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Postcard from Puri

19 November 2007 by Emma

low built, mud house with a straw roof, palm trees and a young boy looking at the camera

The home of Maashri

Today we travelled the 80km from Orissa’s state capital Bhubaneshwara to the coastal town of Puri, a major centre for Hindu pilgrimage and the home of one of the most distinctive Hindu Gods, Lord Jaganatha; a manifestation of Krishna.

Along the way we stopped at several rural villages, many known to me through the work of a friend Stephen Huyler, a cultural anthropologist who has worked in Orissa with Babu Mohapatra for over 30 years. It was a privilege to see the work of the potters who effortlessly create beautiful water pots and vessels for the Jaganatha temple in Puri. Having dabbled in potting myself I know just how difficult it is to create the pieces that they shape in a matter of seconds.

We then moved on through several villages to the home of Maashri (pronounced Mousey), a 76 year-old woman who is a renowned alpana (floor painting) and wall painter. We were a little too earlier to see her work, as each home in the village had just been freshly covered in a mud/dung mixture ready for the painting that will take place in 10 days time to celebrate the end of an important month of fasting for women. While we didn’t get to see Maashri’s wall paintings she created a beautiful little Ganesha (the Hindu Elephant God, who is the Lord of New Beginnings), using a rice flour that she trickled into fine lines through her fingers. This practice of wall painting is slowly changing as many homes in the village are now pukka (cement) rather than the traditional chakka (mud/dung), which women are reluctant to decorate as the walls are not able to be renewed with mud/dung plaster once the painting needs renewing. We sat and drank tea and the family asked me many questions about my life, they were particularly interested in my decision to have a career rather than a family. They were also distinctly unimpressed with my style choices as one of Maashri’s grand-daughters quickly ran for nail polish and bindis (a small dot that is placed between the eyebrows) to beautify me!

Reluctantly, we moved on to our final stop, which included several stone carving workshops. Here I made my first purchase for the Weston Discovery Centre. I was particularly taken by the work of one workshop, which used the local sandstone used in the creation of the magnificent sun temple at Konarak (more on that later in the week). I picked out a beautiful piece depicting Lord Krishna with the gopis (female cow herders), which is a very popular Hindu story. The work and detail on the piece is exquisite and we discovered that many of the pieces currently in production would be going to temples in the area. I’ve included a picture of the stone carving workshop, which is a chakka building. 

Tomorrow I will be visiting the bazaars around the great Jaganatha temple, but tonight I will be relaxing by walking along the wide sandy beach, sorry to rub it in as I know it is snowing and bitterly cold in the UK.

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