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Bargarh Dhanuyatra “A Historical and Cultural Perspective

Bargarh Dhanuyatra “A Historical and Cultural Perspective

By – Dr. Jagdish Mishra

BARGARH, the rice bowl of Odisha is situated in the Western part of the State. It became a district on 1st April 1993 and lies in between 200, 20’, 20” Northern Latitude and 830, 37’, 15” East longitude. As a district it has an area of 58341 Sq Kms having a population of 14,78,833 as per 20112 census. Geographically it is divided into three natural divisions3 viz. (1) The plain f Bargarh (2) Raj Borasambar and (3) Barapahar Range with Ambabhona and Lakhanpur. The plain of Bargarh is formed by three tributaries of Mahanadi Jeera, Danta and Jhaun spreading from Godbhaga in the east to Sohela in the west and Bhatli in the North to Bheden – Turum in the south. Raj Borasambar the second largest natural division lying to the southwest of Bargarh plain consists of two parts – the Gandhamardana mountain and forest range and Ong river valley. The third natural division Barapahar range with Ambabhona and Lakhanpur is situated to the north and north east of the district, in fact is a cluster of small hills.

In ancient days there was no kingdom in the name of Bargarh rather it was part of South Kosala and Chauhan Kingdoms. The 1st historical reference to it is found in the Rastrakuta inscriptions of Parachakrashalya in 12th CAD. found at Banda where it is called “Baghar Kotta”4. However, the political life of Bargarh started as a kingdom under Balaramdev the Chauhan King in 1870 A.D. either as a brotherly love and rivalry as told by legend or out of political necessity to protect the region from the threatening of the Kalachuris of Ratanpur5. Although inscriptions made references to several villages of the district6, we get historical evidences on Bargarh from 2nd CAD. Then it was ruled by the Satavahanas7 followed by the Maghas.

The Nalas came to power after the Meghas. But Bargarh was not under them rather was ruled by the Suras as revealed from the Arang copper plate of Maharaja Bhimasena8. In the last part of 5th CAD South Kosala in which Bargarh included was ruled by the Sarabhapiruyas. The Somavamsis followed them who were again followed by the Rastrakutas. In 1220 AD the Gangas occupied South Kosala where Bargarh was included. But they neglected this region to deal with the Islamic danger of Bengal facilitating the Chauhans to rise their heads with modern Patnagarh as capital. During the rule of Narasingha Dev of this dynasty in 1570 his brother Balaram Dev founded the Bargarh-Sambalpur kingdom. The Padampur region at this time having 476 villages saw the rise of Borasambar kingdom9 under Surya Bariha followed by 33 kings till the merger of princely states. On the other hand Bargarh-Sambalpur merges with the English territory, in 1849 under “Doctrine of lapse” after the death of issueless king Narayan Singh.

During the 1st war of Independence, Bargarh was the centre of anti British movement under Surendra Sai. Ghess, Lakhanpur, Paharsrigida, Papanga, Patkulunda and Kharsal Zamindars of the district played a vital role in it. In the second phase of Indian freedom struggle 3 towns and 24 villages of the district from which 2 in non cooperation movement, seven in civil disobedience, 28 in individual civil disobedience and 83 in quit India Movement with a total of 105 participated. In 1947 Bargarh became independent as a part of Indian Dominion after a long and comprehensive non violent fighting under Mahatma Gandhi. The people became so joyful for which they led the beginning of the Great “DHANUYATRA” symbolizing the English rule as the regime of Kansa.

In the plethora of festivals observed in Indian cultural tradition there is one and the only festival that remarkably distinguished itself from the rest in sense and style, grace and grandeur. It is none but the Dhanuyatra of Bargarh, which is famous as the largest open pendal Drama of the world in the oldest form. In fact in the word Yatra – Ya means to go and tra means place. Accordingly Yatra means a temporary visit generally once in a year. All the Yatras in India attach more or less to ancient traditions and scriptures like Ramayana, Mahabharat, Puranas and their hero gods and goddesses.

