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Martial art fades into sunset

Balasore, Nov. 20: Akhada, a form of martial art performed by swinging sticks to the beat of drums, is struggling to survive in the very district where it was born.

The akhada culture here has its roots in the freedom struggle against the British that was started by eminent leaders in Balasore. It has been an integral part of the Durga Puja in the district since the late 20s.

Former chief minister Harekrushna Mahatab introduced akhada to undivided Balasore in 1925 with the intention of uniting the villagers against the British.

Another objective was to encourage youths to keep themselves physically fit and promote discipline and sportsman spirit in them.

Every village in the district had a group of akhada members at some point in the 60s.

“Following the initiatives of Mahatab, akhada was popularised by Biswanath Hota, Sadar Surendra Das, Bhairav Mohapatra and a number of other leaders,” said Mahendra Dhal, a member of the local akhada association.

The show of martial arts of the members of the akhadas, which were similar to gyms, used to be conducted on the day of Virastami as well as the night of Vijaya Dashami, before immersion of the idols.

However, the advent of modern dance with recorded music has pushed the akhada culture to the brink of extinction. Yet, it is surviving because of the initiatives of a few people.

The number of people taking part in akhada groups has also gone down because of reasons such as the non-availability of drums, drummers and open space for practice.

These days, people also don’t have the spare time to take it up, say local residents.

“Earlier, members from each family used to congregate in the village ground and learn the art from gurus. Now, there is hardly any space for this. People don’t have the time too,” said Santosh Das, a member of an akhada group.

“Discipline and dedication, apart from physical strength, are the major requirements of this art,” he said, adding that the akhada culture started dwindling in the late 60s.