People of the city were offered the rare opportunity to witness glimpses of Orissa's rich and ancient martial arts tradition of ‘paika akhada' here on Saturday courtesy the Harekrushna Mahatab birth anniversary celebration committee.

“Orissa's former Chief Minister and a towering statesman, Mahatab was quite concerned about the conservation and promotion of Orissa's culture and literature. As a mark of respect for his concern and as a befitting celebration of his birthday, the committee hosts an annual ‘paika akhada' festival in the Capital,” stated former Union Minister Kanhu Charan Lenka who is a part of the celebration committee.

About 40 troupes from across the state joined the festival and displayed their dare devil silks that unnerved the spectators at times. “This festival has helped in the revival of the dying art of ‘paika akhada' that was invented to keep the soldiers fit both physically and mentally during the erstwhile royal rule,” maintained Suresh Kumar Routray, the chief coordinator of the festival.

Participation of two women ‘paika akhada' troupes in the festival generated considerable excitement this year. The well-known all-women Rani Sukadei Regiment of Talcher led by its founder-director Soubhagini Debi, principal of the Talcher Women's College, displayed their amazing skills on the occasion much to the cheer of the spectators. “The state government should come forward to provide better patronage to the ‘paika akhada' practitioners as it is a dying art form and is an integral part of Orissa's ancient culture. There is the need for more of such festivals across the state,” felt Soubhagini Debi who hit headlines decades ago as the first woman to get into the male bastion of ‘paika akhada'.