Dhanuyatra of Bargarh is taken from the puranic subject of Krishnaleela. It was held in the so called Dwapara Yuga when Bharatavarsa witnessed the Miraculous achievements of Lord Srikrishna. Accordingly the present Dhanuyatra is attached to the famous episode of Sreemad Bhagavata in which demon Kansa was killed by Lord Srikrishna. Listening the secret of his death from heavenly warning imprisoned Devaki and Basudeva10. However, the eighth son who was to kill him, escaped from the prison miraculously and reached Gopapura to which Kansa had no entry due to the curse given by Rishi Garga. Of course Kansa had got the news from Debarsi Narada about the growing of Lord Krishna at Gopapura in the house of tenant king Nanda. Kansa attempted to kill Krishna by sending many evil messengers and demons. Being failed in achieving his goal he played a clever and tactful game of conspiracy and diplomacy to kill Krishna – Balarama by organizing a cultural festival Dhanuyatra and inviting them to come to Mathura to see it12. But the killer himself fell a victim to it and was killed by Krishna-Balarama. With that “truth” triumph over false and light over darkness.

Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Pattanaik with Maharaja Kansa of Bargarh Dhanuyatra

Dhanuyatra of Bargarh was visualized, concentrating on this puranic episode of Dwapara Yuga to make the people of the region enjoyable. But it is not only a huge congregation for pleasure rather it is co-terminus with the idea of interpretation and oneness of our cultural heritage irrespective of caste, colour and creed. Because behind its beginning at Bargarh the then socio-political and spiritual environment of the region was responsible. Politically it was the time of Indian Independence. After a long fighting under Mahatma Gandhi non-violently freedom was achieved. People were celebrating for it at different corners on their own way. Bargarh was not an exception to it. The people of the region who were already fetched by a spiritual and religious fervour celebrated the pleasure of the independence in a classical way. They equalized the British rule in their mind with tyrannical rule of Kansa of Dwapara Age. Because the Britishers were punishing, exploiting, torturing the people and the nation like Kansasura. The birth of Lord Sri Krishna acted as a relief to the people. The people of the region compared Gandhiji idealism with Krishna consciousness and plotted round on it, planned for organizing Krishna-Kansa legendary episode of Dwapara Age in an open and moving pendal. For the reason during the days of festival Kansa visits different corners of Mathura making fines on way goers, spectators, shopkeepers. Of course since few years before it is confined to the guest invited by him and the Dhanuyatra Committee to the stage at Hatpada. Moreover during the British rule to criticize them, the Indians were staging Mughal Tamsa. It was a form of funning culture in the form of stage performance of actors expressed with poetical versification of their thought. The tradition of fine by Kansa in term of one lakh rupees, ten lakhs rupees or ten thousand in which only 10 or 100 or some amount of money is paid clearly indicate to the influence of Mughal Tamsa on it.

Odisha Minister Smt Snehengini Churia going to Raj Darbar of King Kansa

The social factor leading to Dhanuyatra reveals the fact that the business class people under whom at Bargarh many Hemals were working thought with the independence of the country that now onwards they are free to do work according to their own way and not under the control of the business class created an environment to Chalkout such a remarkable festival. So on the above plot they gave a move to the festival as the symbol of victory of good over evil. For the reason probably, in the early years of Dhanuyatra the Hemals were taking Krishna-Balaram on their shoulders from Ramji Temple.

The spiritual environment of the then Bargarh was no less responsible for the beginning of Dhanuyatra. An environment of Krishna consciousness was in prevalence in the region in 19th CAD. Some people namely father of Brindaban Bishi had regular communication with Brajadhama. They were the follower of Pagal Baba a great devotee of Srichaitanya13. He was sparking Krishna consciousness there at a time when Brindaban was out of this track. The contact with Brajadham and similarity in topography of Bargarh with that, encouraged them to have a Yatra on Krishnaleela.

Moreover in the Bargarh region regular Krishnaleela was held by a group under Babaji Bhoi a disciple of Nagara Guru of Kumbhari. Out of the four palm leaf manuscript on Krishnaleela available in the region one was there with Babaji Bhoi of Sarsara who had marriage relation with Padhan family at Talipada. Babaji Bhoi as Gahak sitted at the centre and was surrounded by others who recited and played with action in standing according to their respective role. Thus, performing art for Krishna consciousness was in vogue, that helped for the beginning of the Yatra14.

