Archive for April, 2009

Evolution of Lord Jaganath

The ruling deity of Orissa, Lord Jaganath, occupies a significant position in the social cultural and religious landscape of the state. Although we have many deities who feed on our religious and spiritual belief, nobody apart from Lord Jaganath give meaning and shape to the religious expressions of Oriyas. Thus it is not surprising to find how His scared land has constantly kept on evolving along with His evolution.
Although the early history of Lord Jaganth is difficult to establish in the absence of concrete evidence, all historians agree on one fact: That Lord Jaganth is basically a tribal deity, owing its genesis to the ‘Savaras’ of the Savarasthan,(the ancient Orissa).And with the passage of time, this tribal deity got accepted by all sects who influenced the Orissa history like the Nagas,Saivas,Jains,Buddhists and Vaishnavites. The fact that Lord Jaganath is a gift to us by the tribal is easy to establish if we follow the primitive ‘Savaras’, the original inhabitants of our land, who can still be found in hilly regions and forest land and still preserve the religious practices of their forefathers. Among these tribal who still speak the Mundari language (the ancient language of the Oriyas), tree or Khamba worship is still in vogue. In trying to give human shape to the tree or Khamba,they still give it strange shapes. This could possibly be the beginning of Lord Jagganath.

That Lord Jaganath is worshipped in Puri from time immemorial is based on Puranic evidences; however there is no historical evidence to corroborate the same. Following the course of our history, it can be concluded that after Ashoka set his foots in Kalinga and made fervent attempts to woo the locals into Buddhism, the ‘Savaras’ were attracted towards it. Another tribal cult that was highly influential at that time was that of the ‘Nagas.’ Their ruling deity was the black Cobra. Now the kings needed to identify with the religious belief of all these tribal to make Buddhism really appealing to them. The images of Lord Jagganth that consequently evolved was based on the combination of the three types of worship prevalent at that time. The first one to adopt and practice the worship of Lord Jagganth in this form was the Bhanja King of present day Berhampur, quite understandably so because they had the history of adopting all three forms of prevalent worship of the time; the Savara,the Naga and also the Buddhism. The vision this unifying Deity, supported by an equally meaningful name of ‘Jagannath – the lord of the world’ was successful in bringing out the complete unity of the various tribes and laying the plinth of the ancient Odrades.

Traces of Buddhism can still be found in The Jaganath culture as lord Buddha can be found on the panel of Das Avataras inside the Jagannath Temple of Puri. Similarly the term Jaganath is also applied to Adi Buddha by Raja Indrabhuti in his work the ‘Gyana Siddhi’. Mahayan Buddhists aptly propagated thatt the image of Lord Jagannath alongwith His Sister Subhadra and brother Balabhadra was really a pointer towards Buddha and the Tri Ratna of Buddhism — Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. Some scholars go so far as to suggest that the Brahma, placed at the navel of Jagannath, is nothing but the Buddhist tooth relic that was brought from Kusi nagar to Kalinga. And since the Buddhists believe in worship of physical relics after death,the annual bathing ceremony (Snana Jatra) and the car festival (Ratha Jatra) are also seen as Buddhist practices.

There are at times correlation drawn between Jainism and Lord Jagannath. They go onto provide historical evidences to establish that the present day Rath Jatra is in fact an off shoot of Jainism prevalent during the times of the mighty king Kharavela.Mahapadma Nanda, the king of Magadha, conquered Kalinga and took away the “Kalinga Jeena” image as war trophy to Magadha. Pandit Nilakantha das argues that this Jeena image is actually that of Sri Jagannath. This was later restored by Kharavela. The ‘Kalinga Jeena’ was brought in a car followed by a pompous parade of pageantry. This Ratha Yatra of the “Jeena’ was later adopted by the Hindus in the temple of Lord Jaganath.

Whatever be the evidence or history, the role of Buddhism,Jainism and the tribal culture cannot be ignored in the genesis ,consequent evolution and the emergence of Lord Jagganth in the horizon of Orissa. The resurgence of Brahminism led by Sankrachrya, might have waned their impact but their role in the history of Orissa and as in the Jaganath culture cannot be marginalized.

