Lanjia Saura Hill Tribe of Odisha – A Travel Shot (Part 1)

A 6 hours drive from Bhubaneswar through the coastal highway following the Google Map brought us to a place that was in the middle of nowhere. We were in the northernmost part of Andhra Pradesh overlooking the high hills of Odisha’s the Eastern Ghats. The narrow semi-tar road came to an abrupt end. But the Google Map was still indicating to drive further. We did not know what to do next. Upon asking the villagers they told – how travellers like us are often fooled by the technology-driven world while driving to Puttasingi, the heart of Lanjia Saura kingdom. We turned back and drove for 7 km and then hit the Main Road. Then we drove in a different direction and passed by several small villages and towns, tribal and non-tribal on serene Andhra –Odisha border.

After a two hour drive through plains and ghats we got the first sight of Lanjia Saura habitat in deep interiors and mountains of the Eastern Ghats that once used to be inaccessible. The drive was scenic on the highway.

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But as we entered the hill trek it turned out to be a nightmare. For 20 km drive through the mountain trek it took nearly 2 hours, it was a big risk but finally, it paid off.

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Lanjia Saura is an autonomous tribal group that shares common values, style of life and exclusive symbols of identity among its members. They are part of the larger proto-Austroloid racial group (Austroloids include aboriginal people of Australia, Southeast Asia and parts of East Asia) having dark skins, wavy hairs, and short heights. Proto-Austroloids are thought to have been among the earliest to migrate from Africa to Indian Subcontinent and Australia about 60,000 years ago.

Also, Read Here:

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

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Lanjia Saouras speak in Saora language, which is a part of Mundari branch of Austric language groups. According to linguist Sidewell, Mundari language probably arrived on Odisha coast from Indo-China about 4,000-3,500 years ago. Scientists have different views on the meaning of the word ‘Saura’. According to some scholars, the term Saora appears to have come from Sagories, the Scythian word for axe and according to others, Saura has been derived from Saba Raye, the Sanskrit term for carrying the dead body. Both the terms denote their habit of carrying an axe always on shoulders with the traditional occupation of hunting and subsistence farming. However, according to their popular legend, Sora is derived from ‘So’ meaning hidden and ‘Ara’ meaning tree. Hence Sora or Saura are the people who have been living inside the forest. Forest is the collection of trees and Hill Sauras build their settlements surrounded by thick forests. The Hill Sauras are called Lanjia Sauras because of their male dress style in which the ends of the loincloth hang like a tail at the back. The term ‘Lanjia’ means ‘having a tail’.

Travel Tips:

Puttasing, the largest Saora village is located at a distance of 25 km from the nearest town Gunupur. The entire stretch is picturesque with rolling mountains of the Eastern Ghats, verdant valleys, paddy fields, dense forest and mountain streams. These are no bus services, however public jeep services available hopping between Saora villages and Gunupur. At Puttasing is located the head office of Lanjia Saora Development Agency, which has a small guesthouse which can be booked with prior information. Otherwise Gunupur, the nearest town or Rayagada, the district headquarter, 70 km away and Paralakhemindi, 60 km away are better options. Gunupur is connected by rail and road from Bhubaneswar, while Rayagada has better rail links with most parts of India. The nearest airport is at Visakhapatnam, 215 km away.  Bhubaneswar, the other nearest airport is 333 km away.  

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Our first halt in the mountain trek was Tarabil village on the edge of a hill overlooking a deep valley. We had been recommended by experts to visit this village for an appreciation of traditional architecture. Here I recalled Verrier Elwin’s accounts, who had first mentioned the cultural traits of Hill Saoras or Lanjia Saoras.

Also, Read Here:

A Journey through Kondh Territory, a Tribe that Once Sacrificed Humans

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‘The Saoras live along long streets where they built little shrines. They erect menhirs and sacrifices buffalos for their dead. Male and female shamans serve their religious needs. They engage both in terrace and shifting cultivation. Their men wear a long, brightly coloured loin cloth and their women a hand woven, brown bordered skirt and usually nothing else. The women enrage the lobes of their ears and have a characteristic tattoo mark down the middle of the forehead. Most importantly, the Hill Sauras retain their own language’.

