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When King Kansa summoned Biju Patnaik

Source: PTI
January 04, 2009 18:11 IST
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A huge mustachioed figure wearing a crown and riding a caparisoned elephant, like someone straight out of the pages of mythology, emerges from the early morning mist on National Highway-6 which runs on the edge of Orissa's Bargarh town.

He flags down a loaded truck from Kolkata.

As the puzzled driver cranes his neck out and looks at him in bewilderment, the figure shouts, "How could you enter my kingdom without permission?"

He is fined one lakh "swarna mudras" (gold coins) on the spot. As the driver recovers and sizes up the situation, the crowd asks him to pay Rs 100 and drive off. He obliges and speeds away without even bothering about a receipt.

"Who owns this shop?" the man demands to know from his high perch as he enters a crowded street.

"Why has he kept the place so untidy? I fine him 51,000 swarna mudras," he says delivering an on-the-spot verdict as the shop owner appears on the scene.

He is allowed to go after he pays Rs. 51.

The man on the elephant marches on.

Though it looks a bit weird to the uninitiated, for the people of Bargarh town it is all fun.

They are in the midst of the 11-day Dhanu Yatra festival, one of the biggest in western Orissa, which began on Friday.

It is the time when 'King Kansa' virtually rules the town which transforms itself into a sprawling open air theatre. The money collected through fines imposed goes into the Dhanu Yatra Mahotsav Committee Fund.

The theme of the festival is based on Krishna Leela in which King Kansa invites his nephews, Krishna and Balaram, to witness a yatra with the intent of killing both. But Krishna turns the table on the tyrant king killing him and freeing the people of the 'kingdom' from his rule.

But the 'subjects' do not mind the 'tyranny' they are made to go through during the festival.

The humorous side of the story is that politicians, businessmen, government officials or just ordinary citizens willy-nilly get sucked into the drama which, at times, borders on the hilarious.

The town, which has a mix of both industrial and agrarian culture, is taken to be Mathura, the seat of Kansa, and the nearby Jeera river the Yamuna.

The Ambapalli village, across the river, is considered 'Gopapura', where Krishna grows up.

In fact, the organisers have demanded that the 11-day festival be included in the Guinness Book of World Records as it can be considered the world's largest open air theatre.

Gopal Sahu, an Assistant Sub-Inspector of Police, who has played the role of Kansa for 22 years, has passed on the mantle to a new actor, Hrushikesh Bhoi, an employee of the health department this year.

Bhoi, who hails from nearby Chicholi village, says, "I am honoured to get this offer. I will try to do my best and match my predecessors."

He was selected from among 17 persons who had been called to an audition conducted by a Jury of the Mahotsav Committee.

Kansa's 'Durbar' is held every evening in the town in a large field with a high platform in the middle. The 'king shouts orders as he enjoys a variety of entertainment programmes by troupes from various parts of the state.

During his elephant ride through the town, which boasts of a cement plant and is a business hub, nothing escapes Kansa's scrutiny -- be it public utility services like power supply, drinking water or sanitation.

Officials of various departments or the civic body in the town function in top gear so that they do not attract the king's displeasure as he could summon them to his durbar for a tongue lashing in public.

At times, the district collector or the police superintendent is asked to present themselves at the 'durbar'.

Residents recall that in the early 1990s, the king summoned the then chief minister Biju Patnaik to his durbar. Patnaik sportingly flew down to Bargarh from Bhubaneswar in a chopper with a few scribes accompanying him for an audience with the 11-day ruler 'to discuss issues of the kingdom' with him.

"Many local problems indeed get solved during the festival due to the intervention of Kansa," said Aditya Panda, a local, adding "no offence is taken and no one holds any grudge."

A bhelpuri seller invited Kansa's wrath on Saturday as he had kept his stall untidy. As he said he could not pay the fine, he was asked to dance to the latest Bollywood song.

Kansa enjoys immunity from the local authorities as he pulls up people including officials. Contemporary and social issues and sarcasm become part of the festival which, however, revolves around mythology, Bikram Sahoo, a local teacher, said.

His minister Akrur follows him around in another decked up elephant adding flavour to the drama by instigating the 'king' and humouring the masses.

Local BJD MLA Ananda Acharya said that efforts were on to construct a permanent 'durbar' for the festival for which Rs. 72 lakh would be required.

"Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has agreed to provide Rs. 50 lakh of which Rs. 25 lakh has already been sanctioned," he said as the festival was inaugurated on Friday.

"The popularity off this festival is unbelievable. It could be developed into a major tourist attraction, but the town lacks the required facilities," one of the organisers said.

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