Parab

Orissa’s Showpiece Tribal Festival

19 AUGUST 2017,
The International Odissa Tribal Festival
The International Odissa Tribal Festival

Having been born and brought up in the North-Eastern state of Assam, which happens to be the cradle of India’s indigenous tribal population, I have always been fascinated by the unique tradition, culture and heritage of India’s tribals. Last year, Arnold Williamson, my Anthropologist friend from the University of Michigan with whom I have extensively toured the North – Eastern part of India, covering states like Assam, Mizoram, Manipur and Nagaland, in search of exotic tribals of this wonderful stretch of India, decided to travel to Koraput, which happens to be the hub of Odisha’s tribals on the invitation of the Government of Odisha.

Arnold had in the past witnessed tribal festivals of Nagaland (Hornbill Festival) and Mizoram (Chapchar Kut Festival), but the annual Parab Festival, which is conducted with great pomp and grandeur in Koraput, Odisha was uniquely different and very refreshing. This festival, we were told, has been patronised by the Government of Odisha since the past 15 years and attracts the very best of Odisha’s tribal heritage. Apart from showcasing the fascinating tribal lifestyle, art and culture, the festival has also harmoniously integrated contemporary festive elements like quiz shows, exciting boat races, art exhibition, stimulating sessions of seminars and “Kabi Sammellans”, all of which offers a truly captivating setting to savor Odisha’s rich tribal heritage. The manner in which the events are conducted at the rudimentary Gram Panchayat level deserves kudos and is a lesson for India’s cultural mandarins.

Last year’s festival was inaugurated by the Collector & District Magistrate - Shri Sachin R Jadhav who ceremoniously opened the Parab Festival for the public in an impressive function. My Anthropologist friend Arnold hadn’t seen such tribal diversity anywhere else and was simply stupefied by the tribal show at Koraput. The festival was graced by some of India’s most outstanding cultural artists and exquisite dancers performed Kuchipuddi, Manipuri, Bihu as well as the Bharatnatyam dance forms. Arnold was simply awed and spell bound by the scintillating display of Odisha dance by one of India’s best known exponent of this truly graceful danceform – the one and only Sujata Mahapatra. Being a guest of Odisha government, and given the fact that Arnold was an eminent Anthropologist, the Govt. of Odisha played the perfect host and the next couple of days were spent criss-crossing the district of Koraput that enabled him to capture the essence of Odisha’s rich tribal heritage. A word of advise for first time visitors to Koraput – (You would do well to traverse the entire district of Koraput rather then just spending time at Koraput town proper. There is much innocence in rural Koraput viz-a-viz the tribals).

For those with a penchant for history, Koraput in the ancient times used to be an important town and was much patronised by the Nala rulers, while in the medieval period it was in the limelight under the patronage of Silavamsi royals. During the British rule too, Koraput was a much sought after health resort. Even though large stretches of Koraput district have gradually started embracing contemporary modern lifestyle pattern, there are still pockets if you drive deep into the Koraput country where fascinating “Adivasi” settlements can be found leading a life which is close to nature and their culture –“EXOTIC” to say the least. Try to coincide your trip to the interiors of Koraput district on a Sunday, as this will provide you with a once in a lifetime’s experience of what a traditional Adivasi marketplace is all about. The Sunday market, popularly referred to as the “Hat Poda” sells everything from fruits and vegetables to exquisite tribal jewellery and tribal clothing.

Over the years, Anthropologists have identified as many as 62 tribes in the state of Odisha and Koraput has been host to them since times immemorial. Some of the most populous tribes are the Bhumia, Bhatra, Gond, Koya, Paraja and Kondh, each one unique in terms of culture and heritage.

Time permitting, a drive deep into the dense evergreen forests of the Eastern Ghats will reveal a lot about Odisha’s unique tribal heritage. You may witness the grandeur of the tribals at the Parab Festival alright, but it is another thing to experience the tribals in their own backyard. Primitive tribes are believed to express their cultural identity through their rituals, traditions, festivals, clothing and ornaments and a visit to the interiors will bring you face to face with the exotic Bonda, the Koya, the Didayi, the Paraja, the Kondh, the Saura tribes etc.

For instance, it is a fascinating experience to witness the matrimonial alliance of a tribe and how such marriages are meticulously arranged by members of its own community, given the fact that most tribes do not subscribe to inter community marriage. Each tribe will have its own distinct social norms, administration, custom and judicial system all of which play a key role in maintaining law and order within the tribe. The underlying sense of orderliness in each tribe is infused through youth dormitories, worship of common gods and goddesses, economic policy, collection of food, hunting, jhum cultivation and so on which will put to shame the most modern of societies who claim to be civilised.

I would never have known how a traditional village council functions had I not forayed deep inside the Koraput country. What is on offer at the Parab Festival is just a showpiece for today’s discerning traveler, a kind of introduction to Odisha’s tribal domain at best. However, for an intimate connect with tribals, it indeed makes sense that you take time out of your busy schedule and drive to the Koraput country.

The tribals of Odisha are a unique lot. For instance, if you visit the youth dormitories, you will come to know how the tribes maintain their inherent identity and tradition afloat. The boys and the girls spend nights in separate dormitories. Most dormitories will have open space meant for practicing dance. It is indeed such a democratic institution for promotion of culture of the respective tribes.

