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Palla lives, but on the edge

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 18: The sands of time threaten to engulf a unifier of Hindu and Muslim traditions.

Palla, a performing art with a 400-year-old history, used to be performed at religious gatherings in the state and at social events. Most importantly, it brought Hindu and Muslim traditions together. But increasingly, the popularity of this art form is on the wane.

Very few artistes perform palla today and only a handful of youngsters seem interested in being trained in it. Veteran palla artist Gopabandhu Nath, who has not only carried forward the legacy of this art form but also regained many of its followers, said it was in urgent need of preservation.

The 77-year-old has dedicated 60 years of his life to palla. He received the Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy award in March.

“My guru Harekrushna Nath trained me in palla. Palla includes Odia, Sanskrit, Hindi and Bengali literature in its renditions. The Vedas, Upanishads and ancient prose and poetry are intricately woven to construct the songs and dialogues of the performing art. It is one of the best ways to preserve and popularise ancient literature,” he said.

But he lamented that this form of mass communication, which was popular even till the 70s, is almost lost now.

“Palla singers perform standing on a stage around which there are four pillars and a dome. This is inspired from the tombs of the pirs, or Muslims saints. Hence, we use the term ‘Satya pir’ instead of ‘Satya Narayan’ in our dialogues,” said Nath.

Palla was popular all over the state but mostly in the undivided Cuttack district, Puri, Balasore, Keonhar and Mayurbhanj.

“Much of the wane of its popularity is because of the advent of television and other forms of communication as well as neglect by our government. Starting this year, we have received pensions from the Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi, which is helpful even though it is a meagre Rs 1,000,” Nath said.

He suggested that palla, owing to its rich history, must be regarded as a separate art form and not considered a folk art by the Akademi.

Women started participating in palla about 20 years ago. Shantilata Sahu, a 39-year-old palla singer from Jagatsinghpur, said: “My family encouraged me to sing palla. Earning a livelihood from this form of art is tough, but it is my devotion for the almighty that inspires me to perform.”

The culture department and Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi officials said they were making sure that artistes received their pension on time.

“We have formed an annual action plan for the uplift of the artistes. The Zilla Kala Sanskruti Sangha and Block Kala Sanskruti Sangha are organising events in rural areas. In the state capital, we have started the annual palla and daskathia festival and sankirtan festival this year,” said Chitaranjan Mallia, secretary of Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi.