Universalization of Icons : A study of Chhattar

Rituals are the language through which culture expresses itself. Rituals are also the mirror through which we get the reflection of people’s history. So, the observation of rituals reveals many historical processes of cultural confluences. The study of the ritual of “Chhattar” is aimed at this end. An observation of the ritual ‘Chhatar’ reveals a strong influence of the ritual practices of the ‘Kandh’ tribal communities. As such, this is a living example of the process of the Little Tradition getting amalgamated into the Sanskritic Great Tradition resulting in what Mariot called Universalization. Through the present work an attempt has been made to understand this process.]

Central to all religions is the concept of faith. Faith is something which binds people together. Consequently faith is more important than reason from social solidarity point of view. All traditional societies constitute their faith in such order as may make interaction between individuals possible. The movement from temporal to transcendence becomes a reality only through faith. Rituals are only expression of faith. Rites and rituals are the modes of behavior which delineate how a man should conduct himself in the presence of sacred objects. Although in modern complex religions one may draw a faint line between rituals and religious philosophy, this task is quite impossible in the case of less complex religious practices which lack a comprehensive body of doctrine that the adherents are required to believe and follow. Unlike religion which lies in the philosophical realm of mankind, rituals are the product of man’s day to day existence. Ritual is a special kind of performance which is both an act as well as a statement. Thus ritual while putting on a performance also communicates. Consequently a community’s socio-cultural life style, body politics as well as its historicity, every thing are reflected in the practice of rituals. Thus, in rituals one can find the real imprint of the historical development of mankind. As human actions in ritual context communicate, in attempting to understand ritual we are actually trying to discover the rules of grammar and syntax of an unknown language. The present endeavor has been undertaken under these premises.

Hinduism is a process (and not an end product) resulting from the amalgamation of diverse faiths, beliefs and innumerable cultural practices. The rites and rituals of each community is a reflection of its culture and life style. Hinduism is nothing but a domain of great tradition which is supplemented by innumerable little traditions. There exists a co-existential and mutually supplementary relation between these two traditions. Various ritualistic elements of little traditions through successive phases of metamorphosis get identified with the great tradition. Each Sanskritic deity, both in their physical forms as well as ritual practices, reveals traces of elementary religious rituals and practices of the indigenous communities. A genealogical study of various cults and deities reveals a process of interesting metamorphosis.

Maa Manikeswari is the local deity (adhistatri Devi) of Bhawanipatna, the district head quarters of Kalahandi district in the state of Orissa. Manikeswari (goddess of Manikya or Ruby) was a deity worshipped in the west, south and some of the coastal parts of Orissa during the medieval period. This goddess is identified with the categories of Sakta divinities. The Chhatar festival is associated with Manikeswari.

Every year during the Dussera festival in the Asthami Tithi i.e.8th day from the full moon (Mulasthami), after the evening worship in the temple, the sword of the goddess is washed in the pond situated in the back side of the royal palace. It is then worshipped according to the traditional rituals and is brought back to the temple amidst traditional music (Ghumra) [On the same day the ‘Khandabasa’ (sword placement) ritual is also performed in Lakenswari and Knakadurga temples of Junagarh]. In the midnight of ‘Mulasthami’, the head of the deity (Manikeswari) is removed from its body. A new head made of clay and decorated with ornaments, is then placed on the body of the deity (Nabakalebara). The old head is then immersed in the Purusottam Tank situated near the temple. These rituals are carried out in the dead of the mid night in a most secret ceremony. During the Dushera festival, in the mid night of Mahasthami (8th day from new moon), buffalo sacrifice is made to the Budharaja (or Vairab, a deity placed in a small shrine situated near the north entrance of the Manikeswari temple). It is the only time this shrine is opened and the deity is worshipped during the entire year. Following this ritual, the Chhatar or umbrella of the goddess, along with two sword of the deity, is taken in the night of Mahasthami to a particular spot known as Jenakhal located in the out skirt of Bhawanipatna, near about three km. from the temple of Manikeswari. Here, after buffalo sacrifice, the consecration of Chhatra is made by blood. In the early morning of Navami (9th day) the ‘Chhatra’ returns from Jenakhal to the temple. This return journey is celebrated as ‘Chhatar Yatra’ amidst much fan fair. The Ghumura musicians play their war music in front of the Chhatar procession. During this time large number of goat, sheep and hen are sacrificed by the people. The Chhatar is reinstalled in the sanctum of the temple. During this time buffalo, supplied by the royal family, is sacrificed. Through out this yatra the Brahmin and non-Brahmin (Paika or Kandh) priests play their respectively assigned rites.

