Tag Archives: Orissa

Hare Krishna Report

 Excerpts from January 2013 report

In the month of January,2013 I went to Jamshedpur and Amadubi Village, Dhalbhumgarh, Jharkhand to do my fieldwork. Then in the morning of 3rd Jan  have visited local archive  Kalamandir Library and Tribal Culture Centre, Jamshedpur. In kalamandir I met Mr. Amitabha Ghosh who delivered me a good lecture on Paitkar Painting as well as about the community of Paitkar artists. I visited ‘Biponi’,a centre of tribal handicraft by Kalamandir where different kind of Paitkar paintings are available. In the evening I met my informant Mr. Dharmendra Mishra, the senior reporter of ‘SANMARG’ and Dr. Ratan Mahato, the senior reporter of Dhaldhumgarh Block.

On 4th Jan I visited Amadubi Village and interviewed Paitkar artist Mr. Bhootnath Gayen. On 5th Jan, I met my collaborator Mr. Anil Chitrakar. I collected some data from Anil Chitrakar which will be helpful for my project. On 6th Jan I did some library work in Kalamandir Library.

Excerpts from February 2013 report

The Paitkar painting contains a robust sensuality and is practiced  in the Eastern part of India, mainly Bengal and the border area of Bengal and Jharkhand. The form of Paitkar painting has a direct co-relation with rock art, which shows a sequential development according to the lifestyle of the group. The Paitkar artist has a strong awareness of their surroundings and this is reflected in the contemporary images. They use to paint the social issues and stories to create awareness among the people.

The Paitkar artists prefer simple outlines and representational lines to paint. To eliminate shading the artists are gives attention on simplification of volume and colours.

Paitkar painting may be considered as the variable of Pata painting. Pata painting or Pata chitra was term used for long scroll painting. This scroll painting has a vertical format. Pata painting is one of the earliest folk painting of India. The communities who paint Pata chitras are known as Patua in West Bengal. They are also known locally as Patidat, Patekar or Paitkar.

Jadu patua is a group of Patua painting which is also known as Paitkar painting. This form of painting is practiced in Jharkhand and the border area of West Bengal. In Santhal tribe Jadu Patua or Paitkar painting is considered to have the capacity to send the wandering souls of the dead to heaven and thus help to free them of all pain. There is one theme of Paitkar painting which is called as Chakshudan . The artists go to the house where death has occurred and they carry the painting with them where the iris of the eye is missing. They show the painting to the family of the dead person and explain that their dear one is not able to see as his eye is missing. Quickly he agrees to paint the eye of the dead after the relatives give a substantial token in the form of money and other articles. After this Chakshudan ,it is believed that the eyesight of the wandering soul is returned and is at peace.


My first research question is focused on the text of Paitkar painting. And during fieldwork in January and February, I got more information in this context.  The medium they used to paint this painting is water based colour derived from nature. The artist uses certain leaves, coloured stone and soil to prepare colour. The soil and colour stone are available by the riverside. But it is tiresome to find them. They also create colour from certain leaf and fruits. For this preparation they have to boil this leafs and fruits and filter the conconction. And for making this liquid thicker, the artist boils it again. From the basic primary colours i.e. Red, Yellow and Blue, the artist creates more colours.

The earlier Paitkar painting was dominated by Olive green, Deep brown and black. Later the shift was made to using other colours like- Indigo, Ochre yellow etc. When they paint some religious story or epic story they use Red.

The surface they used to paint Paitkar is the bulk of palm tree. But now-a-days artists use paper and cloth as it is  convenient.

About the content of Paitkar I found some variables. The artist used to depict different type of subjects in their painting. The earlier Paitkar was familiar with the understanding of bad dreams. The Paitkar artist used to terrify the family member of the client by saying that he saw a dream about the soul of the client and that the deceased soul wanted money from the family. Sometimes the artist may draw a chicken or goat or some other things in the painting and then clients’ family would what was drawn. Sometimes the artist draws the used items of the deceased and the family would give them to the artist.

Interaction with Mr. Amitabha Ghosh

During my first field visit, I interviewed the Chairperson of Kalamandir, Mr. Amitabh Ghosh. According to him the earlier Paitkar painting was used to decipher bad dreams. The forms are elongated like primitive art. The painted face came much later in the mid 20th century.. So, we trace the painting through the ages. The birds and snakes are depicted in each painting..

Mr. Ghosh also mentioned that the Paitkar artists are not cultivators and want fallow or unused land for making colour. This type of land is in a huge cavity , full of snakes. So preparing colours is very risky. That’s why they worship the snake goddess Manasa and paint the story of Manasa in Paitkar.

Interaction with my collaborator artist Anil Chitrakar

My collaborator artist Anil Chitrakar is a senior of Paitkar artist community. I got a lot of information of technical details of this particular painting after interacting with him. He uses certain leafs and soil to prepare colour. Preparing  colour from soil takes more than one month. Some stones are used to make colour which is available by the riverside.

Excerpts from March 2013 report

Paitkar painting are mostly associated with Hindu epics. The stories are from of Ramayana, Mahabharata, Manasa song (Manasa pada), Kali song (Kali Pada). Ramayana story focuses on the character drawing Rama, Sita and Mandudari. They recount the story about the deeds of gods and goddesses, such as Shiva or Durga, from Hindu mythology; or the local deities, such as the snake goddess Manasa. Particularly popular Paitkar are Yama patas, in which the god of death punishes sinners.  Unlike Hindu gods and goddess, the deities of Santhal (a tribe of Jharkhand) i.e., Pilsuram and Pilsuburi are also painted. Thus, it can be seen that Paitkar art has been dynamic, changing to meet the needs and interests of the community.

A different form of art is also practiced by Paitkar artists. The leave of taal (fan-palm) tree is used as surface to draw this type painting. But it is not similar to Paitkar painting totally. Another scroll painting named Jadu patua similar to Paitkar is practised in Dumka district nearby. The style of Paitkar painting is derived from Pandulipi which is earlier used by kings to send a message to other kings. Pandulipi is scroll in nature.  Traditionally, Paitkars are men. Women have always assisted with the preparation of dye and colours, but now they are also recognized as talented artists and performers in their own right.

This fieldwork has provided the information about religious links to Paitkar and has helped  to look at the religious connection to the rural life of Jharkhand.

First, the Paitkar generally reflects the socio religious life of Jharkhand. The area Amadubi and nearby places in Jharkhand are inhabited by a number of snakes. Even the painters who are in search of dye and natural colour get scared to take it out in between the stones. Most of the colours are picked from natural stones. The snake deity Manasa is believed to be protector from snake bites as well as bringing prosperity to the family.

Anil Chitrakar sang and explained a musical pitch. The songs are in bengali and used an Ektara (one string musical instrument) and Dotara ( two string musical instrument). I have collected the written version of some of those songs.

Ramayan story is depicted drawing the characters of Rama, Sita and Mandudari. They use the hair of squirrel which acts like a fine quality 1-.00 numbered brush etc. A Different art form on the leave of taal (fan-palm ) tree is used as a base to line or drawings.

Another scroll painting named Jadu patua similar to Paitkar is practised in Dumka district nearby. Paitkar is also called pat chitra because it contains songs with verse.

Pat chitra-Pada chitra-Padya chitra. Padya or Pada means a verse of two rhyming line. The songs are Manasa songs, Nouka Vilash, Karam gaan, grama song etc. The subject in the Paitkar also varies like Folk dances, religious story, hunting scene etc.

Excerpts from April 2013 report

The activities undertaken  during this field visit were:

  1. Technique and treatment of Paitkar.
  2. Daily life and social life of the artist.
  3. Photography.
  4. Video and audio recording.

I stayed at the Chitrakar’s for a few days. During these days we walked around in the village and saw the Paitkar was the only source of income for them. On the other hand, it was quite surprising that the new generation is not interested in continuing with the art. Scarcity of water and lack of communication has made their life stressful. During this field visit I focused on my research query about technique and treatment of Paitkar.

Roadways to Amadubi:

The distance of Amadubi is from National Highway 33 towards Routara is 7km, Ranchi via Bundu is 170 km, Jameshedpur is 65km, Dhalbhumgarh is 7km, Ghatsila is 20km, Chakulia is 25km.


The Paitkars’ official caste designation (or hereditary occupation) is Chitrakar or Picture Maker. The term Paitkar and “Chitrakar” are interchangeable, though the artists generally use “Chitrakar“ as their surname even though they are not related to one another.

The technique of Paitkar

The Paitkar artists use a natural gum with the colours to make it permanent and give more glaze. This natural gum is collected from bel (wood apple) fruit and the resin of neem tree. For colours they collect some kind of coloured stone, soil, vegetable and leaf. Then they grind it with water on a plain stone surface. When the mixture is completed they remove the dust from it with a strainer and boil it to make it thicker. After that they use the gum on it. The Paitkar artists use the shell of coconut to store the prepared colours.

Description of the painting-

These four photographs are the splitting up of one Paitkar Painting. In this particular painting the painter narrates the story of Paitkar artists. The performance of Paitkar artists and the process of performing is the central theme .

The painting is divided into six parts. In first frame we see some Paitkar artists prepare the painting and together they are moving out to the village to perform with their painting. This is their mode for survival. There are three Paitkar artists walking to the village and the first one is carrying a traditional Drum, the second one carrying the Paitkar painting and the third holding a cymbal. There is a village frame in the painting where a farmer also noticeable.

In the second frame we see that one Paitkar artist is showing his painting to king and the others are performing with song. The painting which they are showing to king is about Hindu Goddess Durga.

In third one the artists are begging into the villager’s house. This time the Paitkar painter depicts the story of Goddess Kali. Behind him another two Paitkar artists are performing drum, cymbal and singing as well. The villagers are offering food and something to the artists.

In the fourth part artists are singing and performing with Paitkar and this time the artists paint the Goddess Manasa. And the woman of the house and her son give some food and other stuff to the artists.In the fifth frame again the artists are viewing about the epic Mahabharata. And in last one the artists are doing some ritual activity with the painting.

The text of the Paitkar comprises the form, the content and the technique.


Some of the colours used in Paitkar and their sources are

white – lime powder, yellow – stone or soil, black – lampblack, burnt rice, ashes from kerosene lamp ,red – stone or soil, blue – indigo, green – broad bean leaves.

They collect all these colours from the stones by the bank of river. The other secondary colours are prepared from this basic collection of colours by mixing them. Sometimes the artists leave their paper as ‘paper white’ or blank to specify the white colour instead of using any other white paint. Black colour is made up from the smoke of kerosene lamp. Kerosene lamp creates black smoke and Paitkar artist store the clinker or carbon residue from the black smoke and then mix it with the natural gum and water. Now-a-days artists are using commercial poster colour which is convenient for them.