Further there was a synthesis between the two major branches of Hinduism- Vaishnavism and Shaivism in the region. On either side of river Jeera are found the traditions of Shiva and Vishnu worship. In the Alekhya Temple of present day a Shiva Temple of Panchdash Akhda was there15. It was called Junha Akhda. On the other hand Benu Baba Math was a centre of Vaishnavism. In both the places burning flame of the Dhunies are found till today. Because of the activities of the Santhas and Sadhus living there a synthesis between Vaishnavism and Shaivism developed that probably leaded to the idea of Dhanuyatra as Krishna and Balaram are taken as the symbol of Vishnu and Shiva by the Hindu worshipers.

In Bargarh from a very long past there was an association of dramatic activities called Sri Natya Mandira situated at the present maternity home of Bargarh Municipality. Artists of high rank like Gopi Kishan, Bauri Bandhu Mohanty etc were acting here on the subject relating to puranic episodes on Krishnaleela. They stopped it, when two of their actors died at Sundargarh due to the explosion of Honda light. But the influences they had already exerted, helped in the beginning of a Yatra in theatrical form called Dhanuyatra.

Dhanuyatra of Bargarh formally began in 1948. It continued for 15 days from Pausa Pratipada 12th January 1948 to Pausa Purnima 26th January 194817. The 2nd year Yatra was for 16 days i.e. from 31.12.1948 to 15.01.1949. The 1st two Yatras were performed with ordinary decorum. In the third year for the 1st time elaborate decorum was maintained. It is said, it was due the help given by neighbouring Zamindars. In the 3rd year of Yatra that began from 21.12.1949 the Bheden Zamindar provided elephant sitting on which Kansa visited the town like an original king. It led to a conflict with the British officials residing at PWD Bunglow. Although India had achieved her freedom, yet to been transformed into a republic. Thus, the British officers out of fear opened fire thinking that the previous monarchical rule has retaken its shape, who may punish the English. The officers were beaten up severally. Police filled FIR in the name of the organizers and artists. Due to it Dhanuyatra got stopped before Pausa Purnima, this year 18. Moreover for the next six consecutive years Dhanuyatra was not held. When India became a republic Nehru the 1st Prime Minister declared to withdraw all the cases filled by the English against the Indians. Inspite of that the organizers did not dare. The same declaration of Nehru was again informed to the people after some years. As a result Dhanuyatra was re-held from 1957 i.e. from 02.01.1957 to 16.01.1957. Since then it is continuing. However it is said that there was another gap from 1961-1967, in Dhanuyatra due to Chinese invasion on India. But the case was not so. Paucity of sources have led some to say like this. Lalit Mohan Sahu, a close associate of Dhanuyatra as artist and organizer once told to Surendra Hota the Senior Journalist and a close associate of present Dhanuyatra, that Dhanuyatra because of Indo-Chinese war was reduced to nine days and performed in an ordinary way19. From 1968 it is again continuing usually.

The first Dhanuyatra was held in the place where the Govt. Girl’s High School is situated. Later on it was shifted to Hatpada pendal. At the beginning Yatra was of 15 days (2nd year Yatra was of 16 days), which was later on during Chinese was period 1961-1967 reduced to 9 days and from 1968, thirteen days and from 1973-1974 eleven days are fixed for the Dhanuyatra that is continuing till today 20.

The everlasting contributions of those for whom Dhanuyatra was materialized were Kangali Naik, Aparti Panigrahi, Risaba Kar, Ratan Darji, Bipin Sahu, Kapileswar Dash, Basanta Dash, Shankar Dash, Brindaban Bishi, Bandhu Mahapatra, Raghumani Dash, Lakshyapati Dash, Chandramani Dash, Dhanu Pradhan, Bhuluku Sahu, Chhala Mastre, Tila Padhan, Bipin Barik, Munu Barik, Narendra Swarup, Rahasa Sarap, Bipin Sarap, Gopal Sarap, Ramakrishna Hota, Rakhi Sahu, Lalit Mohan Sahu, Lalit Dash, Shiva Baral, Dhanpati Birtia, Gajapati Birtia, Nilamani Pujari, Sadashiba Sarangi, Bishnu Padhan, Rama Bhoi, Udan Podh, Ghasi Padhan etc 21.

