As every year, Dussehra festival with the burning of the statues of Ravana etc was celebrated recently in various parts of the country. It signifies the victory of good over evil, though one knows that it does not always happen like that in real life. In some areas of the country Ravana is not considered a manifestation of evil. But here one is going to present a slightly different aspect.
Generally Sri Lanka (earlier Ceylon) is considered as the Lanka mentioned in the Ramayana. I came across an interestingly different viewpoint on this in a part of Odisha. Subarnapur is a district in Odisha which was, till sometime back called Sonepur. The headquarter of this district is a small town called Subarnapur (Sonepur). This town is situated on the banks of the mighty river ‘Mahanadi’. The river is so wide here that it gives the impression of a sea.
I had the occasion of visiting it and staying there many times during my service tenure in Odisha, including a few times when the legendry IAS officer Saroj Jha, (presently Regional Director of World Bank in Central Asia) was the District Magistrate & Collector.
This small statue has solid legs and body, face with moustaches and a necklace with a pendant around the neck and matching ear studs.
I came to know that the view here is that this town is the real Lanka mentioned in the Ramayana. Dr H.D. Sankalia, professor emeritus at Pune University, Dr N.K. Sahu, Vice-Chancellor of Sambalpur University, Orissa and Dr S.C. Behera, head of the department of history, Sambalpur University, are convinced that the mythic Lanka and India’s southern neighbour are two different places. The team is working on the theory that Ravana’s ancient kingdom could be located somewhere in central India, most probably in western Orissa. “There is prima facie evidence to prove this,” Dr. Behera has asserted. (‘Sonepur: Digging up a new Lanka: Not Sri Lanka, but Sonepur in Orissa is the Lanka of Ramayana: Archaeologists’, by Farzand Ahmed) http://indiatoday.intoday.in/story/not-sri-lanka-but-sonepur-in-orissa-is-the-lanka-of-ramayana-archaeologists/1/401734.html
Residents of Sonepur town celebrate, what is locally called ‘Lankapodi’ or burning of Lanka every year. It is celeberated on the new moon day of the lunar month of Bhadraba to mark the event of Lord Hanuman’s raid on the kingdom of Ravana. This day falls somewhere in the month of August.
People buy clay monkey idols either from the markets or Kumbharpada, the potters’ locality. During one of my visits I too went to Kumbharpada and bought some of these clay statues.
Terracotta artisan Ananta Rana explained in an interview to The Telegraph, ” Earlier we used to make the idols in traditional style, but now we have adapted to the demands of time. We dust them with powdered mica to give them a sparkling look. Some are smaller, with legs of solid clay rather than hollow tubes.”
Children would pull a rope attached to the idols and bring them on the streets.
At nightfall, the tails of the idols are wrapped with old clothes and a container attached to the tip is filled with oil and set on fire.
“With so many burning Hanuman idols across the town, one would get an illusion of Lanka burning. As the night wears on, acrobats and gymnasts perform on the streets. The sense of adventure and festivity is contagious,” said historian Sudam Naik, who has authored several books on Sonepur’s history. This ritual traces its roots to 8th century.
The monkey images are finally taken to the courtyard of the temple of Goddess Somalai and broken early the next morning. “This follows a pan-Indian practice of invoking supernatural presence to inhabit a clay image and then, after the dramatic ritual, destroying the inert body,” Naik said. Clay images of Hanuman, whose burning of Lanka is annually celebrated in Sonepur is a queintessential example of folk art , some experts have opined. (South Asian Folklore: An Encyclopedia : Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India by Peter J. Claus, Sarah Diamond, Margaret Ann Mills. …page 199.)
Witnessing the annual ‘Lankapodi’ festival in Subarnapur is yet another reason for tourists to visit Odisha.
(Text with inputs from the internet, especially 3 news reports from The Telegraph, Kolkata-http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100907/jsp/orissa/story_12905689.jsp; http://www.telegraphindia.com/1110829/jsp/orissa/story_14436811.jsp; http://www.telegraphindia.com/1140826/jsp/odisha/story_18758825.jsp#.VjG9PG4oIdU .)