Saturday, October 29, 2016

In the Land of Happiness

From the winding road atop a hill, the golden spires of Padmasambhava Mahavihara monastery shine in the sun amidst thick green canopy on a rain-washed morning. As I drive down a neatly laid narrow road to Jirang, a quaint village in the Southern Odisha district of Gajapati, the scenery changes dramatically transporting me to the ‘Land of Happiness’, as the local Tibetan refugees like to call it. It is in this part of Odisha that the Tibetans had taken refuge after the 1959 Chinese invasion.

At the end of the meandering road that is dotted with neatly arranged prayer flags on either side, stands the majestic monastery that has carved a niche for itself in the map of Buddhist tourism destinations in India. It is the biggest living monastery in Southeast Asia and currently, home to over 500 monks from India, Nepal and Bhutan. I head inside with Sunil Patnaik, a Buddhist scholar and Secretary of Odisha Institute of Maritime and South East Asian Studies; and Pema Thintel Khempu, who is in charge of the monastery that closely follows the Vajrayana (tantric) sect of Buddhism.

An ornate gate opens up to a sprawling courtyard where stands the towering 80-foot-high four-storey monastery that has been constructed over 10 acres of land as per the Odantapuri Buddhist architecture style. The monastery has been named after Acharya Padmasambhav, who was born in Kalinga (ancient Odisha) and travelled to Tibet where he spread Buddhism. He was also the founder of Vajrayana sect, says Khempu. Although there is no literature to provide details about this architecture style, Patnaik tells me that Odantapuri, now situated in Bihar, was a Vihara (an important learning centre) like Nalanada and Vikramashila where Indrabhuti, father of Acharya Padmasambhav, was a practising Buddhist. Followers of Acharya Padmasambhav believe that design of the monastery is similar to the Vihara in Odantapuri.

While both sides of the monastery house hostels for the monks amidst manicured lawns, the main structure is nothing less than a spectacle, literally. As we walk towards the monastery, I gawk at the intricate wooden carvings of flowers, leaves and other symbols of Nature that adorn the walls. Art and folk tales of Tibetan Buddhism whisper from every corner of the monument. Looking up at the ceiling I see colourful paintings of mountains, deer, lotus, clouds, streams and waterfalls – all motifs of Tibetan art - besides, different ‘mandalas’ that signify transformation of soul. There are paintings of the phoenix and dragon as well which symbolise the yin and yang forces in the universe. I am told that underlying these works of art is a complex set of beliefs that promise to guide a soul towards the path of enlightenment.

It took hundreds of skilled artists seven years to create the monastery at the cost of Rs 8 Crore. While its foundation stone was laid back in 2003, the Dalai Lama inaugurated it in 2010. The monastery was declared a tourism destination by the Tourism Department, Government of Odisha, in 2010.

After a quick tour, we step into the huge meditation hall whose entrance is decorated with paintings portraying Buddha's life cycle – from a common man to being the enlightened. Artistic representations of the guardians of Heaven and Hell also find space on both the sides of the entrance. At the centre of the meditation hall, sits a 23-foot golden coloured statue of Buddha, flanked by 17-foot-high statues of Lord Avalokitesavara (Embodiment of Compassion) and Lord Padmasambhava on either side. The idols are set against beautifully done murals depicting Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhist traditions. I can barely take my eyes off the colourful murals on the walls that are punctuated with golden hue depicting Buddhas and Bodhisattavas, Dakinis and Dharmapalas, Sun and the Moon (regarded as symbols of God), deer, wheels and various mantras, which are ingrained in the Mahayana and Vajrayana systems of worship. “While in Mahayana sect, monks worshipped idols; they developed a complex set of mantras, mandals and symbols in Vajrayana sect. The paintings are not just mere paintings but a depiction of the process to put the viewer, the individual
Buddhist, in touch with what the Tibetan tradition calls the ‘One Mind’ or absolute consciousness,” Patnaik explains. I enjoy a few minutes of silence in the hall as I watch young monks settle down for the afternoon prayers. It is easy to open conversation with the monks for whom, discipline is the way of life.

The annual cultural calendar of Padmasambhava Mahavihara monastery hosts a series of events that are related to Lord Buddha. However, the most important among them is the month-long Saga Dawa festival that is celebrated in April. Jirang witnesses a mammoth gathering in April as Buddhist monks from across India and Nepal come here for prayers that continue throughout the day for all the 30 days in the month.

