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Ramayan comes to life in holy town

- Sreekhetra mahotsav brings sahi jata to town

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 19: Watch the antics of little Lord Ram as he grows up or catch him as a valiant soldier as he battles to rescue his wife Sita from the clutches of the evil Ravan.

You could be forgiven for thinking that it’s Ram Navami now, because Sreekhetra Mahotsav has brought to the holy town of Puri the traditional sahi jata.

The 11th edition of this annual festival is giving an opportunity to people of the town and tourists alike to watch the plays based on episodes of the Ramayan that are traditionally performed late in the night during Ram Navami.

Organised by the district cultural office under the aegis of Odisha Tourism, the mahotsav began on Sunday evening with the tale of the birth of Lord Ram. Following tradition, every by-lane, or sahi, of Puri hosts one episode of the Ramayan every day. The festival is on at the open-air auditorium Muktakasa Rangamancha near Gundicha Temple. The first act of the mahotsav began with Kalikadebi Sahi.

“We enacted the birth and childhood of Lord Ram. Artistes of our sahi always perform this part of the Ramayan during Ram Navami. The only difference is that sahi jata is performed on the streets originally, whereas during Sreekhetra Mahotsav, we perform on stage,” said Gadadhara Das, an actor from Kalikadebi Sahi.

Harekrushna Das Mohapatra, who plays Ram, looks forward to this experience every year. “Playing Ram is difficult, because you have to act both composed and brave at the same time. It is delightful to play a part in preserving the tradition of sahi jata, which is fast fading,” he said.

Among other sahis, artistes from Harchandi Sahi staged the act of Ram breaking the bow of Shiv and Parsuram challenging Ram and Laxman to a duel. Kandheibenta Sahi artistes performed the episodes in which Ravan kidnaps Sita.

“Though sahi jata is still performed during Ram Navami, it begins late in the night. Gradually, with depleting patronage over the years, artistes lost heart and would only enact bits and pieces of the entire act. To save this beautiful tradition, we give them a chance to perform on stage and in the evenings, so that tourists as well as people who belong to Puri can enjoy it,” said Prafulla Samantaray, district cultural officer.

“We love watching the dances of the artistes who wear colourful masks and accessories in traditional folk style,” said Bhabani Shankar Sahoo, a Puri resident.