Elwin’s version of Hill Sauras has partly faded now thanks to the penetration of missionaries and Hindu right-wing institutions along with consumer-driven market forces. But if you explore after doing certain homework and accompanied by local resource persons you are sure to hit on a culture that appears to be the last link of our human stories from the time of Stone Age.

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Like every tribe, Lanjia Sauras have a myth of their origin. Kureitung Katabir is the source of their oral literature. According to it, the first Saora man took origin from Kureitung (bottle gourd) and after that they disappeared in the forests and hills and made their settlements.

From Tarabil we started descending to Puttasing, the largest Lanjia Saoura village and the centre of their administrative network. Around 4.30 in the late afternoon, we reached the office of Lanjia Saora Development Authority to meet Sri Krupasindhu Behra, a dynamic administrative officer appointed to oversee and initiate developmental work in Lanjia Saora villages. With him and Bira, an employee and a Lanjia Saora himself we headed to Maningul Village. On our way, we were amazed to see their terrace farming from the hilltop.

Also Read Here:

Dongria Kondhs of Nimayagiri – Mother Nature’s Own Children

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Called Sarabs, the terraced farms of Lanjia Saoras have inbuilt water management system. These are found on lower hill slopes and in some cases extend up to hilltops. The platform for each terrace is flat throughout and the fall of each terrace is packed with stone. The construction technique is highly sophisticated and skill full. No soil is carried down with water that flows from the higher terrace to lower terrace.

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Maningul today can be reached in less than 15 min from Purchasing if you have your personal vehicle. But only a couple of years ago it was inaccessible and had an archaic look. One had to take the zigzag path on the mountain terrain and dense forest to reach here. In the absence of medical facility, the people here depended upon the healing of Kundan Boi, the woman shaman of Lanjia Saoura community. Today the ageing Kundan Boi here is unwanted. The once shining Edital murals have decayed to extinction. Most households here are converted to Christianity. In place of the healing chants that have a strong connection with their thousands of years of heritage, you hear lousy Catholic Odia songs from the village Church.

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Even though there are signs of modernization and 21st-century version of development, you can still trace counters of Maningul’s past – its settlement pattern, belief system and architecture.

The Lanjia Saoras usually prefer to build their village on hilltops and hill slopes that are free from life-threatening floods and water logging in every monsoon. These sites are close to forest and water resources. Because of the zigzag nature of mountains, they first create a terrace to build their settlement on it.

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The funeral sites (Genuar) and cremation grounds (Kiatlo) are located outside of the village. The shrine of Manduasum used to be once located inside the village, which is almost extinct now. The deity of Manduasum according to Lanjia belief protects the village from the attack of wild animals or epidemics. The offering is made near the shrine to several deities and spirits. It is a taboo strictly observed by the people to eat the crops before celebrating the new eating festivals (abder) such as Raganabdar (red gram new eating) and udanabdur (mango new eating festivals). Offerings are made to Manduasum and Sandisum, who according to Saura belief take care of their protection and safety. Judisum is another co-deity of male and female, situated in the border between two villages to protect the life and prosperity of villages from the attack of malevolent spirits and forest deities who cause diseases and epidemics in nature and damage property of the villages. Offerings to these deities are made during all the harvesting festivals.

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‘Sing’ is the word for house in Soura language. A traditional Sing is a single roomed house, which is rectangular in shape and fairly high. The plinth of the house is made high but the roof is kept proportionally low. The house is a thatched hut, small in size with earthen walls and pillars, posts, beams and rafters. Walls are made of stone plastered with locally available red earth.

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The interior of a Saura House is dark and smoky as there are no windows for ventilation and penetration of sunlight. It is because of their fear for the ghosts and spirits. All the members of the family sleep at one place but after marriage, the newly married couple have to build a separate house for their independent living.

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For pigs and fowls, separate provisions are made. In one corner (immediately after the entrance) of the house, there are shelters built for pigs and fowls to protect them from the attack of wild animals. The shelter is called Gangusing.

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Gangusing is also built with the plinth, which looks like a cave to shelter their pigs and fowls. Inside the house, aloft (maadaa) is made upon the wall covering more than half of the space to keep the household belongings and valuable clothes, ornaments, money, agricultural products, seeds, food material and all other household items. Small agricultural implements and household weapons are kept near the entrance of the house.

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Against all this information loaded I tried to trace the authentic character of a Lanjia Saura settlement at Maningul, which you can see through these images. Beyond the western hills, Sun was all set to go down to the other hemisphere for the day. Pitch dark shrouded all over. It was time to retire for the day.