A short walk away from the monastery, there are eight colourful stupas whose designs are similar to those found in Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan. Arranged in a circular fashion and surrounded by colourful prayer flags that contain verses of Dharma, each of these stupas refers to major events in Lord Buddha’s life as explained in Tibetan Buddhism. In the centre stands the Stupa of Enlightenment, which is the tallest of them all, signifying Lord Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment when he conquered worldly temptations. The dusk is setting in and we join the villagers, who gather around the Stupa of Enlightenment, for prayers. Looking at the stunning monastery and the simple villagers, I feel happy to see the way the Tibetan refugees have preserved their religion, art and history in a distant land, which is now their home.

Jirang is one of the five villages that come under Phuntsokling (meaning land of happiness in local parlance) Tibetan settlement in Gajapati district. The four others are Chandragiri, Lobarsingi, Tankilipadar and Mahendragada. There are around 500 households in Jirang and each of them have maize stock huts in the backyard. In fact, the place is nicknamed as ‘Maize Bowl of Odisha’. Maize farming is the mainstay of the refugees as the land isn’t fertile enough for growing paddy or pulses. Irrigation sources are also minimal. Maize farming apart, the Tibetans eke out living through carpet making and weaving woolens.

Apart from the monastery, travellers can visit the beautiful Khasada waterfall that is on the outskirts of Jirang and the Tibetan Cooperative Society of Chandragiri, located four kms away, where the refugees prepare handicrafts. Two popular tourist destinations of Southern Odisha - Taptapani, a hot sulphur spring and Gopalpur sea beach – are 40 kms and 100 kms away from Jirang respectively. The monastery runs a canteen where visitors can have their food.

Getting There: Jirang is around 80 kms from Berhampur and four kms from Chandragiri, which is the largest settlement of refugee Tibetans in Odisha. While the monastery is open throughout the week, the visiting hours for tourists are 9 am to 2 pm and 2 pm to 5 pm daily.
Visitors are only allowed to go till the meditation hall of the monastery as the first and second floors are meant for practising monks. While the monastery is a one-day destination, those willing to stay back can book rooms in Pantha Nivas at Taptapani. Guided tours are offered by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation and bookings can be done at and

Photographs by Biswanath Swain. A shorter version of the story appears in November issue of National Geographic Traveller. 

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Straw Wonders

Rice straw painting of Holy Trinity
At the backyard of his house in Jirala village, Pradeepta Nayak carefully selects delicate rice straw strands, separating the dark brown coloured ones from those having a golden hue. In a small room few metres away, a group of women are creating a massive painting of Lord Krishna playing flute for Radha, in a garden replete with blooming flowers. The painting resembles Raghurajpur's Pattachitra (scroll painting) although, the medium here is not natural dyes but rice straw. And instead of painting brushes, the women are drawing with scissors, literally.

Women practicing the craft at Kalyani Straw Craft Centre
The sleepy village of Jirala in Dhenkanal district is today synonymous with straw painting. It has carved a place for itself in the art map of Odisha due to the efforts of Pradeepta, who is the lone craftsman in the State practicing and promoting straw painting. Considering beauty of the art form, the Dhenkanal administration has now roped him to train others in the craft. Currently, he is training 50 women free of cost at his Kalyani Straw Craft Centre in the village. In the last 15 years, he has trained at least 200 youths across the State in the craft for free. It all started as a hobby to create art out of waste, 25 years back. "The State Government recognised rice straw painting as a craft very recently," says Pradeepta, who started participating in all major handicraft exhibitions across Odisha two decades back to showcase his craft. He drew inspiration from the Pattachitra style of painting of Raghurajpur.

The craft is time-consuming, he says, while demonstrating the tedious process. Each strand of straw is carefully split into two halves with the help of a knife. He then flattens it with a pestle and pastes it on a sheet of A4 size paper. After drying, the paper is cut into desired shapes and sizes for the straw paintings. Each A4 size paper requires at least 25 straw strands, says the master craftsman. The subject of the painting is drawn on a butter paper, which is then replicated on the straw sheet. The design is then meticulously cut out in thousands of pieces of designs and pasted on the canvas, which is made of thin plywood sheet covered with black velvet. "Since the colour of the straw is golden, the painting comes out beautifully on a black canvas," he says, adding that heaps of straw are left to dry in sun for five to six months before it attains a shiny golden hue and is ready for use.

