Wednesday, 25 December 2013

Odisha odyssey II

The famous OTDC bus
Leaving the Chandrabhaga beach, we drove on the marine drive leading to the famous religious town of Puri. There was something special about the Odisha Tourism Development Corporation (OTDC) bus. It ferried the India and Australia teams to Cuttack.

The bus driver and conductor narrated the story to our Oriya friend. Then he translated the experience to us. They were kept in 24-hour scrutiny for days ahead of the trip to Cuttack. While driving the team to Cuttack, a cavalcade of security personnel accompanied the bus. Not only that, during the entire match period, they remained in the bus guarded by tight security. They were thoroughly checked before even entering the bus. The bus itself was checked many a times to ensure that nothing suspicious was lying around. Still they were happy to tell that they served the cricket players who are held as superstars in the country.     

I imagined – might be the helicopter shot hitter Mahendra Singh Dhoni or the prolific run machine Virat Kohli had occupied the seat I was sitting on.

Lord Jagannath and the largest open-air hotel in the world
While driving from Chandrabhaga to Puri, our host friend told us the importance of the Jagannath Temple. Being one of the major four Dhamas (the most sacred centre of pilgrimage and worship) for the Hindus, the temple and the surroundings remains crowded most of the time. And only Hindus are allowed inside the temple premises. Our friend also admonished us not to be trapped by the Pandas, the priests at the Jagannath Temple. They start following the pilgrims and dupe them in the pretence of leading to the darshan (sighting) and pooja (worship) of the deities Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra in the temple.

The Jagannath Temple, also known as White Pagoda, has four gates – the east facing is called the Lions Gate and the ones facing north, south and west are similarly known as the Elephant Gate, the Horse Gate and the Tiger Gate respectively. The temple is said to have been built by emperor Anangabhimadeva, historically identified as Angangabhima III belonging to Ganga dynasty. Some historians are of the opinion that the construction commenced during the reign of emperor Chodagangadeva, the founder of the dynastic rule in Odisha.

As we entered the temple along with the sea of other people, we had to cross two barricades of Pandas to get the darshan of Lord Jagannath from a distance. In spite of the cacophony of the crowd peace and tranquillity prevailed in the premises. There was a feeling indescribable, the devotion overflowed from within. 

While I was doing rounds of the temple, a huge crowd had gathered at the eastern end of the temple. All necks were craned towards the temple top. A Panda was climbing the 214 feet and 8 inches tall temple to change the flag. It was a daring task and even more dangerous to climb the platform on top of the Shikhara (Sanskrit word for mountain peak, Hindu temples are either of pagoda style or shikhara style).

We waited for a while, watched the spectacle and then went to Anand Bazaar (Happy Market), the largest open-air hotel in the world, as described by our friend from Bhubaneswar. There are stalls everywhere having huge earthenware pots containing cooked rice, dal (cooked lentils) and different types of vegetable curry and sweets. The good thing about the stalls is that devotees irrespective of caste and creed eat the Mahaprasada (offered to Lord Jagannath) together. The blessed offering (prasad) is called Mahaprasad as it is believed that Lord Vishnu bathes at Rameswaram, meditates at Badrinath, dines at Puri and rests at Dwarika. Dry sweets are also available at the Anand Bazaar which are preferred by the tourists to carry back home.

Towering Lingaraja
Returning back to Bhubaneswar, I visited Lingaraj, the largest temple in Bhubaneswar. The 180 feet towering temple is dedicated to Harihara, a form of Lord Shiva. Harihara is referred as Tribhuvaneswara (also called Bhubaneswar), the master of three worlds – heaven, earth and netherworld. It's a must visit site in Bhubaneswar. But only Hindus are allowed inside the temple.    

The temple is believed to be built by the Somavanshi king Jajati Keshari in 11th century.

Missed Chilika
Luckily, I had to go to Aska in Ganjam district of Odisha. I had wanted to visit the place since the cyclone Phailin struck on 12 October 2013. On the way, I could estimate the size of catastrophe. Everywhere I could see huge trees uprooted. Houses were damaged and at places the destruction done could be seen in the fields.   

Returning back to Bhubaneswar, we stopped by a roadside tea stall. Like mango trees on planted along the highway in Nepal, cashew nut trees adorn the roadside. The tree was new to me and to my camera as well!

While sipping tea, I roamed around the small shops making a beeline along the National Highway. At the end of the shops few women vendors were selling fish. Seeing a horde of varieties I asked the source and to my surprise one of the ladies said Chilika.

Being a conservation enthusiast, I had heard a lot about Chilika Lake. Chilika is the largest lagoon in India and ranks second in the world. It is a Ramsar site of international significance and home to many migratory birds during the winter season. Covering an area of over 1,100 square kilometres, it is lifeline for many villages and fishermen residing in the area.   

