can I do, even if you are my child? You are sold for a pot of food.’


Mundigarh today is free from this barbaric culture. But a walk through its corridors will immerse you with countless such stories in the abode of nature.


To be continued.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Poda Poda Nrusingha Temple – A Wooden Heritage Treasure in Kandhamal

Odisha, unlike Gujarat, Kerala and Himachal, has not been known for wood carving heritage to the outside world.  However, it does not mean that the state has a shortage of wooden heritage. More than one-third of the state’s geography is densely covered with forest. Little wonder, Odisha’s state deity Lord Jagannath is made of wood.

In the late 18th and early 19th century, Odisha had reached its climax in the construction of wooden temples. The Biranchi Narayan Temple in Buguda of Ganjam District testifies the culmination of the skill of Odia woodcarvers. Dedicated to Lord Surya, the temple is often regarded as the Wooden Konark of Odisha. The temple of Biranchi Narayan Temple was patronized by the Bhanja rulers of Ghumsar, the present Bhanjanagar region.

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Biranchi Narayan Temple at Buguda

Apart from Biranchi Narayan Temple, in a large part of south coastal Odisha and around the holy town of Puri, one of the finest wood carving heritages of South Asia flourished depicting the rasa of Lord Krishna and Radha and episodes from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana and Lord Jagannath. Some of these wooden wonders are now shown in various museums including the Odiarat Purvasa Museum at Chilika Lake.

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Wooden Carving of Lord Krishna and Gopis at Ganga Mata Matha in Puri



Exhibit at Odiart Museum

For more than 800 years the Bhanjas of Ghumsar had ruled over Kandhamal region in highland central Odisha. Kandhamal is inhabited by various branches of Kondh tribes who speak in Kui language, a branch of Indo Dravidian language family. The Kondhs are known for their aboriginal beliefs and lifestyle resembling prehistoric ways of life. In the past, they were notoriously known for human sacrifices under the guidance of their Jani (the tribal priest) with a belief that planting human flesh and sprinkling blood would yield a good harvest. Today the human sacrifice is mostly replaced with buffalo sacrifice.

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The Bhanja rulers of Ghumsar had largely patronized the Kandha beliefs and practices and incorporated many of their ritual elements in Hinduism to draw the hegemony of their tribal subjects. For instance, there are dedicated shrines of Kandhuni Devi and Maa Patakhanda in various villages in the erstwhile territory of Bhanjas. In these shrines, one finds an interesting blend of tribal beliefs and Hindu rituals.

Travel Tips

Poda Poda is located in between Baliguda and Phubani towns in Kandhamal District. Connected by excellent road, one can visit Poda Poda from Darigibadi and Mandasaru as well. For accommodation, the nearest town is Baliguda (30 km).




Shrines of Kandhuni Devi

The Bhanjas also had built temples in Kandhamal in the same fashion and artistic style which they had erected in and around their capital. Today, however, most of these temples are lost over time except Poda Poda, a small village located on Phulbani – Baliguda Highway in Phiringia Block. Surrounded by enchanting hills and valleys, Poda Poda has preserved the remains of a wooden temple dedicated to Lord Nrusingha, one of the incarnations of Lord Vishnu.


Built as a rectangular structure the temple is a single building without having any porch. Its original roof is long gone and now replaced with asbestos sheets. The shrine of Nrusingha is shown as a bearded man sitting on a serpentine coil and protected by the cobra hood. Conventionally the display of the deity does not fit into the iconographic canons of mainstream Hinduism.


As you approach the temple what draws your immediate attention is the wooden door jamb depicting a tantric ritual tale. The panel has a display of various forms of sex perhaps associated with fertility cult. Women are shown having sexual intercourse with multiple men in various actions. Above the lintel, there is a mastika panel displaying the popular Gaja Sihmha character of Hindu temples in Odisha. On its top, there is a display of yet another woman showing her virginal.









The backside of the jamb has the depiction of beautiful geometrical patterns and a group of peacocks forming a circle.





On tops of wooden posts, there are depictions of animals, such as bear, elephant, lion and tiger in different cardinal directions. There is also a depiction of birds like parrot and swan. These panels were painted with various shades of colours as one finds at Biranchi Narayan Temple in Buguda. However, only traces are left.








