Saturday, June 06, 2015

New Home

Saturday, June 06, 2015
Hello Friends,

Expressions of Life has moved to

Please visit. Suggestions are always welcome :)



Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Spring Hues in City

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

With arrival of spring, trees in the Twin City of Cuttack and Bhubaneswar are donning beautiful colours. A generous splash of yellow, red, violet, orange and pink can be seen everywhere.

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Sculpting Delicate Crafts

Wednesday, March 04, 2015
By Diana Sahu

In the Sholapith reed, artist Ananta Malakar sees creativity. At the first sight, his art works look like ivory carvings of Murshidadbad, but a closer inspection reveals that it is the white core of the reed that gives them the distinct look and texture. His skillful hands have been shaping the reed into many models like temples, boats, flowers and images of Gods and Goddesses for several years now.

With a large knife, the 74-year-old master craftsman sculpts out the milky white raw material from the reed and uses them to create delicate pieces of art - a 20’ x 12’ Saraswati idol, sculptures of Ganesh and Lord Shiva and his consort Parvati in similar dimensions and much more. The West Bengal-based artist claims his raw material is malleable and can last for a century if preserved in a glass case.

Coming from a family of Malakars (those into the business of creating garlands), Ananta learnt the craft from his father, Aswini Malakar who created traditional ‘mukuts’ (head gear) for the Bengali bride and bridegroom, and flowers from the reed. After the ban on ivory trade, Ananta decided to give a new meaning to the art form that was limited to just puja paraphernalia. At the age of 15, he started creating life size icons out of Sholapith, which has a diameter of just one and half inch. 

The finest examples of his craftsmanship are seen on images of Gods and Goddesses and the massive decorative backdrops made for Durga Puja celebrations. It was in 1970 that he first created an intricately carved 12-ft Durga idol entirely out of Sholapith. Subsequently, he made eight-ft images of Goddess Saraswati and Goddess Kali.

Back then, the raw material was found aplenty in the ponds of West Bengal. “But today, I have to buy the reed. When young, it is extremely delicate but as the reed ages, it becomes strong enough to withstand the carving by a knife,” says Ananta, who is inspired by Rabindranath Tagore’s poetry. “His poems are extraordinary in their character and every time I hold a Sholapith reed, I want to create something extraordinary out of it,” says Ananta, who was here in Bhubaneswar this week to participate in the Sisir Saras exhibition. To the exhibition, he just brought three knives to shave the stalk of the plant and over five dozen of Sholapith stems. All the artworks were created at the fair without any artificial colours. 

 Today, it takes him four days to meticulously carve a basic 20’ x 12’ idol. “This process needs a lot of concentration as a wrong move would waste an entire stem. Thankfully, Sholapith craft still has a market in Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai,” says Ananta, who had won the National Award for his craft in 1970. In Odisha, he fondly remembers his association with Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra and Patachitra artist, Gokul Bihari Mohapatra with whom he stayed in a hotel in California in 1986. “Odisha has several such jewels in the art sphere. People should realise their importance,” he says. The artist has been sending Goddess Durga idols to the US during Durga Puja and his works have found place in various museums across the world including National History Museum in Washington, the Kremlin Museum, the Los Angeles Museum in Russia and the Crafts Museums in New Delhi and Mumbai.


Friday, February 06, 2015

A Martial Heritage on the Wane

Friday, February 06, 2015
By Diana Sahu

Paika Nrutya, the traditional battle dance of the State, might have withstood the test of time, but the number of akhadas (training centres) in Odisha is gradually on the decline. Blame it on an apathetic Government, lack of promotional avenues and funding.
The dance revolves around acrobatic movements with swords, lathis (sticks), chakras (wheels) and dhalis (shields) to the accompaniment of 'Chagi', 'Mahuri', 'Nagara' and cymbals. In the ancient times, Paika Nrutya by the warriors was considered a rehearsal for the battle. 
Scholars have compared Paika Nrutya to Kalaripayattu of Kerala, considered the oldest fighting system in existence, because of its approach to traditional weapons and techniques, but the former does not enjoy the patronage that the latter does. In fact, Kerala has been successful in converting Kalaripayattu into a tourism product whereas in Odisha, Paika Nrutya is limited to a handful of villagers in rural areas.  
Today, Paikas can only be seen performing during Dussera, Kali Puja, birth anniversary celebration of Harekrushna Mahatab and the Dhauli Kalinga Mahotsav. Besides, the Jobra puja committee at Cuttack has been organising Paika Nrutya competitions every year on Vijaya Dashami day from 1921.