Raja: The Queen of Oriya Festivals

As a child born and brought up outside the state, I had come to terms with most of the festivals that are celebrated around the country. So it was but natural that I watched with unusual infantile curiosity the great melee of colorful dresses around the big Banyan tree just outside my uncle’s house and listened with zest the reverberating songs that went up with the oscillating swing.. I remembered my Aunt spending the previous night grinding the rice and preparing cakes/pithas as we were expected to live on a diet of these cakes or Pithas only. This was my first brush up the RAJA festival and the memories remain fresh.

Like many things that are uniquely Oriya, we have our own set of festivals that we don’t find in the rest of the country. Raja is one of them. Quite akin to most of our festivals which are associated with seasonal phases of sun, moon, birth of divinities or centre around the prime profession of our ancestors viz agriculture, Raja owes its genesis to the farmers of Yore who celebrated it as a tribute to the advent of Monsoon. Also known as Mithuna Sankranti, Raja falls on the first day of the month of Asadha (June-July) from which the rainy season starts, thus moistening the summer parched soil and making it ready for productivity.. Though celebrated all over the state it is more enthusiastically observed in the coastal districts of Orissa. The first day is called Pahili Raja (Prior Raja), second is Raja (Proper Raja) and third is Basi Raja (Past Raja).In some places however there is a custom of celebrating the fourth Raja also known as the “Basumata Puja”.
Conceiving mother earth to be a woman on menstruation, which is a sign of fertility, she is given rest for all these three days. As such all agricultural activities remain suspended during these three days of celebration.

Significantly, it is a festival of the unmarried girls;the potential mothers. Girls are forbidden from all kinds of manual work during these three days of Raja-festival. They don’t carry water, cut vegetables, and sweep the houses. Neither do they sew clothes, grind grains, comb hair, walk in bare foot etc. During all these three days, they are seen in the best of dresses and decorations spending time visiting their friends or moving up and down on improvised swings. Special songs meant to be sung during these days only, can be heard everywhere. Though anonymous and composed extempore, much of these songs, through seer beauty of diction and sentiment, have earned permanence and have gone to make the very substratum of Orissa’s folk-poetry.

Festivals always involve the community. They are an expression of the community on a relaxed mood.. These festivals, much more than airing regional flavor preserve the ancient traditions of the community. However regional festivals are slowly loosing out their lusture.And the fate of Raja is no different. Today we need to take great steps in promoting these festivals and preserve it.

Bande Utkal Janani: The state song of Orissa

During the heydays Orissa had been a great civilization and a prosperous nation. But once it lost its freedom to the invading Afghans in 1568 A.D and consequently to the Mughlas and Marathas, it was thrown into a quagmire of decay and dilapidation.

In 1633, the British setup a trading centre at Hariharpur, one of the first of their settlements in India. Their subsequent establishment at Baleshwar and at Pipili grew into booming trade centers. Consequent to the battle of Pallasey in 1757 and Buxar in 1764, Bengal lost its independence and Orissa was quick to fall. The treaty of Deogarh in 17th December 1803 ended the Maratha rule and thus began the prominence of British rule in Orissa.

By this time, Orissa had been much deformed and reduced in size and population. What was left to the great civilization of yore was the three coastal districts – Baleshwar, Cuttack and Puri.An effort to restore the lost pride of Orissa began with the Utkal Sabha of 28th November 1877 when the Rajas and Zamindars met for the first time.However it was only under the leadership of the great Madhu Sudan Das in 1877 that the Utkal Sabha submitted a memorandum to Unite Orissa on linguistic lines. In 1917 the Montagu-Chelmsford Commission visited India on the subject of self-Government and its report recognized the need for an administrative union of the Oriya-speaking people and recommended for a sub-province for the Oriyas. The report of the Simon Commission, under the Chairmanship of the Sir John Simon, led to the summoning of the Round Table Conference. Krushna Chandra Gajapati Narayan Dev, the Maharaja of Paralakhemundi represented Orissa in the Conference. The Orissa Boundary Commission was appointed with D’Donnell as the Chairman. The “white paper” was published on the 17th March, 1933, containing the draft proposals for the reforms in the Indian Constitution. It proposed to create two new provinces, viz., Sind and Orissa.The Government of India Bill 1935 was passed by the Parliament and the new province of Orissa as an administrative unit came into being on the 1st April, 1936.