The Paitkar artists make the brushes from the hair of squirrel and goat. The hairs are tightened by thread on a bamboo stick.

Now-a-days the artists paint on paper. They choose the rough side of the paper. They make the paintings into parts and then sew them together. Once the pieces of paper or the frame have been assembled, the artist rolls the paper to conform to the proper shape. Most Paitkars use pencil to outline the forms of the characters and images. The individual frames are demarcated with decorative borders which disguise the seams between frames. Usually the dark outlines are added at the end of the painting process. Cloth is adhered to the back to strengthen the seams. Often old saris are used as the backing and the patterns of the fabric add visual depth to the Paitkar’s presentation.

Except the Paitkar painting the Amadubi village’s artists make another traditional painting. It’s a kind of traditional etching process where artists used to incise the subject on the dry leaf of Fan-Palm tree through a needle. Sometimes the artists draw the subject matter with charcoal and pencil and then carve out the entire line with a needle. After carving the outline the artists put the colour on it and rub it wih cloth. In this process outlines are filled up with the colours. It is again rubbed with wet cloth to clean up the plain surface of the painting.

While explaining the paitkar, its technique and other necessary information regarding songs and stories he did not accept the Chakshudan which has never been practiced by him even though this is remarked as one of the important features in books and other secondary sources.


Indraneel Lahiry Report

November 2013 report


To get started on the task of archiving contemporary puppetry practices of Odisha, it is imperative that I have an idea about the history of the art in the state, the different cultural influences that has gone into it over the years and its present state. When I had asked my collaborator Sri Maguni Charan Kuanar to help me with this, I realized that he is more of a performer, and cannot satisfactorily and coherently answer my queries. He seeing my interest suggested I meet Sri Gouranga Charan Dash a Professor of

Oriya at the Ravensaw University, Cuttack. I met him at the University; he was also holding the post of the Head of the Department and was an extremely busy man. He had done his doctoral thesis was o the puppetry theater of Odisha. I did not realize then that he too was a puppeteer. He gave me a lot of time though. We talked about his experiences in being a practitioner of Ravana Chhaya(shadow puppetry) tradition of Odihsa, of which only two professional troupes exist. He was very happy to see that such a project has been undertaken as there has not been a comprehensive film on the puppetry art of Odisha, and invited me and my wife to his village in Khamar, Angul district about four hundred kilometres away from Bhubaneswar.

In his village Sri Dash has created an institution called ‘Kondheighara’ , a space where there will be a museum on puppetry of Odisha, research books on the subject, an amphitheater where regular shows can be held and a  place where all puppeteers across the state can come together and discuss their future. A sprawling five acres of land full of old trees adjacent to a Kolha village. It is name after Guru Kathinanda Das the revered guru of Ravana Chhaya. Sri Dash and his wife both are academicians and have learnt the art of puppet manipulations, sing and perform for traditional texts as well as for new ones that they have developed mostly for Sangeet Natak Academy. There has been a rift with the other Ravana Chhaya troupe which is in the village of Odasa very close to Sri Gouranga’s village. He has been blamed for modernizing the tradition. Sri Gouranga also has arguments in his favour, about why such changes and innovations are required for an art form to survive throughout the ages. He is of the opinion that the traditional Bhata community who were the pioneers of this tradition had also improvised on it as no one knows in which form it was available in antiquity. No Bhata people perform anymore though. The people from the ‘Kela’ community, who were the traditional puppeteers and snake charmers of Odisha, have migrated to different profession other than probably one troupe who practice Sakhi Kondhei (glove puppetry). We discussed extensively the complications that have arisen after the Government has started giving grants for the development of the art. Most of the money is devoured by the middle men and sometimes the poor artists are cheated off their remuneration. Also we see that nowadays many artists are ashamed of their identity as a man of very low caste, as it was the practice before, which deter them from travelling different places in search of their audience. He has also helped me with giving me contacts of other practicing puppeteers, all of whom I intend to document in the course of the term of the fellowship.

Sri Gouranga is about to publish a book called ‘Sacred Shadows’ about shadow puppetry practices of our country and his research material has been also very helpful for my study. We extensively shot with him about the techniques of making leather puppets and their manipulation, the songs that are used, etc. which are currently being edited.


December 2013 report


Maguni Charan Kuanar, veteran rod puppeteer of Odisha and my collaborator for the fellowship was invited by the Dept. of Tourism to perform at the 7th Toshali National Crafts Mela in Bhbaneswar.

Maguni arrived at about 5 pm. The show was scheduled at 6:30 pm. For his performance he needs to create a small wooden box, large enough to house two men who would sit on the floor and manipulate the puppets. Maguni came in a rented out truck from Keonjhar, about four hundred kilometres from

Bhuabaneswar, with a team who had been brought together specifically for te show. Maguni previously had dedicated band members who would travel with him all throughout the year. He would also give them a salary and take care of them. He prefers to work with freelancers as he does not take up shows as much as he used to.

Maguni’s crew hurriedly got busy in constructing their stage. One of the people from the Organizers, a

Govt. officer was seen rebuking Maguni in the Green Room. Later on we came to know that Maguni’s crew did not wear an uniform, they had just their different trousers and shirts on which the organizers would not allow on stage. Maguni went to the far and bought all his crew members a saffron coloured

‘kurta’ but did not buy for himself. Folk artists are hardly treated with any respect in Odisha, may be because most of them belong to lower castes or they come from poor households. The classical artists,

Odishi dancers, singers though are treated with extra courteousness. Many of them are city based, Brahmins or daughters of eminent families. While talking to Maguni just before his show we could feel a hint of sadness in his voice. Maguni and his crew were called up on stage and felicitated by the distinguished guests. He started with a small sequence of ‘Maishashurabdh’ (killing of demon Mahishahura by Devi Durga). Then he started with a sequence from Ramayana. Most of the puppeteers in Odisha even Maguni borrow heavily, mostly the songs, from ‘Bichitra Ramayana’. An early eighteenth century text by poet Biswanath Khuntia in Oriya. It was written keeping Ram Leela peformances in mind and was hugely popular at that time. Maguni also is heavily influenced by the ‘opera’ culture or ‘Jatra’ as it is known in this part of the country. Maguni has incorporated small comic episodes in his show. Characters like Bhagirathi who is a drunkard. The character of the Messenger to Ravana is very popular with audiences. Maguni’s characters are very life like in their body language and expressions. He is a wood sculptor par excellence and a skilled mimicry artist too. The voices of both Bhagirathi and his mother are Maguni’s. What is fantastic is the emotions that he renders through his voice.

Maguni abruptly ended the Ramayana sequence because he had to leave the stage for the next artists.

He quickly performed the fight sequence between Rama and Ravana and ended his performance with a huge applause from the audience.

Maguni and his crew left for their hometown soon after in their truck in the cold of the night as the organizers would not arrange for their stay in the city. Previously they would used to come and stay during performances at the guest house of Sangeet Natak Academy. The organizers claim that they would charge at least five hundred rupees more if they would stay for the night, which is beyond the budget allocated for such programmes.

This was my second visit to Sri GourangaCharan Dash’s house, a two storied, modestly made, overlooking a five acre of cultivable land in the middle of the village Kutharimunda in Khamar in Anugul district. Sri Dash plans to make a museum for puppets and a research centre and an amphitheater for screenings and performances. He and his architect friend from IIT, Mumbai have meticulously planned the venture. Sri Dash was very happy to show us the empty land where he is planning the Centre and added that in a couple of years the entire construction will be complete. By the end of my fellowship period the amphitheater should be done and we planned a small gathering of all puppeteers from Orissa here.

My interest of visiting his house again was to see the leather puppets that he had made for his shows and gathered from others. He had only formed his troupe called Sri Ram Chhaya Gabeshana Parishad in the year 1996 so all his puppets are fairly new. All the old leather puppets of Orissa have been over the years been sold to collectors in India and abroad. So, most of the leather puppets that we see today with the puppeteers are new. Incidentally he was preparing the leather to make a cutout of a puppet.

The process starts with the selection of the animal hide eg. cow, deer, mountain goat, etc. . Deer hide was the most commonly used animal hide for puppets as it is smoother than the others, light transmission can be more, it is thinner and lighter. Nowadays, mountain goat is preferred as there are restrictions in procuring other animal hide. But, with different kinds of leather the effect on the screen is different. Cowhide or mountain goat hide is thicker, heavier less translucent. Since it is heavier its manipulation is limited. The skin can be suitable for characters like trees or animals who are not the main characters and whose movement does not forward the narrative. Deer hide being the lightest and the skin being more translucent can be used for human beings or godly characters like Rama.

The hair was removed from the dry skin of the mountain goat. The skin was then cut according to the sketch on the paper. After the cut is done finely, the linear cuts inside the puppet and perforations will be made to give the shape of the body, a resemblance of the costume and ornaments, etc. Previously the Ravanachhaya puppets had very few lines in the body and the shapes of the figures were rather primitive. Nowadays the puppets resemble the Pata painting style with more ornamentation and intricate cuts. Still the puppets do not have joints, so their limbs cannot be moved separately. Unlike the other shadow puppets from Karnataka or Andhra Pradesh the puppets in Orissa are not coloured. Sri Gouranga Dash however paints the skin of the puppet slightly to give an appearance of skin tone, also to make a dramatic composition. For example he had painted the hut, in which Rama, Sita and Lakshman were staying during their exile, black. The hut will be always in the background and will not interfere with the storytelling. Also it might help in creating depth in the composition. Interestingly he had also used Saura (tribal community of western Orissa) painting on the walls of the huts. He suggests that if Rama had been staying in the Dandakaranya forests he must have encountered such paintings on the huts. These additions also can help to make the stories more human and acceptable to the local audiences.

All moving shadow puppets are cut such that they give a profile section of the characters. The characters are also limited to move from one end of the screen to the other horizontally. The depth is compressed as all background elements that set up the ‘mise en scene’ are almost on the same plane as the characters. So, either one can use puppets diminished in size to give a notion of perspective or play with a movable light source. Traditionally for some actions like Hanumana’s flight across the sea the puppeteers have incorporated three distinct body positions of Hanumana to give a feeling that he is flying. But, in traditional story telling style it is probably not important to make the puppets resemble the characters in great detail, the shadows look more vibrant and dramatic when they are not defined. The songs that accompany the play and the puppets in the hands of a skillful artist can only make it come alive.

The traditional shadow puppeteers were the ‘Bhata’ community who took up the text ‘Bichitra Ramayana’ by BiswanathKhuntia. BiswanathKhuntia was a celebrated poet of the early seventeenth century. His work the Bichitra Ramayana or the Wonderful Ramayana has become the most popular Ramayana in the Oriya language because of its lucid and simple language, also as it contains dramatizations that appeal to the common folk.

Two printed editions of the work are available at present .One is published by RadharamanPushtakalaya, Cuttack and other by Jagannath Singh. Both the publishers have included passages from poets other than Viswanath, like Vikram, Gopi, Gopal, Narana, Padmanabha, Lakshman, Jadunandan, Shyama, Kapila and VaisyaSadasibha. The work was completed in the 25thAnka of Divyasimha Deva I, corresponding to 1692-1720. Composed with UpendraBhanja’s(  roughly 1670 – 1740 , also known as ‘Kabi- samrat’ , the emperor of poets ) BaideheesaBilasha which greatly appealed to the learned pundits, Bichitra Ramayana of Khuntia mainly appealed to the common folk, particularly the dancers and ballad singers. – fromEncyclopedia of Indian Literature vol.1, edited by AmareshDutta.

The puppeteers

There are two troupes of RavanaChhaya presently in Odisha -Ravana Chhaya Natya Sansad from Odasha village and Sri Ram Chhaya Gabeshana Parishad of Khamar both from Anugul district. Guru Kathinanda Das(1900 -1986) was one of the most prolific artists of the form and had been a mentor to both the present troupes which are led by Guru Khageswar Pradhan and Dr. GourangaCharan Dash respectively.

Guru Kathinanda Das was not an original inhabitant of Odhasha. His father Basudevdas(? – 1942) had settled there from Seepur a village 21 km away. Basudevdas’ father Hrushi Champattiray was an inhabitant of Domal village of Dhenkanal and married in Seepur. The king of Dhenkanal had given someone from his family the title ‘Champattiray’ after seeing a soulful rendering of Ravana Chhaya. Since Basudebdas did not have any children in Seepur he came and settled himself at Odhasha village.

Ravana Chhaya had flourished in Seepur during the patronage of the Kings of Talcher. The Bhata community who knew the art of shadow puppetry was nomadic. It is believed that they have immigrated from Jajpur district or Puri district of Odisha. The Bhatas used to sing praises of the King and his Sepoy’s and beg for alms as their profession. The King of Talcher recruited some of them as musicians to entertain his subjects, gave them land in Seepur and asked them to settle down. These Bhatas used to roam around villages at the time of festivals, auspicious days, and marriages and perform shadow play.

There were three troupes of Ravana Chhaya at the end of the nineteenth century at Seepur. These were owned by HrusiChampattiray, Chintamoni Das and JogendraDas’ family. Jogendra Das then left for Athamallik(a nearby town in Talcher) for some unknown reason may be family dispute. Along with Jogendra,KritarthaRai, Purnachandra Das, Natabar Ray also left for Athamallik. They started RavanaChhaya there under the guidance of Jogendra Das. The troupe disbanded during the 1930s. The puppets were not taken care of and were ruined.

Basudevdas’s daughter Kanchan was given in marriage to Baishnab from Seepur. The old troupe in Seepur had fragmented so Baishnab joined his father in law Basudev’s troupe. Kathinanda Das who was the son of Basudevdas along with now Baishnab gathered men from the Dhobi community, barbers and farmers and started their RavanaChhaya troupe.

JeevanPani writes in his book RavanaChhaya, “This rare form of shadow play was on the verge of extinction when the documentation unit of the Akademi discovered it in a remote village in April 1971. The only surviving RavanaChhaya puppeteer, Kathinanda Das, was one of the most neglected persons in the village. When the villagers saw us filming, photographing and tape recording his performance they were amazed.”

Maguni Charan Kuanar , rod puppeteer from Keonjhar , when speaking about guru Kathinanda Das mentions that he used to be a blind devotee of Rama and said everything around him was made by Rama. His deep love and devotion towards Rama was reflected in his rendition of the songs from Bisi (popularly known) Khuntia’s Ramayana. Every evening he would sit in the courtyard of his house with his tambourine and sing the songs.

After Guru Kathinanda Das’ death, many scholars are of the opinion that the puppets used by him were sold to foreign countries or are in private collections. Some of them also must have ruined because of neglect. Guru Kolha Charan Sahoo took leadership of the troupe in Odasha and was immensely supported by the villagers. Currently the troupe performs under the guidance of Guru Khageswar Pradhan.

Apparently all the puppets used today are new. Even the puppets that were the property , family heirlooms, of the troupes in Athamallik,  Seepur have magically disappeared.

Pankaja Sethi Report

Excerpts from December 2012 report

It was interesting to note how each of them from different villages in their gesture, approach, dressing and experience of outside world and inside world (outside world- I am referring to town or cities or places unfamiliar to Kondhs living space) reflected distinctive character and behavior. The villages located closer to land (low hill) such as Khajuri and Kurli interact frequently with the developing bodies and Dombo community in their mundane life. I observed, Kondh women from these villages- their manner of wearing kapdagonda ( shift in wearing style and covering their upper part with blouse) , adapting to external  influences and products(such as applying fair and lovely crème) and humming Hindi and Odiya songs shows a strong influence of external factors.

Based on these observations, it segregated them from Ghortoli, Hundijali and Kadrakuma Kondhs to some extent. I guess they have experienced infrequent intrusion of developing bodies and also of the Domb community. Thus, I saw less pollution and changes in their lifestyle. Influence of external factors is evitable; the choice of adapting shows change, progress or shift in attitude.

What is ethical or what is not ethical who decides these social concerns? Coming to the question of ethnic label or identity (Richard Fardon and Stewart Halls) Former illustrates the use of ethnic labels and the latter elaborates the shifting and viewing of identity as a process.

In this context I am taking the DongriaKondh identity and the NGO representing the label of tribal identity. I learned that the NGO using the ethnic label and identity of Adivasi are involved in mass producing Dongria Kondh textile in a village in east Odisha. The producers are group of weavers and are not Adivasi. In my opinion it was unethical to copy and sell this copied textile art in the market for money. In order to mass produce they changed the technique from embroidery to weaving- shift in technology. It was translated in such a way that it appears like an embroidered kapdagonda in similar colours and exact pattern. In this process the producer engaged in the making of duplicate kapdagonda shares no relation with the material culture. A common person who appreciates the beauty of textile cannot make the distinction. In my opinion it is just a piece of textile with no values attached to it, thus it is a commodity different from the artistic self expression rendered in actual kapdagonda. In TRIBES (TRIFED) shop, what we see is replicated piece of kapdagonda. So those NGO (local and national) who are projecting the label of tribal name and development blur the boundaries of real imagined.

Replication and copying of tribal art is common, and in this case the developing bodies are involved ;

Why is it necessary to mass produce everything when the community does endorse this. Well, who asks for community concerns?

Being an observer and participant in the entire workshop I learned varied meanings and vivid expression about the women and their material culture. The indigenous ways of creation are their expression and recreation for women. It would be too narrow to limit this artistic tradition or bracket under the word commodity. This is more than a textile. How can I or the other coming from usual product-commodity world understand this relationship of women and their narrative textiles? Kondh women explained how every line and pattern had a name and meaning. The purpose of rendering textile is not to show their excellence it is their artistic expression – a legacy of tradition, an identity which is what I want to highlight.

My interaction and time spent with the Kondh women embarked me into another realm of contemplation. Navigating between design world and deeper meanings of kapdagonda, I was not able to understand my position where am I leading to. Without any background in Anthropology I pursued my interest as a self taught Anthropologist. It all started for cause and passion, my interest and inclination to know about the people and culture. Yatra/ Travelling to villages was always part of my work and now my interactions with Adivasi, weavers and other people in my years of craft yatra became my way of learning. Small personal interaction with students will appear later in my field notes- comparison of past with the present and my relationship with Kondh students.

In the same year ( 2006 ) I discovered about another weaving workshop in Kurli village, Niyamgiri. In this project DongriaKondh women were trained to use the spinning wheel and loom. I saw the documentation of this project. Kondh women posed sitting on a loom as if they are weaving and some pictures projected how they are using the spinning wheel. These are the new technical alteration implemented by developing agencies. I discovered through images that some of the participants were my students. They were all dressed in best of their ornaments and the images projected how they are adapting to the new technical shift. Few of them (from Kurli) who have rejected traditional way of wearing costumes also decked up for that particular workshop. Surprisingly, it was a Weavers’ Service centre -Central Government project implemented by another local NGO. At least in this case, in comparison to the other project the producers are of the same community and the beneficiary. Though, I cannot think of introducing any alien idea unfamiliar to the socio-cultural context in their domain in order to create design variation for mass production purposes. I often try to contemplate, it is not necessary that local community need penetration of such developing bodies and such intrusions aim to project development of community embarking on the ‘structures of power relation’- subordinate and the dominant. Is there any ground where natives or local can make the distinction and decision of implementing projects in their domain?

I often question such non pragmatic objective, implementation and outcome of developing agencies. How they are constructed implemented and justified. Is there any difference between the three implementing agencies discussed so far? They all seem to represent the agenda of Adivasi development of art and craft; falling in the same categories of reinforcing power relations. We still need to rethink of what we mean by the word development. The aim and objective of development and what are the criteria on basis on which we identify developed or not developed.

There is always hidden agenda behind the project – to reinforce structures of power relation dominating the other- dominant- subordinate,

The shift from hand embroidered to hand woven is justified or not? Why do locals/natives not react? Why don’t they dismiss or disgree with something with which they are not related to?

Adivasimela as the label projects the identity of Adivasi- is a mela celebrating Adivasi communities such as DongriaKondh, Mankedia, Gadaba, Bonda and other Adivasi people. A cultural celebration of Odisha Adivasi showcasing their indigenous way of wearing textile, living, folk dance and music.

Every year state of Odisha celebrates Adivasi Mela annually, for a week or more in Bhubaneswar, implemented by SC & ST Research Institute. It aims to show the socio-cultural way of Adivasi lifestyle. Developing agencies of each community construct abode, goddess, painting, farming methods, tools and other unique characteristics. It is a representation of Adivasi life followed with cultural activities folk music and dance. Adivasi people bring agricultural products, baskets, and some new products introduced in order to create business. They bring varieties of agricultural products implemented by developing bodies which local people are not familiar with and it is not part of their diet. They usually sell such agricultural products in the haat as they do not consume some of the agricultural products. Quite a few NGO’s and developing agencies implemented by Ministry of Tribal Affairs are involved in such kind of projects. As a result of which, a number of indigenous species have been erased or is going to be erased.

Another interesting product I notice regularly in the entire Adivasi stall is- phenyl. Almost all the Adivsai stall stocks multiple plastic white phenyl bottles. I wonder, it is no where closer to Adivasi product so why are they selling phenyl liquid? And why are they worried about city toilets.

During this mela, I recorded VadakeSindhe and VadakaKaso interview and collected information about textile meanings. One day they stayed at my residence for research work. During the day they sat in the stall and common city people looked at them and questioned sensible and insensible questions.

What is ethnic label and identity?

