Sunday, January 11, 2015

A sneak peek into Odisha’s rich heritage

For a culture fanatic who is dying to explore hidden secrets of different states, there are a variety of things to do in Odisha. A land of varied traditions and culture, Odisha is home to many colourful fairs and festivals. In fact, there are 13 festivals celebrated in 12 months of a year. During every season, the state hosts several religious and cultural festivals that portray its rich heritage. Being an amalgamation of various religions and sects, Odisha is a storehouse of folklores and traditions that a find place in its festivals. While during summer and spring, religious festivals are celebrated with great fanfare, it is during the winter months that the state hosts many cultural festivals. Listed below are some of the famous festivals that add colour to Odisha's cultural heritage.

Car Festival of Lord Jagannath

The Rath Yatra or Car Festival of Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra (Holy Trinity) is undoubtedly the biggest and the most popular festivals of Odisha. Held in the month of June, this is when the Holy Trinity of Jagannath temple in Puri take off on their nine-day annual sojourn to their aunt's place―the Mausi Maa Temple or Gundicha Temple. Puri, the pilgrim city of Odisha, and Grand Road (Bada Danda) in particular, turns into a giant tide of spiritual fervour, breaking the barriers of caste, creed and religion. Driven by the surge of humanity, the deities make their way to their aunt's place on three majestic chariots―Nandighosha (chariot of Lord Jagannath), Taladhwaja (chariot of Balabhadra) and Darpadalana (chariot of Subhadra). Devotees sway to the sounds of cymbals, chants and conches as the rituals, one of the grandest spectacles on the earth, unfold. Pilgrims jostle to catch a glimpse of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra, who are escorted by the Daita servitors to their respective chariots Nandighosha, Taladhwaja and Darpadalana in a traditionally elaborate ceremony called 'Pahandi'. Atop the chariots, the Puri King Dibyasingha Deb carries out the 'Chhera Panhara' ritual where he sweeps the chariots with a golden broom after which begins the pulling of the three chariots to the Gundicha temple. The deities stay at their aunt's place for nine days before returning to Jagannath Temple in a similar fashion on the 10th day; the return journey is called 'Bahuda Yatra'. After returning to Jagannath Temple, the Trinity stay in their respective chariots for two days for other rituals like 'Suna Besha' and 'Adhar Pana'. During Suna Besha, the deities are adorned in gold jewellery on their respective chariots. Later, they are offered 'Adhar Pana', a rich drink prepared with sweetmeats and fruit juice, on their chariots. On the 12th day, the deities would enter the Jagannath Temple in the ceremonial 'Pahandi' procession, conducted by the servitors. Before that, the deities are offered 'Rasagulla' bhog. The concluding day of the Rath Yatra is called Niladri Bije.

Chandan Yatra of Lord Jagannath

Every year on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya, thousands of pilgrims flock the pilgrim city of Puri to witness the beginning of the 21-day water sports festival―Chandan Yatra―of Lord Jagannath. The Yatra takes place at the Narendra Pokhari (pond) in Puri. As per the rituals, the representative idol of Lord Jagannath as well as five Shivalingas, known as the Pancha Pandavas, is taken in a procession from the Singhadwara of the temple to the Narendra Pokhari. After various rituals, the deities are placed on the richly decorated boats for a ride in the water body. Accordingly, Madanmohan, the representative idol of Lord Jagannath, his consort Laxmi and Panch Pandavas are taken in a grand colourful journey from the Jagannath Temple in six palanquins along the Grand Road to Narendra Pokhari. The deities are ceremonially escorted by a set of temple servitors on decorated 'Bimanas', while the Lord rides a special one called 'Manibimana'. The deities on their arrival at the Narendra Pokhari are given a sandalwood paste and aromatic water bath for cooling effect. Then the deities are taken in a procession to their respective giant swan-shaped boats. The deities move about the tank enjoying the notes and dances of Odissi presented by dancers on the decks till late in the evening. The deities return to the temple in the manner and style as they went out. The scene is repeated daily and on completion of 21 days, the concluding ceremony, known as 'Bhaunri', is observed with display of fireworks and music extravaganza.

