Orissa

 

   
 

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Orissa has a chequered history which has successfully assimilated and synthesised the best of Buddhist, Jain and Hindu cultures. Orissa or Kalinga as it was then called was a settlement of non-Aryan and Aryan settlers. It was a formidable maritime empire with trading routes stretching up to Bali, Sumatra, Indonesia and Java. The key to international trade and immense wealth, it was coveted by many rulers. In fact, it was here that the famous Battle of Kalinga was fought in 261 BC, which made the great Mauryan Kshatriya (warrior caste) king Ashoka forsake war. He became a follower of Buddhism and spread the spirit of ahimsa and peace, the message of Buddhism, to Ceylon (modern day Sri Lanka) and the Far East, Exquisite remains of the Buddhist past still remain in the areas of Udaygiri, Lalitagiri and Ratnagiri.

Kharavela, who came to power in Kalinga, around 1st Century BC, was a staunch follower of Jainism. It is to this period that Orissa owes its Jain art and architectural tradition.

The sophisticated architectural style of the Jain Monastic caves at Udaygiri and Khandagiri are a story unto themselves. During the 7th to the 13th Century AD, Orissa flourished. Trade and commerce increased and along with it evolved its art and architecture. The style of Hindu temple construction, so unique to Orissa also developed around this time.

To understand all that a Hindu temple stands for one must realize that temples in India are not merely abodes of deities but a shradhanjali (offering) to the most sacred. Here a "darshan" is a communion between man and his creator. Hence, Orissan temples are characterised by profuse decorations, exquisite carving and ornamentation covering the entire visible area with Gods & Goddesses, kings and queens, animals and flower motifs ranged with each other. They radiate the artist’s inner love and dedication. Orissa is probably the only state where one can study temple architecture in all its successive stages of development.

Enchanting Odissi

Odissi, is the traditional dance form of Orissa and probably owes its origin to the temple dances of the devadasis (temple dancers). Possibly the oldest classical dance form, one must sit through a performance to experience its sheer lyrical grace. Mentioned in inscriptions, it is depicted on sculptures, in temples like the Brahmeswara and the dancing hall of the Sun temple at Konark. In fact in the 1950’s the entire Odissi dance form was revitalized with the help of the Abhinaya Chandrika and sculpted dance poses found in temples. Orissa enjoys a rich tradition of tribal and folk dances as well. Chhau from Mayurbhanj District is a martial dance form reminiscent of Orissa’s earlier maritime tradition. Other folk and tribal dances include Danda Nata, a daylong performance ending in acrobatic sequences, Ranapa or dances in which dancers perform balancing acts on bamboo stilts.

Rare Artistry

Land of dextrous artists and craftsmen, Orissa possesses a rich artistic tradition which enjoyed liberal patronage from the temples as well as the nobility. Diverse and varied, the craftsmen artists of Orissa still retain their indigenousness, trying to refine it to suit a changing sensibility. Be it the applique artists of Pipli or the stone carvers of Orissa, proud descendants of sculptors whose hands chiseled the unsurpassable designs on Orissa’s famous temples, the essential conflict between the traditional and the modern is gradually being resolved. The progressive attitudes of the Orissan artists coupled with hereditary skills zealously perpetuated, has given traditional Orissan arts and crafts like weaving of Ikat, Bomkai and Sambalpuri Saris, stone carving, applique and embroidery, silver filigree work, patta painting and palm leaf engraving, brass and bell metal work, lacquered boxes and toys and basket weaving, a unique place in the connoisseur’s dictionary the world over. A visit to the Raghurajpur artists village and Pipli, near Puri, to see the artists at work is quite a rewarding experience.

Gourmet Delights

The green coconut with its pure water and the abundant sea food from Chilika lake and the sea are as Orissan as pizzas are Italian. Delicious prawns, crabs, sweet water fish, lamb, chicken and eggs cooked by Orissan cooks are widely available gourmet fares, while specialty restaurants serve almost everything. Milk preparations like Rasgulla, Rasmalai, Khirmohan, Rasabali, Kalakand are delicious. Pithas, sweet and savoury are served as local snacks. This is a traditional preparation requiring skill and care. Pithas like Mandas, Kakara, Chhunchipatra are usually domestic preparations much loved by the Orissans.

The Ethnic World of Orissa

Orissa is a modern state with an ethnic past that is still vibrant. Most of her tribes are to be found in the districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar Phulbani, Sambalpur, Kalahandi and Koraput. As many as 62 tribes exist in Orissa - Kondhs, Koyas, Bondas, Gadabas, Santals, Juangs, Oraon, to name only a few are some important tribes who have retained their individuality and their close bond with nature. From the last week of January to early February, the Tribal Fair at Bhubaneshwar brings together the ethnic world; their art, craft and culture is on display. For those desirous of a closer look trips are arranged by many tour operators from Bhubaneshwar and other cities but it is a hardier trail and more time consuming.

The Tribal Museum (T.H.R.T.I.) at Bhubaneshwar (CRP Square) however is quite comprehensive and provides adequate information on the art, craft, housing and life-styles of the various tribal groups.

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