History Behind the Form

The martial prowess of Paikas finds mention in Sarala Das' 'Mahabharata', written in the 15th century, poet Balaram Dash' work 'Jagamohan Ramayan' and even in the carvings on the Sun Temple at Konark. Historians said when the British started meddling with the revenue system of the State in 1803, the farming community rose in rebellion. At that juncture, Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar, the military chief of the King of Khurda, revolted on April 2, 1817. As Bidyadhar led his army of Paikas, the British were forced to retreat. The rebellion came to be known as Paika Bidroh. Also, it was due to the Paikas that the Britishers did not find it easy to win over the Barunei Fort at Khurda, which is said to be the last free fort of the country to go to the British.

Successors of the Fighter Tribe

While officially, there is no information on the exact number of akhadas existing in the State today, unofficial sources put the number of Paikas still practicing the martial dance form at around 20,000 in the districts of Khurda, Dhenkanal, Ganjam, Puri, Gajapati, Talcher and Balasore. The maximum number of akhadas exists in Khurda. "If the Nrutya is being performed today, it is because of the stage shows that offer money for sustenance. There is no encouragement from the Government's side," says Gyana Ranjan Mohanty, a Puri-based acrobat who performs Paika Nrutya and Malkhamb. He says the existing forms of Malkhamb, Sahi Yatra, Ranapa, Dhemsa, Chhau and Naga Nacha have been born out of Paika Nrutya.

Dance or a Sport?

Ileana Citaristi, who has authored a book 'Traditional Martial Practices of Odisha' and carried out extensive research on the subject, feels Paika Nrutya is currently in a no man's land. Government is yet to classify it as a performing art or a form of sport as a result of which, it does not come under either the Sports Department or Culture Department. “This is why, no one pays attention towards it propagation and whatever little is being done for its promotion is half-hearted," she says, adding that although Paika training exists in rural areas of the State, it is not systematic. Not all the Paikas are adept in every form of the martial dance. "Only a few can play with a sword and shield today. You will not find the entire gamut of the martial art in any of the akhadas; what can be seen is mostly martial exercises like Banati, Lathi Khela, Chakra Ladhei, pyramid formation and somersault," Ileana adds.

No Paika Training Centres

Currently, there are no Government training centres where Paikas can be trained. Even as a training centre for Paikas was opened by the Government at Gurujang near Khurda in 1998, the institution did not function beyond two years. The akhadas do not have a curriculum and all forms of martial exercises in Paika Nrutya are not covered as far as training is concerned.
Founder-Director of Rani Sukadei Regiment of Talcher, the only all-women Paika Akhada in the State, Soubhagini Debi who is also the principal of Silpanchal Women's College in Talcher, says Paika Nrutya, which is an integral part of Odisha's history, should be presented at important State festivals so that today's youth come to know about it. "It is a dying art form and only some Gurus have kept this tradition alive. There is a need for establishing training centres for Paikas with provision of scholarship for youths who wish to learn it. Whatever training is being imparted now is at individual level and we do not know if our students would be interested in carrying forward the tradition," she says.

Commemorating Paika Rebellion

Culture Minister, Ashok Panda, who admitted to the lack of patronage to Paika Nrutya, said in commemoration of 200 years of the Paika rebellion that will be observed in 2017, the Culture Department has planned a series of events with the Paikas. "Also, we will be taking steps for protection and conservation of Khurdagarh fort, and Barunei that was the religious place where Paikas used to worship before setting out for war," he informs.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Logging in After Ages

Thursday, March 22, 2012
Have an irresistible urge to get back to Expressions of Life.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

His Own World

Thursday, August 25, 2011

It was an ordinary morning. I stepped into an almost vacant bus that would take me to work. In spite of all the empty seats, I saw a man dressed as a woman sitting next to the opposite gate. He seemed oblivious to the some-curious, some-demeaning stares and awkward glances his co-passengers shot at him.