In the interior part of the temple, there is yet another door jamb depicting the scene of Dasavatra (10 incarnations of Vishnu). On its mastika panel is a pair of fish displayed with intricate design as one sees in Ganjam. Fish symbolises peace in Odia culture.


The wooden temple of Nrusingha at Poda Poda is truly a remarkable example of Odisha’s splendid wooden heritage now lost in time. It is difficult to believe that a tribal-dominated region like Kandhamal could possess such intricate heritage. However, if no immediate attention is paid we may lose this wonderful wooden structure forever.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com


Paralakhemundi – From Royal Grandeur to Splendours of Folk Art

Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati, the erstwhile ruler of Paralakhemundi State near Andhra – Odisha border was among of the greatest luminaries of Odisha throughout her history.   A visionary and passionate soul for art and heritage, Maharaja Krushnachandra Gajapati was one of the first Odias to initiate the movement for separate statehood for the Odia speaking people. The seeds for such a noble initiative were germinated in the Gajapati Palace of Paralakhemundi. Today, the palace though degraded with the ravage of time still stands as an architectural splendour of the colonial past.



When we talk about palaces, Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu amuse our mind. However, Odisha was no less splendid when compared to its counterparts. Lack of information and not given due importance, Odisha’s palace heritage is hardly divulged.

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The Gajapati Palace in Paralakhemundi is one such architectural wonder, however, sadly its story has not gone beyond its precincts. Designed by British architect Robert Fellows Chisholm, the palace and the fort are influenced by Indo-Sarcanic style combined with Byzantine and European architectural features. A three-storied structure, the palace includes an underground floor connecting it with the main palace of the Maharaja.

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The palace was built in the early part of the 19th century and can be compared with the best of the royal palaces built across India in the colonial setting. Its patron was Maharaja Jagannath Gajapati Narayan Dev III. An amount of 24 lakh and 20 thousand had been spent for its construction. Granite pillars, Burma teak beams, Belgian stained glass windows, artistic grills are the key attractions in the palace.

Travel Tips

Paralakhemundi is located on Odisha – Andhra border at a distance of 280 km from Bhubaneswar. The town is both connected by train and bus from all major cities of Odisha and Visakhapatnam in Andhra Pradesh. If you are travelling from Bhubaneswar the best option is to travel by Rajyarani Express which leaves Bhubaneswar Station at 6.20 AM in the morning and arrive at 12.15 PM in Paralakhemundi.  Likewise, it leaves Paralakhemundi at 4.30 PM and arrives at Bhubaneswar by 10.30 PM. Paralakhemudi has a few budget hotels for accommodation.






The palace was built in a silver background. All the stairs are provided with long and wide verandahs or corridors. Thick walls made of well-polished red bricks with white lime mortar reveal its marvellous construction skill. At the east-facing entrance of the main gate, two sleeping lions are placed on either side over two raised platform.



Paralakhemundi was the cultural nerve centre of South Odisha. Being close to Andhra Pradesh here one notices heavy Telugu influence in language, dress-code and food habit. Plentiful festivals are celebrated in the daily life of Paralakhemundi throughout the year.

Patronized by the royal family, the Chitrakara Street in Paralakhemundi is celebrated as South Odisha’s finest folk art corridor. Experts in oil painting and woodcraft the maharana chitrakaras of Chitrakara Street make wooden idols of folk gods and goddesses apart from mainstream deities to be used in various festivals. Made in distinctive styles the woodcraft of Paralakhemundi is known for its vibrant colours and folk elements.















The most significant among the paintings are the ganjapa dasavatara sara, the Odia version of round shaped ganjifa playing cards. On the backside of the cards, one finds the depiction of 10 incarnations of Lord Vishnu.




Chitrakaras also make attractive Janukhanda Parasurama Handi. According to the Purana, in Tretaya Yuga, Ramachandra and Parasurama had once met during the exile years. To test the ability of Ramachandra, Parasurama had asked him to hold and break his bow. Ramachandra could qualify easily the test which Parasurama had not expected. Ramachandra asked him to tie an illustrated pot with paintings of dasavatara in his leg and wander to beg. Parasurama had come wandering to the abode of Mahendragiri Mountain, not far from Paralakhemundi. From then on it has become a part of Paralakhemundi tradition to create such beautiful illustrated pots and sold to those desiring spiritual begging.