In pursuit of Niyamgiri

To resonate past conversations and to strengthen my research work I planned another visit to Niyamgiri. I had three agendas to cover in this field visit. First, on basis of my recommendation Kadrakada Ando was selected for Child artisan – Kamala Devi Scholarship by Delhi Craft Council. Her presence in Delhi for the award ceremony was essential in order to receive the honorarium. Prior to the visit I discussed with the DKDA Special Officer in charge over the telephone regarding this matter and the Secretary cum Commissioner in the textile department. It was a tough task to deal with.

The second agenda was to meet the Kondh students I trained and see their villages and home. I also had their photographs printed.Finally, the third and task was to record interviews of older women and their narrative expression of Niyamgiri myths for my research purposes.

This time my sister ( Sailaja Sethi) accompanied me. I reached Rayagada station and took the old ambassador to Chatikona. This driver was new to such kind of roads, a Telugu fellow. He was scared to cut the roads and could not cope up with the steep roads of Niyamgiri. He left us in the middle of Chatikona and vanished without uttering a word. This was also a new experience-part of field work experience.

In pursuit of Niyamgiri  I could not anticipate outcome, however, I decided to work further.

Child artisan scholarship for Ando

I discussed about Ando’s scholarship with the Special Officer of DKDA. Being in charge of that community he wanted permission and authorization letter from the higher officials. So, I had to dial multiple calls from a STD booth (it was also selling tamarind and small grocery products). That time there was no mobile connectivity in the Chatikona area. The Commissioner cum Secretary helped me and made necessary arrangements. After hours of struggle Mr. Sahoo confirmed that Sindhe, Ando and one male person MPW – Ramesh Nala for their security purposes can visit Delhi for the award ceremony.

Why does bureaucracy and rigid structures of government make things difficult at ground level and make simple things complex?


Meriah Purbo

My first visit was to Khajuri village to see the preparation of Meria Purba- cane decorations and banana plants decorating the  entrance and surroundings of the village particularly around the Jhakeri Kudi (village Goddess). Young Kondh girls in kapdagonda adorned with ornaments were busy making leaf plates for offerings used in the rituals. Some of them shied seeing the camera and some of them were relaxed. Members of each family were waiting for the Bijeni (woman priest).

I was in Sindhe’s house. Sindhe had a fowl in her hand; rice was served in the winnowing basket. Bijeni enunciated words loudly dealing with visible and the invisible realm for the well fare of the family. I was advised to not to use the camera as it was the spiritual moment for them. I came to the front of the house to witness other activities.

A small group of young men, moving from one end to the other end of the village, beating the drum hanged around the neck, and rejoicing the spirit of meria purba. I could feel the strong spirit of purba. The drum beats was resonating in the entire village. People were getting ready for the Mariah Purbha. Locals told me that Meria Purba is celebrated in the honour of Niyamgiri Raja after successful crop cultivation. Kondh sacrifice podo (male buffalo) to please Niyam Raja. According to records phodo in earlier days was a human ie a human was sacrificed. This act was stopped by the British several years ago, thus human was replaced by a podo.

Common people criticize animal sacrifice. What happens when we sacrifice the entire community for our means and purposes? Nation and state interest is imperative ….somewhere we are to be blamed for excessive use of resources leading to plundering of earth and displacement of Adivasi for minerals.


JhakeriKudi – Jhakeri mean gram devi and Kudi means house of the village goddess or jhakeri. She lives in the centre of the village, and the wall of kudi was adorned with bold triangular patterns and lines. I saw the head of goat and a fowl sacrificed in the altar in front of JhakeriKudi. The body of beheaded goat was sitting in front of the house. Kondh believe, blood sacrifice pleases their God. Curing ill health, getting rid of evil atmosphere, for their safety and security, sacrifice of goat or fowl is imperative. According to them it is the Niyamraja who is asking for it so we are not at fault. The axe and rope is in his control. We are under his mercy and cannot dare to upset him.

Jahkerikudi shares a strong relationship with Kondh( nature power and soul power ) .I want to know who paints Jhakeri and why it is painted only during meriapurba.

Kadrakuma village

Sabar MPW of DKDA accompanied us to meet Ando and other three students. Climbing the narrow and steep road was not easy. I was getting exhausted and breathing speedily. I had my field notebook, laptop and photographs in my rug sack. After one hour of climbing I learned a lesson -not to inhale from mouth while climbing hills.

Interestingly, this village was not densely populated unlike Khajuri and Kurli. Perhaps in the other villages Dombo community, Telugu and southern Odisha migrants have invaded the place for business purposes. I met Ando and her mother. Ando hardly talked to me during the 2006 workshop. Unfortunately, none of the other Kondh students were present at that time of the day. The jahkerikudi here seemed untouched.


We visited Khajuri village to witness the activities. I wanted to see how people are engaged in different rituals prior to Meriah Purbo. Some people let go the phodo tied in front of the JhakeriKudi. The Phodo tried to escape unleashing the strings, meanwhile one by one threw the axe on his body enunciating words loudly in Kui. It was hard to believe what I saw. I thought they were supposed to sacrifice one day after but there was one more phodo waiting for the early morning sacrifice. I met Sindhe, Badho, Ammi, Binjho and Kaso in the evening. Their kitchen was decorated with dotted patterns and flowers in the honour of the kitchen goddess – Sita Penu. Young girls and adolescent Kondh women were adorned in their beautiful gonda and ornaments waiting for their beloved. They can choose their partners. So Dhangara tries to impress the Dhagiri but it is completely up to her to reject and approve the man. Her decision is considered prime. Usually exchange of Kapagonda (shawl they embroider) and tobacco indicates positive gesture. I could see girls of all the age groups waiting for dhangara and some of them were chatting with young Kondh boys and men. Some of them elope to the forest to share a romantic moment in the moonlight.

Meriapurba main day

Our ambassador arrived in the evening with a new driver. DKDA gave us the clerical room to sleep piled with papers and furniture. Both of us (I and my sister) managed to get some space under the table that night. We had to get up early morning to see meriahpurbo. I waited for Nala and Sabar. Few foreign tourists from Germany also arrived early morning to witness Meriah Purbo. By the time we reached the phodo was already sacrificed in the front of Jhakeri Kudi. With lot of courage I tried to come closer to people who were smashing the skin of buffalo and distributing the meat among the Kondh people. One of them was furious at me as my camera interrupted while he raised the axe. I could see Kondh people from different villages awaited for their share of raw meat. This meat is considered auspicious, it can be eaten or worshipped or the dried meat can be used a medicine,

He told me about Sindhe and her family. She is from a prosperous family and they do not have to work hard for generations for sustenance. It seems, people do not like Sindhe because her brother practices black magic and had killed many children in the village. Later Kondh people in Khajuri agitated when they came to know about his black magic activities. I had been to her house several time in 2006, in this trip I visited her house to see the ritual and for other purposes. I did not know whether it was true or not or it was just a rumour. But I was really scared after knowing this.


It was the second day of my trip and I had one more village to visit, located in the highest altitude. Early in the morning, cutting the way to Hundijjali we crossed five hills. It took us two hours to reach. The road was covered with dried leaves, while crossing the rustling sound of streams running in between the hills and sound of leaves was the resonating in silence. We splashed the stream water on our face and it was bliss to feel the clear and chilled hill water on my face. As we went higher I could see huge size of jackfruits equivalent to big sack of rice hanging from the trees. I also saw patch of pineapple plant cultivation illuminating in vibrant green and some areas covered with ragi and Kandulo (local crop).

Finally I reached Hundijali -an isolated and untouched village cut off from the outside world. It was not densely populated alike Kadrakuma. It was amazing to see small population of people located in highest position. Some houses had the asbestos sheet and some did not. It was ten in the morning and in the month of April the temperature was getting higher and higher. Suddenly people gathered around me. One of my students Sako brought one khoto (cot) and asked’ kis pain aaschu didi’. I told her, “I wanted to meet you”. When we greet out guest our gesture is usually hello, how are you? Please sit …etc , but these structures of words which we are used to, do not exist here. They are simple people. They are children of nature. Cared and protected by the nature powers. I opened my laptop and transferred the meriapurba pictures to show. All of them children, men women geared towards my laptop and were amazed to see Meriapurba which occurred few hours ago, in this alien device. I observed their reactions.

Village people were so happy that they prepared food for us. They arranged stones and boiled kandulo in it and few people placed eggs in a utensil and poured oil and cumin on top of the egg. There was one concrete house which was abandoned for years and it had several layers of dust lying since many years. They cleaned the floor and our food was served. The heat was becoming unbearable.

I could not see any river or stream close by. People in Kurli and Khajuri are in advantage position. I requested a few older women to come down to Kurli for my research work. They uttered some words in Kui among themselves. Meanwhile I was discussing questions about people and their way of living. Sabar was helping me generously. After certain time he got irritated because I was jotting down everybody. He asked me not to do it. He advised me to understand things rather than writing down things on paper. So, I stopped.


In the afternoon we left for Kurli as everybody was supposed to come together for discussion. The roads were so narrow that if we slip we fall down the hill- I do not know where. Coming down was more difficult compared to climbing, so, we placed every step carefully. We reached halfway and we saw the group of older women coming down rapidly. It was the same group of women I asked to come down for interview crossed us and we were still lagging behind. I could not even think of competing that speed. We reached Kurli, some of my students from Kadrakuma gathered for meeting.

I started my conversation asking their name and village’s name. When I asked their age, quite a few of them shouted at me , saying how can we know my age ….I might be around thirty ( said a older lady who looked around sixty). I realized there is no age factor. It is not important for them. The indigenous cultures of learning, marriage, children and becoming grant parents and following the norms and rituals of social structure is imperative for them. Their life revolves around the culture. It is the culture in which they are born, is passed on from one generation to the other.


Sindhe narrated the story of Niyamgiri. One day a Kodh went to the hills where Niyamgiri Raja lived. He was astonished to see the beauty of nature. Niyamraja happily gave him the some plants to grow. The Dongria Kondh man planted the tree. Thus, the flora and fauna flourished and simultaneously their culture progressed. Therefore, Kondh consider Niyamraja as their creator and are subject to mercy under him. They cannot dare to upset Niyamraja. Thus, in every ritual they sacrifice and remember him. The Meriah Purbo is celebrated to please dharini Penu and Niyam Raja. Niyam is the creator and protector. To sacrifice is to sacrifice in the honour of their creator. They are the child and he is the parent – sharing adult child parent relationship with the nature. Nature power is their soul power. It is the spirit of belongingness to the Nature, their relatedness sharing with the nature powers.