When I clicked pictures of the catch, the fisherwoman requested me to take a snap of her as well. I obliged and showed her the photo. She smiled back and offered me a fish.     

Nearby another lady was selling crabs from Chilika. They looked so different from the ones found in our part of the world. I could not wait to get Chilika. So I asked the driver to take us to the shores of Chilika. However, it was already dark and there was no point visiting the site. With heavy heart, I had to return to Bhubaneswar. It was a missed chance. A precious one. After that I kept mum throughout the journey. 

Odisha odyssey I

The elastic Gotipua dancers
Young boys dressed in yellow were lined up for the show. The cool breeze was making the audience shiver with the chill. I was feeling sorry for the boys who had kept long hair-dos and looked like girls. They had been invited to perform the famous Gotipua dance at the inaugural of the Knowledge Conclave. In Oriya language, "Goti" means "single" and "pua" means "boy". The master of ceremony announced that the dance is performed by the boys dressed up as girls to praise Lord Jagannath. In old times, female dancers called "Devadasi (Mahari in Odisha)" used to devote their lives to Lord Jagannath. With the decline of Mahari dancers, the boy dancers took their places to continue the tradition.

As the boys started dancing to the tunes of harmonium and drumbeats, we were left aghast at the acrobatic manoeuvrings of the boys. They demonstrated the life and times of Krishna. Especially, when they climbed above each other to form a human pyramid, the spectators were kept gaping at the show. The elasticity of their bodies suggested that they might have started learning the dance from an early age.

Sambalpuri dance and mobile magic
The second day we were amazed by the performance of equally talented troupe of Sambalpuri dancers from Sambalpur, a place more than 500 kilometres from Bhubaneswar. They danced and made all of us dance to their thrilling beats. The dance and songs were as colourful as the saris worn by the female dancers. The male drummer was beating the drum and screaming with all his might to enthuse the fellow dancers.

Sambalpuri, the festive group dance tracks its origins to the Kosal region of Eastern India. The dance is performed by the rural people and is thought to relieve them from the day's hard work.
The dancers danced in groups and also performed solo dances. When one dancer was to perform, the music arranger played a track different than that of her choice. She then took the music instrument which was apparently a cellular phone. She was dancing to the tunes of a mobile! 

The Sun Temple in scaffoldings
In Konark, the Sun Temple also known as Black Pagoda, is a mystery in itself. As you enter the premises, the grandiose structure demeans you down to earth. We were guided inside the premises by an old man in his late sixties. His English was humorous and he didn't leave a chance to break the limbs of English.

As per his explanation, the Sun Temple is a wonder and an object of happiness to all – children, young and old. Children can enjoy looking at the bottom slabs having monuments of animals like horses and elephants. Young can get pleasures by beholding the statues depicting different Kamasutra aasanas (positions). The top slab comprises idols of gods and goddesses that are objects of obeisance for old people. According the old guide all enjoy coming to Konark and get full "satisfaction" at the temple.

The Sun Temple was built in the 13th century by King Narasimhadev I of Ganga dynasty. The temple was carved as Sun God Surya's chariot with seven horses and 24 wheels. The old man said, "The seven horses depict seven days in a week and the 24 wheels the 24 hours in a day."

The beauty of Sun Temple is unparalleled. However, the scaffolding covering the main temple in the name of restoration, made us unhappy. The UNESCO World Heritage Site which derives its name from the Sanskrit words, Kona (corner) and Arka (sun), has turned into a caged structure. In contrast to the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore's words on the temple "Here the language of stone surpasses the language of man", it seemed "Here the cacophony of scaffolding surpasses the beauty of the temple".   

Poor Olive Ridley on the shore
After visiting the Black Pagoda, we went to the beach near the confluence of Kushbhadra River and sea (Bay of Bengal) at Chandrabhaga. The cool sea breeze was adding to the fun. Some of us jumped into the white waves. I was clicking the pictures.

While I was busy clicking the white froths, I spotted a small dark object floating against the waves. As it neared the beach the waves overturned it. I could then sense, it was a giant Olive Ridley turtle (Lepidochelys olivacea). It might have come to the shore to lay eggs.   

Every year hundred thousands of Olive Ridleys come to shores of Odisha for the mass nesting and hatching. The mass nesting is called "arribada". I had just seen the vulnerable turtles and their hatchlings making for the seas in Discovery and National Geographic channels. It was a rare sight.

However, my excitement was meant only for few seconds. The poor turtle had wounds on its neck and it breathed its last on my laps. The casting nets might have wounded the poor thing. The only thing I could do was to caress its shell and take a parting snap.