The hornwork of Paralakhemundi is globally known which are made chiefly out of the horns of cattle and buffalo. The art was originally well-known to the tribal communities of the region. They used to make blowing instruments from the horns. In the later part of the 19th century, this craft was given a big boost by the Gajapati kings of Paralakhemundi. They had engaged skilled maharanas of village Pitala near Aska in Ganjam District. Gradually they started making combs, elephants, horses, prawn, idols of Lord Jagannath and son on.










Paralakhemundi is truly South Odisha’s heritage capital and for me, it has got special attraction as it is my birthplace.



Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Duba Valley – Ganjam’s Offbeat Sojourn

Ganjam, Odisha’s southern corridor is an exceptionally fabulous land for its enchanting rural life, forests and mountain valleys, exotic beaches and lakeside at Chilika, art and craft, music, fares and colourful festivals and many more.



Yet amidst all these charming characters that attract tourists and travellers around the year there sets a hidden gem, the Duba Valley Retreat, a sprawling farm and fish ponds in the north-eastern part of the district. 




Established in a tranquil setting surrounded by a large number of fish ponds, sal forest, mango orchards, lemon garden, herbal estates and many more, the Duba Valley Retreat (previously known as Sherton Ecoresort) is a destination by itself for the soul seeking travellers. 





The nearby villages of Duba Valley are known for blackbuck, an antelope species, which is popularly known in Odia ‘Krusnasara Mruga’. The male blackbucks are especially attractive for their long ringed horns ranging between 35 and 75 cm and two-tone colouration, while the upper parts and the outsides of the legs are dark brown to black, the underparts and inside of the legs are all white. 

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Blackbucks graze on low grasses in groups. They are active mostly during the day time. Due to their regular need for water, they prefer areas where water is permanently available. 


Though once widely distributed in India today there are small pockets where blackbucks are found in small herds. Their population has gone down mainly because of hunting. However, in Duba Valley blackbucks are protected by villagers because of their significance in Hinduism and due to a local belief. 


A popular legend goes: many years ago due to a perennial drought condition, the farmers of this part of Ganjam were going through farming stress. One day some of the farmers while wandering in a pretty grassland area saw blackbuck herds grazing undisturbed. It was a coincidence, immediately after this sighting the mother earth rejuvenated receiving adequate rainfall. The village folks started believing that the blackbucks are rain messengers. A symbiotic relationship developed between the farmers and the blackbucks and from then on they are not being harmed. 

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At Duba Valley, it is a delight to watch these innocent creatures under the protection of villagers. Incidentally, they are the second high-speed runners after the cheetah on earth. 


At Duba Valley, you start your day listening to the musical chirping of countless water and tree birds. A short walk in the valley will lift your soul to nirvana enjoying the innocence of nature and the simplicity of rural life. There are 40 ponds, big and small developed for fishing. The biggest is of 17 acres facing the rowhouse cottages. If you are passionate for angling in a rustic setting, it is Duba Valley for you where you can spend a couple of days detoxifying all your mundane stress of city life. You watch fishermen in actions and part of the fresh catch become key menu for lunch or dinner or both. 








Another key attraction of Duba Valley is relishing khani paka rice (mined rice), which is unpolished having high nutritional value. In Ganjam, a particular variety of rice is stored in underground pits. The rice matures in the heat of the earth. The rice takes very little time to cook, just as raw rice, but tastes like boiled rice. 

Travel Tips

Duba Valley Retreat is located in Jagannath Prasad Block of Ganjam District at a distance of 180 km from Bhubaneswar via Daspalla. Surrounded by pristine forest and villages, it is strategically located to access the other important travel destinations, such as Daringibadi and Satkosia on Mahanadi River. The retreat has 12 cottages and other recreational facilities.



In the forested valleys near Duba lives Sudha Kondh, a branch of Kondh tribe who speak in Kui language. Having deep faith in nature, the Sudha Kondh communities are known for the simple lifestyle and warm hospitality. 








