Kharvel Festival: Showcase of Orissa's Jain Heritage

By Prabhukalyan Mohapatra

The week long national Kharavela festival coinciding with the traditional Magha Saptami Mela, is observed at the foothills of historic Khandagiri and Udayagiri in Bhubaneswar every year. The festival commemorates the heroic and brilliant rule of the greatest Jain ruler of Kalinga, Kharavela and at the same time showcases the rich tapestry of Orissan classical folk dance, music, handicraft and handlooms.

The festival has been named after Kharavela, the mighty emperor of Kalinga, whose glorious activities and achievements have been inscribed in the Hati-gumpha (elephant-cave) dated 1st century B.C. in Udayagiri hills (Kumari-parvat). As a ruler, he is attributed in restoring the glory of Kalinga through his political and military achievements. Kharavela's greatness in history rests not merely on conquests; rather he is remembered as a protagonist and patron of Jainism. The architectural and sculptural grandeur of the rock-cut caves hewed by Kharavela in Khandagiri and Udayagiri are indictive not only of his religious fervor but were regarded as the precursor of the temple architecture that followed during his reign.

These twin heritage hills cover an area of 200 acres and are protected monuments of Archeological Survey of India. There are about 18 rocks - hewn apartments at Udayagiri alone, with Hatigumpha (elephant-cave) bearing the well known inscription of King Kharavela.Ranigumpha (Queen's cave) of Udayagiri, one of the largest and double storied is ornately embellished with beautiful carvings. The lower storey of Ranigumpha depicts the King accompanied by two queens and attendants, enjoying the dancing. Manchapuri-gumpha tells about the installation of the image of Kalinga Jina which was brought back fromMagadha by the mighty emperor after a victorious campaign.

Khandagiri has 15 caves and the cave numbers 7, 8 & 9 contain the images of Jain Tirthankars. Huge residential blocks carved out of the rocks for the Jain monks are also a big attraction. A temple was also constructed on the crest of Khandagiri for worshipping Jain shrine in early part of the 19th century. At present, there are five temples where images of Adinath, Sitalnath, Rasvanath and Parsvanath are being worshipped.

In the history of rock - cut architecture of India, especially of eastern India, these caves have a significant place, where exists beautiful carvings of floral, vegetal, linear decorative sculptural designs as well as animal and human figures. While the animal figures include elephant, horses, lions and deer; parrots, doves, goose, crane, snakes, lizards etc., can also be seen. Human figures comprising of King, Queen, Tirthankars, dancers, officials andpriests too form a part of the carvings.

The sculptural design of Khandagiri and Udayagiri caves provide glimpses into the social life of people during the reign of Kharavela, where men used to wear turbans and women enjoyed a great deal of freedom which is evident from their participation in dance and musical performance on the rock surface. Apart from the caves rock - cut reservoirs are also seen here which hold rain water.

Here in the back drop of the great historical monument and coinciding with the traditional Magha Saptami Mela, this festival has been planned in a beautiful ambience of tradition and modernity. Hence adding colour and fervor to the traditional mela which lakhs of visitors throng for a period of seven days. To entertain the tourists, cultural programmes are presented each evening throughout the festival. While the cultural troupes of the state perform Odissi, Sambalpuri, Chhow, Ghodanacha, and Shankhabadan as items of folk artshows; the participation by the various Central Government departments makes the festival even more lively and spirited. Moreover, the participation of the galaxy of artists of National and International repute in the cultural extravaganza transcends this week long Kharvela festival into a national carnival. Exhibition of Orissa's handicraft and handlooms like stonewares, bell-metal utensils, artifacts for interior decoration adds to the charm makingthe festival a buyers' paradise.

(PIB Features)

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