Excerpts from December 2012 report
I call Gurujee after I have setlled in in I B at Khamar. He came in the evening. We discuss about the projectand its objective. He says he will share with me with whatever he knows.
He is happy and we talk about the fellowship and its financial modalities.
Siba Prasad joins me to meet the local BDO there. It is regarding the performance that is being scheduled for 9th during the Pallalahra Utsav. I get a chance to talk to him in the bus. I ask about the Bhatas. He says that Bhata have come to this area many years ago. They claim that they have migrated from Puri and Jajpur. However he says he has never heard any relatives living in that area. Most of his relatives are either in Pallalahra, Talcher or Athamullick subdivisions. I ask him if he could introduce me to any old person who might have some knowledge about Ravana Chhaya. It is not necessary that he has to be a performer himself. It could be that he had seen it in his childhood. He says it is impossible. On the way I see Malyagiri Hills for the frst time. It is beautiful. Siba Das tells me all small villages dotting the area have Bhatas living. He says there are Bhatas living in Pallalahra, Debgarh and Keonjhar area. I ask him if he could take me there. He says he can as he knows many in that area but nobody knows anything about Ravana Chhaya. He says that he is also very keen on knowing more about their communities relationship with Ravana Chhaya and made some attempts earlier to talk about it with Bhatas living in those areas. But, it seems they had not heard of it.
We arrive at Pallalahra. He goes to meet the BDO and I go to the bank and post office. We decide to meet in the bus stand after our work is done.
I meet him in the bus stand talking to somebody. He introduces that person as the guy from whom he buys leather for making puppets. On the way Siba tells me that that person was a little scared to reveal himself as trading with wild animal skin is illegal thus he can’t come in public forum. I ask him if he could take us to places where he procures leather from. He says he might not like to but could I will take you there.
The Palace of Pallalahra King is located in a hillock next to the main town. It looks dilapidated and requiring immediate attention. Siba tells me that his family has been related with the Pallalahra King since old times. His grandfather Prananath Das used to supply Pan and Alcohol to the King who is the current King’s father.His grandfather popularly known as Panua Budha used to be at the Palace very frequently. I asked if he did Ravana Chhaya. He says no. Surprised, I asked how he claims himself to be Kathinanda Das’s grandchild. He says Panua Budha and Kathi Budha’s fathers were brothers. With that kinship Kathi Das is his grandfathertoo. He says the King’s family is in abject poverty. It seems the last King and his sons wasted all money
on Alcohol and other sorts of wasteful expenses.
He says “yes we are Bhatas and we make a living by pleasing the masters”. So, it is their job to praise people and takes money from them or rice. The Rajas are not respected anymore by the young villagers and they lack any sort of financial credibility even in the local vegetable market. To quote Siba’s he says “even the saag wali budhiya won’t give them a one rupee credit”. Siba says he is perhaps the only asked erstwhile Kangal (bankrupt) king of entire Gadjat area. They have heard that the current king’s sons live in Raipur and the King too spends most of his time there these days. We reached the palace. The gate is massive, but, all wooden and iron fixtures have been scrapped away. In the guard room lives a family. I ask Siba if it will be the guard family. Laughingly, he says maybe not. The King might have rented it out to someone for even hundred, two hundred rupees and might be using that money to buy one day’s alcohol. We go in and reach the small alter where the deity is there just before the next gate. Siba says the deity earlier was kept in a big temple inside, but, it has collapsed and the Devi has been kept here now. The altar’s wooden gate is locked. It is a simple door that might have been made cheap, locally. Weather beaten but strong, the door has marks with vermillion and decorated with fresh Hibiscus flowers. I try to get in the second gate in excitement, but, Siba stops me and says we rather take permission from someone as after all let us not forget that it in king’s Palace. I ask that I don’t see any guard, but, he points out that some people who have gone in might come out and we can ask. I see two bikes and a few bicycles parked near that gate. In twenty minutes we ask if we could go in and I introduce myself and describe my intentions of taking just a few still pictures. That person says that the king is coincidentally here and he would go and ask if he would like to meet us. We go in and wait near the third door which leads directly to the inner courtyard. We wait there. I peep in and it looks like a shabbily kept house. It reminds me of local landlord’s backyard in my own area near Titlagarh. I see dry and wet cow and goat dunk lying everywhere. There is also a stone tub with cow-feed. The courtyard perhaps has not been cleaned. The king comes out I introduce myself and ask if he would remember any Ravana Chhaya performance in his Palace. He looks perplexed and takes time to decide whether to talk to me. Soon I say that I am not looking for any immediate answers. I would come again if he collects any old pictures and documents related to Ravana Chhaya and keep it with him. I would come again at a mutually agreed date and talk and shoot. I ask permission if I could take a few pictures. He allows but stands there to see what I am shooting. While I am busy shooting Siba introduces him as Panua Budha’s grandson. The king remembers Panua Budha and soon they talk about things in low tone which I can’t overhear. But, I am sure it was just pleasantries and not any specific. While taking pictures I go up a raised platform which looks like have been recently repaired and white washed. Both of them jump towards me asking me not to do that. I backtrack feeling that I might have crossed some line of decorum. Siba says this is where the temple was and that very platform was the sanctorum. Siba says that only the priest (Jhankar-a non Brahmin priest who are there all over Gadjat area) and King is allowed to go up that platform. The King in the meanwhile starts talking to me and asks more about me and my home. He confuses me to be of some royal family by my surname (De).
