Charu Maa – The Face of Durga Maa

Our story starts in 7th century CE Bhubaneswar! It was the time in Indian history when personification of ideas came to be institutionalized.  One such idea was Natraraj, the cosmic dance of Lord Shiva, which you find profusely in temple walls of Bhubaneswar. Why Nataraj – for me the answer could be the metaphoric representation of destruction that depicts the other side of sea which is otherwise gentle and calm through most of the year.  The other idea was Maa Durga – the metaphoric representation of women power, for which Eastern India is widely celebrated.

Goddess Durga in Parasurameswara Temple – 7th Century CE
Lord Nataraj in Parasumeswara Temple 7th Century CE
Maa Durga in Cuttack 

1999 super cyclone that had devastated millions of lives, both humans and domestic animals in coastal Odisha. Lord Shiva had shown his extreme form, tandav leela. It was one of the darkest moments in Odisha’s modern history. It took years to recover what Odisha had lost. But the lesson learnt not only made Odias cautious but Odisha became a successful model for disaster management worldwide.  Much has been written and filmed about Odisha’s adorable initiatives in cyclone management, but very little about Charu Maa, a woman in her 50s from Gudalaba Village near Astarang on the coast of Bay of Bengal. You see the face of Durga Maa in her, who has been leading a group of 90 women from her village consisting of both Hindus and Muslims for the protection of forest and wildlife from the time their village was devastated in the wrath of 1999 cyclone.

Travel Tips

Gundalba Village is located in Astarang Block of Puri District at a distance of 10 km from Astarang. On your way to Gundalaba Village you can also visit Pir Jahania Beach and the revered Sufi shrine and trek through the dense Casurina Forest. Remember, there is no public transport facility here. You have to arrange your own vehicle to reach here. Gundalba is located at a distance of 70 km from Bhubaneswar and 55 km from Puri. The world heritage site of Konark is only 30 km away. 

There is no stay option here. But with prior information and local contact accommodation for a night stay can be arranged at Forest Rest House. There are also plan for tented accommodation in near future by Ecotourism Wing of Odisha Tourism. With prior information food can be arranged at the sight with the specialty of seafood. 

Charu Maa in the left at Gundalba Village

Gudalaba is small village of farmers and fisher folk near the Sufi shrine of Pir Jahania at a stone throw distance from the sea. A thick forest of Casuarinas separates the sea from the village. To the north of the village is a network of creeks of Devi River which meets the Bay of Bengal at Sahana. A nature’s paradise, the beach is also part of the rookery of Olive Ridley Turtles.  The casuarinas trees, a native of Australia had been introduced more than a century ago by the British to prevent sea erosion. However ecologists have a different view point. According to whom, the alien trees have been least protectors from sea erosion.These have only become a good source of fuel. On the other hand once dominated by hundreds of species of native mangroves, now most of it lost, thanks to intensive shrimp farming and agriculture. The loss of mangroves is taking toll of destruction year after year.  

Also Read Here:

Sahana Beach and Devi Mouth – Odisha’s Best Kept Secret

Pir Jahanaia Sufi Shrine

Pir Jahania Beach

An abandoned boat at Pir Jahania Beach

An abandoned house at Pir Jahania Beach – Behind it the thick Casurina Forest

Casurina Forest

Depleting Mangrove Forests and Estuaries 

Near Devi Mouth

Commercial Fishing in Devi Mouth

Subsistence Fishing in Devi Mouth 

Intensive Rice Farming – The Harvesting Season

Harvest of Gold

Gudalaba has also been a nurturing ground for ideas related to wildlife conservation and sustainable living. Here you meet Bichhi, the turtle man, who has dedicated his life for the conservation of Ridley Olive Turtles. You also meet a group of youngsters led by Soumya Ranjan Biswal, who are continuously engaged in generating awareness on beach cleaning and environment protection.

Conservation of Olive Ridley Turtle – a severe environmental issue – This one is one of the first deaths sighted this season due to trawlers movement

It was on 4th November night I was first introduced to Charu Maa at her residence and while talking to her I felt the best geography teacher I have ever met in my life. There is so much of understanding about sustainable living that we have taken for granted as dwellers of large cities. I heard the first hand experience of coping the most severe disaster in the living memory of Odisha. I saw the face of Durga Maa in Charu Maa. It was decided to film her interview on the day light next day along with her other women companions.

An early morning scene at Devi Mouth 

Here is what she narrates:

Charu Maa has turned crises into opportunities and it is an eye opener for each of us. Truly she celebrates the idea of Durga Maa.        

Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

One Comment Add yours

  1. Peter says:

    Pir Jahania Beach is an endless:) love that place

    Like

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