Happy in his own world, he felt freedom in having the wind playfully smacking him in the face. The pallu of his gaudily sequined purple saree kept going out of control from behind him, and he let it fly about. Clearly control is not something he liked. He hummed to himself random songs of his heart as he continued to look outside, absolutely nonchalant about all eyes on him. He was happy in his own cocooned world.

Two hawker-women got on the bus. One of them held out her hand as a friend would to another, and helped her settle down. The second sat cross-legged on the floor, next to the cross-dresser. She elicited his gentle attention and a smile when she untied the the huge bundle around her shoulders to reveal a gurgling cherubic infant. The baby squinted against the sudden light and let out a small chuckle of delight. The mother and her friend laughed and the child was smothered with adoring kisses. The man extended his hand to touch the child's cheek. It was a touch that reminds one of a caregiver - soft, loving, tender, giving and passionate. The child reciprocated with a smile of recognition of that love.

Another stoppage, another girl boarded and allowed herself a space next to where all of us were. Impeccably attired in a carefully-careless sense of fashion, she finished texting on her swanky iPhone and crouched to play with the child in his mother's lap. She exchanged a few dialogues with the infant in baby language, a smile with the man and picked up a bangle from the lady's wares-box. She asked her how much they cost, picked up a few more and paid for them.

Yet another stop for the bus. The girl gave a last beatific smile to the baby and got off. More women embark. Two friends, in particular, looked in the direction of the small group and turned their faces away as if they had seen something unappealing. The man continued to be unaffected and hummed to the wind blowing away the sparse hair on his head. The women began piling their ware-boxes again and the mother strapped the baby to herself, preparing to get off at the next stop.

They did. The man waved them goodbye and kept looking outside the bus, into the sights blurred by speed and bright sunshine. He continued to sing to himself. I continued to admire his indifference.

The sneering ladies got off at the next stop. Now it was only me and the man. Another two stops before the bus reached the terminus. He looked up at me and in a gentle soft voice asked if it would be okay for him to sit on the seat; if I would mind. Mildly stunned for a few seconds, I welcomed him to take a seat. He smiled graciously, took a seat opposite me and went back to staring outside the bus through the window.

Feigned indifference? A want to avoid inconvenience or unnecessary and unwanted attention? Cautiousness to ward off hurtful mud slinging and name-calling? Thoughts rattled in my head as I tried to think of something to say, to ask, to start a conversation. He appeared so consumed in his world, that I did not want to intrude. I got up to leave. The man turned to look at me, curved his lips to give me a smile of friendly gratitude. I returned it with one that said, "you're welcome," and got off the bus.

I wove my way in and out of clusters of people, all the while wondering about the man, the woman inside him he wants to bring out, and the judgmental world he is carefully resisting.

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Magical Mawlynnong

Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Nestled barely four km from the Bangladesh border and 90 km away from Shillong - Mawlynnong - is the nearest I could get to paradise.

Though there were many interesting places in and around Shillong, my choice of visiting the small, picturesque village of Mawlynnong was not random. For, the village has earned the reputation of being the ‘cleanest village in Asia’. It was accorded the status in 2003 by the Discover India magazine.

After reaching Shillong, I and three of my friends set out for Mawlynnong on a Sunday morning in a taxi. The journey, I must say, was as beautiful as the destination. The road was relatively empty that day so we stopped on a ridge overlooking the Sohra plateau. We then climbed onto top of this small hillock and got an eagle's eye view of the terrain below us. It was at this instance that I wished I could get on a glider to enjoy the view.

After around three scenic hours of driving through meandering narrow roads, we arrived at Mawlynnong. ‘God’s Own Garden’ – the sign at the entrance of the village read. Inhabited by people belonging to the Khasi tribe, we were awestruck by Mawlynnong’s cleanliness and aesthetic beauty. The village was dotted with small houses each sporting a colourful neat garden. Clean concrete walkways and beautiful flowerbeds all along marked the village that is home to 87 Khasi households. Interestingly, there were no fences between the houses and huts. The village was spotless with no debris on the ground and no littering of any sort. The paths were also dotted with dustbins made of bamboo. Plastic bags are completely banned and waste disposal is environmentally friendly. Rubbish is thrown into a pit dug in a forest near the village where it is left to turn into compost.