To be Continued

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be reached at jitumisra@gmail.com

Bhubaneswar – Romance in Stones

Once sages asked Brahma, the creator God: ‘Which is the most excellent place on earth that bestows virtue (dharma), love (kama), wealth (artha) and salvation (mokshya)’. Brahma replied: ‘Bharata, the Indian Subcontinent…in particular, however, Utkala and its four great religious centres, Puri, Konarka, Ekamra and Viraja’.  In describing Ekamra (Bhubaneswar), the holy city of Shiva which yields worldly pleasure and salvation on this very earth itself, Brahma further replied: ‘In Ekamra dwell the most beautiful women on earth. With their slender waists, plump breasts, ample and beautiful buttocks, lotus eyes, sweet languor due to intoxication they represent the celestial ladies of heaven. They remain gay and jolly days and nights. They speak pleasing words. They are clever and skilled in arts and crafts. They are expert in dancing and singing. They are proud of their feminine virtues. These beautiful women pleasing to behold are expert in flirting with men. Young men are fascinated the moment their slight glances fall on them’.  

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The words of Brahma somehow reached Kashi where Shiva and Parvati lived happily for a pretty long time. But they found the city getting overcrowded. Once heard about Ekamra they decided to leave Kashi and settle in Bhubaneswar. The couple happily spent long fifteen years in the Ekamravana. During the period of their sojourn at this place, Parvati once expressed a desire to indulge in ratikrida (sporting dalliance) with Shiva.

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Shiva agreed to the proposal and emanated himself in eight different forms. To play the game of dalliance, Parvati also emanated herself into 8 different forms. The Chaitra Purnima (April-May) was selected as the most auspicious time for the purpose.  The sport continued for the whole night and when the curtain was drawn Shiva installed eight Sambhus and eight Gauris around the banks of Bindusagar Tank.

Also, Read Here:

Sacred Tanks of Ekamra Kshetra

Travel Tips:

Bhubaneswar is the capital of Odisha and a vibrant metropolis. Also known as ‘The Temple City of India’ Bhubaneswar hosts the largest concentration of Hindu Temples built in Kalinga School of Architecture between 7th and 16th centuries CE. The city also has been known for its incredible Jain (the caves of Khandagiri and Udayagiri) and Buddhist heritage (Dhauli Hill). 

Bhubaneswar is well connected by air, rail and road with all important cities and other state capitals of India. The city has a plenty of choices for accommodation of various categories, from budget to high-end. The city is best known for its seafood delights, Pahala Rasagola and a variety of snacks and street foods. 

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These descriptions in the Puranas are best expressed through images of lovemaking in the temple walls of Bhubaneswar. These images appear in all parts from simple and seemingly innocent mithuna (amorous couples) to explicit erotic friezes.

Also Read Here:

Pashupata Cult and the Ancient Temples of Bhubaneshwar

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Beginning in the late 8th Century CE, images of women make their appearance in the walls of Bhubaneswar temples. Around this time the homage is not just directed to Devi but also to women as sensual and graceful being, alas kanyas or ideal females represented in everyday life. It was part of the belief system that alas kanyas were auspicious apart from their beauty and protected temples.

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By the 10th Century CE, the decorative programme was dominated by the images of women who may appear alone or as partners in mithuna images, carved in high reliefs on temple walls.

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In the 11th Century CE, with the introduction of two storied janghas, their images were shifted to the upper storey along with mithuna and maithuna images, so that they appear more like celestial damsels, being high above eye-level.

Pleasure gardens surrounded the temple complex and the entire Ekamra Kshetra as the realm of Kama.

According to Puranas, in the marriage procession of Shiva, the physical beauty of God is such that the women of the city leave all household duties to catch a glimpse of him. One in her haste runs out half-dressed holding her cloth and girdle in her hands. Another, in the midst of her bath and toilet, come out with the shampoo powder still held in her hands while still, another come out with her garments worn inside out.

It is evident that the amorous activities of gods and celestial did, in fact, serve as models and behaviour and conduct for the luxury living aristocratic society by the 12th century. The constant interplay between human conduct and celestial behaviour, the changing moral ethics, behaviours and aesthetic tastes of the aristocracy and the priesthood were being constantly incorporated into the religious texts and temple iconography.