On the following day i.e. on Vijay Dasami, the Chhatra is again taken to a mango groove situated in Naktiguda village on the outskirts of the town. The Chhatra is worshipped there with goat sacrifice followed by a rifle shooting competition. An earthen pot is tied to a mango tree which serves as a target for the competitors. The winner gets prizes from the royal family and also gets the privilege of accompanying the Chhatra on its return journey to the temple. This practice is known as the Lakha Bindha festival. Chhatar is one of the main festivals of the people of Kalahandi.

There are diverse opinions regarding the origin of Chhatar. According to Rajdarwar record, Chhatar festival is observed to commemorate the bringing of goddess Manikeswari by the 7th Naga Vamsi king Ramachandra Deo (1201-1234 A.D.) from his maternal uncle’s place at Gadapur to Bundeseer (the present Bhawanipatna)1. Another view is that ‘Jena’ is the Kandh god associated with human sacrifice (Maria Bali). ‘Khal’ is the local name for a pit. The name of the place ‘Jenakhal’ might have come from these associations. The once prevalent human sacrifice (Meria Bali) was effectively stopped by Maharaja Fate Narayan Deo (1831-53). Further, Jena also means prince2. So Jenakhal can be associated with a place where the defeated princes were sacrificed and their body was put in a pit (i.e. in a khal). Incidentally, the Chhatar procession is also accompanied by the Ghumura war beats. So, this Yatra may be reminiscent of a war victory procession. There is still a khal or pit in the present Jenakhal into which the sacrificed animals are thrown.

CONFLUENCE OF TRADITIONS: The process of Universalisation.
It would be interesting to find how many aspects of the tribal, mainly Kondh tradition (little tradition), have got face-lift to become a part of the great Sanskritic tradition.

The earliest evidences of Manikeswari worship can be traced back to the 5th Century3. It has been postulated that the goddess is so named because of the precious gem stone Manikya (Ruby) which was abundantly available in the place of its origin4. It is interesting to note here that the region between river Tel and Indravati was known as Karund-Mandala during the Marhatta and British period5. This name Karund seem to have been derived from the term Corundum, a mineral (Al2O3) remarkable for its hardness. This mineral was available in this region6. There is a place near Junagarh (the old capital of Kalahandi) named Manikpadar, where Ruby is found even today. In Jillingpadar, near Junagarh, the largest deposit of the precious Pigeon blood Ruby is found.

The Kandh tribes, during ‘Maria Bali’ (human sacrifice) worship a goddess named ‘Manikasairo’. Kandh treat Manikasairo as the sister of their chief deity ‘dharani Penu’. Probably this ‘Manikasairo’ later transformed into Manika Devi, then to Manikeswari and the Sanskritic meaning (goddess of Manikya) got attached with it. It would not be out of context here to site a few lines from the Kandh ‘Dhap’ song (A particular type of narrative song sang only by the Kandh tribes) where Manikeswari has been described as the sister of Dharani Penu (The Earth deity).

Juar juar Manikesari Ma rayeje maharmani,
Sayebani Mahan Layebani Mahan Dharani san baheni,
Juar Ma aamar matkat ke,
Dhangri gutek milu aamke.7

So, there is strong reason to believe that Manikeswari has her origin in Manikasairo of the Kondh tradition.

The ‘Astha Chandi Upasana’ culture found in Sonepur (the capital of the ancient Kosala Empire) found no mention in the traditional ‘Puranas’. This ‘Sakta’ tradition is found in the vast region from the bank of river Mahanadi up to Tel, Aang and Ib river valley. Manikeswari is worshipped as one among the Astha Chandi along with Samaleswari, Sureswari etc. In the worship of all these deities, except for some stages of worship, the tribal rituals play very important part. It is worth mentioning here that the Kandh of Kalahandi, Titlagarh and Bastar worship seven deities in the form of Saatbahani. The above discussed Asthachandi cult, most probably, have evolved from this Kandh tradition of Saatbahani.