Nilami narrated the story of Neba and Siji raja

Neba, Siji and Niyam raja shared a close friendship. One day Siji went looking for Neba to his house. Unfortunately Neba was away for some work and in his absence Neba’s wife offered him some rice with salt to eat. Siji was extremely happy and delighted after tasting the food. He thought if she cooks such tasty food then every day I can get such food to eat. Neba returned and found his wife missing. He learned that his wife left with siji raja and cheated on him. He was so furious that he started cutting all the hills, trees and streams. He saw his wife and chopped her nose. Her nose fell is the ground and it came to be known as Nasikavansh. The community living in this area till date are tabooed and do not come to other areas.

Sako’s mother illustrated the story of jhakeriKudi and SitaPenu goddess.

Jhakeri lives in the centre of village. She guards and protects all the villagers. It is because of her presence Kondh are secured and safe. She protects the village people from the sight of evil eyes and any kind of prevalent disease entering the village. According to people in the night she turns into a tigress and roars to threaten the evil spirits and waves off the negative energy entering the threshold of the village. The harvest of first crop is worshipped in honour of Jhakeri in the honour of her kudi and sacrifice of fowl or goat pleases her. In order to settle disputes, stolen things, curing diseases and for the welfare of the family village people adore her abode. It is only during the MeriaPurba her abode is adorned and phodo is sacrificed in front of the altar. The existence of spiritual manifestation is constructed for protection. Her existence in their imagination, the visual representation of intangible spiritual relatedness in the form of abode, a structure erected in the centre of village reinforces people’s believes.

The next day all of us including Ando, Sindhe, Nala and my sister headed to Bhubaneswar. Ando was unfamiliar to the outside world; in Bhubaneswar I bought one chappal and blouse for Ando. Ando went to Delhi for the Kamala Devi Scholarship and Delhi Craft Council members were pleased to see her. After this long journey I was tired but I had more to write and much more to know about the people and culture.




The agitation against the London based Vedanta mining company moved the entire nation. Kondhs, several NGO’s protested to protect Niyamgiri- for environmental reasons and also because Niyamgiri is sacred to Kondhs. Signing online petitions, documentaries, vernacular reports in media raised voices worldwide to move both Sterlite and Vedanta from Niyamgiri. As the outside world intervened, the level of crime, rape, and atrocities increased and so is the pollution in water and environment. Such things are part and parcel of development about which everybody is gaga about but people are hardly concerned about the real consequences which is visible only at the grassroots level. After knowing and learning little or more about Niyamgiri, it is difficult to imagine Niyamgiri and Kondh separated. Kondh sacrifice in the honour of Niyamraja. I question, is this not the sacrifice of entire community for the interest of nation?

For some years I could not plan any visit to Niyamgiri considering the time and circumstances. Knowing the people so closely, I was anxious to know what is happening at the field level, while the ongoing vernacular Naxal -Moasit activities and agitation against Vedanta was going on. I received the Tata Fellowship- National Folklore support Centre (2012-2013) to study narrative expression of Dongria Kondh textile and paintings. The remoteness and inaccessibility particularly to my field area seemed more complicated than before. In the first week of December my field work had to be postponed because of the agitation in the Lanjigarh area.The prime task was to open a bank account for my collaborator- Mandika Nilamani and get the contract letter signed. The second important job was to see the current situation and circumstance and anticipate my frequent accessibility in this region. My third important task was to build conversation level with people I know and to know them more for research purposes.

My yatra

The train to Rayagada in which I usually travel changed the route and the destination. Fortunately, the route extended to Bhawanipatna and another route extended to Jagdalpur area. Now, Bissam-Cuttack- on the way to Bhawanipatna had a stoppage. I informed Surjya Narayan Padhi about my two day visit and asked him to inform Nilamani that I wanted to see her in particular. Early morning around six thirty (with photographer Tanuja Sethi – my younger sister) our train stopped in Bissam Cuttack for two minutes. Surprisingly the door towards the railway tracks was open instead of opening towards the platform side. It was hard to get off the train as the ground level was very low. Somehow we managed to get off the train and crossed railway track to reach the other side of the railway station stop. This area was Chatikona area not Bissam- Cuttack, much better for me. It was cloudy and cold; we walked down the markets and streets looking for Dongria Kondh Chatri Niwas to meet Nilamani. I had not seen such a huge building erected earlier in the landscape of Niyamgiri. It is funded by Indian Government for educating DongriaKondh girls. Young girls were clearing the garden and carrying dried flower plants on their shoulders. Each of them had a shawl wrapped around her body and walking bare foot to outside premises. As we entered, all of them greeted us one by one- Good morning didi and Namaskar didi. It was hard to believe that the tone and pitch of voice was same and sounded like a repeating tape recorder. I could see so many children in different colours of shawl inside the premises of building standing in a queue doing physical training exercises and some of them were monitoring the others. My eyes were searching for Nilamani, and then I saw an old lady sweeping the dust from the ground. Nilamani could not recognise me from a distance. I walked towards her and then we greeted each other. She was upset because her brother died recently. I discussed about the research work and asked her to open a bank account in State Bank of India. I learned that she is the secretary of that institution and earns one thousand rupees every month. This institution was set up primarily for DongriaKondh girls- a boarding school governed by Adivasi people. Approximately 250 Kondh girls from different villages are brought here especially for educating supported by the Indian government. The living expense includes clothing, food and books. I was told that in spite of all the facilities ;they are given a shawl, a set of uniform to wear, shoes, soap, oil and adequate amount of facilities, children living inside the premises wish to go back to their villages. As far as I remember there are other schools functioning such as in Kurli to educate Kondh children, however, irregularity of attendance is a common problem. In the villages MPW are also supposed to teach village children. I could see kondh girls reading Odiya books in the park and few of them hurried to take bath were getting ready for school. Some of them escape from the schools.


The president of institution was not pleased when I asked Nilamani to accompany me to Kurli. We headed towards the market, crossed the railway tracks and waited for the local vehicle for transportation. We kept waiting; unfortunately, there was no local vehicle available to take us to the hill. Meanwhile people were asking my purpose of visiting Niyamgiri and if I was a research person. This area has become so sensitive that we cannot disclose our purpose of visit and we did dare to take out our camera in public or market places to attract more questions. Finally after one hour we managed to get one mini Tata tempo for two hundred rupees in which some children who escaped from the DongriaKondh girl’s hostel came with us along with a Kondh woman. On the way few more people joined. This small mini tempo so inappropriate for hill roads was loaded with twenty people including us. We reached Kurli to collect Nilamani’s Voter Identity Card and Rational Card as it was mandatory for opening a bank account. I was coming here after many years. The population of people ( domb and other migrants) occupy the outskirts of the village. We entered Nilamani’s house from the backside. The entrance was very low and she had a small piggery. The house structure of Kondh are very small, there is hardly any sunlight. I reached the front part which opened towards the JhakeriKudi. We met her daughter – Maladi.One of my student Kurunji greeted me. She told me we waited for you didi, for a long time. But you did not visit us for many years. You are very late. I was sad to know what my students said, for which I had no explanation and answer for her question. None of the other students I trained in 2006 -Malo, Rinjo and Maladi were present. Kuruji told me that Rinjo is now the sarpanch of Kurli village. I was surprised to know that how can anybody become sarpanch in such an early age. During the workshop in 2006 Rinjo was sick most of the time. In 2007 Sindhe told me that Rinjo eloped with a Vadaka Dhangra.Some of the older ladies were discussing something. Neelamani told me that the the bijeni (woman priest ) are going to forest with a fowl to sacrifice. It seems in few months time they are not getting sufficient water, thus sacrificing a fowl the stream goddess may resolve the problem of water. I am not able to recollect the source about similar problem- somebody had mentioned Niyamgiri is rich with bauxite so it has geared the interest of mining based companies to plunder the earth of Niyamgiri. Running water is also the source of bauxite and in this sacred space and place of Kondh some of the rare species of flora and fauna have been found. If Niyamgiri is plundered it will affect the entire ecosystem, imbalance of nature and culture.

I visited the local health service centre located in Kurli on the way to Khambesi village to meet the local doctor, recently appointed by Government of Odisha. I wanted to meet the doctor because he was the son of one of the weavers’ collective group from Jajpur district with which I am engaged. Moreover, the doctor can help me getting in touch with Nilamani and other Kondh women I know living in Khajuri and Kurli village. He told me about people’s conception about diseases and it is hard to stimulate them about hygienic way of living. One woman came to him with swollen face, it seems she had too much of handiya (rice liquor).

We waited in front of the Kurli School for one hour. Our presence in that area raised several questions. People were starring at us, asking again and again our purpose of visit. While we waited for the mini tempo, one man explained his difficulties, an indirect indication that he wants money for liquor. I have dealt with this problem earlier, the only way to deal with this situation is to ignore and feel ignorant. One tempo returned from Khambesi and refused to go to Chatikona. After some time we managed to get on jeep loaded with sacks of rice and twenty people. Dancing, shuffling bouncing on each other we reached and Chatikona and waited for another local transport for Bissam Cuttack. Bissam Cuttack seemed liked a small town in that part of the world. The local restaurant owner judged that we were outsiders, so they served us with pleasure. They had no idea that this trip was especially planned for opening the bank account for Nilamani. Bank officials said that they can open only certain number of new accounts each day. We did not reach on time to open the bank account so they asked us to open the account It is not humanly possible for me take this long journey again. More than thirty people were standing in queue; the bank officer was literally checking every detail of form. The local people from surrounding villages had two hundred rupees and some of them had hundred rupees to open the account. He asked me to explain the problem to the bank manager. The bank manger raised similar concerns and asked us to come the next day early in the morning. He started complaining that all the village people want to open a bank account in hundred rupees and only certain number of people can open a bank account. I assured him that we can open an account withone thousand rupees. I tried to explain that I we started around eight in the morning and we are coming all the way from Kurli as Nilamani’s voters identity card and ration card was in her village. We could not manage to come early because of local transportation. The bank closed for lunch break, I filled the form without her date of birth and photocopied the necessary documents. The bank officer had piles of new account forms; he was individually checking details, pasting the photographs, filling the deposit form and passing it to the other person in charge. He yelled at me because Nilamani’s date of birth was not mentioned. Neither I nor Nilamani herself had any clue about date of birth. So, we created her date of birth before the Independence, which makes her a sixty seven year old lady. We still had a long way to go. I moved from one table to the other back forth verifying from each personal continuously. I felt like a machine. The bank officers wanted to know my motive and reason for opening the bank account .They asked, “Why did you choose this old lady and why are you doing all this”. There was no hidden reason; the answer was simple for Tata Fellowship. The bank timing was over; it was already half past four. In the end Nilamani signed in the register and it was successful. In the end they promised me to help Neelamani in my absence. It was a certainly a tough task to deal with. We still had a long way to go. It was getting late; however, we had no alternative so, we waited in the jeep to get loaded with lots and lots of people.

Somehow, Dongria Kondh ChatriNi provided shelter for that night. Next day morning we walked around the chatikona forests and hills close by. The fields of cotton, ragi and tall teak trees covered nearby surroundings.

