Imagine 8th Century Odisha and in particular Bhubaneswar! A major Peeth of Tantra Sadhana practised by a group of esoteric Shaivites, called Kapalikas, who worshipped Bhairava/Shiva and his consort Chamunda!! The central ritual of their tantric communion was to get indulged in alcohol and sexual intercourse. Kapalaikas were masters in converting both ascetics and lay people of other sects towards their faith for which they had introduced Kapalini, a woman of passion.
‘Drink this pure nectar which is the medicine for worldly existence. Bhairava has said that this is the instrument to remove the bondage of the soul’ used to be the instruction in the process of conversion while offering a vessel full of alcohol to the targeted individuals and groups.
Today all that Kapalika conventions that were once a common sight in Bhubaneswar may sound mysterious as the present Hinduism revolve around the idea of Sanatan philosophy.
However one wonders if in the surviving tradition such kinds of alcohol-based rituals ever exit. In the last couple of months, I have driven through three/four times on the National Highway 16 that connects Bhubaneswar with Berhampur and faraway Chennai. However, my destination is mostly Barkul, a small village on the shore of pristine Lake Chilika and the site of ODIART Purvasha Museum where Virasat E Hind works as a consultant.
The View of Khalikote Hills from the Highway and Lake Chilika
ODIART Purvasha Museum is located at Barkul on Lake Chilika at a distance 100 km from Bhubaneswar and 70 km from Berhampur, the largest city in Southern Odisha. The museum is strategically located in a major tourism hub on the National Highway that connects Kolkata with Chennai and closes to the rail route connecting Eastern India with the rest of Southern and Western India. The nearest airport is in Bhubaneswar, which is a 2-hour drive from the museum.
The museum has limited accommodation facility at the moment (only 4 rooms) for visitors to stay, but the nearby Barkul has varying staying options in a property managed by Odisha Tourism Development Corporation.
Besides the museum and a scenic boat ride in Lake Chilika, a traveller can also explore the rustic rural life of fisherfolk and farmers and the historic temple of Dakshya Prajapati at nearby Banapur. Chilika is also a heaven for seafood lovers. With prior intimation, the museum can arrange delicious ethnic lunch at its premises.
Odiart Centre, Barakul, Balugaon,
Contact No-9439869009, 9853242244
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Each time I drove I was haunted by the beauty of the vast sprawl of Khalikote Hills to the west of the highway and they occupied largely my mind for a while. I was curious to know what lies surround those hills and beyond. My curiosity finally brought me here to a couple of tiny villages beyond the Narayani Shakti Peeth, only 4 km from the National Highway. A drive through the forest, hills and interspersed valleys of rice fields were magical at the time of retreating monsoon. Suddenly your car stops in a Sabara village with no vehicles around. For a moment you are drawn to a medieval world or perhaps to a much earlier time.
The Scenic Jungle Road Interspersed with Rice Fields and the Sabara Village around Narayani Peeth
Savaras are Odisha’s most ancient tribe who speak Mundari language of the Mon-Khmer group (Mainland Southeast Asia). Once used to be hunter-gatherers, now they are mostly settled, subsistence farmers. In the absence of historical records, it is difficult to trace their early history in the region, however archaeological finds of Neolithic – Chalcolithic sites reveal aspects of Sabara way of life 4,000 years back in time. In the past, they perhaps also exploited marine resources at Lake Chilika, which was a bay then, but their arrival to Odisha was through the land route and can be linked with early migration of modern humans. Biologically speaking they share remarkable similarities with other Austro-Asiatic language speaking groups of Jharkhand, West Bengal, Assam, Myanmar and Vietnam.
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Little wonders, the Sabaras were also the original worshipers of Lord Jagannath and like Kapalikas of Medieval Odisha, the offering of alcohol to their tribal deities, are part of their daily rituals. In the village I stepped into, the first sight that fascinated me was the cooking of mahula (mahua) alcohol all around.
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Offering of Alcohol to the Forest Deity by Sabara People
Indigenously fermented food and beverages have been used for centuries and are treated essentially for the well-being of many people across the world. These are prepared in the household or cottage industry using relatively simple techniques and types of equipment. According to scientists, fermentation improves the digestibility by detoxifying the toxic elements in the food and on the other hand it improves the flavour, aroma, nutritional values and texture in less cooking time.
Mahula Flowers are Spread for Drying in a far flung Desia Kondh Village in Rayagada District
In mahula drink, the flowers are thoroughly washed in water and submerged in plastic drums for 4 days with the addition of ‘bakhar’ (syn. ‘ranu’). Fermented mahula flower mass is distilled in a metallic container by keeping another earthen pot on the top of the first container in a reverse manner. The joints of two vessels are sealed by using a sticky mud pond. A metallic pipe is connected to the upper earthen vessel, which passes through water and opens into a collecting vessel.
The lower metallic container containing fermented mahula flowers is heated at a lower temperature with wood fire. Finally, steam is condensed in a metallic pipe and collected in collecting vessel.
The preparation of mahula drink at the village has remained traditional and is part of the indigenous knowledge system.
As in the film, it began with a ritual offering to forest deities (a group of triangular slabs) in the remote past, a practice still followed among the tribes.
However, with the increasing demand among the people of the plains, today brewing mahula alcohol has become a cottage industry deep inside forest villages. People from the non-tribal villages around Chilika come here regularly for partying and buying the country liquor. Thanks to this new patronage the traditional know-how has survived in the otherwise fast-changing world dominated by fast food and foreign beverage in large quantity but expensive prices.
I returned back after spending a couple of hours with a determination to explore more and bring untold stories of Sabaras in the next part.
Author – Jitu Mishra
He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org