Notes on Antique Textiles, Folk Art & Timeless Traditions – Jaina Mishra
Kalinga. Now called Odisha (Orissa).
The poorest state in India financially. Yet, among the richest states culturally.
Every Indian has heard of Orissa through its arts – either the dance, the woven saris, the metalwork, the tribal wall paintings, the pipli patchwork, the pattachitra or the palm leaf paintings – each an art form that is ancient, developed and gorgeous (except the pipli patchwork that does not appeal to me).
Have dreamt of coming to Orissa for many years. And am here finally – beckoned to the place by a tribal festival.
Some irresponsible photographers with no moral conscience portrayed the women here in a bad light and so photography is disallowed. The strictness with which this is enforced even in the festival is very heartening but it is also a major disappointment.
But there are unexpected surprises – like ancient temples in the midst of the city, ancient palm leaf manuscripts dug out from the trunks of an old shop, a little-known museum that has a fantastic collection of ancient stone artefacts and more.
Above all – the most striking view is that of the common people. Families whose members are well integrated across generations and completely involved in each other’s lives are a delight to watch. Old wrinkled bent grandmas join the family outing supported by their sons and grandsons. The outing is a special occasion and even in the lower middle class income segment, the women and children have dressed up well with full ‘shringar’ to join the crowds at the Mela on Sunday evening. Young people are all seen with their families, talking, laughing and completely engaged in each other without any ‘I don’t belong here’ misfit sentiment or the haughty ‘I’d rather be somewhere else’ attitude. Everyone is homogenously one with each other. Everyone is exactly where they want to be – enjoying the Sunday evening with people they are settled with. The pace is slow and relaxed as people soak in the sights and examine all the objects available for sale. Even with noisy children creating a ruckus as their fathers try to rein them in, and mothers look on gently, there is a sense of peace. No one – neither the urban folk who have come to visit nor the tribal folk who live hard lives – seems unhappy or disturbed or engrossed in unsolvable problems.
Urban folk seem to have a sense of innate respect for the tribal folk. The urbanites ask questions about the roots and herbs in a tone of reverence that one might use with a wise man. They walk about the staged tribal village homes and study every aspect with interest. This respect and reverence surprises me. For, in my urban world, or in other states that I have visited, most people only see the financial & developmental status of the tribals and judge them to be ‘lesser’ mortals. In that world, tribals are seen as a group that ‘needs help / development / financial aid / support / education’. Whereas here, in Bhubaneswar, tribals are being seen as exactly the opposite : a source of learning, a source of wisdom and a group to be respected. Very refreshing!
Dinner is an absolute delight with vegetables tasting like they used to when I was a child. Having grown up vegetarian I have had enough of veggies and am no fan of this food group. And so, when I found myself enjoying the great flavours of cauliflower and lady fingers and brinjals I surprised myself! After two days of relishing simple meals I began to look forward to dinner and too often I caught myself thinking about what I would eat at meal time! Craving for vegetables???!! Here in Mumbai I am back to eating the fantastic tasty dinners that my dear maid cooks for me, and though she is a fantastic cook, the raw vegetables themselves lack flavor. Maybe the locals in Orissa farm differently. Maybe their land is different. As I have my morning cup of tea, I am wondering when I will get my next dose of flavorful Odisha vegetables!!
More about my travels in Orissa to follow in the articles to be published in Feb:
All-consuming Tribal Dances
Woven Art of Orissa
A drive through Cuttack