Scholar Chittaranjan Mallia, Secretary, Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi, underlines the significance of various festivals held in the State.

Chittaranjan Mallia is a keeper of traditions. A doctorate in Gotipua dance traditions, he has been painstakingly recording the music and dances of Odisha with the intention of documenting the dying arts of Odisha. He is currently Secretary of the Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi, which recently presented Odia Natya Samaroha in collaboration with the East Zone Cultural Centre, Kolkata, at Purbashree Auditorium.

The occasion was just right to speak to the eminent scholar about the Odia culture he has been safeguarding through his efforts. Edited excerpts from the interview:

Odisha is a land of dance and music festivals. all the year round. With which of these festivals are you directly connected?

I am directly in charge of almost all the festivals held by Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi. Odisha tourism also holds many festivals concerning Odisha’s very own cultural wealth with regional flavours. Some of the festivals we hold are ritualistic, while some are traditional, while some others are held for their basic popularity, and of course some are purely for the sake of the arts. The Mukteswar Festival is held to showcase Odisha’s very own classical dance form, Odishi. The Festival of Konark provides a platform for all the classical dance styles of the country. The Rajarani Festival is a music festival. Then there is the Dhanujatra Festival and the Bargash dis in Western Odisha. Krishna Leela, till the death of Kamsa is a theatre festival. It is the longest festival; sometimes it goes on for a month.

The Raja festival is an agricultural festival, observed in a number of districts in Odisha. In this festival obeisance is paid to Dharti Mata or Mother Earth. Young girls render palli geeti, they swing on ropes. This is known as The Swing Festival. In Rangabati Festival, Sambalpuri music is popularised. The Pala Daskathia Festival narrates stories and songs from the great Indian epics like the Ramayana and the Mahabharata.

The OSN patronises the Lok Natya Utsav, Radha Prem Leela in Ganjam District. Dwari Leela which has everything to do with Krishna, Arjun and Subhadra. There is a festival that deals with Mughal tamasha themes and situations arising in the society during the time of the Mughals.

Are there any tribal festivals?

At least 25 per cent of the population of Odisha comprises tribes, covering at least 10 districts. There are roughly 62 communities with each of them having their own dance and music. The Dangar festival is one such festival held to encourage these tribes.

Who provides financial support to these festivals?

The Department of Tourism supports some of the festivals, while the district organisation gives support to some.

What problems do you face?

There are two aspects to our problems. One is to do with funds while the other is the organisational aspect. Things are gradually getting easier. Earlier we had funding problems. Now the situation is better. Instead of holding festivals only in Bhubhaneswar, we are trying to decentralise them, so that people living in rural areas also get some exposure. We are trying to encourage artists by instituting 15 awards for arts, four for theatre, one for stage craft and direction and one for acting. One award is given to the playwright.

What brought you to Odisha Sangeet Natak Akademi?

I came as a theatre artist. I was interested in acting right from my childhood. I took part in drama both in school and college. When I came here I got more exposure. I researched different art forms. I also try to promote the Gotipuas. Odisha has a rich cultural heritage. The Government is now trying to promote folk artists by giving them livelihood. Their I.E.C. — Information, Education and Communication — is looked after and they are encouraged to perform, to take their message to the people. The Government has introduced the Zila Kala Sanskriti Sangam to promote folk artists. There are at least more than 400 types of folk dances. Some are documented and some are not, while some need to be documented. Publication work needs to be undertaken, particularly for the performing arts.