Once used to be practitioners of animistic religions, the Sudha Kondhs, are now Hindus. However, until now, they have retained some of their traditions, such as tree worship, the performance of dance and music and living in mud houses having wooden posts fences.   

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The nearby town of Bellaguntha is universally known for its unique flexible brass fish craft. Originated in the 9th century CE under the patronage of Bhanja rulers, the craft of flexible brass fish however received due recognition in the 17th century CE. In the past, it was considered as the symbol of Lord Vishnu’s Matsya (Fish) incarnation and was also considered as the symbol of peace. During marriages, traditionally the girl would be sent with a wooden box, which would include sindoor, kajal, money and a piece of brass fish as it is treated as a symbol of peace. Today, however, it is used as decorative items. The main attraction of this craft is the smooth movement. A flexible fish is split into 3 parts, head, torso and tail. 



Today the idea of travel has travelled from the mainstream to offbeat. Hectic city life, detachment from one’s roots, the flow of information and growing sensitivity towards mother nature, sustainability and crave for fresh organic farm food are being most sought after travel experiences among new age travellers. 






Truly Duba Valley Retreat spread over hundreds of acres of pristine farmlands and fish ponds in the heartland of rural Ganjam is a travel experience to desire for. 




Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Athmallik – In the Heartland of Mahanadi Wilderness

Imagine 19th century Mahanadi, a river that formed the lifeline of Odisha and the only passage to commute between Sambalpur and Cuttack and further Puri for Jagannath darshan. Mahanadi looks pristine but at times could turn hostile for sailors, thanks to its floor filled with large and small rocks that could cause accidents if you are not a skilled and vigilant captain.


Flat bottomed boats that float even today are well suited for Mahanadi navigation. The boatmen would carry racks and hoes with which they would clear a narrow passage just sufficient to let their craft pass, where there were chances of rocks impeding navigation.

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The people living on the banks of Mahanadi subsisted by river trading. They would carry salt, spices, coconut and brass utensils from Cuttack to Sambalpur in exchange of cotton, wheat, oilseeds, clarified butter, oil, molasses, iron, turmeric and ikat cloths.

Everything would go fine till they reach near Athmallik where Mahanadi would become a gorge, now flowing like a snake amidst densely forested hills of the Eastern Ghats in the south and Gadajat in the north. The river here is also infested with gharials, the Indian counterpart of American alligators. To gain courage and for safe passage in the gorge, the boatman would seek the blessing of Maa Binkai and Maa Konkai, two sister goddesses, whose abodes are separated by the river.

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Dramatic Setting at Binkhai

Today this may sound like a fairytale, but when you are at Binkai your soul is simply transported to yet another era of mysteries and courage of river people amidst the breathtaking collage of mountains and river.

Travel Tips

Athmallik is located at a distance of 192 km from Bhubaneswar and it takes about 5 hours of drive on a scenic highway. However, one can also take a train up to Boinda from Bhubaneswar (the best option could be Bhubaneswar – Bolangir Intercity, which leaves Bhubaneswar at 6 AM and arrives at Boinda at 9.30 AM). From Boinda if informed priorly, Anupam Dash can arrange a vehicle for pick up. His phone no is +91 9937412336.

Deep Forest Farmstay is about 40 km from Boinda Station. The drive is scenic, especially on the Ghat Road. On your both sides there are majestic Gadajat Hills and mountain streams in the western periphery of Satkosia Wildlife Park.




Athmallik located in the geographical centre of Odisha is the closet town from Binkai. Steeped in history, Athmallik was a princely state at the time of British Raj. Nestled on the foothills of Panchdhara Mountains and surrounded by the dense jungle of Hatidhara, the buffer area of Satkosia Tiger Reserve, the origin of Athmallik State is obscure.






Glimpses of Panchdhara Mountains and Forest around Athmalik

In the 11th century CE, a jagir was established by King Pratap Deo of the Kadamba Dynasty. Pratap Deo was said to have found a Honda metal vessel which was considered an auspicious sign, after which the territory was named as ‘Hondpa’. Centuries later one of the chiefs divided the state into eight divisions and placed one sub-chief called ‘Malla’ in each division to suppress the unruly tribes. After this event, the kingdom’s name was changed from ‘Hondpa’ to ‘Athmallik’.






