Sunday, November 29, 2015

Fish Tales Etched in Brass

Flexible Brass Fish Craft of Odisha 
It may be made of brass, but this fish can still flap a fin and touch its tail. The craft of making the flexible brass fish occupies a significant place in Odisha’s rich handicraft tradition. In the lanes of Belaguntha village in Ganjam district of Odisha, three craftsmen from the Kansari community—Pradeep Maharana, Maheswar Maharana and Sushanta Sahoo—have kept this unique art form alive, which has been fighting obscurity in the face of modernity.
While the craft was started by Pradeep’s ancestors during the rule of the Bhanja kings in the 9th century, Sushanta learnt it from Pradeep’s parents. Maheswar, 85, is the only remaining artist in the village, who can make flexible fishes in wood.
In the 90s, Maheswar made the Matsya (Sanskrit for fish) avatar of Lord Jagannath for which, he got the Odisha State Handicraft Award. His creation comprised of an idol of Lord Jagannath coming out of the mouth of a wooden flexible fish.
Today, these artists and their family members are the only practitioners of the craft in Belaguntha. They do train youngsters in art colleges of the state, and sometimes outside, but none of the youths have taken up the craft as a profession. The three artists participate in training sessions and exhibitions so that people come to know about their craft.
The trio uses brass sheets, wires and wood to make various designs of fish that are in huge demand in the international handicraft market. “Despite the demand, not many are coming forward today to take up the craft as it is labour intensive,” says Pradeep, who is an electrician by profession. He had received the State Handicraft Award in 2000 for his excellence in the art form.
Placing a golden prawn with red eyes and three glinting fishes of varied lengths on a sheet of white paper, Sushanta demonstrates how the fish are made. The fish is divided into three portions—head, stomach and the tail. The head is the most important part and is prepared first and accordingly, the size of the body is decided, he says. The artist cuts brass sheets and dexterously shapes them into round blocks with wavy edges, giving them the shape of fish scales. A 20-inch fish requires at least 50 such blocks that are stitched together with a brass wire in a manner that the fish becomes bendable. Making a fish is easier compared to a prawn. “Since making a prawn involves a lot of workmanship and detailing, it takes a lot of time,” he says, adding that though it is labour intensive, making a flexible fish now is less tedious because of invention of machines that can roll brass sheets. “Earlier, we used to manually beat brass blocks to make sheets and wires,” says Sushanta. The artists have now started making flexible brass snakes that are usually offered by devotees in Shiva temples.
Although there are no records in history on the origin of the craft, Pradeep says his ancestors were hired as sculptors by Bhanja rulers and used to demonstrate the technique of making flexible brass fish at the Bhanja King’s court. During the British rule, his grandparents used to supply the handicraft to Victoria Technical Institute in Madras.

The handicraft has a mythological significance as members of the Kansari community consider the fish auspicious. Since ancient times, the craft has been associated with important rituals and social occasions. “In our village when a girl gets married, she is given a small brass fish, along with other valuables, as a good luck charm,” says Maheshwar. Pointing to the wooden Matsya avatar that fetched him the state award, Maheswar says he decided to work with wood as a medium as it was a cheaper option. “Labour that goes into working on both the mediums is the same. In fact, making the scales either with brass or wood requires a lot of practice and patience,” he says.
The three artisans say the government should come forward to help them with design intervention, which is the need of the hour.
“The handicraft is extremely rich which is why, it has sustained for several decades. However, with the market demand fast changing, we need to bring in new designs,” says Maheswar.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Celebration of A Different Kind

Diwali is a unique celebration in Odisha. Here, the 'Festival of Lights' is not just limited to customary bursting of crackers and exchange of lip-smacking sweets, but also accompanied by Kali Puja and the ritualistic ceremony of 'Badabadua Daka'. The celebrations are special in the Millennium City of Cuttack, Coastal town of Bhadrak and the very-popular Pilgrim Town of Puri.

At Cuttack, festivity is a never-ending affair during this part of the year. Just a fortnight after Durga Puja, the city braces up for Kali Puja that coincides with Diwali, a celebration of victory of good over evil. Keeping up with the saying 'Baara Mase Tera Parba' (13 Festivals in 12 Months of A Year), people of Cuttack celebrate Kali Puja and Diwali with much fervour and gaiety. Although the celebrations are not as grand as Durga Puja, the revelers are no less enthusiastic.
The Kali Puja here is over 500-years-old and it is believed that Bengalis brought this tradition to Cuttack during the 16th century. This year, around 70-odd puja committees are worshipping Kali, another form of Goddess Durga.

A majority of the temporary pandals house a particular iconography of Goddess Kali, who steps on Lord Shiva wearing a garland of human skulls and her tongue piercing out. This form is called 'Tara'; her colour is blue and she is shown naked to the waist, wearing a garland of human heads and then clad in tiger skin. The only puja committee that worships the 'Chhinamasta' form of the deity is the Bakhrabad Kali Puja Committee. Here, the deity holds her own severed head in one hand and a scimitar in another.
Three jets of blood spurt out of her bleeding neck and are drunk by her severed head and two other attendants. Instead of standing on Lord Shiva, the Goddess steps over an embracing man and woman on a lotus.

Like Durga Puja, the idol of Goddess Kali at several pandals is accompanied by a silver backdrop (Chandi Medha). Bhikari Das, general secretary of Cuttack Mahanagar Peace Committee said this year, at least 23 idols of Goddess Kali are being set up with Chandi Medhas. While the same backdrop is used for both Durga Puja and Kali Puja in other pandals, only Bakhrabad has a different tableau for the Tantric Goddess. Designed with traditional silver filigree work, the tableau depicts the scene of a cremation ground with two skeletons standing beneath a large banyan tree besides, jackals, owls, and swans being the dominating motifs. Two years back, the Bakhrabad puja committee prepared a beautiful golden crown to the deity. Some of the other Kali Puja pandals worth seeing are the ones at Ranihaat, College Square, Bajrakabati, Khan Nagar, Tulasipur, Bangali Sahi, Choudhury Bazaar and Sutahaat. Kali Puja begins on November 10 and culminates with Diwali. All the idols will be immersed on November 14.

In Bhadrak, Kali Puja is celebrated in a grand way owing to the presence of Bhadrakali temple. Like Durga Puja in Cuttack, Kali Puja in this coastal town is a week-long affair that is witnessed by lakhs of people. While a large number of devotees throng the Bhadrakali village, on the outskirts of Bhadrak town, several glittering pandals are erected in Charampa area to house the deity.

Likewise, Puri witnesses a grand gathering on the day of Diwali as people observe 'Badabadua Daka' to pay obeisance to their ancestors. In the unique ritual, people gather outside the 12th century Jagannath temple and burn jute sticks (known as Kaunriya Kathi in local parlance) inviting their ancestors to descend from heaven on Diwali and bless them. The burning of jute sticks is accompanied by a prayer 'Badabadua Ho Andhaare Aasa, Aalua Re Jao (Ancestors, come in darkness and go back along the lighted path). With thousands of bundles of jute sticks being lighted on the day, the Grand Road in front of the Jagannath temple offers a beautiful spectacle.

 Trips To Roads Less Travelled Wishes All Its Readers A Very Happy, Safe and Eco-friendly Diwali. Eat. Pray. Enjoy.
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