The arrival of Magha Saptami that marks the beginning of the harvesting season is an important date for the Agrarian community as much as it is for the people who swear by the Hindu religious almanac. But in Khandagiri, a bustling suburb in Western Bhubaneswar, the usual activities witness disruption.
Traffic jams are frequent than usual, the winding drive to the hills is demarcated ‘Pedestrians Only’, the speakers blare out loud raunchy Odia numbers, and temporary stalls dot the pavements on the either side of the street all the way up to the hill. Usually held in the early Spring every year, the Khandagiri Mela witnesses an amalgamation of Sadhus and seers from various corners of this land apart from the food joints, ferris wheel rides that hope to disrupt the monotony in the life of the denizens.
The Ramdoli, an indigenous version of the famed Ferris wheel has been a crowd’s favorite, year after year. Kids, elders, couples get the thrill of their lives on this London eye miniature. Surrounded by an assortment of roller coaster rides, this section of the Mela is pretty hard to ignore and pass by. Even the Ice Gola guy outside the Ferris wheel agrees on this point and smiles.
Ice Gola (Not to be mistaken with Cola) is a beverage that is made of crushed ice and flavored concentrate. Like the Lingaraj Lassi or the Bar Blue at Sudupp Sadapp, this drink is a great summer buster. Apart from the Gola, a very interesting and distinct confection that is exclusively made at this festival (it is not available in the city limits for the rest of the year otherwise) is the Mathura cake.
Made from dough of milk bread, refined oil and seasoned with powdered sugar; this almost cake/bun is a great dessert after a round of hot Shimla Mirch bhajjis.
The annual fanfare at Khandagiri Mela is not just about the rides, good food, nagging aunties bargaining shamelessly at the best price shop or the half naked Sadhus weeding away to enlightenment. Vignettes of the urban culture and the society leave their traces as well. Social Opera shows or Gananatyas/ Jatras as they are colloquially known are watched by a large chunk of the local crowd inside temporary theaters set up with canvas, bamboo and aided by cheap lights and gigantic Ahuja speakers/ PA systems. As a part of the marketing strategy to promote the shows, they come up with catchy, at times sexist, double meaning titles like the one shown in the photo below which translates to ‘Divine Sin’. Oxymoron, that one. And it did get you.
The shows usually begin at the dead of the night and continue till the early hours. Just so to make sure that one does not doze off, interludes with raunchy dances are thrown in here and there. In another act of clever marketing, the shows are usually scheduled to the first week of the month because that’s when the working class draw their salaries and wages. Only to spend it on sinful pleasures. Or divine sins, it is?
More photos in the slide show below.