Folklore goes: Pratap Deo was a royal scion of Amer (Jaipur) who had come to Puri as a pilgrim along with his six brothers and one sister. For some reason, he ran on trouble and lost four of his brothers in a battle against the king of Puri. As there was no chance for survival, he escaped to the jungle of Bonai. Here at Bonai after he settled down without any fear he arranged his sister’s marriage to a scion of Keonjhar royal family. But the marriage did not last long as his brother-in-law was murdered during a conspiracy.

Once again to overcome threats he had to look for a safe place. Fortunes brought him to Boudh on river Mahanadi and then to present Athmallik, further downstream of Mahanadi, which was ruled by 8 mallas or village chiefs during that time.

At the time of British Raj, Athmallik was one among the 26 feudatory states of Odisha. Today what is left of the erstwhile state are the Kishore Bhavan Palace and an older dilapidated palace on the periphery of the town.





Vestiges of Royal Heritage at Athmallik

The region around Athmallik also has the largest number of hot springs in Asia. There are 84 in Deulajhari, a holy shrine of Lord Shiva, out of which 24 are accessible.


Deulajhari Shiva Temple

According to local belief before Pratap Deo arrived and when the tribal chiefs still ruled, the Lord Jagannath lived in a cave by a wide-eyed, limbless wooden statue worshipped by the indigenous Sabara people. But one day, Hindu priests arrived along the river by boat and kidnapped Jagannath, installing him at the main temple of Puri, where he has remained ever since.



Jagannath Temple Complex in Athmallik

At Athmallik, Jagannath is believed to have once been adorned by what was the largest diamond in the world, before becoming known as the Koh – i – Noor.

The Panchadhara Mountain Range covers a vast area of dense forest and is a prominent elephant corridor. A major watershed, the hills run in parallel to Mahanadi. The mountain range is named after being the source of 5 perennial streams that flow in different directions before forming tributaries of Mahanadi. There are splashing waterfalls deep inside the forest.





Oriental Scops Owl


Deep Forest Farmstay

A major attraction of Panchdhara is Deep Forest Farm Stay, a destination itself for nature-loving travellers. Spread over a land of 4 acres the property has been crafted by Anupam Dash, an avid wildlife photographer and a passionate naturalist. The facility is located in the buffer area of Satkosia Wildlife Sanctuary in Hatidhara Forest. As you take the winding forest road with the mountain streams in the backdrops, the Deep Forest Farmstay welcomes you to its abode with open arms.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Mystic Nilagiri – The Aboriginal Heartland of Balasore with a Royal Past

A legend goes: About 1000 years back two Rajput brothers namely Nila and Shankar who belonged to the royal family of Chottanagpur had come to Puri to seek devotion of Lord Jagannath. They were handsome and brave but were suffering from the family dispute at home. The Gajapati King of Puri was highly impressed with their personality and asked them to stay back.


Both were offered the present Nilagri region in the western part of Balasore to rule. However, Nila stayed back and Shankar left for some other place. The kingdom was named after Nila as Gada Nilagiri.

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It is believed that the present-day village of Gadadih, some 15 km away from present Nilagiri Town was their capital. However, there is no archaeological evidence to support this.





Time moved on. Several of Nila’s heirs ruled Nilagiri than on. In the 16th century, one of his descendants who ruled Nilagiri was Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang Mandahta. He was a brave king and acted as a commander of Puri Gajapati King in his expedition against the Muslim invaders. Because of his skills and personality, he was offered to marry the daughter of Gajapati King, Princess Kalara Devi. From then on Nilagiri kingdom was influenced by the Jagannath Cult and culture of Puri. Because of his bravery, Raja Narayan Basant Bhujang was also awarded the title Harichandan by the Gajapati King.

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Narayan Basant Bhujang was succeeded by Raja Uttareswar. According to sources, Uttareswar had assisted Raja Mansingh of Amer (the present-day Jaipur in Rajasthan) in his expedition against the Afghans in Bengal on the banks of Subarnarekha River. Like his father, he was also a great admirer of Gajapati King at Puri. His successor Raja Krushna Das was awarded the title of Mardaraj by the King of Puri and it is still continued.