In the morning, I met Suryanarayan Padhi and Ramesh Kumar Nala after many many years- both of them narrated the same old stories of Kondh people and why they are not progressing. Both of them had common criticism-these Kondh children go to the dongor (fields) and work with the parents. They waste their time and energy. Tribals do not have much understanding of the dynamics of change. Education is important and if this education can help them to protect their own culture or stand for it along with continuing the living tradition. After some time Rinjho came all the way from Kurli. I could not recognize her; she is now a new sarpanch. Lack  of adornement, adapting the sari like mainstream people of cities with a vanity bag. I was surprised to see the ahift. This made Rinjho distinct from other Kondhs. I was surprised to notice this change in five years time Anyways, she now owns a mobile, and we exchanged numbers. Then Neelamani started telling me the inside stories of Rinjho. I learned that man outside the gate was Rinjho’s current boyfriend .she was also found guilty doing various other wrong activities according to other people.

While asking some of the teenage girls about living in the dormitory, site told me that she likes living here – in the school because there is no one in her family to protect her. She was once abducted from the Mundigudamela by the nearby Kondh village people as they wanted her to get married to their family. Her family people protested but the local people did not react; they left her when somebody mentioned that she is studying in the Dongria Kondh School. Site feels safe inside the campus. They call this jhikiba- forcibly taking the girl without her consent .Adivasi women are very hard working and the main bread earner of the family.

Patriarchy exists everywhere in some form or the other


Excerpts from February 2013 report

My  acquaintance and interaction with DongriaKondh women at Adivasimela  (exhibition) in Bhubaneswar. This was not my first time. I had visited this mela earlier also. Adivasimela happens every year, celebrating Adivasi culture of Odisha- presentation of living museum-on exhibit for ten days or so.

In this exhibition all the Adivasi residing in Odisha participate to represent their community, organized and supervised bySc& ST training institute, under Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Govt. of India. One sectionshowcased the living lifestyle, dwelling, farming and rituals practiced by the community. Another section displayed Adivasi tribal jewellery, costumes and accessories. In some stalls Adivasi people from different districts sold their textiles, bamboo baskets and agricultural products. Each tribal community participated with their developing agency.

I wanted to introspect, analyze and observe ‘representation of Adivasi tradition and way of living’ under the governance of sarkari authorities. How and the way it is showcased for the understanding of common people.  Moreover, in what state of mind / position Adivasi people react to local interaction. It was interesting to be there as participant observant.

This mela is like a living museum, a celebration of Adivasi local art, culture and traditional practices. Some of the dwellings included Mankedia Adivasi dwelling. The entire abode was made of leaves interconnected to each other in a cone shape, around seven feet high from the ground and had a small opening for entrance. The man sitting next to it was making a bowl using the bark of siali tree. The interlacement of beaten and treated bark and the beauty of hand woven leaves house shows how local tradition and culture evolves with limited materials. It is the beauty of nature and culture, the need of some something which gives rises to multiple artistic expressions.

The Dongria Kondh dwelling had wall painting illustrated on the mud walls. It was a refined representation of Sitapenu wall painting. Two winnowing baskets and offerings were kept next to Sitapenu. The wall of Jhakeri Kudi was also hand painted with white, red and black colours.

VadakeSindhe, her sister-Rashmi, Malo, kurunji and other women from khajuri, kurli, khambesi were selling honey extracted from the forest and self-prepared khanda-haladi(turmeric) from the Dongor(field). I interacted with kondh women about the ornaments and the changing tradition. I asked them about the shifting tradition. Some of them, who were adorned with ornaments in this mela, however, in reality, have now given up on traditional ornaments. According to some, they do not like wearing heavy nose rings and adornment of nose rings is very painful. Clothing manner has changed. Several outside influences have altered the manner of wearing textile

While introspecting, analyzing and observing Adivasi people during the mela, the question of their identity, how they are represented, presented and stated revolves in my thought process. This month field visit raised several social concerns related to representation, power relation and shifting tradition.


The purpose of subject Anthropology was to study the other- the exotic people. In so many years the hegemonic relation of subordinate and dominate position has not yet changed or blurred. In other words, to know the exotic or study of the exotic has not altered, perhaps at a different node and level in the contemporary context.The derogatory expression linked to tribe or the Adivasi has not changed or it seems inevitable. The way technology has escalated every second person hold a mobile or a camera and yearns to capture the exotic in it. Even though Kondh women sitting in the stall insisted not to be photographed, it made no difference to people.


Representation of the marginalized and already constructed preconceived perception about the marginalized-justifying the hegemonic power relation echoes the way social structure functions.The research indicates hegemonic power relation reflecting in the preconceived notions and cultural construction about the marginalized or Adivasi. In away it is echoing Foucault’s theories addressing about nature of power in the social structures, the way it functions and rules. The intrusion of developing agency in the name of development resonates and reinforces colonialism to a large extent.Thus, power isubiquitously present.It is inseparable and it dictates inrepresentation ofthe usage of Adivasi label and identity.

Being participant observant during the mela, while analyzing hidden power relation focusing on the question of identity and Adivasi’s reaction to local visitors. Some people stare at Adivasi -what they are wearing; some raise questions about their lifestyle and few of them find them exotic. I often think while answering, questioning and explaining to people,the mundane behavior of mainstream people and the way mainstream reacts to Adivasi people’s practices and lifestyle. I often think how do Adivasi confront and react to questions raised by common people- such as sane and insane reaction of people.

Understanding of the shifting meaning of gender and material culture, particularly their relation with materials in their daily life. Based on my earlier recording on Kondh women’s association with textile and material culture, research points out the inseparable and intangible reflection of artistic expression. In the passage of time this intangible artistic expression of women in relation to materials seems blurring.  I do not want to be judgmental as I or we have also altered with time thus I do not have the right to comment about shifting tradition and culture.  According to the Kondh women present at Adivsaimela, the intangible artistic expression, association of women with material seems ambiguous and less important to Kondh women. With the shift in perception and intrusion of external materials some have already and many are in the process of rejecting the traditional manner of wearing textiles and ornaments as a matter of choice.



Pankaja Sethi Photos

Shankhajeet Photos

Ravana Chhaya

A research proposal on Ravana Chhaya

Submitted by

Shankhajeet De
2nd floor, House no – 34
Hauzkhas Village
New Delhi – 110016
Phone: 0-9313012087 : Email: shankhajeet@gmail.com : Skype: shankhajeet.de

Collaborating senior artist
Guru Khageshwara Pradhan
Ravan Chhaya Natya Sansad
At/Po: Odash, Via: Khamara
Sub div: Papalalahada, Dist: Angul
Odisha – 759118
Phone: 0-9658819293

Priority areas and themes

Ravana Chhaya, a shadow puppetry tradition in Central Odisha that integrates artistic, social, cultural and spiritual aspirations of low caste Bhata and the agrarian Chasa community which carries influence of the Juang tribe living in the area nearby.

Priority sub-theme

Verbal arts including oral epics

The specific cultural tradition of the community elder/artist I seek to research and document


Art form and Socio-Cultural History: Ravana Chhaya is a form of shadow puppetry known to be practiced in Odisha. It is considered to be the most ancient form. The puppets and their manipulation, being very basic, are devoid of any complex stylization. Today it is performed in area around Odash village in the Pal lahara subdivision in Angul District, in central Odisha. In Ravana Chhaya performance, a part of the tropue sit hiding from the audience behind a screen made of white cloth and manipulate the shadows cast by the puppets from a lamp lit above their head. The other part of the troupe of artists provides musical support with traditional instruments –Khanjani, Cymbals and Daskathi. The musicians sit in front corner of the screen facing the audience side-wise. The puppets are made locally by the artists themselves using various animal skins for translucence, longevity and ritualistic needs. The skins are usually procured from the Juang tribe living in nearby Malayagiri hills.

The main narrative in Ravana Chhaya is borrowed from the famous literary work ‘Bichitra Ramayana’ by medieval Odiya poet Vishwanath Khuntia.  The lyrics and musical style is also borrowed from the performance that is practiced at the “Bhagabata Tungi”(i.e. a community hut in the village where  scriptures narrating Ramayana and other stories are recited every evening).


Local oral histories say that originally this folk tradition was taken up as a means of livelihood by the Bhata community, who claim their original ancestry to the temple city of Puri. Later they migrated and got settled in Angul district. While others in the community discontinued the profession Basudev Das, a singer from Gadajat (a larger area deeper into the interior of Odisha largely inhabited by indigenous tribes), believed in this folk tradition and relied completely on it for livelihood. He trained his son Kathinanda Das on the techniques of Ravan Chaya . After his father’s death Kathinanda Das continued to practice but could not sustain with the decline in patronage. During 1945-46 it almost vanished as an art form. It was on the occasion of a performance for Independence Day in 1956 that he could see the renewed interest and patronage by people. The shows increased gradually so did the monetary support but with the sudden death of his son in 1966, Kathinanda was emotionally broken and became aloof.


Existing Research documentation and On-going Initiatives: Ravana Chhaya was brought into the realm of documentation by pioneering work of Jeevan Pani under the aegis of Sangeet Natak Academy (SNA).  He visited Odash in 1972 to trace Ravana Chhaya. On his insistence Kathinanda Das, a reclusive and only living artist agreed to perform one more time after over two decades.


Jeevan Pani’s insistence and continued patronage by SNA brought Kathinanda out of the trauma of his son’s loss. Later he arranged for shows in Delhi and other parts of the country leading to promotion of the practice in the media and urban areas. This gradual attention outside Orissa fuelled the local interest and increased the number of shows in and around Odash.


After his death, Kathinanda left behind eight trained craftsmen adept in this folk form, Kolha Charan Sahoo being the senior of them all. Sri K.C Sahoo belongs to the Chasa community. His role since then has been significant in reviving the art form with new inventions. More shows under the encouragement of Jeevan Pani and Sangeet Natak Academy helped the troupe win many awards and recognitions.  The entire engagement with Ravana Chhaya by the state through SNA for its preservation and promotion has been commendable.


The Government of Odisha set up a research unit to preserve this art form. But maximum contribution has been to adapt itself to the changing times by utilizing other forms of light sources such as tungsten bulbs, bigger lamps, making the whole stage setup light, collapsible and thus mobile. This has made the troupe able to tour many places for performances, with state’s support. Other agencies have come in to support artists but it has been termed with preconditions of using newer themes and narratives such as Mahatma Gandhi, Panchatantra, Mahabharata, etc. This surely has led to diverse engagement of the form but nothing substantial has been done to delve deeper and suggest new ways of looking into the folk tradition, the communities involved and their livelihood.


