February 28, 2015

Saahi Jaata of Puri, Odisha

Saahi means locality. Jaata means Yatra or Festival. Saahi Jaata (ସାହି ଯାତ) is believed to have begun in 12th/13th century in Puri, Odisha. 'Durga Medha' (ଦୁର୍ଗା ମେଢ) was shown in the Lokanritya and Lokabadya Utsav [State Level Folk Dances and Music Festival] held on 25 Feb, 2015 at Bhanja Kala Mandap, Bhubaneswar. During Dussehra Festival, dance on this theme is generally done in Saahi Jaata- the Raam Lila of Odisha.

Watch how Goddess Durga charms all by dominating the stage! She dances wearing heavy mask and costume of many kgs, to the tune of beating drums, local trumpet, shouts and shower of flowers on-stage!

In the next video, watch how Goddess Durga eliminates demon Mahisasura (who signifies evil), then waves the audience goodbye and makes a most graceful exit!

Saahi Jaata has a very rich, colorful history. I am quoting here from Puriwaves website:

"Saahi Jatra is believed to have begun in 1230 AD. According to records, in the 11th century, during the reign of Chodoganga Deva, King of Puri, many ‘kothas' (forts), bastions and ‘jagagharas’ (gymnasiums) were developed to safeguard the temple town of Puri from invaders. ‘Sahi’ means locality. There are seven very old sahis in the holy town today on both sides of the main road and 42 by-lanes around the Jagannath temple of Puri. These Sahis have permanent jagagharas(Gymnasium). The presiding deity is Goddess Durga or Lord Hanuman. There is a distinct insignia and flag to distinguish each sahi. These sahis once defended the temple of Lord Jagannath. That is why, during Sahi Yatra, traditional weapons are taken out. 

During Sahi Jatra, the local amateur actors enact the roles dressed in elaborate costumes. They go in a grand procession on the main street accompanied by caparisoned elephants, horses, flag bearers, barbers holding torches of flames swinging to the inspiring and rhythmic music of drummers and a band of musicians playing clarinets, trumpets and conch shells.

Each street is assigned a different episode to enact, and the story moves from street to street beginning with the birth of Lord Rama, his killing of demons, the episode when Laxman slashes the nose of demoness Surpanakha, Maricha fooling Rama and Laxman in the guise of a golden deer, capture of Sita by Ravana, battle between Parasuram and Lord Rama, and finally the war between Rama and Ravana ending with Rama’s coronation. During the birth month of Shree Ram i.e., Chaitra, for fifteen days, processions with idol of Shree Ram, Laxman and Sita are organized in different areas of Puri. Specifically, idols of Parasuram from Harachandi Sahi, Ravana from Balisahi, Maya Ravana from Dola Mandap Sahi are organized with pump and ceremony. Such ceremony is popularly named as “Sahi Jata” of Puri. Residents of Harachandi Sahi, Baseli Sahi, Markandeswara Sahi, Dolomandapa Sahi, Kandheibenta Sahi, Matimandapa Sahi, Bali Sahi and Gaudabada Sahi take the responsibility of conducting the grand event.

Sahi Yatra is theatre splashed with colour, music and excited spectators. It depicts joy, sorrow, ecstasy and elements of protest as well. The “Naaga” (a tall and robust man with a prominent chest, sharp nose and sinewy arms) are most dashing and they are selected for the role. A tiger skin is wrapped around his chest and he wears anklets of bark. The Naagaawears beads of gold and rudraksha (rosary of several faceted beads), tiger nails, corals, a shoulder gear fitted with trident, spear, flag, curved knife, pots of gun powder and a country-made gun. The Naaga, expert in traditional techniques of war, moves rhythmically to the beats of a martial song. “Naaga Saja” is important in Sahi Yatra. His martial dress is said to be the remnants of a culture of how Odia soldiers used to dress. Even Lord Jagannath is dressed once a year in Naaga attire, in the month of Karthik.

Saahi Jaata at Puri Source

The headgear of Ravana made of paper and thermocole weighs about 60 kg and his entire costume weighs not less than one-and-a-half quintals. He not only carries the load, but has to perform, dance and deliver speeches in chaste Sanskrit, faultlessly. The young men vie for the roles of Ravana and Naagas because it establishes their vigour and skill. Apart from awe-inspiring Naaga Medhas, there are dancing Durga Medhas wielding real weapons, and there are other deities like Panchamukha (five-faced) Ganesh, Hanuman, Nrusingha, Ardhanariswar and enormous images of snake charmer couples, tribal couples and an old couple, who have large bulging heads. 

There are nodding horses — with hollow frames into which the actors slip in and manipulate the ‘animals’ to the applause of the teeming spectators. The actors wear heavy headgear decorated lavishly with flowers, flags and expensive jewelery. The drama continues for hours at a stretch, sometimes the exhausted actors are replaced with other actors. Sahi Jatra is the most popular and spectacular event in Puri till date, after the ceremonial Rath Yatra of Lord Jagannath. The glittering festival, however, runs with the meager contributions from the local people."

Now, however there is good news as the state government will be partly funding this great medieval theatre festival- Odisha's very own Ram Lila.

Hope the tradition continues forever! Thanks to Odisha Sangeet Natak Academy and Department of Culture, Government of Odisha for presenting this in the Lokanritya Festival and making people aware.

May more such events be held showcasing rich heritage of Odisha within the state, around the country and indeed the world! May more people know and propagate the glory of Saahi Jaata of Puri, Odisha!


  1. Wonderful videos & info.
    I wasn't aware of these facts. Thanks for sharing.

    Durga Puja worship & Pandals have started in Puri and have association with Lord Jagannath and Puri Temple.
    However, sadly & ironically, people never associate Durga Puja with Odisha.

    Promo & advertising & proper info needs to be provided to all, especially right from school level.

    1. You have pointed out important things Anita. Yes Durga Puja has very rich traditions in Odisha and proper education and publicity is needed.

  2. Your recent series of posts has increased my urge to visit Orissa. I did visit once in childhood, memories hve almost faded away.

    1. U r most welcome Indrani! Do come soon! U r gonna have a rocking time! :)

  3. Hi All,
    Request you to plz hlp me out with a query.
    Are marriages perfrmed during Nabakalebar in Orrisa community??? And if NO, then till how long??
    Plz do reply...Thnx in advance

    1. I've heard that from this June 15th to nxt June 15th no marriages shd b held.

  4. A compete story about the festival. Nice one.


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