The raw materials for painting
The subjects are drawn from local folklore, Indian mythology and Jagannath Culture. Sometimes, nature also finds space in the paintings. Recently, Pradeepta created a life-size painting of the Holy Trinity - Lord Jagannath, Devi Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra - in 'Nagarjuna' Besha (attire), where he painted the deities as warriors seated atop a pedestal in the sanctum sanctorum of a Jagannath temple. The detailing in the painting would leave any art connoisseur mesmerised. In a similar painting, he creates a Kandarpa Ratha (Cupid Car) in which, a group of gopis (cowherd women) form themselves into a chariot that their beloved Krishna rides with Radha. In another, bodies of the gopis are arranged in a manner as to create impression of an elephant and seated atop the animal are Krishna and Radha. Farmers at work in their agricultural fields, tourism destinations in Odisha and sunset at Chandrabhaga with Konark Sun Temple in the background also form a part of his oeuvre. Pradeepta shows a horizontal canvas in which he has painted a village scene where farmers are getting ready for a new crop season on the occasion of Akshaya Tritiya. "The Kandarpa Ratha and Jagannath Besha themes are famous among buyers," says the artist, who set up his craft training centre in the village 15 years back and has been running it with the money that he earns from selling the craft. "The paintings that are created in the centre by trainees are sold through exhibitions and 30 per cent of the income goes to them," he says.

Painting of Kandarpa Rath (Cupid Chariot)
Pradeepta dreams of a crafts village tag for Jirala like it has been in the case of Pipili (appliqué craft) or Raghurajpur. "If the Government pays a little more attention, Jirala can produce several more artisans in straw craft. Now, very few men have interest to practice this time-consuming craft. It is only women, who have the patience to learn it," he adds.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Holy Thali Homebound

A Bhubaneswar-based startup gets 'Abhada Bhog' delivered at doorsteps at click of the mouse

People across the Capital City will no longer have to wait in long queues outside temples to partake cooked prasad or 'Abhada Bhog'. They can now get it delivered at their doorstep at click of the mouse. Six Bhubaneswar-based techies have come up with a startup, 'Temple Thali' that procures 'Abhada' from temples and delivers it to people. The venture was started on July 3.
On the menu are 'Normal Abhada', 'Special Abhada', 'Temple Thali' and special 'Khaja'. While the 'Normal Abhada'  includes Anna, Dal, Besara, Saga, Khata and Kheer, the 'Special Abhada' has Kanika, Dal, Khata, Besara, Saga and Kheer at `110 and `130 respectively. Similarly, the 'Temple Thali' includes Anna, Dal, Vegetable Curry, Khata and Kheer and is priced at `70.

 At present, Abhada Bhog is procured from the Ananda Bazaar of Ananta Basudev temple in Old Town and kitchen of Shani temple at Vani Vihar. The prasad of Ananta Basudev temple is the most sought-after holy meal in Odisha after Lord Jagannath's 'Mahaprasad'.
'Khaja', a sweet delicacy in the list of confectionaries under 'Sukhila Bhog' for Lord Jagannath, is procured from Puri. A packet of 12 pieces of big size Khaja is priced at `100. The team has tied up with 'Khaja' vendors in Ananda Bazaar of Jagannath temple and outside the shrine.
The startup was the brainchild of a group of friends from College of Engineering and Technology (CET), Bhubaneswar - Abhishek Khemka, Bishal Bibek Kabiraj, Rudrakhya Badu, Baivab Puhan, Shradhanjali Sahoo and Aditya Padhi. While Abhishek and Bishal have completed their engineering in IT and Biotechnology respectively from the college, Rudrakhya and Aditya are in their fourth and third years of engineering course respectively. Similarly, Baivab and Shradha are pursuing Bachelors in Architecture course (fourth year) from CET.

"People standing outside the Ananta Basudev and other temples in the city for 'Abhada' is a regular sight during the noon hours. We thought that if the process of getting Abhada becomes easier, there would be several takers. We spoke among ourselves about initiating a startup in this regard and decided to start an online business of delivering prasad this year," says Abhishek. They self-funded the initiative through personal savings as they believe that Temple Thali would thrive on the back of religious sentiments attached to 'Abhada'. "It is also because of the religious sentiments that we decided not to charge anything for home delivery of Abhada. Prices of the food items are nominal and the money can be paid either on cash on delivery mode or bank transfer," says Shradha.

