Sahi Jata fervour hits Puri

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By NAMITA PANDA
  • Published 13.04.11
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Bhubaneswar, April 12: While the birth anniversary of Lord Rama was celebrated on Tuesday with bhajan programmes, Rama Lila and various religious festivities, the spiritual fervour in Puri was unique. The city has come alive with tales from the Ramayan being performed at various sahis or by-lanes in an old festival known as Sahi Jata.

A 12th century tradition, Sahi Jata begins a day before Ram Navami. It involves two phases — a martial arts show and depiction of an episode of Ramayana. “The Choda Ganga kings had begun this tradition of common people practicing martial arts to protect Jagannath temple from attacks,” says Sudarshan Pujapanda, an expert on Jagannath culture.

The festival lasts either nine or 10 days according to the almanac. Seven ancient sahis of the city take part in the festivities that begins with the performance of the Yagnya episode from the Ramayan in which King Dasaratha and his wives perform a religious ritual. This is called Markandesa Sahi. The birth of Rama is depicted in Kaliketi Sahi. With the consecutive episodes performed in other sahis, the festival ends with Lanka Podi in Dolamandap Sahi and setu or bridge building episode in Bali Sahi.

“Puri being an ancient city has rich traditions. This festival in particular is a vibrant one and thus we have arranged for special schemes for tourists to enjoy the performances,” said district cultural officer, Prafulla Samantaray.

During the daily jatras that begin in the evening, the artistes who have been practising for months, perform martial dance steps typical to Puri’s akhada tradition. This year, many tourists are also attending the festival that ends on Baisakh Dwitiya next Monday.

“The Sahi Jata festivities are special for us since the performances are rendered by artistes who have been doing this for years. They give perfect performances. The Rama janma scene is always held on Ram Navami,” said Trinath Panda, a local resident.

“The martial dances are wonderful to watch, especially the costumes that give the artistes a grand mythological look. I also love the martial arts. Of course, the Ramayan episodes are performed brilliantly too,” said Paris Gonzalez, a tourist from Spain.