He says that Ravana Chhaya used to be performed in the night at the very place where we are standing. I ask him if he remembers who performed then. He can’t remember. He says the high time for such performances used to be during the Dola Jatra during the celebration of Holi. It seems the whole area below (he shows) used to get crowded with a mela and many other performers such as Ghuduki Nacha, Danda Nacha and Sapua (Snake charmers) used to come. I request the king if I could click a few pictures of him. He refuses smilingly saying he is not properly dressed
Khageshwar Pradhan now seems ready for the interview. He seems to be in a contemplative mode.
He tells me Ravana Chhaya of Gourang Das has broken many norms and has commercial intentions. He says that a few years ago he got many puppets made in cowhide and he sold them at good rates in Delhi. His actual expression was “he opened a shop to sell puppets in Ashoka Hotel in Delhi and made lakhs of rupees”. He says performing Ravana Chhaya with puppets made from cowhide is a sin. Cow is considered sacred in farmer community. When my friend cut puppets out of cowskin he fell ill soon after.
I get the signatures of Guruji on NFSC receipt vouchers. Khageshwar Sahoo hands me over a photocopy of an article written by Late Dhiren Patnaik, the ex-secretary of Odhisa Sangeet Natak Academy on Ravana Chhaya. We discuss the future of Ravana Chhaya. Everybody talks about lack of money, but, guruji says the real crisis of Ravana Chhaya is the access to new leather. He says that Ravana Chhaya puppet requires leather from dear, Blackbuck, Antelope and Wild boar. All these animals come under wild Life protection act. How can we get these skins legally.
I ask them how long does a puppet last. They say it can last upto fifty years or more if properly
taken care of. I ask if they could show me some of them. They say the old ones made by Pothani Das and Baishnav Das are not there anymore. They all got destroyed. There are very few of the ones made by Kathi Das left. I ask what happened to the rest. They say that Kathi Das sold them for pittance and some of which were bought by Jeevan Pani and are there in Delhi Sangeet Natak Academy Archives. I ask then which puppets are with you now. He says, they say the ones made during the puppet making workshop that was held in Bhubaneswar in 1978. Then I said that the wild life conservation act was already in place by then. How they could procure so much of leather. They said the leather came from dead animals from the state zoo at
Nandan Kannan located near Bhubaneswar. Guruji said, it was not simple as we walked in there and bought it off the shelf. The procurement was done under special permission given by the then Chief Minister Janaki Ballabh Patnaik. It seems Kolha Charan Sahoo was active in local politics and had leanings towards congress party. In any case it is because of Janaki Babu that Ravana Chhaya was performed in Cuttak in 1956 on his insistence when he was the editor of Prajatantra Newspaper. So, Janaki Babu wrote special recommendation on his Chief Minister letter head and Dhiren Babu of State Sangeet Natak Academy co-ordinated the whole thing and wrote necessary permission letters. Most of the puppets that we have today were made then.
So, guruji says now even if we are commissioned new productions we get into trouble with this. For each new theme we have to make a new set of puppets. For some characters we may need to make four-five puppets that capture the stage or position of the character at different points in time even in the same story.
For example, we use four types of puppets for Hanuman in Ramayana. Besides that we nowadays also use puppets to increase detail on the screen for a scene such as the Ashoka vatika in Lanka where Sita was kept after her abduction.
They said that our Odhisa’s artistic beauty is in the Pattachitra style, so, all the new puppets should be made according to that style. When I Guruji he said they changed everything- the music as well as the puppets. Siba interjects that, for example, for the scene of Hanuman when he enters Ashoka Vatika it seems he went like a cat. Kathi Das made the puppet of hanuman looking like a cat for that scene. These guys in Bhubaneswar who had no understanding of
Ravana Chhaya, rejected that puppet saying, it looks very gaudy and made new puppets. But, we kept that old puppet and use it even today because it captures the role of hanuman for that scene best.
So Baishanab Das went away. He started his own Ravan Chhaya team in Bhaluki village. They earned some money by performing in villages around. Both the teams sustained.