During the 10th/11th Century A.D, Chakra-Mandala (comprising of Koraput, Kalahandi and Bastar) was ruled by ‘Chindakanaga’dynasty. Their tutelary deity was ‘Manika Devi’ 8. It is also likely that this Manika Devi later became Manikeswari. This region came under the Gangas during the time of Gajapati Cholaganga Dev in the 12th Century A.D. During the time of Gangas this region was known as Kamala Mandala (2). Raghunath Sai, the Naga prince of Chotanagpur, laid the foundation of the Naga rule in Kamala Mandala9. His capital was in Junagarh or Junabali. Goddess Kanaka Durga was the tutelary deity of the Naga vamsi10. Kanaka Durga is still worshipped in a separate shrine in Junagarh.

After the death of the 6th king of Naga Vamsa Harichandra Deo, the kingdom went disarray. The queen left for her father’s home at Gadapur of Phulbani district where she gave birth to Ramchandra Deo. It is said that the Kandh Heads (Umra) had discussion among them and decided to put their young prince Ramchandra Deo on the throne at Jugsaipatna11. Probably the Kondh chiefs assured the young prince security. May be as a symbol of protection and assurance one of the chief put the young prince on his lap during the coronation ceremony (symbolizing father or protector). This practice is still in use even today and the particular Kandh chief is known as Patmajhi.



[Universalization of deities]

It is said that, the queen brought the deity Manika Devi from Gadapur and installed her at Bundeseer 12. This Bundeseer later became Bhawaniptna, probably after the construction of the Bhawanishankar temple here. But this assumption seems to be quite illogical. The Kondh, as protector of the new king, must have given Manikasairo, the sister of their own goddess Dharani Penu to the king for worship (as they cannot give their main deity to anybody for worship). But the Kondh could not give their deity to any one outside their kinship circle. So, the king was brought under the Kondh kinship circle by marrying him to a Kondh daughter (This tradition is still continuing, although symbolically). It may also be possible that the queen brought Manikasairon, in the form of Manika Devi from Gadapur (which is also a Kondh dominated area in Phulbani). The goddess was worshiped by the Paik priest (most probably a Kondh priest or Jhankar) under a thatched roof at Bundeseer (again a Kondh tradition).When the capital of Kalahandi was shifted to Bundeseer (Bhawanipatna) during Fate Narayan Deo (As a result of the outbreak of a deadly epidemic of cholera in Junagarh)13, Manikeswari became the tutelary deity of the Naga Dynasty. Udit Narayan Deo, the sun of Fateh Narayan Deo, laid the foundation of the present shrine of Manikeswari at Bhawanipatna which was later completed by Brajamohan Deo in 1907 A.D.14

So, most probably the little tradition in the form of ‘Manikasairo’ got a face lift to become ‘Manikeswari’, there by becoming a part of the Great Tradition (Universalization). A similar parallel can be found in the Sanskritization of the Kandh deity Budha Penu into Budha Raja or Vhairav or Vairon, which is worshipped in many places of western and southern Orissa (we have already mentioned the worship of Budharaja in manikeswari temple before the Chhatar festival).The possibility of a link between Chhatar Baeti, the Kondh goddess, and the Chhatar procession cannot be entirely ruled out (In fact one Bauti Chhatra is used in the Bali Yatra of Sonepur). In the ancient period, the Kondh used to worship a square slab of stone (Charkunia Pathar) through human sacrifice (Meria Bali). This can be illustrated through a portion of a Kondh Dhap song;

‘Aaye Mahul pure pure, Jaye Mahular pure,
Aamar Chakardhar, Puja chhinuchhe charkunia pathare.’ 15

A link between this Charkunia Pathar and the cult of Manikeswari cannot be ruled out. This is because both the Chhatar in Jenakhal as well as the deity in the temple are placed over a square shaped structure.