The outside world is most fascinated by the unique rituals and ceremonies associated with the tribals and here in Koraput – Odisha’s cradle of tribal population, there are two distinct types of ceremonies at the family level and the community level. The family based ceremonies include new born babies, marriage and death. These ceremonies have explicit customs and rules. For instance, the “Naming Ceremony” of the new born baby takes place on 21st day after birth and there is also the prerequisite of worship to the forefathers for blessings to the new born. I for one found the ceremony of drawing of “Muruja’ and “Jhoti” as per tantric design to be pretty interesting.

Similarly during the time of death, there are rituals like the rule of drawing tantric design and offering of rice, wine etc. for pleasing the spirits of the dead. These ceremonies are performed under the watchful eyes of a Jani, Sisa and Gurumai.

The outside world is most fascinated by the unique rituals and ceremonies associated with the tribals and here in Koraput – Odisha’s cradle of tribal population, there are two distinct types of ceremonies at the family level and the community level. The family based ceremonies include new born babies, marriage and death. These ceremonies have explicit customs and rules. For instance, the “Naming Ceremony” of the new born baby takes place on 21st day after birth and there is also the prerequisite of worship to the forefathers for blessings to the new born. I for one found the ceremony of drawing of “Muruja’ and “Jhoti” as per tantric design to be pretty interesting.

Similarly during the time of death, there are rituals like the rule of drawing tantric design and offering of rice, wine etc. for pleasing the spirits of the dead. These ceremonies are performed under the watchful eyes of a Jani, Sisa and Gurumai.

When it comes to the question of religion, all the tribes of Odisha’s Koraput district are nature worshippers. At a time when modern technology and science has almost wiped out true religion, it is refreshing to see the tribals’ devotion and their dependence on “Nature” as god.

From the lively interactions with the village elders, we came to the conclusion that these fascinting tribes of Odisha lay emphasis on three principal elements – worshipping the soil as Mother Earth, sun as god the supreme and water as sustainable lifegiver. We were told that religion is a way of life for the tribals and all through the year, these colorful tribes pay their obeisance to god in the midst of their day to day living – be it construction of huts, cultivation, sowing of seeds, hunting etc…

The tribals of Odisha are renowned for their folk culture and their unique songs and dance forms have been attracting the attention of the discerning world traveller. A distinctive element of the tribals’ folklore is their preference to perform song and dance in group rather than on an individual basis. Traditional tribal musical instruments such as the Drum, Horn, Tamak and Dungdunga etc… are an integral part of their cultural performances and adds a lot of vivacity to their expressions. The Parab Festival is all about culture and the local Panchayat Pradhans select the very best of tribal artists who offer soul renditions to the amazement of the general public.

A word or two about the exotic “Dhemsa” dance will, I am sure, be an eyeopener for the first time visitors to Koraput. This graceful dance is perfectly synchronised and is performed in group form consisting of both men and women folks. Needless to say, the attire they wear are very colorful and the women look particularly alluring. The rhythmic manner in which they dance, knitting fingers of one another with the tunes of the musical instrument is absolutely fascinating stuff.

All said and done, a visit to the annual Parab Festival in Odisha’s Koraput country is not only culturally elevating, it is also an eye-opener to the sheer dexterity of Odisha’s tribal folks. They may be primitive looking but nonetheless majestic. Be it the manner in which they decorate their houses with motifs of flowers, birds, and geometrical designs, their exquisite paintings related to religious beliefs and drawn in order to appease the spirits, their intricate wood carving skills and much more are things of attraction to visitors from outside.

What will strike the new age traveler at the Parab Festival is the simplicity of the tribal way of life. They are truthful and they love freedom. Although the savage assault of modernization and the process of globalization has made its presence felt in Koraput region, their cultural traditions remain intact. For Anthropologists and culture freaks, the Koraput country has provided them with an outstanding platform to study primitive tribal societies and no wonder Anthropologists like Arnold are shuttling between little-known Koraput to Michigan in USA with alarming regularity as they unravel the mysterious tribal lifestyle – their ecology, their economics, their legal and political institutions, their family and fascinating kinship organizations, their religious beliefs, their technologies, their arts etc….all of which are rapidly vanishing by their subjection to modernity.

There is still time left for the Anthropologists to devote their attention chiefly to the preservation of Odisha’s unique tribal culture before it is too late.

Traveler’s Fact File
Getting There:
Koraput is conveniently linked with other cities and towns of Odisha, both by rail and road. The National Highway 43 passes through Koraput, while express trains from Vizag, Bhubaneswar and Kolkata pass through Koraput. The nearest airport is Vishakapatnam at a distance of 202 Kms.

Accommodation:
Apart from government of Odisha run Circuit House, there are mid budget and budget category hotels like Atithi Niwas, Raj Residency, Mahalaxmi Lodge, Sri Krishna Lodge etc… that can be relied upon. For further information on Parab Festival, please feel free to get in touch with:
Department of Tourism
Government of Odisha, Paryatan Bhawan,
Lewis Road, Bhubaneswar-751014
Phone - 91 674 2432177,
Fax - 91 674 2430887
E-mail: ortour@orissatourism.gov.in
Website: www.orissatourism.gov.in