There is a small tea stall at the entrance of the village. We stopped here for a cuppa and our guide Henry was there to receive us. He then took us to the Mawlynnong guest house, rather a tree house, which Carol Nongrum, a member of the Meghalaya Tourism Development Forum, had booked for us in Shillong.

The house, entirely made of bamboo, had two cosy rooms on both side and a central area. Outside was a machan which looked onto the jungle and a small waterfall. The machan was suspended at least 80 to 100 feet in the air, supported and constructed by bamboo on stilts. Connecting the verandah to the first machan, was a narrow bamboo bridge. Staying in a tree house like this one was indeed a childhood dream come true. The rooms had comfortable double beds also made of bamboo, clean linen and blankets, mosquito-nets and squeaky clean bathrooms.

We quickly placed our luggage in the house and set out to explore the nature’s marvels that Mawlynnong had in store for us. Henry took us to Riwai village which was 10 minutes drive away from Mawlynnong. Riwai housed one of the most interesting and unique creations of nature, a living root bridge formed by roots of Indian rubber trees. It was a 20 minute trek to the root bridge from the village. About 150 years old, the roots of two trees have been entwined by villagers to grow into a natural bridge. A gurgling stream flanked by dense forest flows below the root bridge giving the finishing touch to the picture.

We next proceeded towards an unnamed waterfall amid thick forests on the outskirts of Riwai. The roar of falling water, butterflies fluttering around and the mist – the sight was simply astounding at the bottom of the falls. We were sweating after the difficult trek to the falls and dipped our heads into the water to get some respite. The trek uphill was the perhaps the most tiring thing I had done in the recent past.

Henry took us to another spot nearby which defied the forces of nature. A huge flat rock lay balanced on a much smaller rock and has been so for how many years, none knew. It is believed to have been an old Khasi sacrificial altar.

After the tiring trip, we went back to our guest house to freshen up and have a late lunch. The caretakers, whose hut was on the guest house premises, served us local chicken, fish curry, rice and fresh vegetables that were seasoned with Khasi herbs.

Our evening at Mawlynnong was spent in lazy walks around the village and a visit to another attraction – the Sky View Point or the Hanging Bridge. The bridge was made out of bamboos spanning across two trees. Climbed in twos, we could clearly see the flooded plains of Bangladesh as far as the eyes could go.

Henry told us that Mawlynnong's reputation for cleanliness has even earned it a place on the State's tourism map. “Our village is a 100 years old, and we have learnt to maintain cleanliness for generations,” he said. There is a fine imposed by the village council for anybody found to be throwing litter around or cutting trees. Besides, children are taught to collect litter at an early age and regular inspections are carried out by village council on sanitation facilities in each house. True to his words, cleanliness seemed like a way of life for villagers here.

Since it was a long day for all of us, we returned back to our house early and decided to relax at the machan under a star-studded sky till it was time to retire for the day.

The next morning greeted us with a sunny smile. The village looked like a colourful canvas decorated with flowers of various hues. We finally said bye to Mawlynnong with this mesmerising sight in our eyes.


Getting there: Mawlynnong is situated 90 km south to Shillong, Meghalaya. Taxis are available to the village from Shillong round-the-clock at the price range between Rs 1800 and Rs 2000. It preferable to hire the taxi for overnight stay and visits to the tourists spots nearby the village.

Where to stay: Mawlynnong guesthouse has two huts — the larger accommodates four persons and costs Rs 2,400 while the smaller sleeps two and costs Rs 1,000 each. To book, call Deepak Laloo or Carol Nongrum (0364-2502420, 09863115302). The caretakers prepare tasty meals that include some interesting local cuisine using meats, jackfruit and Khasi herbs. One has to pay an additional Rs 250 for the tourist guide and Rs 100 towards community welfare and upkeep besides the food and accommodation charges.

Expressions of Life © 2009. Design by Diana