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Dhanuyatra- The festival of Bow

Sri Netrabhanu Pradhan
Reader in Botany (Retd.)
College Road, Bargarh (Odisha)

1942 the year of Quit India Movement, the struggle for Independence in India was gaining momentum very fast. There was upheaval through the length and breadth of India. Since days immemorable there was a spiritual movement in this part of India. Many villages around Bargarh have Krishna consciousness. They used to perform Krishna Leela, as Ram Leela, a populaform of Dance-drama popular in Northern India. Krishna Leela is equally important like Ram Leela and in both the epics the demons were suppressing and oppressing the people. The people were passing through a lot of agony. The British imperial rule was also similarly unbearable to the Indians. People were actively participating in the freedom struggle. This made the conscious citizen of this area to give a spiritual touch to this movement. This led to a spiritual movement which took a form of a festival namely Dhanuyatra.
Location of festival
Bargarh a small town then became the site of Mathura- the kingdom of the most powerful king Kansh. The river ‘Jeera’ passing by the town simulates ‘Yamuna’ and the village Ambapali on the bank of this river on the other side was taken to be Gopa or Gopapur.
Yamuna separates the city from that hamlet. This Bargarh is comparable to the Body and the body is again comparable to the Bow. These are all gross forms and consequently they all begin with the letter ‘B’. The small village of Ambapali is comparable to the Arrow of the Bow. Both these begin with the letter A and are further comparable with the mind and the king Kansh was mindful to Gopa and the Gopal boy Krishna. Bargarh is a business centre. The King here is a Demon. A Demon is one who gets pleasure in the growth and comfort of the body. For him the body is everything. He has no idea that the body will perish one day and That which resides in the body is imperishable. He sees nothing but bodies all around.
The village on the bank of the river Yamuna is inhabited by the villagers who live on labour mostly taming cows out of house for grazing. Fortunately this Ambapali had a sylvanic surroundings. The women in the village stayed mindful of the cowherd boys and their leader was the blue-eyed boy the Bal Gopal Krishna. There is a heavy contrast between the citizens of Mathura and Gopa. The former were body conscious and the latter were mind conscious. The mind of Gopis ultimately lay centred in Krishna the Absolute or The Atma, the imperishable. The king of Mathura Kansh does not have an iota of believe in the God.
The Consciousness
The consciousness always moves from the Body through the mind and attains the Absolute. The Body comparable to the bow, the main attraction of the festival has a shape. Shape always changes because it is a worldly thing and here in this world the only permanent thing is change. How can the inert bow like Body last with the touch of the Absolute- Krishna.
There took place an incident when in a period the yearly Dhanuyatra was discontinued. There was a Radha Krishna math in Bargarh town where a saint popularly known as Benubaba was worshipping the lord. At that period a Krishna conscisiousness movement was very popular in Bargarh. The saint had a lot of disciples. It is yet unknown about the miscreants who took away the idols making a big hole in the mud wall of the math. The next morning the idols of Radha and Krishna found lying in the open way behind and outside the math. This led the Baba to shift the Ashram along with the idols across the river to the other bank. Thus Krishna moves from the so called Mathura to Gopa. The Radha Krishna stayed in a thatched Ashram just under a huge Kadam tree (Neolamarckia cadamba). It was a very beautiful tree. It had a lot of big hanging balls of small yellow flowers rich in fragrance. This was the tree on the branch of which Krishna sat, played flute emanating the ethereal music. For reasons unknown the Baba shifted the Ashram to a location on the same bank of the river adjacent to the present iron bridge which connects the Ashram, the Gopa and Mathura. Actually Ambapali is similar to Gopa which has been supplying milk and milk products to Bargarh – the Mathura.
The western bank of the river Jeera similar to Yamuna was rich in vegetation. Several villages situated in the upstream and downstream of the Jeera around Gopa had a lot of mango groves. These plants were huge in size probably due to favourable fertile land of the bank. There were several expanded areas among the mango groves where guava plants were growing in plenty. There were medium sized plants. Most of them had no erect posture, several of them were lying on the grassy lands. They appeared as if lord Krishna was raising the head on the palm resting the elbow on the green carpet. Thus the arena was a suitable place for the mid-day resting of the cowherd boys. In the afternoon these banks were the place of congregation of the children, where they ran, played, enjoyed, shouted, danced and climbed up on the perched guava trees. It simulated the cowherd boys and their dances in the forest. The guava trees have very smooth braches giving the appearance of prominent muscular arms holding the jolly boy aloft. On the banks there were several rows of bullock heart apple plants. The fruits hanging from their branches were beautiful to look at heavy squamose skin. Externally they appeared to be different because of the skin but one inside drew life from the centre. The whole river bank forest appeared very graceful but constituted as one unit. Under the shade of these shrubs and trees there appeared a lot of medicinal plants. One of the most prominent plants among them was the Andrographis paniculata the bitter herb which was a cure against worms and was also a tonic. The land there had a lot of tall Arjuna (Terminalia arjuna) trees with a smooth trunk and imitating the body colour of lord Krishna. This land appeared to be virgin and old with rich of population of Odenlandia herbs which went to prove the old nature of the land. The river jeera like Yamuna was full of crystalline sands. After every flood or a shower of rain the sand of the river bank became even surfaced. The foot print of the children on the surface was lasting for a long time and the disciples of Krishna moved by prostrating to the foot prints imagining at heart the foot prints of the Bal Gopal Krishna. Time has passed with the flowing of the river stream. Lot of changes have taken place. Now the river bed is not sandy but full of soil. The flow of water is not clean but muddy. The shining fishes on the flowing water are no more seen now. The mango boughs have all disappeared. The guavas are gone. The cows and bullocks have vanished from the scene. The place is dirty. The children do not go to play there. The trees are replaced by so many concrete buildings. The biodiversity of the place has completely changed. Presently the water of Jeera has a deadly degree of insecticides. The Bargarh of 1940 was not irrigated. At that time there was vast areas of uncultivated lands sufficient for animals to graze on. Those lands have been converted to crop fields. Human population has remarkably increased. Population of other life forms have highly decreased. The sounds of crows, house sparrows, squirrels, bats and jackals are hardly heard. Most of the snake species have vanished from the area. The biodiversity of this area is in danger. The Gopapur of epic age had rich biodiversity which cannot be imagined in its true form and colour at the present day.

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