 The venture has its own delivery mechanism that includes a group of delivery boys. After an order is confirmed, they pick up the Prasad packed hygienically in traditional earthen pots from the temples and deliver it at various places. The packing is such that it ensures the flavour and temperature of the food items are maintained. Group orders (a minimum of 10) are also accepted. People can place orders for lunch before 10 am on any given day through their website, Facebook page, Whatsapp and also through an Android app (TempleThali). "If an order is placed by 10 am, we deliver the prasad between 2 pm and 3 pm," says Abhishek. Currently, the service is limited to Bhubaneswar but the team plans to soon venture into Cuttack, Khurda, Puri, Berhampur, Balasore and Rourkela through franchise method.



Monday, June 20, 2016

Craftsmen of the Gods

Three temple-shaped chariots tower over the sea of humanity at the Grand Road in Puri. It is that time of the year again when the Trinity — Lord Jagannath and His divine siblings Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra — travel to their aunt’s house from the 12th century Jagannath Temple for an annual sojourn, riding their respective chariots. The occasion is Rath Yatra, the biggest religious festival of Odisha. While Lord Jagannath’s Nandighosha chariot is 45 feet high, Devi Subhadra travels in the 43 feet high Debadalana and Lord Balabhadra rides the 44 feet tall Taladhwaja. These architectural marvels are carefully crafted by a team of 75 carpenters under the watchful eyes of three Mukhya Biswakarmas (chief carpenters)— Bijay Mohapatra, Krushna Chandra Maharana and Nrusingha Mohapatra— within a 58-day deadline that begins on Akshya Trutiya. The Mukhya Biswakarmas belong to a lineage of temple servitors who have been assigned this service for several generations.

Each of them works with a team of 25 carpenters. Every year, Bijay takes charge of building Nandighosha (the biggest among the three) for Lord Jagannath, while Nrusingha and his carpenters build the Taladhwaja. Eighty-three year-old Krushna, the eldest of the three chief carpenters, constructs Debadalana for Devi Subhadra. The three had last year also built new idols of the Trinity in the temple for the Nabakalebara. The Rath Yatra’s history is several centuries old, but the traditional style of making the chariots has not changed. 

Nrusingha, Krushna and Bijay
A wooden log in front of the wheels serves as the manually operated brake in the chariot, which is pulled by lakhs of devotees. Last year, 17 feet high and 16-inch wide Sal logs were used as brakes in each of the three chariots,” informed 55-year-old Bijay, whose involvement in making the Nandighosha chariot began at the age of 11.

The unique feature of chariot construction is that all the measurements are done by hand span. “We have never used a scale or measuring tape. Our forefathers used to measure the logs with their hands,” recalls Bijay. The Mukhya Biswakarmas say a total of 42 wheels are required for the three chariots, with 16 wheels for Nandighosha, 14 for Taladhwaja and 12 for Debadalana. Nrusingha says that making the wheels is the most important part of the construction. “The chariots are made with Phasi logs and over 5,000 pieces of wood are required. Once the logs arrive in Ratha Khala (chariot construction yard), we select 70 carpenters who size them for the chariots. We lay special focus on sizing the wheels because if they are not proportionate, chariots will not move safely,” he adds.

Nrusingha has been making chariots for the last 14 years. The frame and wheels are decorated with colourful designs inspired from Odishan temple architecture. The frames are then covered with intricately embroidered green, black, yellow and red cloth, which are embellished with Pipili applique craft and brass figures. Bijay and Nrusingha hope to construct chariots for 10 more Rath Yatras before they allow their successors to take over. Krushna, on the other hand, has already started training his four grandsons . “This is hereditary work and it has to continue, come what may. We are bound by the wishes of Lord Jagannath,” the Trinity’s carpenter says with a smile.

The story was first published in The New Indian Express

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Silence of Ganjapa Shuffle

From a folk tradition that took roots during the Moghul rule in Odisha, Ganjapa cards have been reduced to a mere collective item for art lovers today.

In fact, apart from Pattachitra, these hand painted circular cards are a souvenir item that tourists collect from artists’ village of Raghurajpur and Dandasahi in Puri to be used for decorative purposes or as glass covers. Even the number of families that creates these cards has reduced drastically over the years. Today, the tradition of making these cards exists only in villages of Puri, Ganjam, Gajapati and Sonepur districts. While just two to three families prepare these cards in Puri district, there is only one family each in Sonepur, Ganjam and Gajapati districts who are carrying on with the  tradition. Besides, there are just a handful of people left who play this card game. These circular traditional playing cards are painted in typical Pattachitra style with natural colours.
According to historians, Ganjapa, is derived from Persian word Gajife and the tradition of playing these cards was first mentioned in the memoirs of Moghul emperor Babur in 1527 AD, said Banamali Mohaptra, a Ganjapa card expert.

