In the month of October/ November every year, the ancient city of Cuttack is witness to the largest open fair of Asia. Known as Bali Jatra, the festival starts on the full moon of Kartik and continues for a week or so. There is another event that happens throughout Odisha on the full moon day of Kartik. Early in the morning people all over Odisha assemble at their respective nearby rivers or water bodies to commemorate Boita Bandana, or felicitation of the boat. They carry small boats made of barks of plantain trees, put lamps, incense sticks and flowers and push the boats to float away on water.
Both these celebrations are connected to a chapter in Odisha History that goes back to the time prior to the infamous Kalinga War. We all know that back then India was one of the few prosperous civilizations of the whole world. The maritime activities of Odisha played no small part in it. Merchants of Odisha used to go all the way to the island of Bali in Indonesia.
Hinduism was widely followed in the countries of South East Asia before these became predominantly Buddhist, Islamic or Christian countries. In a way, Hindus were the first colonisers of the world. Subsequently, maybe due to its less aggressive nature, Hinduism gave way to other more aggressive evangelical religions. But you can still find the imprints of Hinduism everywhere throughout these countries. The merchants of Kalinga must have played a big role in the cultural and material exchange with these islands.
In the tenth century AD, the Vikings dominated the whole of Europe due to their innovations in boat making. The maritime adventures of the Odiyas happened more than a thousand years before that. Today we have only a few of the remnants of that glorious past in the form of events like Bali Jatra or Boita Bandana. There is a need of more research to find out the maritime history of not only Odisha, but also of India.
Apart from Kalinga, Odisha has been known in the past as Udra Desha from which it has taken its present name. It was also known as Utkal – which literally means excellence in arts. You may not need an elaboration of this aspect of Odisha if you have visited the golden triangle of tourist circuit comprising of Puri, Bhubaneswar and Konark. Apart from the huge temples like Sri Jagannath Temple of Puri, Sri Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneswar and the Konark Sun Temple, there are thousands of temples of architectural grandeur and spiritual significance all over Odisha.
Rabindranath Tagore was so enamored with the artistic artifacts of Konark Sun temple that he named his house in Shantiniketan as Konark. He used to say, “Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man.” Of course when he visited Konark, it was already in a dilapidated state. Imagine what must have been its grandeur before it was damaged. Tagore felt that it would take years for a connoisseur to go through and appreciate fully the intricate designs of the temple.
Along with Natya Shastra, the postures of dancers engraved in stone in Konark temple along with the obscure temple dance forms like Gotipua and Maharis became the inspiration for the revival of the classical Odissi Dance post Indian independence. Today Odissi has crossed the borders and is gaining firm footing in faraway shores of the Americas and the Europe.
The village of Raghurajpur and the small town Pipli are part of the Golden triangle I have referred earlier. Raghurajpur is famous for its intricate palm-leaf paintings and Pipli is famous for applique work. Besides, there are thousands of other small villages and small towns specializing in various art forms following traditions that go back to thousands of years. A small town called Bellaguntha, which is near my village and where I spent considerable time during my childhood, is famous for bronze utensils and a unique type of flexible brass fish.
I will be exploring various artistic and other aspects of this land of exceptional arts and some of my other favourite places of India in my A to Z challenge series this month. Stay tuned.
By the way today, i.e the first of April, is Utkala Divasa or Odisha Day. This day in 1936 Odisha became a separate state with the unification of the Odia speaking areas scattered in Calcutta, Madras and the Central Presidencies. It was a long struggle for the Odia front line leaders and the people of Odisha to convince the British empire to do so. Today is the day to remember and be grateful to them.
Bande Utkal Janani.
PS : This is the first post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is ‘Mera Gaon Mera Desh’ where in I explore various facets of India and also some places and events of India I have been closely associated with.
All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.
This post is also in response to Indispire #318