The cult of Stambheswari is the earliest form of the Shakti cult found in the Kosala Kingdom (roughly comprising the Mahanadi, Tel and Ib valley). In Stambheswari cult pillars and posts (mostly wooden) were worshipped as goddess. Karunda (now Kalahandi) was an important centre of Stambheswari cult16. Bhagawati Stambheswari was the tutelary deity of the maharaja of Kosala Tustikara (it is assumed that his capital was at the present Belkhandi of Kalahandi)17. Sonepur was the main center of Stambheswari cult during the Somavamsis (there still exists a Stambheswari temple at Sonepur).

In course of time Stambheswari was identified with Ambika and Bhadra (influence of Great tradition and a process of Universalisation). The Somavamsis brought the concept of Stambheswari to the coastal tracts when they occupied Utkala. In this process Stambheswari got integrated with Bhadrambika and Ekanamsa ultimately giving rise to goddess Subhadra of Juggannath cult18. The impact of Stambheswari cult was so overpowering that in most of the villages of this area, Stambheswasi of Khambeswari is worshipped as village deity. Not only this, almost all main deities of this area are either in the form of a post or pillar. Samaleswari in Sambalpur, Stambheswari, Lankeswari and Sureswari in Sonepur, Patneswari of Patna kingdom and Manikeswari of Bhawanipatna, all are worshipped in the form of post.

Kandh were the dominant tribal group in Chakra–Mandala, comprising of Koraput, Kalahandi and Bastar (of MP) in the Indravati-Mahanadi river valley (10th/11th Century A.D.)19 The Kandh tribe worship several deities such as Dharani deity, Village deity, Family deity, Bhima deity, Khandul, Saat Bhayen, Kandul Boja, Jina, Duma etc. In every Kondh village one can find a place of worship consisting of three stone or wooden poles dug into the ground in upright position placed in one line in close proximity to each other. Over these three poles is placed another stone or wooden plate like a roof to the earlier structure. These three upright structures represent three deities. The central pole represents the Tana Penu (Earth deity), in the left is Muchbi Penu (Younger brother) and to the right is Jakeri Penu (Elder brother). Researchers stretch the origin of the Tri-divinity of Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra to these three Kandh deities. The roof over the Kandh deities is being associated with the Sudarshan20. Tana Penu or Dharani Penu (Goddess Earth) is the chief Kandh deity.


[Sanskritization of cult]

So, we can logically assume that the Kondh objects of veneration like wooden post and stone underwent a process of Sanskritization (or one may call it Universalization) and assumed a Sanskritic name like Stambheswari in around 5th Century A.D. (e-swari is a typical suffices attached with the female gods of the Sanskritic tradition). Stambheswari went for further sanskritisation during 10th/11th Century A.D. when the Chindakanaga dynasty of Chakrakota Mandala gave her a new denomination in the form of Manika Devi (or Manikeswari ?). This fact is apparent from the iconographical features of Stambheswari and Manikeswari. Both Stambeswari (now worshipped in Aska of Ganjam district) and Manikeswari are roughly like cylindrical post, devoid of hand and leg, on which a head is placed.






The icon of Manikeswari in Bhawanipatna is nothing but a ‘head’ made up of clay. It is placed on a straight structure (a post or Stambha). In the middle of the cellar (Garbhagriha) of the shrine, the effigy of the deity is installed on a raised throne. The throne and the effigy closely connect with the back wall of the cellar. Except the head of the deity, nothing else is visible to the visitors. The general feature appears like a pole or a cylinder. The icon of Manikeswari has no hand or leg. The head is made up of clay and is oval in shape. With it, the tongue and eyes made up of silver are fixed (a process of Anthromorphization usually associated with the great Sanskritic tradition). The goddess is worshipped by Ekakhyari mantra similar to that of ‘kali’ the Sanskritc primordial mother. The Chhatra or Chhatar in colloquial term represent the representation or ‘chalanti pratima’ (mobile representation of deity) of the main icon (a practice synonym with the great tradition). The daily ‘Puja’ is performed by the Brahmin priest. Occasional ‘Chakra Puja’ is also performed in the temple (reminiscent of the ‘Chhinnamastha’ cult). The goddess is offered two types of puja or worship, Satwik (Sanskritic or great tradition) offered by a Brahmin priest and Tamsik (Little Kondh tradition) offered by Kondh priest. In fact the Satwik puja started only during Maharaja Udit Pratap Deo(1853-81), when he brought a Brahmin priest Narayan Badpanda from Sambalpur(Here also we find a process of Sanskritization of worship).

