Even 81 years after Odisha achieved their much-deserved identity on 1 April 1936, passions seem to not have dimmed as the Odiya community of Kolkata paid a glowing tribute to their motherland through the annual event, Vande Utkal Janani. It was organised by the Odias at Kolkata Welfare Association at the Science City Mini Auditorium. The show was inaugurated with a lamp lighting ceremony, which was followed by the launch of a souvenir booklet called Odivisa by the president of the association, Guru Prasad Pattanaik and the internationally acclaimed Odissi dancer Guru Giridhari Nayak along with other dignitaries from both Odisha and West Bengal. Pattanaik gave the keynote address by saying, “We started the organisation with 10 members but that has now increased to nearly 400. This programme is organised with the purpose of celebrating my identity and expressing my pride as an Odiya”.
The cultural programme began with the female members of the association saluting the state by singing the anthem Vande Utkal Janani. The song came to life with background screenings of the versatile Odiya heritage and culture. It was followed by an Odissi dance recital by a young danseuse Ankita Mishra, who is a member of the association. Her facial expressions were artistically vibrant and the movements of her steps were light yet firm as the jingling of the ghungroo filled the ears of the audience.
The heart of the function was a spellbinding performance of the Paika dance of Khurdah by Kabiraj and group. Paika is an ancient form of martial art or battle dance from Odisha — Paiks were the traditional landed militia of the state, who staged a valiant armed rebellion against the British in 1817. The performance of the group was a perfect reflection of their forefathers. As soon as the warriors took the stage, their arduous moves backed by a befitting background score, seemed to sweep the audience away. Each act kept viewers on the edge of their seats as the men performed sword-play, swirling of bamboo sticks; breaking coconuts, bricks and even cement blocks, which were balanced on a person’s head, chest and even ears; and slicing raw bananas off the bodies of the stuntmen in contorted positions and much more. In the balancing acts, the men stood on each others’ shoulders to the point that the one on top almost reached the ceiling, swirling a sword and looking down upon the audience victoriously. The ambience at once turned patriotic as the men ended the stunt show by hoisting the flag with the national anthem playing in the background and hailed Bharat Mata ki Jai, which the audience passionately resonated back.
The other attraction was the rendition of soulful and melodious Odiya songs by the noted singer from the Odisha film industry, Bishnu Mohan Kabi, and Sohini Mishra. “I have been at many functions by Odiya communities but none of them have maintained the language as its medium, to conduct the show, in its entirety. This is what made me like the programme even more,” said Mishra. Dance and music performances by the members of the association, like Sudhanshu Jena, Rima Mishra and Nibedita Pattnaik to name a few, exhibited fresh and promising talents from the community.