The commercially vibrant Bargarh town in western Odisha is agog with excitement ahead of the 11-day-long reign of demon king Kansa as Makar Sankranti festival ushers in the world’s biggest open air theatre ‘Dhanu Yatra’.
By January 14, the day Makar Sankranti is celebrated, entire town, about 380 km from here, will have been decked up and ready for Dhanu Yatra, which is more than just drama – it’s a contemporary re-enactment of a classicial tale where everyone, from an ordinary man to a government minister, is willing to play along.
On one occasion during the Dhanu Yatra, former chief minister Biju Patnaik was fined on stage while several of his ministers were summoned to be told about the problems of the state.
Everything happens within the framework of the basic plot: Lord Krishna visiting his uncle Kansa’s palace in Mathura and eventually killing the demon king.
During the 11-day festival, Bargarh town becomes the Mathura of the Dwapar Yug, one of the four ages described in the scriptures, the Jeera river becomes the Yamuna river, and Ambapalli situated on the other side of Jeera, turns into Gopapura.
The story of Maharaja Kansa, his death and different acts of Lord Krisha are enacted in 14 main places in Mathura and four main places in Gopapura.
Another special feature of Dhanu Yatra is that actors and actresses deliver dialogues of their own without the aid of any written script.
The district administration has been making all arrangements to make the drama festival a cultural extravaganza.
“We have started preparations for the drama festival. The entire town will be decorated beautifully to give a feeling of Mathurapura,” Bargarh district collector Anjan Kumar Manik told.
As Maharaja Kansa takes over the ‘administration’ of the town, he moves around on an elephant from afternoon till evening.
“He tries to mitigate the suffering of his citizens while moving around his kingdom,” said Bargarh legislator Debesh Acharya, a member of the advisory committee of the festival.
But once he comes to his court, Kansa remains occupied with discussions with his courtiers to find ways to avert his prophesised death.
He makes all kinds of plans to kill Krishna. He dispatches demons to Gopapura to eliminate Krishna. The people, however, are on the side of Krishna and Balaram, his brother.
Hrusikesh Bhoi, who plays Kansa, said: “I love to play the role even though it’s the part of a demon. Local people share their problems with me. I pull up wrongdoers and punish them with fine.”
During Dhanu Yatra, even the state government officials can be pulled up for their faults and misdemeanour. Former chief minister Biju Pattnaik was once fined and some of his ministers lectured on the problems of the state.
Contemporary social issues don’t remain out of the ambit of Kansa’s darbar.
The popular festival came into existence in 1948 amid lingering festivities of independence from the British rule and is now regarded as the world’s biggest open-air theatre.
Dhanu Yatra also gained the status of a national festival last year.