Konark Festival of Classical Dances

Experience the beauty of classical dance forms of India at the Konark Festival of Classical Dances held in Konark. With the world famous Sun temple of Konark serving as the perfect backdrop, the annual Konark fest is held for five evenings in the month of December with Odissi being a common feature on all the days. Organised by the Culture Department, Government of Odisha, at the open air auditorium behind the Sun Temple, the festival features popular Indian classical dance troupes from across the country representing dance traditions like Bharatanatyam, Kathak, Kuchipudi, Sattriya, and Mohiniattam, among others. Also visit Sun Temple, a World Heritage site built in the 13th century, in the vicinity that has been instrumental in revival of Odissi dance. Attended by leading classical dancers, connoisseurs, locals and tourists, the Konark Dance Festival is a celebration of India's diverse dance forms. Along with the dance festival, the tourism department hosts an international sand art festival on the Chandrabhaga Beach nearby. The sand art festival sees participation from both established and junior sculptors, a majority of them being girls. At the open air auditorium, an Odia food festival and a stone carving workshop is also organised. The Tourism Department of Odisha organises packaged tours to Konark and Puri during the dance festival.

Pipli Crafts Village

One of the most colourful handicrafts in Odisha is the applique work in Pipli Crafts Village, located 40 km away from Bhubaneswar. The craft, locally called Chandua, is related to the rituals and traditions of Lord Jagannath and his siblings Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra. Even as there is no history behind the evolution and origin of applique work, it is believed to have started in the 17th and 18th centuries when clothes and decorative pieces were used in the Jagannath Temple in Puri during religious processions. As one approaches the quaint little village, a kaleidoscope of colours welcomes the visitors. The handicrafts adorn each shop in varied patterns and sizes―from umbrellas to lanterns, cushion covers, bags, pillow covers to canopies and much more. The intricacy of the handicraft, practiced by a specific caste of professional tailors, known as 'Darjis', is unparalleled. The technique of creating applique is basically cutting up various coloured fabrics which are then sewn on to the surface of another foundation fabric. To accentuate the look, beautiful needlework, sequins and mirrors are added to the design. The stitching varies from one item to another, but is categorised under six styles―'Bakhia', 'Taropa', 'Ganthi', 'Chikana', Button Hole and 'Ruching'. The cloth patches are simple and motifs mostly revolve around gods, animals, birds, flowers and plants. The village is home to around 150 craftsmen and there are 500 girls who are involved in needlework, besides the shopkeepers and salesmen who procure the products. Though earlier the art form was restricted to Darji caste, today it is practiced by non-caste members, notably a group of Muslims in the village.

Sadeibareni village

The Bell Metal or Dokra art of Sadeibareni village has put Dhenkanal district in Odisha in the world map. Sadeiberini Village, 5 km from Saptasajya in Dhenkanal, is home to 45 families with 130-odd artisans, all belonging to SC and ST categories who are mostly into creating Dokra handicraft, which dates back to pre-historic time of Harappa and Mohenjo-daro period of Indus Valley Civilization. The process of making Dokra is fascinating and only natural raw materials are used. Traditional Dokra is a typical tribal craft in bronze with its mesh like features giving it a distinctive beauty. Interestingly, the handicraft is still prepared by hand without involvement of any machines. Artisans of this village have been invited to international level workshops and seminars on art on several occasions in the past because of their expertise. They have a vast repertoire―gods and goddesses, tribal and animal figurines, vases, door handles, and photo-frames. Curious visitors can also go round the houses and get a first-hand experience of making the craft from the artisans, who are willing to explain the preparation process. Dhenkanal is a little over 70 km from Bhubaneswar and can be approached by taxis or trains. The best time to visit the village is between October and January. If visiting between October and November, one can also go around Dhenkanal town to witness the Laxmi Puja, which enjoys a special place in the cultural map of the district.

Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav

Every year during February, the stage is set for the Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav, a national festival of performing arts, at the foothills of Dhauli. The event is being hosted collectively by Bhubaneswar-based two prominent cultural organisations―Odisha Dance Academy (ODA) and Art Vision―along with support of Odisha Tourism. While Odisha's cultural calendar is replete with festivals of all kinds, this one is different from the rest as it offers an insight into the martial art forms of both India and abroad. While Dhauli Mahotsav, launched during 2004, was the brain-child of ODA founder and prominent Odissi exponent late Guru Gangadhar Pradhan, Kalinga Mahotsav was conceptualised by the city based well-known Italian Odissi dancer-choreographer Ileana Citaristi as an exclusive martial dance festival of India since 2003. Odisha Tourism―the Department of Tourism of Odisha Government―came forward as a partner clubbed the two festivals together and renamed it as Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav since 2011. The Dhauli-Kalinga Mahotsav combines martial dance, which celebrates the victory of peace over war, with classical and folk dances of the state. And the venue, Dhauli Hills alongside the Daya river, is the place where Emperor Ashok is believed to have fought the last battle of the Kalinga war before surrendering to humanity and embracing Buddhism.