Apart from the role associations like the Utkal Sammilani s in creating the Oriya consciousness and instigating the movement for separate Oriya state it was the state song ‘Bande Utkal Janani’ that captured the imagination of people and helped in creating a common unifying bond. If ‘Bande Mataram’ was the song that represented the aspirations of a million Indians during the Pre independence days inspiring many, ‘Bande Utkal Janani’ was the song that illumined many oriya spirits into fighting for their own identity.
Written by Kanta Kabi LakshmiKanta Mahapatra, the song was first sung in the Utkal Sammilani’s Conference at Balasore of 1912.The song had a spell-bound effect on the audience and surprised many dignitaries in the dais, including Utkalmani Gopabandhu Das, who was presiding over the Session. He was so much delighted that after he heard the song, he inquired about its writer and embraced him. The composition of the song at a time when the contours of the state had been distorted well beyond recognition
made it quite significant. Instead of penning about the then political and geographical position, the song goes on to praise Orissa for its natural beauty thus representing that ‘God’s bounty and boundaries remained unchanged.’ Orissa’s high tradition of arts and crafts in the temples, culture or literature and the peaceful social living, all these things exist in this beautiful song.

Quite naturally this song was used as a powerful weapon by the Utkal Sammilani to emancipate Orissa. And it was very much successful in creating that emotional bonding with people which kept goading their latent pride. Leaders of Orissa like Hare Krushna Mahtab admit that the song actually inspired them into the fray of independence struggle. So astounding an effect it had on Orissa’s collective consciousness that it began to be sung on every meeting and every association.

Even years after our independence, it is customary for every meeting in Orissa to get started with this song. And when Late Biju Pattnaik made it compulsory for the song to be played at the end of any assembly session, the song rightly assumed the unofficial title of ‘The state song of Orissa’.

Bande Utkal Janani

Bande Utkal Janani

Today is Utkal Divas, the day when the hopes of a million Oriyas fructified and Orissa was formed as a separate state. The relentless struggle of our visionary leaders for establishing our separate identity by formation of our own Province on the basis of language bore fruits today on 1936 as we became the first state in the nation’s history to get demarcated and identified on a linguistic basis.
Let’s celebrate this day with pride and promise to do our bit towards the development of our own state and Mother land.
Bande Utkal Janani

On this auspicious day we are publishing the state song of Orissa and its rendering in English.The song composed by Kantakabi Lakshmikanta Mahapatra was the source of inspiriration for many Oriyas who joined the freedom struggle.Even today it ignites the flame of patriotism and gives us our identity.

Bande Utkal Janani







Rendering in English

Glory to thee, Mother Utkal

I adore Thee, O’Mother Utkal
How loving are Thy smile and voice !
O’Mother, Mother, Mother !

Bath’d art Thou by the sacred Sea,
Thy shores adorned with trees tall and green,
Balmy breeze blowing by beauteous streams,
O’Mother, Mother, Mother !

Thy body bedeck’d with dense woodlands,
Arrayed with verdant hills plaited like waves,
Thy sky ringing with choirs of singing birds,
O’Mother, Mother, Mother !

How charming are Thy rich fields of corn !
Thou art Eye to Erudition enow,
Sacred Abode to saints and seers,
O’Mother, Mother, Mother !

Thy land bejewelled with splendid shrines,
Richly dress’d art Thou in varied arts,
Thy limbs studded with sacred sites,
O’Mother, Mother, Mother !

Thou Home to the valiant heroes of Utkal,
Thy frame crimsoned with enemies’ blood,
Prime Darling of the whole universe,
O’Mother, Mother, Mother !

Greeted by Thy great sons, the crowning bards,
Thy untarnished glory proclaimed all around,
Blessed art Thou, the Holy, the Unfalling Abode,
I adore Thee, O’Mother, Mother, Mother !

Bande Utkal Janani

Pakhala : The Taste of Orissa

We used to wait eagerly for the summer vacations in our School days. Every year the period starting from May till the end of June, meant that we said farewell to our schools and books and enjoyed playing the whole day long .What made the vacations special was, our visits to the villages. I harbored a natural love for the village: the mango gardens, the rice field, the big open play grounds, the ponds and above all the authentic oriya food. I relished the oriya dishes – the saga bahaja,the aalu bhaja,aalu poda,sukua,badi chura and above all the Pakhala.There is something special about these dishes, some sort of simplicity that I find missing in other dishes. Probably there is something distinctly Oriya in Pakhala.Probably Pakhala is the food of Oriyas just as the Sattu for the Biharis and Dal Bati for the Rajasthanis.

