Tourism

The Odisha experience

Print edition : January 22, 2016

An Odissi dance performance by artists of Srjan, a Bhubaneswar-based odissi dance institute. Photo: By Special Arrangement

The illuminated Sun temple. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Sue McGrew, a professional sand artist from the U.S., making her sculpture for the theme of climate change. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Participants at the Sand Art Festival. Photo: By Special Arrangement

Visitors at the Sand Art Festival. Photo: By Special Arrangement

A visit to Konark, Puri and Bhubaneswar in winter can be enriching in terms of experiencing their tradition and culture, be it in the performing arts, paintings and sculptures or handicraft items.

THE locale was right, the ambience befitting, and the message powerful when this year’s Konark Festival kicked off with the presentation of the national song, “Vande Mataram”, by the artists of Srjan, a premier odissi dance institute founded by the late Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra, the doyen of odissi. The opening presentation was in line with the tag line of the festival: Experience the rhythm... that binds India together!

Konark is a small town on the Odisha coast just 35 kilometres from Puri. As thousands of lovers of Indian classical dance and art connoisseurs converged in Konark to witness the five-day-long annual festival, which began on December 1, the historic Konark Sun temple, or Black Pagoda, which is known for its erotic sculptures, seemed to be basking in its own glory. The festival venue, decked up as an out-of-the-world place with its open-air auditorium set against the backdrop of the majestic temple, reverberated with the ethereal classical dances of India and the accompanying music. The auditorium is spread over several acres and has a beautifully constructed gallery with the stage in the middle.

The dance presentations on the five colourful evenings included those of odissi, bharatnatyam, kathak, kuchipudi, manipuri and sattriya. The artists enthralled the audience with their stunning performances. Many foreigners, dance lovers from different parts of the country and local people attended the festival. Winter had just set in and the cool breeze added to the mystic mood in the well-illuminated surroundings. A few people were seen burning firewood along with frankincense to warm the open-air auditorium and chase away mosquitoes.

Visiting Konark when the annual dance festival organised by Odisha Tourism is under way is the best decision any tourist can make. The local people get involved in the festival in various ways, making the mood festive. Konark can be called a place of living heritage where the legacy of the artists who built the Sun temple in the 13th century continues in the form of sculptures, Pattachitra paintings and performing arts such as the gotipua dance.

The exquisite sculptural panels of the Sun temple have their living reflections in the work of local artisans and in public life as well. Young dancers learn the intricacies and techniques of the gotipua dance to display the age-old art and aesthetics of Odisha. Their body movements and balanced poses enliven the stony walls of the Sun temple in everyday life. The gotipua dance, which was the precursor of odissi, is a sophisticated classical dance form of India that is primarily practised by young boys dressed up as girls. Their vigorous, flexible and graceful movements inspire the modern-day odissi to make it a polished dance form. Many gotipua gurus came out of their rural and folksy background in the region and reshaped odissi, which has emerged as one of the leading classical dances of India. Artisans living in hamlets in and around Konark still practise the art of making statues, sculptures, idols and items of stone, wood, metals, papier mache and paper. Tourists delight in buying the antiquities and filigree and handmade applique works from the shops near the Sun temple. Konark offers tourists a combination of dance, sculpture, art and handicrafts.

Sand Art Festival

Parallel to the Konark Festival is the International Sand Art Festival at Chandrabhaga Beach, a little away from the Sun temple, in which more than 40 noted sand artists from different parts of the country and abroad participated this year. Thousands of tourists who visited Konark in those five days thronged the venue of the Sand Art Festival.

Artists made sand sculptures on diverse themes. On the first day, the theme was climate change as the world climate summit was in progress in Paris. Artists created sand sculptures conveying messages relating to conservation of nature to fight climate change. “Warm the Earth, with Love” was the message carved on the sand sculpture created by Sue McGrew, a professional sand artist from the United States. Her sculpture depicted the face of a woman symbolising Mother Earth. “Climate change is a very important issue. Everyone should love nature and fight climate change,” she said.

