The land where Kansa Rules
One would have heard about a week-long theater festival but this goes on for eleven days. Every year around this time in December-January, the small town of Bargarh in Odisha indulges itself in hosting the world’s biggest open air theater, an epic play `Dhanu Yatra’ or locally called `Dhanu Jatra’. The annual festival enacts episodes of the Mahabharata including the grand wedding of Devaki and Basudeva, traces the birth of Krishna and ends with Kansa’s death.
The entire town of Bargarh shifts into epic age as Bargarh becomes Mathura Puri, river Jeera becomes river Yamuna and Ambapali situated on the other side of Jeera becomes Gopapura. Different exploits of Sri Krishna and Kansa story till his death at the hands of Lord krishna are performed on different movable stages across the town of Bargarh. A visitor to Bargarh at this time may be pardoned for thinking that he has, by mistake got into a time machine which has transported him backwards.
During the festival, Bargarh is alive with the sounds of drums, bugles and shehenais. The main attraction is Kansa whose characterization dominates the festival despite people viewing him as a demon. Every morning Kansa goes around Nagar Parikrama, as everyone bows before him. During the tour, he imposes fines on businessmen as well as government departments for violation of rules. He also holds a durbar to listen to the grievances of his subjects and reprimands or awards officials, including the Collector and Superintendent of Police, who become his court officials during the festival and local MLAs, MPs and Ministers are projected as his representatives.
In short, anyone who dares to cross his path gets the royal rap. No one is spared. Anyone can be hauled by the king, from the chief minister to the poor and landless labourer. In 1994, for instance, the then Chief Minister Biju Pattnaik, who attended the yatra was summoned to Kansa’s Durbar. Pattnaik not only obliged but even deposited a fine for a punishment served on him.
The most interesting characteristic of Dhanu Yatra is that all the episodes of this grand epic play are enacted in different places of Bargarh town, making it the world’s largest open air theatre. The Panchayat Motel becomes the royal palace of Kansa and the Durbar is a pandal erected at Hatpada in the heart of Bargarh town. The local Radha Krishna temple serves as the prison house of Vasudeva and Devaki. One more peculiarity related to this Dhanu Jatra is the fact that it has maximum number of artists as all people residing or visiting Bargarh during 11 days of Dhanu Yatra participate in this. For 11 days everyone in this town forgets today’s world.
Although it is claimed that this festival dates back to 18th century, it is certain that the modern Dhanu yatra, the grand open air theatre was performed in 1948 to celebrate India’s independence. The festive mood of people made them enact the victory of Lord Krishna, the embodiment of truth, justice and righteousness over Kansa who personifies arrogance.