However that does not mean pakhala is eaten and savored only by Oriyas. In fact,the popularity of pakhala transgresses the Orissa border to be enjoyed in states like Bengal, Assam, Jharkhand and Chattisgarh and even in some parts of Myanmar and Bangladesh. To the Bengali’s it is known as Panta Bhat,to the natives of Chattisgarh as Pakhal Bhat or Bore Bhat and to the Assamiya as Poita Bhat. Not only this, People in southern India have their own form of pakhala, the ‘tair sadam’ / curd rice which falls in the same category.

Nobody is sure about the origin of the dish or how and when it got embedded in our culinary habits. Vague references about a rice dish fermented in water can be found in ancient Buddhistic inscriptions in pali.But it was not until it got acceptedd as a main item of food for Lord Jagganth and began to be offered to the devotees as prasadam, that it started getting wide acceptance from local inhabitants. The ‘abhada pakahal’, in fact, greatly popular through out the state began from the kitchens of Lord Jagannath. If language be taken as the parameter to judge historical significance, then we will have some interesting but contradictory results at our disposal. The word pakhala , strangely, owes its origin to the Sanskrit word ‘Paka’ that means taste. The tribal equivalent of the word refers to something that is “Fresh and energeti”. Thus it seems in its heydays,Pakhala was consumed for its freshness and revitalizing effect. A staple diet of every farmer or peasant even today, it is not difficult to conclude what an important place it held on the dietary habits of our ancestors.Even to this date we can hear sayings that praise its worth. An old couplet that comes to mind is
Pakhala Bhata ku na kariba Hina
Pakhal Bhata Debata samana!

It is interesting to note here that during the period of Bengal renaissance, Brahmin cooks from Puri were hired en masse to cook in the kitchens of Bengali Zamindars.Famed for their culinary skills, they were referred to as ‘Ude Thakurs’.As a result of this migration, many Oriya Dishes like Rasagolla and Kheeri entered into the food habits of the Bengalis. But Pakhala could never really catch the fancy of the Bengali people.For many Bengali households, its inclusion in the local cuisine is regarded as embarrassing. Probably couplets like the one mentioned above were created in retaliation.

Whatever be the history, Pakhala Bhata holds its significance to our dining habit not only because of the taste but also owing to the geographical position and environmental conditions prevalent here. Can any other diet give us more satisfaction than a diet of pakhala in the scorching summers? Pakahala Bhata contains partially hydrolyzed starch and carbohydrates and many other vitamins along with sufficient water. This water is responsible for maintaining balanced temperature in the body during the heat of summers. Apart from the high cooling effect that it has, the fermented rice is a great protector of the Liver. Also the food being full of Yeast, promotes healthier cell production in the body.

With the kind of acceptance it has and the adoration it commands among the Oriyas, it is really astounding that, we hardly find any references about this wonderful dish in any culinary books. This is partly because of our accepting new dishes and newer eating habits. But does that mean we should move away from antiquity, our tradion? Pakhal is something that distinctly relates to Orissa. And even if we are moving into modernity, lets do our bit by preserving this. Bande Utkal Janani

Orissa : The abode of temples

Lost among the thronging ocean of people in the Lingaraj Temple, I kept wondering what kept people coming in multitude to the temple. It was Mahasivaratri, and having predicted what was in front of my eyes, we had decided to come in early. However the size of the crowd that was already present there, took us by surprise. Was it just faith/superstition or we, the patron of modern days, still nourish and respect the customs/traditions of our fore fathers in some corner of our hearts, I pondered? So far as I was concerned, an atheist that I am, I was drawn here simply to escort my mother. With the sun growing in glare and the crowd showing no sign of moving forward, I decided to quit. I strolled to a remote corner of the temple and sat silently,gazing at the people.

