Dhanu Yatra

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Dhanu Yatra is world's biggest, open air theatre is held at Bargarh in the western part of Odisha. The town, which has a population of about lakhs spread over a few square miles, turns in to a unique epic town of Mathura for 11 days festival known locally as Dhanu Yatra. It sends a message that the definition of good and evil remains unchanged throughout the generations. The Yatra takes place in first week of January, where the sleepy town turns festive and the whole town becomes a stage where people depict mythology into a religion. The uniqueness of the festival lies in the fact that all the episodes of ‘Kans Vadh’ (The killing of Kans) takes place in different parts of the town making it the largest open air theatre in the world.

During the festival Bargarh awakes to the vibrations of drums, bugles and shenenais. Bargarh becomes Mathura Puri as it was called some 5,000 years ago. The neighboring Amapali village becomes “Gopapura”, the place Krishna immortalized with the “Bala Lilla” The river Jeera which flows between Bargarh and Amapali becomes “Yamuna” for the time being.

It is a conglomeration of several open-air theaters, with the action taking place simultaneously at different stages. Both actors and audiences move from place to place according to the requirements of a particular scene.

The festival not only re-enacts mythology but also provides amusement to the people. As Kansa goes around the city every day the people regardless of, who they are bow before him. The District Collector and Magistrate, Superintendent of Police and other administrative officials who visit Kans Darbar are treated as the King’s employees and local MLAs, MPs Ministers are projected as his representatives.

Kansa: an agent of social change

Ashok Pradhan, How evil Kansa brings social change, January 19, 2019: The Times of India

Union minister Pradhan being grilled by the demon king
From: Ashok Pradhan, How evil Kansa brings social change, January 19, 2019: The Times of India

A man in the role of a medieval king summons a Union minister to his durbar and orders him to explain how a planned government project in his kingdom would help his subjects. The minister bows his head and nods with folded hands.

Welcome to Dhanu yatra, an 11-day, open-air re-enactment of the life of Krishna that takes over the Odisha town of Bargarh, transforming it into the mythical kingdom of Mathura. There is a twist though. Despite being a retelling of ‘Krishna leela’, it is evil uncle Kansa who is the real hero here. And he’s no ordinary hero — he is an agent of social change.

Kansa takes centre-stage in Bargarh, western Odisha, and is a true people’s king. Those who commit crimes face his wrath. Those who do good, earn a pat on the back. At this year’s edition, which began on January 11 and will end on Pausa Purnima, January 21, Kansa weighed in on the motives of a local boy, petroleum minister Dharmendra Pradhan.

The minister, “ordered” to attend Kansa’s court on January 15, was asked to explain how an upcoming ethanol biofuel project in Bargarh would benefit farmers. Explanation done, Pradhan was then told by the king to ensure that his subjects get due price for their paddy husk, a principal ingredient in the biofuel project. The minister acquiesced humbly.

Dhanu yatra is the annual high in Bargarh’s social calendar. While it turns into Mathura for 11 days, nearby Ambapali becomes Gopapura. Jira — principal tributary of the Mahanadi — is Yamuna. Moving around his kingdom, Kansa punishes those violating laws. The amount charged as fine goes to the spectacle’s organising committee. But there is no doubt that the audience’s sympathies lie with the demon king.

This time, it was not just Pradhan who faced Kansa’s grilling. The king summoned the superintending engineer of a discom to explain why Mathura was facing cuts. The officer replied the situation was better compared to that in other states.

Sitting atop an elephant with a crown on his head, Kansa even stopped a biker riding without helmet and imposed a fine of ‘eka saha swarna mudra’ (one hundred gold coins). The bewildered man handed over Rs 100 and sped away. Later in the evening, the king pronounced in his durbar that bikers without helmet will not ride in his kingdom. Unlike in the original mythology, Kansa likes to talk about socio-political issues, from river disputes to the menace of polythene, from high school-dropout rates to the shortage of doctors. And his subjects just love [ India Today].

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