Travel Tips

Nilagiri is located at a distance of 20 km from Balasore in the periphery of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary. Though it is a small town it does not have much-staying options. The nearby Panchalingeswra shrine located within Kuldiha has a number of staying options including the Panthanivas of Odisha Tourism. You can hire an auto or a cab from Balasore to travel around Nilagiri which can be covered in one day. Hotel Sagar and Hotel Tarini both located in the town serve decent local food in local style.

It is still not known what happened in the next two sanctuaries. In early 19th century, the capital was shifted to the present location under the foothill of majestic Swarnachuda Mountain and named it Nijagada.

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Today the star attraction of Gada Nilagiri is the 19th-century ruins and the added 20th-century palace built in the fusion of Rajput, Odia and Victorian styles. The main attraction of the palace is its high clock tower. Beside the clock tower is the beautiful chhau mandapa, an influence from Mayurbhanj introduced in the kingdom in the 19th century.











Nilagiri lost its power immediately after India got independence and merged with the Indian union.

Like all princely states of Odisha, Nilagiri is also modelled after Puri. Beside the palace is the temple of Jagannath facing the Grand Road (Bada Danda), a wide corridor through which the chariot festival of Lord Jagannath takes place in every Asadha Month. Like Puri, the trinity of Nilagiri also goes through the new embodiment of bodies (nabakalebara) during the same period. Towards the end of Bada Danda is situated the temple of Mausi Maa.





Nilagiri is surrounded by the wilderness of Kuldiha Wildlife Sanctuary, lush green forest and enchanting hills. Archaeological evidence suggests that the area has been inhabited from the time of Early Stone Age. At present, there are villages of Bhumija and Madia Tribes, both Austro-Asiatic speaking communities.




Bhumijas are an agricultural tribe and do occasional hunting. They are fun-loving and deep believers in nature. Salabani, a small village on the lap of nature is a major Bhumija settlement near Nilagiri. A visit to Salabani is like a journey back in time where you relive yourself in the old-world charm of Karma dance and music.






Babandha, a small village on the bank of Bugulibandha wetland in the periphery of Kuldiha Sanctuary is yet another hidden secret of Nilagiri. Inhabited by 350 Madia potters, Babandha is known for its unique earthen pot rafters. It is said that the community had migrated from Central India about 150 years back on the invitation of the royal family of Nilagiri.






Apart from the pot rafters, the surroundings of the village along the wetland area known for its tranquillity and age-old fishing practices.

Nilagiri is mysterious. It seems the time has stood here still for a soul searching traveller. It is tranquil and is the best-kept secret of Balasore in North Odisha.



Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Gonasika – Odisha’s Dreamtime Stories

The scenery is lush as far as your eyes can stretch! There are mountains of incredible beauty soaked with the floating clouds of the monsoon. You are reminded of Kalidas’s Meghadootam here, each rain-bearing cloud acting a messenger of love and passion. Numerous streams flow through them cascading the slopes and the valley floors. Mysterious forests of Sal trees once filled with tigers and leopards wrap this Dreamtime landscape. You hear countless elephant stories when you talk to country souls of this enchanting land.




As I drive through this unexplored Shangri-La in Odisha’s Keonjhar, I am dragged to her myths – long ago, the land where I am now was floating for millions of years. However, with god’s grace, the hills of Gonasika and its neighbouring hillocks were stable. In good old days there lived a rishi in Gonasika. He was a bachelor. One day while he was resting he heard someone approaching him. There was a girl of Asur Tribe who had come in search of solitude. Both fell in love at first sight. In no time they got married and in course of time delivered seven sons and seven daughters. Now the problem was how to settle them. The hill of Gonasika was inadequate for their shelter and provides food. They required cultivable fields.






With no other options, the couple prayed to the Almighty.

Dharam Devata appeared and instructed the rishi to slaughter the Kapila cow and sprinkle her blood to make the earth steady. The rishi brought the cow to Gonasika and killed her. Then he sprinkled her blood on the earth. The earth thus became stable making it suitable for rishi’s children. They were first Juangs on earth.





After killing the cow, the first Juang family relished the meat and buried the head in the middle of the hill, but suddenly water sprang from the nostrils of the cow and gave birth to the sacred river Baitarani.

