Odia ‘Enclave’ of Seraikella-Kharsawan

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Odisha a land of vibrancy, filled with art, culture and a rich martial & maritime history has a unique identity in the world. Its coastlines brought with it opportunities of trade. Wherever trade goes culture follows too and the culture of Odisha went along these trade routes, grounding itself into these new lands where they took a different form mixed with indigenous traditions and belief. Such churning of ideas and arts also happened in the mainland too and one such example is the Odia ‘enclave’ of Seraikella-Kharsawan district in Jharkhand.

So before we kick off here is what an ‘enclave’ means (and no it’s not a bunch of swanky tall apartment buildings which costs a bomb) as per the Oxford English Dictionary – a portion of territory surrounded by a larger territory whose inhabitants are culturally or ethnically distinct.

So as history geeks at Coffee Bytes who are also petrol heads with a huge a huge appetite for good food (Read as Café Regal-Jamshedpur) finished their trip of the Keonjhar Rath Yatra and decided to head off to Jamshedpur in Jharkhand which is just 30 kms away from Odia enclave of Seraikella- Kharsawan.

As we sat down for good breakfast after a tiring 300 kms trip our Parsi hosts (The Gazder family) asked us a question. “What do Shyam Benegal’s `Bharat Ek Khoj’, Ramanand Sagar’s `Uttar Ramayan’, Amol Palekar’s `Mrignayani’, A. K. Bir’s `The Last Vision’ and more recently Vikramaditya Motwane’s ‘Lootera’ have in common? As we scratched our heads our ‘Bawa’ amigo at the table Varun Gazder answered, “Well they all have featured Seraikella Chhau don’t you guys know about it? I suggest you all should go and have a look. I am quite busy at the Café today but you all should go and visit.” We nodded in agreement as we hogged down on the poached eggs and toast washed down with a lot of ‘chai.’

A part land which lies in Jharkhand (earlier Bihar) but with a soul and history linked to Kalinga, read on more to find out what makes this place unique.

Now a district in Jharkhand, before independence it was known as the Seraikella and Kharsawan princely states with the latter being formed after the founding of the Seraikella state by Raja Bikram Singh in 1620. These states always were at the crossroads providing access to the plains of Bengal & Oudh also formed a buffer to interior areas of Odisha. The state came under the influence of the Maratha rulers of Nagpur in the 18th century, and became a princely state of British India in 1803, at the conclusion of the Second Anglo-Maratha War at Deogaon of Odisha. After the war, the East India Company included the Saraikela princely state under the governance of the Chhota Nagpur Commissioner.

In 1912 Saraikela came under the authority of the province of Bihar and Odisha, which was newly created from the eastern districts of Bengal. In 1936 the state was placed under the authority of the Odisha Province. A very interesting point that we came upon our research was that the powerful Maharaja of Darbhanga (now in Bihar) used to visit the state of Kharsawan to pay respects as the trade route to the east coast ran through the thick jungles of Singhbhum and safety was guaranteed only to those who were in the good books. Making both Seraikela & Kharsawan an important region from where trade could flow into central India & the east coast.

Saraikela & Kharsawan, along with 24 other princely states of the Eastern States Agency, acceded to the Government of India on 1st January 1948. The states of Seraikella & Kharsawan had a majority of tribal population along with non-tribal Odia speaking people. It must be noted that at that time the population of Singhbhum district comprised of 47% Tribals, 34% Odias, 14% Bengalis and the rest 5% being Biharis. The princely states of Seraikella & Kharsawan together comprised of 98% Odia speaking people.

“The entire Singhbhum district including Chakradharpur, Chaibasa, Seraikella and Kharswan  were a part of the ancient Utkal state so during the independence of India and amalgamation of the Indian princely states to the Indian Union the 26 rulers of the Garjat states of Odisha eventually agreed upon being part of India thanks to the efforts of the Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. During this time Nilgiri was the first state to sign the accession to India document followed by Seraikella ruler Maharaj Aditya Pratap Singhdeo who also wanted his princely state to join Odisha. So the Maharaja wrote to the government of India saying that our culture, language and traditions were intrinsically Odia hence we should be merged with India similarly Kharsawan Raja also sent a similar document to the government of India stating that Kharsawan should also be merged with Odisha. From Jan 1, 1948 for 6 months Seraikella-Kharsawan became a part of Odisha since the modern states of India were being formed by Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel on linguistic lines this merger made perfect sense. But sadly due to prevailing political conditions it was merged into Bihar. Our leaders like the great Biju Patnaik, Mr.Naveen Patnaik and countless other people have petitioned and written to the Government of India to correct this great wrong but sadly nothing has happened to address these problems,” Says Mr.P.N.Singhdeo a career bureaucrat, former billiards champion and a member of the Seraikella royal family.

Even after the merger with Bihar and later on attached to Jharkhand the region has not lost its Odia culture and traditions. Interestingly it was made a district on 1st April, 2001 carved out of the West Singhbhum district. The enclave boasts of many rich traditions and cultures such as world famous Seraikella Chhau, the very famous mouth watering Seraikella ‘laddu’ made with besan, kuchai silk, the district also has an archery academy of repute. If you search on YouTube the Jharkhand tourism channel showcases a six minute video about Seraikella- Kharsawan and gives you a glimpse into this beautiful region.

The region is the bastion of ‘Chhau’ dance.This form of Chhau has a unique technique and repertoire developed by the erstwhile nobility (Seraikella) of this region. The Seraikela Chhau has evolved from a distinct martial art called pharikhanda (swordplay) and has a distinguished manner of execution with swift rhythmic movements of the sword in synchrony with the background music. The mask covers the face prompting dancers to express bhava (mood) and rasa (sentiments) through body movements.

Much credit is given to Kunwar Vijay Pratap Singhdeo the brother of Maharaj Aditya Pratap Singdeo under whose patronage Seraikella Chhau reached stellar heights and because of whom the dance form evolved in its style and was no longer restricted to the court of the Seraikella nobility but was spread far and wide involving people from all backgrounds and nationalities.

Definitely one article on Seraikella & Kharsawan is not enough to cover the story of this enclave. A piece of history, art and culture yet isolated geographically this region has a special place in Odisha’s mainstream culture and through this article we would like to request both the Jharkhand & Odisha governments to boost tourism & promote the culture of this region which albeit is intrinsically Odia but now lies in the purview of our neighboring state Jharkhand. It would surely help the local population and also bring them to the forefront to the rest of the world.

By Aditya Nag

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