But I knew the real master is Baishnab Das. If there is anything to learn then it can only be through him. He is a master of Kirtan, a table player, and a very good Khanjani player. But it is Kathidas who got selected. You see, Baishnab Das and Kathidas both are like elder brothers. I have also helped Kathidas bringing him to my home. We respect them for them being senior to us by age. The neglect of Kathidas led to Bashnab Das going away
We performed “Sita Chori” according to his style but did “Ravan Badha” in our own. (sings the RavanBadha Chanda” to say what did they perform in Rabindrabhavan).
Now let me talk about Gouranga Dash. He got a project from Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts New Delhi.
We were discussing about Sundara Kanda
Yes. Hanuman going to Lanka, locating Sita, Showing her Rama’s ring, Hanuman’s burning of Lanka, fights with Demons, etc. In such a way they show many actions and they perform for around couple of hours. It is true that the performance used to go on for 14 nights? I have never heard them peroforming for 14 consecutive nights. They say and we also know that entire Sundara Kanda can be performed in one night. Thus we can imagine that it must be taking minimum 7 / 8 days. During the time of Basuvev das and Kathidas, how many people were needed to perform? They needed 3 /4 more people, not much.
How? In the front of the screen there used to be 3 people and 2 behind. They had a different style of puppet manipulation.They used to bring in puppets of only those characters about whom the singing used to be done. (sings a verse), you see its only about Hanuman, thus they would make Hanuman fly across the screen in different directions. They didn’t bring in puppets of trees and animal etc to feel the screen. (Interestingly he uses the word colour to describe embellishments). You see earlier they used to tie a long piece of cloth and fix a mat below. And they used to fix the puppets on the mat. They used to bring in only those characters about whom the song is talking about. In our style many characters move at the same time. But in their style only one character used to move at a time.In that case only one person was needed behind the screen.One person will be manipulating puppets with both the hands. Who will supply him with the puppets? Three in front and two in the back .Yes. But at times they managed with just two in the front. What were the musical instruments they used to use earlier? Khanjani and Ginni.If there was another person, then they used to add Daskathi to it.
Is it why Gobind Tej discouraged the use of Daskathi?
Yes. Thats why we used only Ginni.
Do you mean to say Daskathi used to be used earlier? Yes, but the core instruments are Kahnjani and Ginni.
You also said the singing of Bhatas was different.
You see they sang as they felt. They had no coordination between Raga and Tala.
You see they use the same songs and instruments. But their inner tuning was different.
See when they began to sing, they would start with a roar. The Khajani will then start beating furiously. They would sing one line of verse at one go. (Sings a line mentioning Dasaratha).
But that would not be enough. One would then say “hey someone bring in Dasaratha” Then the person behind the screen would bring in the puppet of Dasaratha in case he hasn’t followed the lyrics. Then the singer would say let in sit on the throne. Then the puppeteer would let the puppet it on the throne.
Thus they could manage beutifully by mere conversations. So if they sang just one line, the managed the puppet manipulation by adding conversations even between themselves. One can do it again today.
When you were a child, do you remember how long they used perform?
May be three or four hours. They had a lot of stamina and practice. They knew all verses of Sundara Kanda by heart. They knew all verses. You know they could not sing in bits and pieces. They had to sing it completely. After I came in we made cuts and pieces of verses to make it smaller. Only keep the necessary and take out the rest. I did it, not Kolha Sahoo.
You mean both Kathi Das and Baishnaba Das remember the entire Ramayana by heart?
Did they ever come to Bhagabata Tungi?
No. They didn’t have any relationship with Bhagabata Tungi. They did like any other villagers to pay obeisnace. But not anything beyond that. Now you see one man in charge of it and doing the rituals. Of course people still revere it today and offer flowers and fruits. Even today, if there is any important event at home, we send some offerings to Bahagabata Tungi. The priest performs the rituals. But earlier, each household had to take the responsibility of it for five days in turn. There used to be a wooden pole. If it came to my house, then I have to take care of its rituals for five days.
Who would give you that pole?
The previous house. You see it was this system in the village. After my five days get over, I will pass on the pole to my next adjacent house and so on.
Was Bichitra Ramayana was sung in the Bhagabata Tungi?
No. Only the Bhagabata written by Ati Badi Jagganatha Das. That time they didn’t sing all of it. They only sang “Ekadasa” Skanda. Now I have given the priest a whole set of 12 Skanda and has asked him to sing all. What caste does the priest belong to? Our caste, Chasa. Not Brahmin. We chasa have been worshipping there for earlier times. As a child we used to carry fruit offerings and puffed rice, lit a oil lam, offer “bala Bhoga” and recite one chapter from Bhagabata. Then we would blow the conch, strike the metal bass and distribute prasad amongst children and go back home. Now the rituals are same.
My Question is you said someone pointed out singing of two other songs apart from Bichitra
Ramayana. Who was he? He was not an Odia, but he understood that those lines were not from Biswanath Khuntia’s literature.