Travel Tips 

Gonasika is located at a height of 3000 feet from sea level in Keonjhar District of North Odisha. Surrounded by lush mountain valleys and majestic hills of Chotanagpur Plateau, Gonasika can be approached by road from Keonjhar (25 km) through the National Highway that connects Mumbai with Kolkata. It takes about 2 hours from Keonjhar through a leisure drive with a number of stopover in-between. There are no stay and food options at Gonasika. We recommend Nature Camp at Sana Ghagra near Keonjhar for accommodation, which can be booked through online.  While there are plenty of Juang Villages around Gonasika, we recommend the village of Kadali Badi which has retained some of the anarchic characters of Juang culture. It is situated at a distance of 7 km from Gonasika.







The Juang, an aboriginal tribe of Keonjhar revere Gonaskia as their original mother and the place of their origin. Their villages are around Gonasika and Kanjipani on hilltops or slopes or on valleys amidst hills and forests all around. The Juang villages are located near streams and River Baitarani. Mostly settled farmers now they were portrayed very differently by the 19th century British historians and anthropologists as the wearers of leaf dresses. They are medium in stature with a long head, prominent cheekbone and broad nose showing affinity with the tribes living in the Mon-Khmer region of Mainland Southeast Asia. Their language is Mundari belonging to Austro-Asiatic language group spoken in parts of Eastern India and Mainland Southeast Asia.

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During the time of Hunter’s visit in 1877, this account reveals – ‘the men wear a single cloth. The women had not even this, but simply strings around their waist, with a bunch of leaves before and behind. The life they live best is to wonder about the wood collecting wild products which they barter for food.’

Today, this may sound a fairytale as the Juangs have gone a long way of progress, thanks to various government initiatives.

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The central attraction of a Juang Village is the dormitory house, called Majanga or Manda Ghara, which also serve as a guesthouse and general assembly place. Their traditional musical instruments and weapons are also displayed here. In front of the Majanga, there is a spacious ground or plaza where the Juang boys and girls dance with their changu (circular drums).





Believers of animistic religion, Juang offers sacrifices of fowls to the Sun God when in trouble and to the earth for a beautiful harvest.

Houses of Juang are small which can accommodate a married couple and their one or two children. Goats are kept in separate sheds made of wooden plants.

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Close to a Juang village live two or three Gouda (cattle and sheep/goat herders) families. They heard the cattle of Juangs and supply milk to them.





A visit to their land will expose to the diversity of their agricultural practises. The valley floors and the mountain slopes are filled with varieties of crops like beans, millets and pulses. These add as supplements to their rice diet. They also are fond of eating the meat of all animals except sloth bear, snake, tiger and vulture. During Akhand Shikar or ceremonial hunting on Amba Nuakhai (new mango) eating ceremony they chase other animals in the forest. However, today most of the forest is gone, thanks to the population explosion, infrastructure creations and mining.




Gonasika is Odisha’s own Dreamtime stories with its myriad beliefs and tales. It is truly a traveller’s paradise interested in people and the deep-rooted beliefs in their landscape, forest, rivers and wildlife.


Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

Khandapada – a Valley amidst Nine Mountains

Scientists call him a great naked-eye astronomer. When the west had the privilege of having the best of telescopes and other aids for astronomy, he took observations with indigenous and handy instruments, all fabricated by himself. He was Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar (1835 – 1906) from Khandapada, an erstwhile princely state in Odisha’s Nayagarh district.


Pathani Samanta Chandrasekhar


The Ancestral House of Pathani Samanta

Pathani’s greatest contribution in the field of scientific literature is a systematic record of his lifelong research in astronomy. The treatise ‘Siddhanta Darpana’ has been written in Sanskrit and Odia in the lines of Hindu tradition initiated by Aryabhata, Varahamihira, Brahmagupta, Bhaskara, Satandu, Sripati and many more at different periods of history.

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Daspalla – a Journey through Odisha’s Untamed Frontiers

Chandrasekhar was born in the royal family of Khandapada. Nicknamed as Pathani by his parents (sources say that he was temporarily sold to a Muslim Faqir as a part of the local tradition), Chandrasekhar was initiated to identify stars by his father when he was a child. He received primary education from a Brahmin teacher. As he grew, he started mastering in subjects like lilavati, bijaganita, jyotisa, siddhanta, vyakarana and kavya using the resources available at the family library.