Each Ganjapa playing card set contains 12 cards. “Hand-painted, an artist uses his imagination and knowledge of mythology to draw on these cards. Themes of these cards mostly evolve around representations of epics like Ramayana, ‘Dashavatar’ of Lord Vishnu, Jagannath culture, and other Gods and Goddesses of the Hindu pantheon,” he added.
Each pack of cards is of a different colour and is based on the number of colours in a set. The packs are called Atha Rangi (eight colours), Dasa Rangi (10 colours), Bara rangi (12 colours), Chauda Rangi (14 colours), Shoal Rangi (16 colours) and so on.
Devi Prasad Nanda, member of the Puri Creative Handicraft Cooperative Society, said the cards were played by kings and villagers as a pastime. “Preparing these cards was also an art form in its own right. But the new generation artists are hardly interested in learning this art form and in the absence of patronisation by Government, the Ganjapa tradition is staring at a bleak future,” said Nanda.
Elaborating on the preparation technique, Nanda said though these cards are painted in Pattachitra style, they do not need to be as elaborate as the style itself.
“Glue is made out of tamarind seeds and applied on thin strips of cloth to make them hard. Then these are cut out in round shapes and pasted along with hard paper. A paste of liquid chalk is applied on these circular cards and then natural paints are used to draw on them,” he said, adding that in olden days, Ganjapa cards were even made out of wood for kings.

Apparently, these playing card sets are priced above `2000 per piece. “Considering the price value, if more artists start making these cards, not only will the game be revived but also the art form would ensure good income for those who take it up,” said Kulu Maharana, a 20-year-old artist from Raghurajpur, who has given up Pattachitra to produce Ganjapa cards on a professional scale. Members of the Puri Creative Handicraft Cooperative Society have urged the Culture Department, Government of Odisha, to save this art form that is on the verge of extinction. On several occasions earlier, art researchers from Puri and Sundargarh have demanded that the Government declare Ganjapa as a ‘heritage art form and game’.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

A Slice of Serenity

The early morning view outside Desia Cottage
Odisha’s Koraput is blessed with the best of Mother Nature’s bounty. In a small village of this southern district, tribals are not just ensuring that their green heritage is conserved but also redefining the concept of sustainable community-based tourism through a tour initiative called Desia

Tucked in the foothills of Eastern Ghats, Desia is a slice of serenity. Surrounded by lush forests, waterfalls and a river, it is located in Bantalabiri village near Macchkund, one of the most remote corners of Koraput district. The hospitality offered by local tribals, though, makes the long journey worthwhile. They not only maintain the Desia cottage, but also conduct nature walks, cook up delicious tribal food and work as expert guides. 

The Desia Cottage in Bantalabari Village
Desia is today counted among the very few successful community tourism projects in Odisha, often frequented by travelers from European countries. The brain behind the tourism model is Puri-based Yugabrat Kar, founder a social organisation Barefoot, and owner of a tour company, Heritage Tours. 

The objective of Desia, Kar says, is to highlight the rich cultural heritage and flora and fauna of the region among travelers who believe in responsible travel and at the same time inspire local youths to preserve their heritage and environment. The project that was started two years back, has been providing a sustainable source of income to villagers who are also traditional paddy cultivators. Paddy, though, has not been giving them good returns of late due to changing weather pattern and procurement issues.

Tribal musicians from Bantalbari village
The villagers are offering tour packages to visitors who want to get an essence of the tribal lifestyle and soak in the local culture. The packages include stay in Desia cottage, local sightseeing, trekking, visit to tribal haats and authentic tribal cuisine. The village is located close to Macchkund river, the famous 574 ft-high Duduma Waterfall and Onkadeli market, where the primitive Bonda tribals arrive every Thursday to sell or barter vegetables and non-timber forest products.

The Duduma Waterfall
Desia cottage has been aesthetically designed like a tribal house with a little modification, offering a perfect blend of ethnic living with basic modern comforts. It was constructed by people of Bantalbiri village under guidance of artist, Bidyut Roy from West Bengal, who himself lives in an ethnic house at a Santhal tribal village, says Kar. Made up with clay, the two-room cottage is painted with colourful tribal paintings and decorated with Dokra and Terracotta tribal handicrafts. “Designing has deliberately been kept minimal to appeal to all kinds of travelers who are seeking a break from the fast and polluted city life,” says Kar, adding that organic vegetables, fruits and legumes are grown within the campus by villagers in charge of the tourism project. “Only meat and rice are procured from local market while the vegetables used in Desia kitchen are grown within our campus,” says Paana, a woman of Bantalbiri, who works as a cook in Desia.

