Because ‘Bombay’ starts with the alphabet B and most of the Hindi movies borrowed their style and substance from Hollywood, I think the naming of Hindi Film Industry as Bollywood was perfectly logical. The yellow journalists used to call Bombay the B-town, while using it with reference to the glitterati that inhabited the city. By the time Bombay became Mumbai, the Malayalis had already named their film industry as Mollywood, even though unlike Bombay, Malayalam is the name of a language. Following the logic of the Malayalis, Hollywood could have been renamed as Eollywood and Hindi film Industry as Hollywood, but …
Well, enough of the filmy logic. Coming to my B-town connections, it is like this. After spending my early childhood in my native village (about this a special post is coming up in this series), the places where I stayed for at least a couple of years are like this in chronological order: Bellaguntha, Bhanjanagar, Berhampur, Belgaum, Bangalore. After shifting through some non-B towns and cities I came back to Bangalore. Of course by that time it had become Bengaluru, thankfully not losing its B in the process.
This post is about Bellaguntha, the first and the smallest of the B-towns I have mentioned. I have already mentioned about Bellaguntha in my previous post. Brass Fish is not the only thing Bellaguntha is famous for.
When we first came to Bellaguntha we used to stay in a rented house in Koli Street. It is a street of traditional weaver community known as Kolis. I don’t know how many of them are carrying out their family traditions these days. Back in those days if you walked on this lengthiest street of the town during waking hours, the thak-thak rhythmic sound of handlooms would greet you everywhere. Both our neighbours had these machines. I had never seen such a machine earlier and I would go to one of those houses and sit there transfixed watching the mouse like shuttle kicked alternately from left and right through a maze of threads.
In many parts of Odisha Thakurani Jatra is conducted regularly during summer, somewhere annually, somewhere biannually and somewhere triennially. In Bellaguntha it is a biannual affair. Thakurani or Shakti, the female manifestation of divinity in her local avatar takes on a different name for each village or town. It is the protective divinity of the locality. The protective thakurani of Bellguntha is known as Brahmani Devi. The temple of the deity is usually outside the town. But during this summer festival, the deity is brought inside the town and kept in a temporary structure.
Our house in Koli Sahi was right in front of this temporary structure. So sitting at home we could be part of the entire duration of the Jatra. For the initial one or two weeks activities would not be much. Of course there would be the daily puja rituals of the Devi and people would come for darshan and blessings. Then the festivities would slowly pick up. Each street or group would come out with tableaus and processions on spiritual or socially relevant issues. The last couple of the days would witness the whole town turning into an open theater for various forms of folk arts, drama and other forms of performing arts. The festivities would culminate with a grand and emotional farewell to the deity.
It is worth noting that the priests of such presiding deities are not Brahmins. In Bellaguntha they come from the native Koli community. These priests command respect from people of all castes and social status.
Such religious occasions are never used to preach what to do and what not to do. These are occasions to celebrate life with an underlying emphasis on the sacredness of life. These are occasions for all types of local artists – dancers, singers, musicians, actors, painters, decorators etc. – to showcase and utilise their talents.
Akin to the Big Street (Bada Danda) of Puri, though in a smaller scale, Bellaguntha has its own version of Bada Danda, which is known as the Pentha Sahi. The Jagannath Temple, located at the western end of the Big Street, has the idol of only Lord Jagannath. Inside the Jagannath temple complex there is a temple for Sun God with his elaborate chariot. There is another temple dedicated to Lord Rama. Nearby this temple complex, there is huge temple dedicated to Lord Narasimha.
Towards the east end of the Pentha Sahi there is a Shiva Temple from where Baratis usually start their procession. Mine was no exception.
Bellaguntha is not a town that would make it to the level of even passing mention on a regular basis in the state print and electronic media. However, the following documentary by a TV channel would give you some basic idea about the town, even though you many not understand Odia.
My blog post can be taken as a template for many of the of Ganjam District small towns like Sheragada, Surada, Badagada, Kullada, Jagannatha prasada, Kabi Suryanagara, Hinjlicut, Digapahandi. If you have lived in any of such places you know what it is like to live in Bellaguntha.
Of course skills like making of flexible brass fish and the people with whom you have made connection will always remain the exceptions. Other specialties of Bellaguntha are its weekly vegetable and cattle market held every Monday, the sweet medabeda, and a set of ponds on the outskirts collectively known as Sagara.
PS : This is the second post of my April A to Z challenge 2020. My theme this year is Mera Gaon Mera Desh where in I will be exploring many aspects of my country and the places I have been closely associated with. All posts of the AtoZChallenge can be accessed here.