Then on Samanta Chandrasekhar became an ardent observer throughout his life. He spent many sleepless nights for making observations throughout his life.

Today Chandrasekhar’s childhood town Khandpada has probably been forgotten by many of us. However, a leisurely walk through this little town surrounded by nine hills, forest and interspersed valleys, wetlands and soulful Odia villages is like transporting to yet another world. You are driven through layers of history and myths of this offbeat Gadajat land.

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Badamba – Exploring the Middle Mahanadi Kingdom






Apart from the ancestral house of Pathani Samanta and the museum built to showcase his work, the star attraction of Khandpada is the palace. The 250-year-old palace, locally called Rajabati is a magnificent structure showcasing a fusion of Mughal and Odia architecture. The palace has two parts, the outer darbar hall overlooking a large courtyard and the inner Rani Mahal. While you can visit the Darbar Hall, entry to the inner chambers is restricted.

Travel Tips

Khandpada is located in Nayagarh District at a distance of 80 Km from Bhubaneswar via Baghamari. Both Khandpada and Kantilo can be covered in a day trip from Bhubaneswar. While at Khandpada also explore Sunamuhi wetland on the outskirt of the town towards Nayagarh. The Nila Madhav Temple gets closed for darshan by 1 PM. You can also have food at the temple by paying a certain amount.












Khandpada State was initially part of Nayagarh State, founded by a former ruler of Rewa State in present-day Madhya Pradesh. It became a separate kingdom in the 16th century when Jadunath Singh Mangaraj, the first ruler of Khandpada received the title Mangaraj from the Gajapati King of Puri.

The state was merged with the Democratic Republic of India in 1948. The present Raja is His Highness Sri Bibhuti Bhusan Singh Mardaraj, who lives in Bhubaneswar.

The Jagannath Temple built beside the Rajabati is an architectural landmark of the town. Situated within a spacious courtyard, the temple draws a huge crowd during Rath Jatra and other festivals associated with the Jagannath Cult.






A visit to Khandapada is incomplete without experiencing the darshan of Lord Nila Madhav located on a hilltop on the bank of River Mahanadi at Kantilo.

Lord Nila Madhav occupies a central position in Jagannath Cult.




At the time, Puri became an established place of Jagannath Cult, here Biswabasu, a chief of Sabara Tribe worshipped Kitung as the God was known in Sabara dialect.





The legend goes: once upon a time, Indradumyna was ruling as the king of Malwa. He was a great devotee of Lord Vishnu.

Once he had a dream…Vishnu had reincarnated as Nila Madhav in the distant land of Sri Kshetra. The king deputed one of his counsellors, Vidyapati to travel to Sri Kshetra and confirm the presence of his lord.

Vidyapati travelled far and wide but was disappointed. One day he met Lilita, a Sabara girl, who was the daughter of Biswabasu, the chief of the Sabara Tribe. Both fell in love and got married.

Vidyapati noticed that Biswabasu would go into the forest every afternoon. Vidayapati was curious but the Sabara Chief refused to tell him where he goes every afternoon. After much persuasion, Lalita admitted that her father went into the forest to worship Nila Madhav.

Hearing this from his spouse Vidyapati was over joyous. He nagged his father-in-law to take him to the shrine. Finally, Biswabasu agreed with a condition that he would take him a blindfold. Vidayapati had no choice. When he saw the heavenly beauty of Nila Madhav he was mesmerized. He hurriedly left for Malwa to give the good news to his master King Indradummyna.



Today, the locals still believe that Biswabasu lived in a nearby hill across the town and he would come every afternoon to the spot, where the present temple of Lord Nila Madhav stands.

Built-in the Kalinga School of Architecture, the Nila Madhav Temple resembles a miniature Jagannath Temple at Puri. From here one can have a sweeping view of the mighty Mahanadi River.

Truly Khandapada is a timeless journey shrouded in mysteries of time, culture and myths. It was a land which nurtured great souls like Pathani Samant. Here at every bit of its land, you will find the magical charm of rural Odisha.

Author: Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com