Who decded that Raavan Chhaya will be performed only on Biswanath Khuntia’s Bichitra Ramayana? It was the tradition of Bhata community. They don’t learn anything else.But thoese lines were song by Baishnaba Das himself. You see he was also a Kirtan master too. He taught many other things to his people. He trained people in Khola(a double side drum), Ginni(Small cymbals) to be used during kiratan. Thus he knew much about other styles of singing. But generally Bhata community learnt only Biswanath Khuntia’s Bichitra Ramayana and performed.
Bhatas are a commnity who went house after hoouse begging singing.
Because people in general gave imporatance to Ramayana, thus they stressed on this too. But if they found some people with other taste, they sang other types of songs. They sangs songs used in Nata and Tamsa. (forms of performances which had more entertaining quality and allowed more non-religious themes).Did that mean that they sang it along with Ravan Chhaya.
You see during the day they sang all types of songs to beg. But during evenings they performed RaavanChhaya singing verses from Bichitra Ramayana and begged. Begging was their vocation. Women sold bangles in households. But men never sold bangles. They begged during the day and performed Ravan Chaya during the nights.
Did women from their community ever participated in a Ravan Chhaya performance? No
How did you get to know that they exclusively sang verses of Bichitra Ramayana in Ravan Chaya
Whenever they performed in villages nearby or even in our village which I saw, they always sang verses ofBichitra Ramayana. They gave more stress on its ‘Sundara Kanda” as compared to other from the seven kandas. When Shantanu Mahapatra got involved, it is then we added Laxman and Indrajit fight into the performance. Bhatas never did this earlier.
What was there in sundara kanda? It was easier for them to perform Sundara Kanda. In this Kanda Rama will send his 8 senapati to look for Sita. (Sings the relevant verse).
Puppets of jungles wil be projected, within which monkeys will be moving around (continues singing) from here they would reach the sea shore and Hunuman will go to Lanka. He would leap (sings relevant verse which mentions Sodasha goddes). Sodahsa Devi’s image will be brought in. Thus many characters are brought it. Then Hanuman reaches Lanka, meets
Lanka Devi. His meets the cows. They would bring out a small image of Hanuman resembling a cat. (sings relevant verses) Display of these diverse puppets made the show very attractive. The village folk liked it as they heard Ramayana as well as got entertained with shadow, songs and music. For example they would extend the scene of the cows. We would see herds of cow going across the scree. A Gauda(Cow herd) would be herding the, A bull will come and will chase the cow herd away. Then a tiger would come and fight with the bull. Thus they introduce many caricatures into the scene to attract the audience. When this would be enacted on screen through shadow n screen, the music performers who sit by the side in front of the screen would also enact those scenes sitting.See one sings and two more follow s him repeating his lines. They sit in front of the screen thus people can see them. They will show the fight between the tiger and the bull. This brought in humor.
There is another reasoning too. It is in the folk lore, not written anywhere. It is narrated by Prabachak. Ram killed Raavan and returnted to Ayodhya with Sita. There were wives of Bharat, Laxmana and Shatrughna. They asked one day Sita to describe Raavan. He abducted you and kept you in Lanka for fourteen years. Tell us how he looked like. Sita said she has never seen Raavan. They said how it is possible. He kept you for 14 years. Though he kept you in Ashok van but he kept coming to you frequently. Sita said she never looked at other men. The moment I heard footsteps of Ravan coming, I used to sit bending my head low. But I can tell
you what may have looked like. When he was taking me to Ashokvan after abducting me from Panchavati, he took me in a flying chariot over the sea. His shadow fell on sea water. I have seen that from up. They asked sita to describe that. Then she drew an imprint of that on the ground to show them how his shadow looked like. SO the nomenclature might have come from this myth too. What I understand that Raavan Chhaya name has been there from earlier times
Yes. It is not a new name. They have called it Raavan Chhya since the time they have been performing it. Today we might call it Chhaya Nrutya(Shadow dance), Shadow puppet, etc. But they had only one name, Raavan Chhaya. So during performing Raavan Chhaya, they did only on Bichitra Ramayana? Yes.
Are Bhata equal to Chasa in caste structure?
No they are lower caste. Earlier we didn’t allow them to touch us.
Can you tell me if there was any music instruments played along with Bhagabata reading?
Do they practice in the Tungi? At times yes but they do it mostly outside the tungi.
Who is Sarvarakar? He is the village head, the Pradhan. How was the relationship between the King and Sarvarakar? He was the representative of the king in the village. He would collect all the taxes for the king and submit it in the King’s court. He would also at times collect paddy for the King in case there was a wedding in the palace. They would at times take away cows from the village and give them in the palace for the kings to have its milk. The king gave them some land so that they can produce without have pay taxes.