A porch that opens up to sights of mustard fields and hills
“During our trips to Koraput, we used to camp at Government Inspection Bunglow in Koraput town. One day, watchman of the Inspection Bunglow took us to his village Bantalbiri where we camped with a group of foreign tourists in a small school house. We were touched by the warmth of the villagers and the village became a regular camping place for us. I spoke to the villagers about the community tourism concept and they offered us a land adjacent to the village at a very nominal price to set upDesia,” recalls Kar, who was instrumental in opening a ‘Model Beach’ and ‘Green Rider Rickshaw’ project in Puri four years back. He had received the National Tourism Award-2013 for Model Beach concept under Best Responsible Tourism Initiative category.

After the Desia cottage was ready, five girls and three boys of Bantalbiri village underwent hospitality and business training under the Government sponsored ‘Hunar Se Rozgar’ at Puri. Currently, six men and as many women run every aspect of Desia, except for marketing which is being done by Kar. The project also offers indirect employment to around a 100 other villagers, which includes folk artistes to vegetable farmers. While a majority of the profit share from the project is shared between villagers, some amount is kept for maintenance of the cottage. A Desia Tourism Society has been formed with village heads, elected representatives and Government officials as members, who oversee functioning of the project. 

In future, Kar wants to start a pre-school up to primary level designed on the lines of Awake and Shine School by Rtd General Singh in Kalimpong for children in Bantalbiri and provide skill development training to women of the village in jewellery and pickle making. In fact, construction of the pre-school has already started within Desia campus.

An edited version of this story was published by The New Indian Express.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

A Dying Flavour of W Odisha

A man preparing Sarsatia in Sambalpur
Sarsatia, a sweet delicacy that was a part of every household in Sambalpur till a few decades back, has today become a rarity. Blame it on the dwindling green cover. Today, only three sweetmeat shops in Sambalpur prepare Sarsatia which resembles vermicelli and is mildly sweet and crisp.

The base of the sweet is prepared from resin of twigs of a tree locally called 'Ganjer'. A batter is made by mixing the resin with water, powder of raw rice (Arua) and sugar. The batter is fried in the shape of vermicelli.
Twigs of Ganjer tree are collected from Barapahad hill range. Sources said the decreasing number of Ganjer trees in the hill range has taken a toll on collection of the resin. Earlier a bundle of Ganjer twigs used to cost around `100 but today, it costs between `400 and `500. This has also led to price rise of the sweet. The resin is collected between the months of October and March when due to dew, the twigs ooze the resin. Bark of the twigs are then peeled and fermented in water for five days. The resin gets dissolved in water after which it is strained.

Sarsatia. Pic by Ritu Pattnaik
Narendra Nath Sahu, owner of Sahu Sweets that is more popular as shop of Dina Gudia in Jhaduapada, is one of the three sweetmeat makers who prepare Sarsatia here. "My late grandfather Dinabandhu Sahu and his family started making Sarsatia 120 years back. He had learnt the recipe from a couple Jagat Janani and Sushil Mishra of Jhaduapada. My recipe was passed on to my father Krushna Sahu," said Narendra.
After frying, the vermicelli bundles weighing between 75 gm and 100 gm are sold at `eight to `10 per bundle.

Narendra said the trick of making perfect Sarsatia lies in extraction of the resin and only Arua rice that has been powdered using a 'Dhenki' (locally made wood crusher) is used in the batter. "It gives a distinct flavour to the Sarsatia that can be had with Kheer, milk or even mutton curry," he said.

In villages located in forested areas of the district, Ganjer flowers are used to make pancakes. Sources said flower buds of Ganjer tree are collected. After cleaning, the petals are opened and a batter of Arua rice powder, whole groundnut seeds and jaggery is kept in each of them and the petals are sealed and steamed.

The base of the sweet is prepared from resin of twigs of a tree locally called 'Ganjer'. A batter is made by mixing the resin with water, power of raw rice (Arua) and sugar. The batter is fried in the shape of vermicelli.

Note: The story, written by Ratan K Pani, was first published by The New Indian Express. Here's the link to the original article

I could not find a picture of the Ganjer tree. Will be thankful if anyone can mail it to me at

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