Bundi Ratha (originally Bunde Ratha) of Deogaon was the 1st Kansa. He was Kansa in the 1st and 2nd Dhanuyatra. Bhimsen Tripathy was in the 3rd year of Yatra. From 1957 to 1980 Yudhistir Shatpathy was the Kansa minusing the year 1973 (06.01.1973-18.01.1973), the year in which Late Radheshyam Dash was the Kansa. In 1981 Debendra Biswal and in 1981-1982 and 1982 for two years Nilanchal Dash of Sohela were the Kansa in Bargarh Dhanuyatra. Gopala Sahu (Eli) played the role of Kansa from 1984-1998 and from 2001-2008 while in the Gap period 1999 and 2000 Bhubaneswar Padhan of Sarla was the Kansa. From 2009 Hrushikesh Bhoi is acting as Kansa in the Dhanuyatra. Besides, on any requirement or exigencies, occurred in the past some others like Sanjeeb Kumar Dash (Matu Gauntia) etc were substituted.

Odisha Ex Chief Minister Giridhari Gomang with Maharaja Kansa (Gopal Sahu)

The name of Kansa is in complete without a reference to Kunduru Beda. In the early years upto the 80’s in the last day the original Kansa was not playing the role as it was thought the role of Kansa is not good and death being alive will bring harmful result. So a Rickswa Puller name Kunduru was playing the role in hope to collect money for his personal enjoyment. Because the original Kansa played his tyrannical role in all the days, but escaped on the day of punishment as Kunduru was playing the role to face the death, the people termed him as Kunduru Beda. Sometimes Kansa and other characters are selected by a selection committee headed by Collector of the district. In the character of Krishna and Balaram generally children below 9-10 years of age from the village Ambapali play the role. The Gopa balalkas and Gopanganas are also from that village. People of the region bow their head before Krishna-Balaram with the same devotion and loyalty as they do before God. Here we can refer to one event witnessed by Late Harekrishna Pujari who acted in the Dhanuyatra as Akrura from 1960-1984. The event was that, a group of people from a village of Raigarh with a weak, diseased child of about 5-6 years unable to stand reached Ambapali with their bags and baggages in one afternoon during Dhanuyatra. It was the day of Banabhoji by Krishna-Balaram and others and they were eating the lunch. The mother of the diseased child took her son to Lord Sri Krishna weeping heavily and prayed to cure the child giving his blessings by some anna Prasad from his eating dish. She was telling that, everybody says, the lord appears on the earth in you. All our attempts have failed to cure him, you make my lad well. What Krishna-Balaram understood by it, was known to them but they stood up and gave a piece of banana eaten by them to the child. They blessed the child with a garland. The event was ordinarily forgotten after the Yatra. But in the next year around 500 people from that village reached Ambapali-Gopapura with the child who was being well, playing in the street with them. They paid their devotional elopment visit reciting the name of the God in group dance 22.

The 1st Krishna of Dhanuyatra was Pranabandhu Kara of Bargarh and Balaram was Murari Prasad Mishra of Kansingha-Padampur. First Akrura was Prahallad Kara of Tora. From 1957 onwards generally Krishna-Balaram are from Ambapali being Gopal Chandra Pujari and Bhabani Shankar Pujari the 1st Krishna and Balarama from that village. The Yatra at Ambapali began a day later to Mathura Bargarh and ends with the departure of Krishna – Balarama with Akrura to Mathura.

The subject of the Yatra is the Dashama Skandha of Srimad Bhagavata Purana that starts with the marriage of Devaki with Basudev and closes with the death of Kansa. Amidst the festival different mythological performances like Devaki-Basudeva wedding, Abdication of throne by Kansa from Ugrasen, killing of the sons of Devaki, Putna and other demon’s killing by Krishna-Balaram, Nabakeli, Bastraharana, Kaliya Dalana, Akrura Gamana, Ranga Sabha, Kubuja Uddhara, Dahichori etc get openly staged in different places over a radius of 5 Kms of the town. The main characters of Dhanuyatra are Kansa, Ugrasena, Devaki, Basudev, Krishna, Balarama, Astamalla, Satyaki, Akrura, Chanura-Mustika, Gopabalakas, Gopanganas, Radha, Nandaraja and his queen etc. They display their action in the open stages not at one place with extempore dialogue, not provided in written form, but suited to the Yatra, Puranic tradition, place and people gathered. Gopaleela is played in Ambapali. Unwritten dialogue suited to the need of the time, people and place by the characters are continuing since its beginning. Moreover while in any other places the Yatra tradition fixed to the stage area or around it for the 1st time Bargarh Dhanuyatra begun the tradition of movable Yatra at different places.

