Bhubaneswar: Come January and the western Odisha town of Bargarh will turn into legendary Mathura with demon Kansa letting loose a reign of terror. Dhanu Jatra, the 11-day cultural extravaganza is globally known as world’s largest open-air theatre.
The excitement, however, spills onto the streets much ahead of the theatrical presentation with hullabaloo over who would don the coveted Kansa costume. This year too there were 30 aspirants for the role, which was bagged by Bhubaneswar Pradhan through an audition conducted by the organising committee. Hrushikesh Bhoi and Gopal Sahu who had earlier enacted the central character, were also in the fray.
Sahu, Bhoi and Pradhan have captured the stage for past three decades. Let’s know about the trio, who ruled the roost as the demon king.
Gopal Sahu: He played Kansa for 23 years from 1984-1998 and 2001-2008. The loss of the crown and the make-belief kingdom went on to haunt Sahu for long as he preferred to stay indoors and watch the show on television. “Raja thili, praja heli (I was the king, now I have been reduced to mere subject)” is how the sub-inspector of police had summed up his feelings. The organising committee replaced Sahu because of his falling health.
It was Sahu’s wife who had encouraged him to take up the role because of his demon-like figure and voice. Toeing the mythology line, his nephew had played the role of Krishna from 2005 to 2008. For the Dwapara Yuga king’s role, Sahu received Sangeet Natak Academy Award in 1994 and the lifetime achievement award from the then chief minister J B Patnaik.
Bhubaneswar Pradhan: In 1999, the Dhanu Yatra committee brought in another artiste, Bhubaneswar Pradhan, for the demon king’s role. However, he failed to impress in those two years and Sahu was brought in again in 2001. Owner of an opera party, Samaleswari Gananatya, Bhubaneswar is an artiste by profession.
Having won the organisers’ confidence this time, he hopes to make the performance a memorable one by putting in all his efforts.
Dhanu Jatra, a section of scholars claim, has been in vogue since 16th century, while others defer and say it started in 18th century. Bundi Ratha (originally Bunde Ratha) of Deogaon was the first Kansa. He played the role of the tyrant king of Mathura for two consecutive years. Bhimsen Tripathy succeeded him in the third year of Dhanu Jatra. From 1957 to 1980, Yudhistir Satpathy was the Kansa, minus 1973 when Radheshyam Dash donned the attire. Debendra Biswal replaced Satpathy in 1981 and the following years saw Nilanchal Dash of Sohela playing Kasan before Sahu begun his long innings.