Evolution and Existing Research gap: Initial research led by Jeevan Pani foregrounds the tradition of shadow puppetry over the musical tradition. Minimal and limited academic research took place thereafter, notably the work by Gauranga Charan Dash, but it revolves around the arts and its aesthetic dimensions. Kathinanda Das’s confidence to adapt it into a musical tradition came from existence of singing traditions in the Chasa community in his neighborhood. This is yet to be explored further to understand the building blocks of Ravana Chhaya aesthetics. It can be better understood and appreciated if dynamics of its constituents and their practices are brought into the realm of proposed research framework.


Oral traditions as well as research documents mention that Kathinanda and Basudev Das were known as Kathi Guni, meaning the stick wielding sorcerers. Their specialization was to manipulate leather puppets with sticks to create shadows of gods and mythical heroes. The idea of leather puppets may be an offshoot from their community’s relationship with the indigenous tribes living in nearby hills. The tribe with their animistic tradition worship nature gods to ward away evil spirits and appease and invoke good spirits. It is still considered sorcery and black magic by neighboring Hindus. Thus their knowledge of shadow puppetry might have been considered to be some sort of sorcery. But they were never integrated completely into the agrarian society. Even today, Bhatas live in the periphery of the village and most of them are landless. They still collect and make puppets as well as manipulate them in Ravana Chhaya performances. They depend on indigenous people to collect leather for making the puppets till today. Shadow puppetry outside tribal communities needed a reason to survive. Thus it needed a musical tradition to evolve a new narrative tradition. This support was easily given by the peasant community. Thus, Ravana Chhaya became an outcome of both the communities’ aesthetic as well as spiritual aspirations.



The history of Ravana Chhaya is shrouded in mystery beyond for last 40 years. The development since its resurgence is fraught with dire need of state patronage, grants and funding. Occasional recognitions of these pursuits have led to bitter internal feuds emerging out of greed and betrayals.  Many a times the many rival groups have emerged and vanished in these 3 – 4 decades.  Each tried to appropriate the legacy of this folk form and challenged the other. Thus the definition and historicity of Ravana Chhaya in the contemporary times is steeped with convenience and creative form of recently developed narratives.


Artist: I plan to work with Guru Khageshwara Prdhan. He was trained along with Guru Kolha Charan Sahoo, by Kathinanada Das. He has also joined other groups lead by bitterness and ego. However today, he is more spiritually inclined and looks at this tradition with detachment and objectivity. In fact his position as current Guru is rather an act of truce by all participating members who know they need some one senior and whose integrity towards preserving Ravana Chhaya is respected.


Institution: Like it is in any other folk tradition, the project requires working in close association with a Ravana Chhaya troupe. I have decided to work with Ravan Chaya Natya Sansad, Odash Village, Pallahara Subdivision, Angul District, Odisha. In the village life, I would like to make the Bhagabata Tungi as the fulcrum and see community around its activity.


The research questions those are central to my project

To investigate the correlation of Ravana Chhaya as an art form that integrates the musical tradition with shadow puppetry. The musical form having emerged out of late medieval Bhakti movement in agrarian Odia peasantry (Chasa) and the much older tradition of shadow puppetry brought in by the lower caste alcohol brewers (Bhatas) who had intimate contacts with the indigenous tribes. The project aims to delve deeper into identifying important denominators that have gone into this synthesis through history in terms of techniques, skills and traditions. It works on the premise that in the aesthetics of Ravana Chhaya that is practiced today are embedded the codes of rich artistic heritage of both the communities.


The proposed research project aims to further the premise that Ravana Chhaya denotes the synthesis of caste Hindus and tribals in Odisha. The kingdom of Pallahara is part of the Gadjata region (a unique fiefdom where kings were high caste Hindu and majority of subjects were indigenous tribes and they coexisted with mutual respect and economic dependence). The Bhatas who worked as King’s bards sustained their subsistence with dependence on tribes living in nearby Malayagiri hills. As their society became part of main stream economy through the British takeover of administration, they had to adapt themselves to the new agrarian community.  The Chasas had a well established musical tradition through their ‘Bhagabata Tungi’s’ led by the Bhakti movement from late 17th century onwards. The Tungis were established in every peasant villages so as they can collectively connect to God and seek salvation of their souls. Every evening, Tungis used to reverberate with kirtan and other musical traditions such a Pala, Daskathia and Bhajans. These included instruments such as Khajani(Tambourine), daskathi(sticks), khol(percussions), kartal(cymbals), etc. Even today these instruments are worshipped in the Tungis. Advent of modern modes of entertainment might have reduced their importance but the religious fervor with which these are still revered signals to its importance in Chasa’s collective consciousness and identity.


The research and documentation methods I seek to follow.

The project will document oral narratives, archival material, tribal practices, practice of the Bhagabata Tungis and division of performers within the Raavan Chhaya troupe and their social structures in the village setting.


The methodology will follow a mixed approach of documenting oral histories as well as sourcing existing archival material mentioning the tradition through the passage of time; thus making it partly investigative and partly explorative.


  • Investigative Documentation:

*        To see how the contemporary aesthetics still retain specific styles, rituals and internal divisions of constituents according to participating communities, I will look at and record a Ravana chhaya performance once again for decoding specific parts.

*        I would also document historical proofs District Archives in Dhenkanal (erstwhile undivided district head quarter) Angul and Pallahara. I intend to contact member(s) of Pallahara’s king’s family and explore their photo albums and any document that might mention their patronage of Raavan Chhaya during their reign.

*        I will have to research in state archive and museum in Bhubaneswar looking at state gazetteers for Bhat community’s activities as well as Juang tribes’s cultural and ethnographic documentation.


  • Explorative Documentation:

*        To observe the internal dynamics of the group members; their division of specific activities, access to specific skills and roles during rituals. I would observe their socio dynamics in the village setting in relation to livelihood, community rituals as well as access to common facilities around Bhagabata Tungi.

*        I plan to visit Malayagiri hills with a Bhat puppeteer to source leather and meet the people of indigenous tribe. I would document oral histories of indigenous people mentioning their relationship with the Bhata community and Ravana Chhaya.

*        I would ask the group members to talk about themselves regarding their ancestry and Ravana Chhaya’s history. Simultaneously, I would like to talk to villagers in the neighboring areas to document their memories about Raavan Chhaya, its origin and existence of the practitioners.


Description of what I consider important in the collaborative undertaking between me and the other community elder/ artist.

It is important for me to work with Guru Khageshwara Pradhan, as everyone listens to him as the head. Also, he is the only one who got trained under Kathinanada Das. His words matter a lot when disagreements arise within the group which is made up of not so equal communities. My research includes dealing with both the communities and the tribals living nearby in the Jungles. His guidance and recommendations are crucial for me to delve deeper within these areas and communities. Besides that he is the repository of memory of the most crucial time when Ravana Chhaya got this new lease of life. His narration of how the tradition re-defined itself to the present form is integral to my project.


A monthly field work plan for a period of one year starting from November 2012 to October 2013. (All activity will include documenting in Audio visual terms)

November 2012
Document oral histories of all member of the troupe at Odasha
Observation of activities at Bhagabata Tungi
Detailed documentation of key elements of a Ravan Chaya performance at Odasha
Develop contacts and personal meeting with someone from the Pala Lahada Royal Family
Visit to State Sangeet Natak Academy in Bhubaneswar
Visit to State archives in Bhubaneswar

December 2012
Compilation of all interviews, transcription and developing key elements in visual terms of the performance

January 2013
Compilation of all interviews, transcription and developing key elements in visual terms of the performance
Follow up with Pala Lahada Royal Family for sourcing out any archival material

February – 2013
Visit the Royal Family to access archives and older photographs, if any
Visit the Juang villages in nearby Malayagiri Hills in the process of sourcing leather for puppet making
Detailed documentation of Puppet making in the village, its related rituals and customs and any myths or folk roles related to it
Visit to State archives in Bhubaneswar
Visit to State museum in Bhubaneswar

March 2013
Compilation of and editing of documented material
Visit to Delhi Sangeet Natak Academy
Visit to Tribal Museum in New Delhi

April 2013
Compilation of and editing of documented material

May 2013
Compilation of and editing of documented material

June 2013
Visit the Royal Family to access archives and older photographs, if any
Visit to
Detailed documentation of Bhagabata Tungi
Detailed documentation of Ravan Chaya Performance
Detailed observation of intercommunity relationship during agricultural time
Visit to State archives in Bhubaneswar
Visit to State museum in Bhubaneswar

July 2013
Compilation of and editing of documented material
Development of detailed project report

August 2013
Compilation of and editing of audiovisual documented material
Development of detailed project report

September 2013
Detailed documentation of Bhagabata Tungi
Detailed documentation of Ravan Chaya Performance
Detailed observation of intercommunity relationship during agricultural time
Compilation of and editing of audiovisual documented material
Editing and designing of detailed project report

October 2013
Finalisation of audiovisual documented material
Finalisation of detailed project report

About me

My interest in Ravana Chhaya is decade long. I had the opportunity to meet Guru Kolha Charan Sahoo and his troupe in Delhi, in the year 2004, when they were on their first international tour to Kuala Lumpur by arrangement of ICCR. Since then I have kept in touch with them knowing the ups and downs through the years. During this period, I created a framework for my research under the guidance of Dadi Pudumjee.  I made a self initiated field trip to Odash in the month of February 2012. I lived in the house of the current Guru of ‘Ravan Chhaya Natya Sansad’. I have initiated documentation through conducting primary interviews, watching preparation and performance in the village.  I also participated in Bhagabata Tungi activities in the evening.

 I belong to Odisha and spent my childhood in Gadajat area that gave me perspective of the dynamics in the interactions between tribals, Bhatas and Chasas. My proposed investigation comes from past engagement with this folk form and reading about Ravana Chhaya written by Jeevan Pani, Guru Kolha Charan Sahoo and other scant available information online.

 I have been making films for over last 16 years without getting any formal education in it. The opportunity to hone my skill of translating ideas in audiovisual terms came through working in many areas over time.

Team director, Production, Cinema Vision (Mumbai), 1997-99 for following programmes:

Surabhi” (India’s first Cultural Show)
The Good Food guide


  • Freelance Researcher and Script-Writer, DELHI, 2000-2004


  • Zaike Ka Safar
    Saare Jahan Se Achha
    Animal’s Ark




As Film Director:

Puppetry training to children by Dadi Pudumjee, 2006 funded by UNESCO
Ecological Restoration of Man Sagar Lake with preservation of Jalmahal monument in Jaipur, Rajasthan
Women ascetics in Vrindavan for IGNCA, 2008


  • Assistant Researcher to Bappa Ray (National Award winning director) for research, scripting and production, on following projects:


Agarias – the iron smiths of central India, 2002
Lepchas of Sikkim, 2004
BHEL, 2006
Buddhist Chants of Ladkh, 2008
Traditional Tibetan medicine – Sowa Rigpa, 2009
Ayruveda, 2010

Under him, I explored my interest on culture and ethnography.