And as my gaze shifted, for the first time out of my numerous visits in the past,I looked at the temple from close quarters. The parapet that had stood the perils of time and still looked so strong, the exquisite carvings, the great structure in its entirety ….these are unparalleled. Perhaps even to think of architecture of this scale, magnificence and quality, even with the technical superiority and architectural genius at our disposal today, is next to impossible. What drove our ancestors to make such big sculptures and spend so lavishly on these architectures?? Was it faith only or love of science of architecture?

I think both. Although the driving force used to be the cult that was widespread at that particular point of time and the faith the ruling class practiced. For example The Lingaraj temple was built 617-657 A.D by King Yayati Keshari,a time when Jagannath cult had not completely established its supremacy over Orissa and Shaivism was at its helm with Adi Sankrachya having left his footprints over the region. But faith can not be the sole reason or driving force for making structures so marvelous. Architecture, it seems flourished and was patronized by different ruling classes over a period of time(mostly between 7th century A.D to 13th Century A.D).So it was but natural that we had an altogether different style of temple architecture called the Kalingan style that had its own uniqueness and identity.

What made kalingan architecture different was its uniqueness and peculiarity.The temple architecture can be subdivided into three broad categories –
i) Khakhara Deula – “Khakhara” – (the word derives its origin to the word Pumpkin) style of temple architecture resembled the Dravidian style of architecture with the Gopuram design. The Saktas basically used this type of temple architecture.Gouri temple of Bhubaneswar is an example of the same.
ii)Rekha Style : This was the most widely used style of architecture of Kalingan style.
iii)Pidha Style – The pidha style of temple architecture thrived on its unique design of “Pidhas” or tiers sitting one above the other till the pinnacle.

Apart from the above mentioned three styles, there was also a synthesis of all the three forms or architecture. But what marked the unity of all the three styles was that the architects perceived the entire construction in the form of a male human body (purusha).From the base to the trunk or GANDI portion as it was called, the temple rose perpendicularly and then started inching inwards till the four walls met at the neck or BECKI portion. Above the BEKI portion rests the crown or “MASTAK” which consists of “Amlaka,inverted kalash and the dhwaja. Finally came the mark of the deity – Trident in case of Shiva and disc or Chakra in the case of Vishnu temple. The crown portion was also called Khapuri to finally complete the structure of Purusha.

In the Pidha style of temple architecture, The GANDI or trunk rose perpendicularly up to a certain point and then pyramidical roof was built on the four walls that gave it, its own look of a thatched house from a distance.

The temple architecture was governed by the specifications of the Shilpashastra that described the soil specifications and details regarding stone, design, placement of deities and other Parsava Devatas like Dikpatis,Astasakhis,Naga Naginis,Ulta- Gaja- Viraja –Singha,elephant,horse,bull and other animals.

The antiquity of Orissa is endorsed by her temple architecture, which is as sublime as it is aesthetically enervating. Oriya temple architecture holds an appeal that is magnetic and almost stupefying in its extravagance and mobility. They are the symbols of Orissa’s cultural heritage that remain an eye-opener even today.

Bande Utkal Janani.

Orissa: In search of its lost glory

It was a vain idea that came to my mind. And as I typed the keyword ‘ORISSA’ in the Google search engine, what came in as result was not only shocking but also a great eye opener. Of all the result that the search engine threw, almost half of the results displayed pages relating to forced conversions, Hindutva and violence on Christians. And I was compelled to think ,after all the glory of the past, all the culture that we preserve and all the resources that we command, has it come to so bad that all we are being associated with; all we are being spoken about, is only Violence, barbarism and savagery?

Let us acknowledge this,Post independence, there have been aberrations in the state’s history with the rise of extremist forces propagating Hindutva.But our history dates far beyond the national independence! An effort to track the roots of Extremist Hindu forces across the pages of Orissa’s history might not take us beyond 1964 but our actual History goes back to the Buddhist Era. And forget about the past, even in the post independence period, Orissa has marked its place in the national map with awesome contributions like the Hirakud Dam, the Rourkela steel plant ,the Chandipur missile testing range to name a few. We have the regional head Quarters of East Coast railways, the Paradip port, the upcoming Ship building yard at Dhamara and numerous cement and iron and Steel industries among others. Among the flora and Fauna We have the Nandan kanan,the only natural home to the famed White Bengal tigers, the Chandaka reserve, the Bhitarkanika Sanctuary, the Simlipal tiger reserve and above all the most diverse and largest variety of tribal communities. Then how can we overlook the handloom from Orissa that has a fan following that defies national frontier!