Rajarani National Music Festival

Celebrate the richness of Indian classical music at the two-day Rajarani National Music Festival held in the month of January. Showcasing the three distinct classical music traditions of India―Hindustani, Carnatic and Odissi―the Rajarani music festival is held on the sprawling lawns of the Rajarani Temple complex. It is hosted jointly by the Odisha Tourism and the Bhubaneswar Music Circle and features both the veterans and the promising vocalists and instrumentalists. Eminent singers and musicians like Kavita Krishnamurti, L Subramaniam, Pandit Hariprasad Churasia, M Balamuralikrishna, Shyamamani Devi, Guru Ramhari Das and many more have performed in the prestigious festival. To create an ambience, the beautiful Rajarani Temple―built between the 10th and 11th century―is illuminated up with thousands of tiny lights during the festival. Visitors can also witness the Mukteswar Dance Festival, which is organised by the culture department, two days before the Rajarani Music Festival at the Mukteswar Temple, one of the well-maintained temples in Bhubaneswar. Named after the temple, the annual Mukteswar Dance Festival is very popular among foreign tourists who come here to witness India's traditional dance forms.

Cuttack's Durga Puja

In India, Kolkata holds the reputation of hosting lavish Durga Puja pandals, but Cuttack's Dussehra is known for its extravagance that reflects in gold and silver and brotherhood during the festivity. In Cuttack, also known as the Silver City, the idols of Goddess Durga are decorated with gold and silver crown, backdrops and ornaments. Crores of rupees are spent every year by Puja Committees at Nayasarak, Choudhury Bazar, Mangalabag, Sheikh Bazar, Jobra, Khan Nagar, Chandni Chowk and Khapuria who try to outdo each other by adding gold to the tableaux and idols. Not just the Durga idol, all the other deities that flank her also sport gold crowns including Ganesh, Kartik, Laxmi and Saraswati. Almost all the Puja pandals put up silver tableaux or Chandi Medha in the pandals imparting a sparkling aura. The fashion for Chandi Medhas began in the city more than six decades ago, but the craze for gold crowns and jewelleries for the idols began in 1995 with Choudhury Bazar puja committee as the trendsetter in both counts. It was the first to introduce the silver 'medha' way back in 1951 and later added gold to it. During the five-day festival, lakhs of people visit the puja pandals to witness the grandeur of Durga Puja in Cuttack, where even Muslims help the Hindus in organising the grand event. To add to the glitter, the 150-odd puja committees of the city spend over Rs 15 crore for decoration of the pandals, the welcome arches and immersion procession called 'Bhasani'. Like Durga Puja, immersion ceremony is organised on an equally larger scale. All the puja committees rope in folk artistes, band parties and commission massive light gates to add to the grandeur that is associated with 'Bhasani' (immersion) ceremony. In fact, the immersion ceremony after Durga Puja is counted among one of the largest carnivals of Odisha with procession of the Durga idols being taken through the main thoroughfares of the Silver City.

Joranda Mela

In the month of January, thousands of people and ascetics arrive at the international headquarters of Mahima Dharma at Joranda in Dhenkanal district of Odisha to participate in Magha Mela, also called Joranda Mela. Magha Mela is exclusively a mass prayer of ascetics for welfare of the world, which aims at spreading the message of love and humanity, sans any rituals, in the name of Mahima Gosain, the founder of Mahima Dharma. Beginning with Baba Purnima, Magha Mela is observed to mark the day of salvation of Mahima Gosain in Sunya Mandir at Joranda in 1876. The Mela is organised by the Mahanitya Sadhubhakta Mandali (Kaupanidhari society), the Satya Mahima Dharma Dhama Parichalana Samiti (Bakaldhari) and the Dhenkanal administration. The Magha Mela is celebrated on a full moon day in the month of Magha (between January and February) and continues for three days. Mahima Gosain had envisioned a classless society during the 18th century when the lower caste people were tortured by the zamindars and other rich people. He had also opposed the idea of conversion from Hinduism to Christianity. Later, his ideology influenced the society at large. His unconditional spiritual service, the message of love, humanity and universal brotherhood attracted thousands of devotees. He had ignited a perennial flame called the Akhanda Dhuni' at Joranda, which continues to burn to this day. During the mela, devotees of other castes, creeds and religions also enter the Mahima shrines known as Gadi Mandir, Dhuni Mandir, Akhanda Bati Mandir and Ghanta Mandir.