So, the cultural practices and historicity associated with Manikeswari and the festival of Chhatar reveals a clear picture of a process the confluence of the Little Tradition (Marginal tradition) and the Great Tradition (Mainstream Tradition). A smooth transition along with a compatible co-existence of the two (some time many) traditions is also quite evident here. This study also reveals a microscopic, but very significant process of the gradual and somewhat harmonious evolution of the Indian tradition in the form of a mosaic of traditions.



1. Panda, Bhabanishankar (1991): Kalahandira Isthadevi Ma Manikeswari-Part 1(Oriya),Kalahandi Jilla Sakhyarata Samiti,Bhawanipatna, p 6-7.
2. Ibid, p 8.
3. Eschmann, A. et el (ed) (1998): The cult of Jagannath and the Regional Tradition of Orissa, Cuttack, p 129
4. Das, P.K. : ‘Why Kalahandi is called Karond or Kharonde?’,The Orissa Historical Research Journal, Vol. XXXI, No. 2,3 & 4, p 12.
5. Deo P.K : ‘Why the name Kalahandi’, The journal of Kalahandi Utshab(1991), Rourkela.
6. Panda, B (1991) Op. Cit. p 2.
7. Bisi, D.G (1988) :Kalahandira Lokagita Dhap ra Sangraha ‘O’ Samikshya(Oriya),Bhawanipatna, Stanza 66.
8. Sing Deo, J.P (1987) : Cultural Profile of South Kosala, Cuttack, pp 236- 37.
9. Mishra, B : ‘The Cult of Manikeswari’, The Journal of Orissan History, Vol. XII, June 1992, p 38.
10. Ichhapur Sasan cupper plate of Maharaja Jugsai Deo IV (unpublished), in possession of Sri K.C. Acharya of Ichhapur, Kalahandi.
11. Panda, B (1991) Op. Cit. p 6.
12. Sing Deo, J.P : ‘Manikeswari Temple and the Icon of the Deity’, Ma Manikeswari (1989), Bhawanipatna, p 7.
13. Mishra, B. Op. Cit. p 39.
14. Sing Deo, J.P. Op. Cit. p 8.
15. Bisi, D.G : ‘Kalahandi Jillara Aaitihasika prustha bhumi ‘o’ tahinre Kandha Jarira bhumika (Oriya), Kalahandi Kala ‘O’ Sanskruti (Oriya), Mahavir Sanskrutika Anusthan,Bhawanipatna , 1989, p 121.
16. Raj Guru, S.N : Gazetters of Orissa, Vol 1, Part 2, pp 82-86.
17. Mishra, B. Op. Cit. p 40.
18. Das, M.P : A Descriptive Catalogue of Sanskrit Manuscript in Orissa, Vol. V, p xxii.
19. Sing Deo, J.P. Op. Cit. pp 236-37.
20. Panda, B.S : ‘Aaji Banabasi Debata ‘O’ Gayetri’(Oriya), Utkala Prasanga, Vol. 43 No. 11, June 1987.
21. Panda, B (1991) Op. Cit. p 9.


[ ACKNOWLEDGEMENT: This work is a product of logical deduction of various works done earlier by so many scholars. I have liberally borrowed from these works. I have also taken help from many of my friends who have interest in this field. I acknowledge the direct and indirect help I received from –Mr. Bhabanishankar Panda, Mr.P.K. Das,Mr. P.K. Deo, Dr. D.G. Bisi, Mr. J.P. Sing Deo, Dr.Baba Mishra, Mr.Parameswar Mund and Dr. Mahendra Ku. Mishra ]

Himansu Charan Sadangi
Lecturer (SS) in Sociology
Govt. College (Auto), Bhawanipatna
email- hcsadangi@yahoo.co.in