The Geography and topography of Bargarh likely to conforms the places and position of Puranic descriptions. The town of Bargarh is treated as Mathura while Ambapali as Gopapura and river Jeera in between as Yamuna. The mangroove at Ambapali acts as Brindavana and a pond near Benubaba Matha as Kalindi Lake. In the heart of the town at Hatpada a gorgeously decorated high-rise stage is built as Kansa Darvar. In fact the amature dramatic association of Bargarh founded in 1951 which was famous for its drama Gauda Bijeta influenced a lot in the comprehensiveness and decorum of Kansa, its pendal above all every aspects of Dhanuyatra. Some years back another open pendal at Nishamani High School field is built to serve as the ‘Ranga Mahal’ of Kansa. At present two elephants, two horses and a camel are used for Kansa and his team for visit to different parts.

So far the role of Kansa is concerned, he is both the hero and the villain of the Dhanuyatra. Wearing gorgeous clothes, sitting on elephant he goes on four with in his kingdom, exhibiting royal strolling. Many fall to his victim. In the 1970’s Anwar Hussain of Hindi film world and later on Dukhiram Swain of Odisha cine world. Bijupattnaik the then CM of Odisha were hauled up by fines with his magisterial power given to him during this time. The victims are to pay certain amount to be free from it. However, from a few years back such activities outside the Darvar have been stopped. Now, Kansa during his royal tour supervise the day today activities. In the Darvar different officers of the district including Collector, S.P., D.I.G., R.D.C., Political Leaders like M.P., M.L.A., Ministers etc are summoned by him to put forth the grievances of the public and direct them to solve the problem immediately. One such burning example happened during his tour in the last year. When news reached to him that the waiting hall of travelers in the Govt. Bus Stand, Bargarh was occupied by some influential people since years together. Kansa visited the place in course of his royal tour and vaccated it with immediate effect, which is even not possible by the Govt. or judicial department in such limited time. Because of it people eagerly wait for the Yatra. Every officer is bound to respect his order during this time. This was the uniqueness of Bargarh Dhanuyatra in the modern arena of Indian Democracy.

Padmashree Tijan Bai of Chhatishgarh performing Pandawani in Kansa Darbar

Cultural exchange and synthesis are the nuclei of Bargarh Dhanuyatra. It provides a wider venue for socio-cultural and economic exchange that draws global attention at present. It is the meeting ground of all – Hindu, Muslim, Shikh Isai, rich, poor, elite and illiterate, ruler and the ruled. Yester years’ Sanchar, Sankirtan and Kalakunjas are replaced by trade fair, Handloom exhibitions, Gandhi Shilpa Bazar, Art and Handicraft by ORMAS, cultural exchange between states and nations, inspiration to folk and classical songs and dances that connects the nativity to foreign lands like Russia, Japan, USA etc. The Sanchar Mandali at Hatpada which was creating a spiritual environment in the heart of the masses throughout night is silent since last two years while the soul of Kalakunjas peeping itself into the Yatra from the house of history. Mina Bazar with its wider range of purchasing materials and entertainment elements like “Lehenti, Jhula, Brakedance, Dragon Rail, Magic Zoo etc create an everending pleasure among the people. Several times, different branded of circus witnessed the Yatra with great pump. Now George High School field has become the centre of all these activities, which was previously at Gandhi Park and in the footpath area in the early years.