However unfortunate it may sound but it is a fact that with so many resources at disposal and so many achievements to show, we are one of the most backward states in the Country. And it is more so embarrassing that districts like Kandhmal/Keonjahar/Boudh that have grabbed the cynosure of attention in the world for all wrong reasons making Orissa a subject of discussion in the international arena, are the districts that are grossly underdeveloped. Incidentally it is the same district of Kandhmal and Boudh that are yet to see a railway track even after 61 years of independence. It is really surprising that instead of concentrating on these core issues of the prevalent under development, poverty and illiteracy in these tribal areas, what our media is concentrating on issues of conversions that have been exaggerated beyond proportions.

Education and economic development are the only tools that can be used against social evils like terrorism, forced conversions and exploitation by extremists. It is not difficult to point why conversions of any forms in whichever part of the country has been practiced, has been done only on the innocent, illiterate tribals who have been inhabiting regions that were untouched by any form of development plans of the government. What is needed to stop barbarism on a particular community and to that extent stop any sort of conversion is a great awakening; awakening that comes with education. Let the aborigines who have been used and abused by different communities in the name of religion, become aware of their own priorities; let them participate in the main course of politics and participate actively in the development of their own regions. Apart from this, the media has to play a constructive role by also focusing on issues that concern tribal development apart from conversions.

More importantly the intelligentsia and expatriates of Orissa, which has nothing major to show in the development of the state has to come out with their voice and play an active role in keeping the Government on toes for carrying on planned development activities. Only then will we be able to restore our lost glory and stand tall in the national and international forum.

Bande Utkal Janani.

Oriya : The language we speak

I was traveling from Kolkatta to Jaipur in the late summers of 2000. Surprisingly and as luck would have it, my co passenger was an Oriya.The guy, an engineer was stationed in Jaipur, and was on an official tour to Kolkatta.Despite my initial reservations due to the generation gap(he was very senior to me),we gelled in well and eventually ended up exchanging addresses and then visiting each others. It has been more than 9 years and still we keep in touch by mails and seeing each other when we get a chance.
On hindsight, I realize how crucial a link, language is to connect to People. And more importantly in defining our own identities. Probably our political fore fathers recognized this importance of language in marking the frontiers of different states. The day 1st April of 1936 is thus an important date to reckon with for us Oriya\’s since it was the day that saw the dawn of the Orissa on the map of India on a linguistic basis.

But an effort to trace the trekking of time and we will discover that we have a history older than most kingdoms/princely states of our country. The language itself is an indicator of the same. The word Odiya/Oriya owes it genesis to the ‘Odra or Udra’ tribes that dominated its domain in the pre Vedic and Vedic era. Similarly, Orissa was home to the kalinga and Utkal tribes who played prominent part in shaping the history of the state. They had a self-sustaining system maintained by maritime trade and supported by agriculture.

They had their own castes and sub-castes that was independent of the prevalent Caste based systems. References about this tribe can be found in the chronicles of early Vedic commentators. What’s more intriguing about these ancient tribes, was their fierce disdain for anything that was foreign. As such, the state remain untouched by Brahamnical influence and to that extent,their language(Sanskrit) till most part of the Vedic period. It is thus easy to comprehend why Buddhism ascribes its origin to Orissa. And it was not until Sri Chaitanya swept the entire state with his mesmerizing Hari Bol, and the Khandaits (the major caste) followed suit, that Sanskrit got embedded into the dialect of the local inhabitants.
What followed next was a great synthesis of the Prakrit, Pisachi, and Sanskrit language that gave us the present Oriya Language. Another remarkable thing to note in the context of development of Oriya language is that, Post Sri Chaitanya era, the inhabitants lost their independence to many invading groups including the Mughals and Marathas but strangely their language remained least affected by their language, Persian.While it made rapid in growths in most parts of the country with the expanding Mughal rule, Persian could not make much impact on Our language. The Oriya that we speak today consists primarily of 70% Sanskrit,28% adivasi and only 2% Persian and Hindustani. Perhaps it was the tremendous self love for their custom, culture and language that has made us inherit an ancient language that is truly unalloyed. And let us do our bit by promoting our language in every way.