Sitalsasthi festival

Sitalsasthi is an important event in the cultural calendar of western Odisha. In the month of May, Sambalpur town hosts the week-long Sitalsasthi festival, which marks celestial wedding of Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati in three Shiva temples across the town. The marriage ceremony is held at Jharuapada, Nandapada and Mudipada that house temples of Baba Loknath, Baba Balunkeswar and Baba Jageswar (all various names of Lord Shiva) respectively. The most interesting feature of the festival is that it is conceived as real marriage of a man with a woman from two different families of the town playing the role of parents, one of them as the Barapita (groom's father) and the other as Kanyapita (bride's father). Preparation for the Sitalsasthi begins on the auspicious Akshaya Tritiya day with the completion of 'Thala Utha' ritual in Shivalayas of Sambalpur town. As per the tradition, the parents of Goddess Parvati, entrusted to solemnise the marriage are selected on the day from a list of those who apply for the coveted role. During the 'Thala Utha' ceremony, puja for the peaceful conduct of marriage is performed in the temples amid presence of senior members of the respective localities. The ceremony also marks beginning of fund raising for the festival with senior members of the three localities going from door to door in their respective areas for collection of funds. After the marriage of the divine couple, a homecoming procession of Lord Shiva and his consort Goddess Parvati to their respective temples is held and this is known as Sitalsasthi Carnival. The carnival sees participation of people from different walks of life and folk artistes who perform in the processions that are taken out by the Jharuapada, Nandapada and Mudipada organising committees. Apart from Western Odisha, people from neighbouring Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand throng Sambalpur to participate in the festival. The Sitalsasthi festival is said to have started in the 16th century under the patronage of the then Chauhan ruler of Sambalpur to usher rains after the months of blistering heat. Originally, the festival began at Somnath Temple at Balibandha and later organised at the temple of Balunkeswar Baba at Nandapada. In due course, the marriage of Loknath Baba of Jharuapada temple was also solemnised and the temple of Jageswar Baba at Mudipada joined the celebrations in 1978.

Bali Yatra

Commemorative of the ancient maritime glory of Odisha, when merchants from the State set sail to the far-eastern countries for trade and commerce, and marking the culmination of the holy Kartik month, the historic Bali Jatra fair is held in Cuttack every year in November. Held at the fair grounds on the banks of river Mahanadi, Bali Yatra is the biggest fair held in the State, which brings modern technology and the traditional craft under one platform. More than 1300 stalls are erected across the upper and lower Bali Jatra grounds selling everything from modern technology, traditional ethnic crafts to petty household articles. The famous Chanderi Saree and brass metal products from MP, woollen items from Kashmir, leather products from Rajasthan, woodcraft from AP, cane and bamboo craft from Tripura, besides Odisha's own handloom and handicrafts, are displayed during the seven-day fair. A National-level Pallishree Mela is also organised on the occasion that brings together ethnic and other rural traditional products of about 24 States. The fair also encompasses a Gandhi Shilpa Bazaar on handicraft items with about 150 stalls and the much sought after silver Filigree Pavilion to promote the traditional silver filigree works of Cuttack city. The fair witnesses a footfall of nearly three lakh every day.

Dhanu Yatra

The sleepy town of Bargarh in western Odisha comes alive the Dhanu Yatra, considered the biggest open air theatre in Asia. Held either in the month of December or January, the festival is organised to celebrate the Independence and victory of the good over the evil. With the central theme of the festival based on the Krishna Leela and Mathura Vijay, the enactment begins with wedding of King Kansa's sister Devaki with Basudev followed by his accession to throne, dethroning his father Ugrasen and concludes with 'Kansa Badha' at the hands of nephew Lord Krishna. It is a visual delight as the entire episode of Mathura Vijay and Krishna Leela is depicted frame by frame. During the festival, a Bargarh Municipality limit temporarily conforms to Mathurapuri, the capital of the kingdom of mythological demon King Kansa. River Jeera represents river Yamuna across which is situated village Ambapali that turns into Gopapur where Krishna will be brought up. The festival, which is a synthesis of stage, theatre and cinema, will be held for 11 days preceding the Pousa Purnima. Every year, the organisers add a new dimension to the festival to set aside the monotony and add colour to the festival.

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