The themes on the remaining days were historic monuments, the Swachh Bharat mission, unity in diversity and world peace. Sudarsan Pattnaik, the internationally acclaimed sand artist of Odisha, was the brand ambassador of the festival.

Chandrabhaga, which is also known as the place of the rising sun, is popular for its scenic and tranquil beaches where sunrise and sunset attract thousands of nature lovers every day. A large colony of fishermen nearby represents the typical seaside life. Every year on Magha Saptami, lakhs of people from far-off places gather at Chandrabhaga to take a holy dip and offer prayers to the sun god at the break of dawn. A few kilometres away is the Ramachandi temple where the backwaters of the Kushabhadra river form an excellent spot for boating, surfing and swimming. The temple is located on a beautiful spot on the banks of the Kushabhadra where it flows into the Bay of Bengal.

Konark is one of the corners of the Golden Triangle of Odisha along with Puri and Bhubaneswar. These places have a different feel even though they represent the same cultural ethos. The winter months, from November to March, are the best season to visit Odisha as one can avoid the scorching heat of summer and the heavy rain of the monsoon.

To reach Konark to experience the tradition and culture of the Golden Triangle, one has to travel 65 km by road from Biju Patnaik International Airport in Bhubaneswar. Or one can reach Konark by travelling 60 km from Bhubaneswar to the holy town of Puri and then travel another 35 km on the marine drive between Puri and the Sun temple. Those who start their Golden Triangle tour from Konark can reach Puri by travelling for 25 km on the marine drive from Ramachandi.While life in Konark is quiet round the year, Puri bustles with thousands of devotees of Jagannath and tourists throughout the year and has the feel of an old city, and Bhubaneswar, a smart city in the making, represents a mix of both the old and the new. Besides the Jagannath temple that was built in the 12th century, Puri has a host of other temples and mutts. A series of festivals relating to the Jagannath temple, including the annual Rath Yatra, attracts millions of tourists every year. From Puri, one can visit Baliharachandi beach and Chilika Lake, which are 23 km and about 50 km from it respectively. Both these places are worth visiting in winter. Once out of Puri, many tourists visit Raghurajpur, 14 km away towards Bhubaneswar to gain a first-hand experience of being in one of India’s unique heritage craft villages. It is also the birthplace of Guru Kelucharan Mohapatra. Raghurajpur is located on the southern bank of the Bhargavi river amidst groves of coconut, palm, mango, jackfruit and other tropical trees. The village is inhabited by artisans who make Pattachitra paintings and other handicraft items throughout the year.

On the way to Bhubaneswar from Raghurajpur, one comes across Pipili, which is famous for its applique handicrafts. Almost all the artisan families living in Pipili are engaged in producing a wide variety of applique works made of colourful fabrics. Closer to Bhubaneswar are the Dhauli hills with the Daya river flowing close by. Dhauli has major edicts of Ashoka engraved on a mass of rock, and at the top of the hill is Vishwa Shanti Stupa (peace pagoda), a massive dome with lotus petals as its crown that was built through an Indo-Japanese collaboration in 1972. While Konark is known as Arka Kshetra, and Puri as Sankha Kshetra, Bhubaneswar is known as Ekamra Kshetra. The Lingaraj temple, built in the 11th century, is the main attraction in Bhubaneswar. It is called a city of temples because ancient sandstone temples, heritage ponds and water tanks dot its landscape. The Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves are also situated in the city.

The Odisha government has been taking a series of measures to augment infrastructural facilities in the places tourists visit. The numbers of tourists, both domestic and foreign, have been increasing very year. Apart from promoting tourism in areas dominated by tribal people and ecotourism in eco-sensitive zones of the State, the government is also making efforts to promote Buddhist tourism. Archaeological excavations have established more than 200 Buddhist sites across the State.

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