  • Documented Panchayatiraj and Women empowerment initiatives, Government of Madhya Pradesh, 1999.
  • I worked for many projects for various departments of GOI and UN agencies. 1999 – 2004
  • A documentation project for KISS, Bhubaneshwar, World’s largest Residential school exclusively for tribal children, 2012
  • 88 short films and audiovisual clips for the interactive multimedia exhibition on the legacy of India’s first multinational business man Aditya Vikam Birla at BITS Pilani, 2011.



    • Microsoft
    • HP
    • Cisco
    • Canon
    • FACULTY, SCRIPT-WRITING AND DIRECTION, Sri Aurobindo Centre for Arts & Communication, New Delhi, 2004-2012.

My area of interest is art, culture, ethnography and contemporary life styles. My past experience of filmmaking as well as research and script writing backed with the learning for my teaching experience has helped me to develop self confidence in taking research and documentation projects within a stipulated time frame and diverse production canvases.

Dongria Kondh Aboriginals

Niyam ku Niyam – Narratives of Niyamgiri and Dongria Kondh


In examining the cultural tradition of Dongria Kondh Adivasi, this research focuses how the cultures of learning reflects the manifestation of Niyamgiri Raja– as well as their relation with the Jhakeri Kudi ( village Goddess) and Sita Penu ( kitchen Goddess) are constructed and represented in the wall paintings and textile material culture. The myths and narratives of Niyamgiri examine the symbolic relation of Kondh with nature-as cultural construction, embarking upon the identity of Kondh. While travelling across the passage of time and space, the research raises the question of living cultural tradition and the identity of Kondhs understanding of their environment. The ethnographic material presented here from Odisha based upon the issues of ‘structures of power relation’, ‘resistance and domination’ and the socio-religious context of the material culture and paintings, raises the question of shifting meaning and identity of verbal and visual art as a result of intrusion of external factors. Thus, the research encompasses the varied expression and symbolic representation of Jhakeri Kudi and Sita Penu in the wall paintings and material culture.


The research considers ethnographic study in the Niyamgiri hills villages – Khajuri, Kurli, Kadrakuma and Hundijali in collaboration with Mandika Neelamani and other people of the community. Documentation and narrative account of myths associated with the Niyamgiri hills based upon the ethnographic study, aims to address the questions and to record the indigenous learning culture of the Kondh community. It will encompass verbal and visual art based on primary resources in relation with the material culture and narratives of the Kondh community. The following section illustrates their background. In the second section I narrate how kondh adorn the abode of Jhakeri Kudi and sacred space of Sita Penu negotiating between the visible and non- visible realms.  The third section considers the meanings and symbolism rendered in kondh textile- kapdagonda and how the motifs and pattern enunciate the stories of Niyamgiri. Thus, I conclude the cultural context of living traditional paintings and textile material culture represents the identity of Kondh and Niyamgiri.



Dongria Kondh Adivasi

The Dongria Kondh Adivasi communities hail from the Rayagada (undivided KBK) district and Lanjigarh area of Odisha. They worship Niyam Raja and according to them it is he who created them, the culture and the tradition- Niyam ku Niyam. Kondh believe in the nature powers. Therefore, what they have is subject to the mercy of Niyam Raja. Kondh people are basically hill dwellers and it is the women who do most of the household and agriculture work.  In the recent years the issues of this community has been appearing in the vernacular media. Given the circumstances and vulnerable situation of, NFSC research and documentation financial support is imperative.


Wall paintings on Jhakeri Kudi and Sita Penu

Jhakeri Kudi – Gram Devi or village goddess resides in the centre of the village. Niyam Raja created her presence in order to protect the villagers from the evil eyes. Kondh adore her and decorate her Kudi (abode) during the Meria Purba (nowadays-sacrifice of Buffalo). Most of the rice festival and other rituals are performed in front of Jahkeri kudi by the Bijeni (priest). They adorn her abode to please her, with motifs and patterns illustrating the relation of visible and non-visible realm and stories of Niyamgiri.

Similarly, Sita Penu lives inside the house of Dongria Kondh. She is the kitchen goddess. Kondh please her by painting her favorite flowers on the mud wall as she is like a family member who resides inside the house. They believe Niyamraja created sacred space of Sita Penu for the welfare of Kondh community. The visual art illustrated in the form of dots and flowering plants reflects Kondh’s respect for Sita Penu. Cane baskets are also presented to please her.

Textile Material Culture

The Kondh shawl is presented to the Dhangara (partner) by the Dhagiri (young Kondh girl ) as a symbol of love and representation of Niyamgiri. The field research indicates that the kondh textile – kapdagonda narrates several narratives of Niyamgiri. The motifs and pattern rendered on it is symmetrical from both the side of the cloth. Thus, this piece of textile is not only an art it also represents the cultural context of Dongria Kondh community. The making of textile is practiced only during the leisure hours and it takes years of skill and patience. Dhangiri learns from her older generation while living in the dormitory.


Collaboration with Mandika Neelamani

I know Neelamani since 2006. She was one my student in the Design development workshop supported by government of Odisha. Neelamani has also helped me to do field work and record narrative stories and the symbolism of textile material culture in the year2006, 2007 and 2008. She is sensitive about the deeper meanings and cultural context of Dongria Kondh material culture and articulate in communication with other women in Kui dialect and Odiya language. I think her knowledge and ability to understand research questions will play a vital role in documenting the old narratives of wall paintings and material culture.


Video recording of interviews, folksongs about the narratives and myths associated with the Niyamgiri and how it is reflects in the mundane cultures of learning. Kondh wall paintings and material culture represents the symbolic meaning of Niyamgiri and the Goddesses.  This ethnographic research and documentation will be a resource for academic reference and records.


The research methodology includes

Ethnographic study

Field visit to the villages

Recording interviews of Kondh people (native’s point of view)

Participant observation

Photography, video recording and collecting primary resources (field notes)

Academic reference book-secondary resources such as journals, films and vernacular media

3- 4 months Research and Documentation writing, editing of document & video recordings.

Monthly plan of one year /plan of Action

Team Researcher: Pankaja Sethi

Photography: Tanuja Sethi

Collaborator: Mandika Neelamani

 visit to villages 25th Nov- Dec 6th



To Mode Stay
November 25th Bhubaneswar Rayagada Train In transit
November 26th Rayagada Chatikona( in Kandhmal) Local bus/taxi 1 day
Nov 27th –Dec 4 Chatikona Visit to  Villages in Niyamgiri hills

Khajuri, kurli, Kadrakuma

Walking and climbing 8 days
Dec 5 Chatikona Rayagada Local bus 1 day
Dec 6 Rayagada Bhubaneswar train  In transit

Dec – January -one month working on the gathered resource material gathered, compiling notes, photography, editing of videos.

January-February-One month collecting secondary resources, library reference in Delhi and Bhubaneswar and writing.

 2nd field visit to villages Feb 5th -Feb 15th2013



To Mode Stay
Feb 5th 2013 Bhubaneswar Rayagada Train In transit
Feb 6th Rayagada Chatikona( in Kandhmal) Local bus/taxi 1  day
Feb 7-13 Chatikona Visit to  Villages in Niyamgiri hills

Hundijali, Khambesi and


Walking and climbing 8days stay
Feb 14 Chatikona Rayagada Local bus 1  day
Feb 15 Rayagada Bhuabneswar train In transit


February 16 –March 16 one month working on the gathered resource material gathered, compiling notes, photography, editing of videos

March 16- May 16 two month collecting secondary resources, library reference in Delhi and Bhubaneswar

3rd field visit to villages 17th may- may 23rd  2013



To Mode Stay
17th May 2013 Bhubaneswar Rayagada Train In transit
May 18 Rayagada Chatikona( in Kandhmal) Local bus/taxi 1  day
May 19, 20, 21 Chatikona Visit to  Villages in Niyamgiri hills

Hundijali, Khambesi and


Walking and climbing 4 days stay
May 22 Chatikona Rayagada Local bus 1 day
May 23 Rayagada Bhuabneswar Local bus/ train In transit





  1. 1.      Describe your project and your scholarly and technical ability to undertake your project.


This project will document age old tradition of wall painting and textiles practiced by the Dongria Kondh community. It focuses on the Kondh oral narratives of the Niyamgiri hills, particularly in association with the verbal and visual art embarking upon the visible and non-visible realms- textile material culture and paintings.


I have worked with the Dongria Kondh women in person during the Design Development Workshop-2006, supported by Odisha government for fifteen days in the Rayagada district. During the workshop I have interacted with Kondh women and documented the meanings and motifs of Dongria along with creating sustainable practices for the women. In the following year Mandika Neelamani and Vadake Sindhe assisted me in recording the age old oral narratives and ethnographic studies. From 2006-2008 I documented the living cultural tradition of Kondh community without any academic qualification in Anthropology. On basis of my credential and practical experience at grassroots level I was selected at SOAS, University of London for MA in Social Anthropology (2009-10)


My work involves working with aboriginal and non-aboriginal craft communities at grass roots level. I am passionate about the work I do. During the field study I live with the natives and consider the native’s point of view imperative. My other field study includes- documentation of Adivasi textiles and crafts of Bastar in 2001, Santhal women appliqué artist of Jarmundi-Dumka district Jharkhand ( 2005) and sujuni women folk artist in Muzaffarpur district of Bihar (2005-2006), Ikat weavers of Nuapatna,  tussar weavers of Jajpur district(since 2007) and Kotpad weavers of Odisha( 2009-10).


While travelling villages and interacting with people, I have encountered various issues and social concerns related to cultural studies. The social concerns raised during the field work persuaded me to continue ethnographic research work. I understand the people and the culture, and how verbal and visual art narrate the vivid expression of gender and material culture.


My credentials include-In 2010 I presented paper in ‘The second Congress of Debating Gender Justice in Asia-, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang  on ‘Representation of women in Indian Handcrafted Textiles’ and in 2012, I presented paper on women and textiles in the first Ewha Global Empowerment Programme (EGEP)- winter. Two of my article will be published the upcoming book ‘Imaging Odisha’ Praffula publication (edited by Hermann Kulke). My field experience and academic knowledge attained at SOAS is substantial for this NFSC research and documentation. Thus, my work illustrates my technical and scholarly ability of working with indigenous people.



  1. 2.      Why do you think that this project requires the fellowship support?

Dongria Kondh communities are one of the rare indigenous groups.  The cultural traditions practiced by the people- such as the wall painting and textile material culture has not yet been documented and recorded. Therefore, it is imperative to consider research and documentation on the living cultural tradition, the social and cultural context embarking upon the identity of Kondh. Fellowship support will seek to document the cultures of people for archives and anthropological purposes.

What are the expected output and impact of your project? 

Soft copy in CD and hard copy of document


Video recordings of oral narratives and songs