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Also, Read Here: 

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

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

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

Travel Tips: 

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

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

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

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

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

Plough and Other Agricultural Implements

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Storage Facilities for Rice

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Tenda – Water Lifting Device for Rice irrigation

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

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

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

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

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

Charu Maa – The Face of Durga Maa

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


Goddess Durga in Parasurameswara Temple – 7th Century CE

Lord Nataraj in Parasumeswara Temple 7th Century CE

Maa Durga in Cuttack 

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

Travel Tips

Gundalba Village is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Gundalaba Village, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Gundalba is located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood. 


Charu Maa in the left at Gundalba Village

 

 

 

 

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

Also, Read Here:

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


Pir Jahanaia Sufi Shrine


Pir Jahania Beach


An abandoned boat at Pir Jahania Beach


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


Casuarina Forest


Depleting Mangrove Forests and Estuaries 

 


Near Devi Mouth


Commercial Fishing in Devi Mouth


Subsistence Fishing in Devi Mouth 


Intensive Rice Farming – The Harvesting Season


Harvest of Gold

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


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

 

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


An early morning scene at Devi Mouth 

Here is what she narrates:

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

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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

From time immemorial living on seacoast has been a major attraction for humans across cultures. It is true that sea with its pristine beauty can often turn ugly (tsunami and cyclone) and take the lives of both people and animals that have a deep attachment to it in no time.  But when it is calm it is a source of plenty, from fish to crab, which often forms as a buffer food base during the time of drought and other calamities.  For coastal people, the sea is Mother Nature.

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Odisha is one of India’s best-kept secrets for any nature and culture-sensitive traveller to explore her timeless charm, especially her unexplored sea coast (500 km of Odisha is her coastline), is a major attraction.

Also, Read Here: 

Mangalajodi– Where Ashoka is Born and Dies Every Other Day

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My journey to one of such hidden secrets of Mother Nature begins at 4.30 AM through a branch of Devi estuary at Sahana Village. Everywhere is eerie silence. I get into a fibre boat with Babu Behra, Odisha’s most skilled lifeguard as the boatman to delve into the ghostly darkness of the estuary water. Slowly the sky opens up in the eastern horizon and you see clouds forming various patterns with the dimming crescent-shaped moon in the backdrop.

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The sail through the estuary turns noisy with the chirping of birds nesting atop branches of mangrove trees on both sides. Your camera shutter goes ‘click-click’.

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Now the morning drama reaches to its climax as the narrow estuary opens up to a wide expanse of blue water – you are at close proximity to Devi’s mouth. The country boats are in their best of actions, each forming a picture postcard setting.

Travel Tips:

Sahana Beach is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Sahana Beach, you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casuarina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Sahana Beach has located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in the near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information, food can be arranged at the sight with the speciality of seafood.  Your local contact is Soumya Ranjan Biswal (+91 7327963897). 

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Now your boat is anchored on the beach. You stroll down to witness a spectacular sunrise with no human souls around. The only sound is the sea’s gusting waves. For a moment you are lost and the child in you demands for time to pause. The sea, sky and the sands turn into a golden carpet with patterns that appear as Lila of Almighty.

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You are in a dreamscape and the only friends of yours are the innocent white crabs that play hide and seek around you.

Also, Read Here:

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

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A little walk along the beach takes you to the mouth proper, the meeting place of two worlds, river and sea. Here ends the journey of the River Devi that starts 80 km offshore near Cuttack. And this is the place of plenty, a fisherman’s paradise. Here you see them in actions, all breaching the gusty sea waves.

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Then you get into a no man’s island to witness red crabs. Also known as ghost crabs they prefer silence and live in colonies.

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Now it is the time to return to village Sahana – the time is 8 AM. On your sail back under the well-lit sky the eeriness is gone and you are navigating through mangrove creeks with birds nesting on both sides. The scene is a miniature version of the land of Amazonia. Your soul is lifted.

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So what makes you wait! Come and lose yourself in the lap of Mother Nature at Odisha’s best-kept secret!!

Author – Jitu Mishra. He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Author – Svetlana Baghwan

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

Osakothi Rituals in Ganjam – An Anthropological Journey

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Also, Read Here:

Travel through Digapahandi – Ganjifa’s Last Bastion

Travel Tips:

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

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.

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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