Lakhs of people everyday enjoy and acts in the Yatra. The uniqueness in them is that they all in whatever form, position and place themselves become one one actor acting unknowingly for the progress and prosperity of the Yatra.In the 1st two Yatra Hemals were playing a role in taking Krishna – Balarama from Bargarh Ramji Temple to Ambapali. From the third year at Gopapura also activities are organized in a modern way. So far Nabakeli is concerned till now it is observed at Manabandh a pond in Mathura to which Krishna-Balarama come non-formally. This is an exception in the Dhanuyatra of Bargarh. During the whole yatra period, Gopapura Ambapali looks as the gravity center of spirituality , with every house front washed with cowdung paste and writing of Krishna Nama and painting of Balakrishna’s Pictures etc. The specific feature of the villages is that during the festival the whole villages prohibit the eating of fleshes and non-vegetarian items, Even it is not sold by the shopkeepers within the area of Gopapura. Two years back when our NSS units organized a special camp of NSS during Dhanuyatra at Ambapali they requested us to follow their tradition and we eagerly co-operated them in their great ideals.

A brief notes on Bargarh Dhanuyatra is incompleted without a reference to some places, persons and event beneath it. Marwadi Dharmashala since its in caption serve as the royal palace of Kansa . The house of Adimata Sindhu Kumari Dash serve as the rest house of Krishna Balarama after coming to Mathura with Akrura. She is called Adimata because she was the 1st Yasoda in Bargarh Dhanuyatra. He was also the 1st lady artist in it. As the mother of Krishna for the 1st time in Dhanuyatra, she was called Adi (1st) Mata (mother). She also wrote a book on Krishna called Geeta Madhuri , which was published by Parvati Giri. Kansa & other chracters are decorated at Dharmashala by artist attached to it like Narendra Sarap, Lalit mohan Sahu , Rankamani Dora, Buddhadev Rout etc .

Presently Dhanuyatra is observed under the direct supervision of the Govt. of Odisha with District Collector as the President. From this year it has been recognized by the Govt. of India as a National Festival.

Guest from different States and nations are invited to make it world wide popular. Print and electronics media are giving special coverage on it. From 2005 to 2010 ETV made live Telecast of the programme that was viewed by people in many countries of the world. The Navaratna Media a local channel also played an important role in this regard. Now a days many articles, book, Ph.D thesis have been prepared by different scholars on it.

Our Culture has the credit of celebrating so many Yatras & Melas through out the year. It has the speciality of spectacular theatrical presentation. But Dhanuyatra tops them all in its superior ability to arrest the attention of all of course the yatra might have undergone many changes over the year with the trend of rationalization of human thinking and ideological presentation .But the message of victory of good over evil, triumph of truth over tyranny reflecting the independence of India from the English yoke has remained unchanged. We can now say that it is giving the message of victory of truth over corruption and terrorism. Thus, it is a dream festival in which to be a part is a matter of great fortune.

The last but not the least is that now Dhanuyatra is observed at dozens of place being some of them are organized before to it. But the Dhanuyatra of Bargarh excels all for its uniqueness & objectives.


1. National Information Science Centre, Bargarh.
2. Ibid.
3. Bargarh: A Geographical and historical identity, OHRJ, Vol .XLI, No. 1,2 ,3 and 4, p. 82.
4. EL, XXX, PP, 135 ff.
5. B.B Mishra, Dakshina Kosalara Sankshipta Itihas (Odia) P-71.
6. Satalama in the Satalama Copper plates of Janmejaya, Turum of Arkigrama copper plates, Tulenda of Tulenda C.P, Vatapallika (Barpali) of Arang copper plates etc.
7. Watters, On yuan chuangs Travels in India, Vol-II, PP.2067ff .
8. Vatapallika, mentioned in the copper plates is identified with modern Barpali. IO, Vol-IV, 281-86.
9. S.P. Dash, Sambalpur Itihas, P.434.
10 . Harivansa, Vol-I, PP 112ff.
11. Ibid, Vol-II, PP.78ff.
12. Ibid, Vol-III, PP.141ff.
13. Brajamandal Parikrama
14. Interview with Surendra Hota, Sr.Jurnalist.Bargarh.
15. Ibid.
16. Ibid
17. P.Birtia, world famous Dibya Mahotsav Dhanuyatra.
18. Collected from Lalit Mohan Sahu by S. Hota, Lalit Mohan Sahu was working as cashier in the PWD Deptt., Bargarh.
19. Ibid
20. P. Birtia, op-cit
21. Ibid.
22. Souvenir, Dhanuyatra, 1998-99,P.13
23. P. Birtia, op. cit.

About The Author

By- Dr. Jagdish Mishra Lecturer in History Trust Fund College, Bargarh Ph- 9439209288

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