Monday, 6 January 2014

Chausathi Yogini

The 7th Chaushathi Yogini Mahotsava was organized from the 23rd to the 25th December, 2013 in the precincts of the Chaushathi Yogini temple located at Hirapur in the outskirts of Bhubaneshwar. I had the good fortune of attending the Festival.

Legend has it that before fighting and killing the demon Mahishasur, Goddess Durga had fought with and had killed his associate Raktaviyya. However during the fierce fight, whenever a drop of Raktaviryya was touching the earth, another Raktaviryya was emerging from that spot. So the Goddess created 64 yoginis who sipped up each drop of such blood before it touched the ground.

There are four Chaushathi Yogini temples in India, two in Madhya Pradesh - at Khajuraho and Bhedaghat (Jabalpur)  and two in Odisha - at Ranipur-Jharial (Balangir District) and Hirapur near Bhubaneswar

The Chaushathi Yogini temple at Hirapur was built in the 9th Century and is said to be the oldest of such temples. It is in a circular form and without a roof. Its circumference is 27.4 metres and its height is 2.4 metres. It is built with sand stone. Statues of sixty-four yoginis (female ascetics, 64 companions of Goddess Durga ) built with black granite stone have been placed as high reliefs in 64 panels carved into the walls of the surface of inside walls of the temple. These beautifully carved statues depict a high level of feminine grace and beauty. The highlight of these statues is that each statue depicts a different hair-style.  Goddess Mahamaya is the presiding deity of the temple and her statue is bigger than those of 64 yoginis whose statues are on either side of her. Statues of nine katyayanis (a form of Goddess Durga) adorn the outer side of the circular wall.

The Festival is organised by Odissi Danseuse and Guru Pratibha Panda of Bhubaneswar. In the following video-clip, she explains (in Odia) why she chose the Chaushathi Yogini temple at Hirapur as the venue. It is located in a village and very few people knew about it. After she, with support from Govt. of Odisha, started the Festival, people came to know about this ancient temple. Roads were laid, infrastructure developed and it became a tourist-spot.

The Festival was inaugurated by the present Gajapati of Puri (King of Odisha). It is appropriate to mention here that the Gajapati is referred to as the Raja of Puri and is revered as the Chalanti Pratima  (moving form) of Lord Jagannath. He performs specified rituals in the Shree Jagannath temple including the ceremonial sweeping of the Raths of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra during the Rath Yatra (car festival) with a broom of gold at Puri every year.

The highlight of the performances in the first evening was an Odissi dance-drama Dayana, by Nrutya Prativa of Bhubaneswar. It depicted an interesting and poignant story. Once, the Mayura Chandrika (peacock-plume) in the crown of Lord Jagannath fell of. The priests did not know whether it was a good or bad omen. So, the head-priest went to the Gajapati to appraise him of the happening. At that time the Gajapati was engrossed in a game of dice and,  without giving attention to what the head-priest was saying, he extended his left hand to receive what the head-priest was giving. The next moment, when he saw what was on his left palm, he was crest-fallen. He had committed a great disrespect to Lord Jagannath in receiving by his left hand what was part of the Lord’s decorations. In the culture of Odisha, the left hand is treated as inauspicious. Giving or receiving anything with the left, is treated as bad manners and disrespect to the receiver or giver.

The King was full of deep remorse and could not reconcile himself with such disrespect to the Lord. So he called his Minister and asked him to arrange for cutting off his left palm with which he had committed such sacrilege. The Minister was aghast at hearing this and beseeched the King not to ask him to do any such act. A couple of days later, the penitent King told his Minister that some devilish spirit was trying to scare him and disturbing his sleep   by thrusting his hand through the window of the royal bed-chamber. The King asked his Minister to be alert and cut off the devil’s hand as soon as the hand was thrust through the window. The obedient Minister agreed and took guard. At the dead of night the Minister indeed saw a hand being thrust through the window of the King’s bed-room. And immediately the Minister chopped off the intruding palm. The next morning, the Minister and the courtiers found that what the Minister had chopped off the previous night was the King’s left palm!

The King then ordered his severed palm to be buried. The gardener instead planted the palm in the royal garden. Within a few days, the palm grew into a plant and later, bore a stunningly beautiful flower. The flower was named Dayana.  The King was fascinated by its beauty and asked the gardener to guard it so that nobody would pluck it off. One morning, the King noticed that the flower was missing. He became very angry and ordered that the gardener be executed the next morning, for dereliction of duty. That night, Lord Jagannath appeared before the King in a dream and told him that He liked the flower and so had taken it. The next morning, the King went to the temple and found that flower was adorning  the Lord’s crown. So he withdrew his order for executing the gardener.

The dance-drama was presented in an enchanting way. It was choreographed by Guru Prativa Panda, who enacted the role of the Gajapati in it.  

The 3-day Festival had several items like Odissi, Kuchipudi and contemporary dances, flute-playing, vocal Odissi songs, Paika Dance (a martial dance of Odisha) and Dhol Mahuri (beating of drums accompanied by playing of a long musical instrument),       

  The highlight of the third evening was an enchanting Odissi dance number by the eminent danseuse and choreographer Daksha Mashruwala from Mumbai. Her early training in Bharata natyam was under Mrinalini Sarabhai. She learnt Odissi dance from the legendary Guru Kelu Charan Mohapatra.

Here is a sample of  an Odissi dance number by Daksha Mashruwalla:


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